Have you forgotten that selling is social?

“Turn off your computer. You’re actually going to have to turn off your phone and discover all that is human around us.” That’s what Eric Schmidt, then chairman and CEO of Google, told the graduating class of the University of Pennsylvania in May 2009.

Ten years later, his advice is even more relevant than it was back then—for college graduates starting their careers, and for salespeople looking to get B2B leads.

Successful sales professionals understand that technology is a must-have business tool. But very few understand how to incorporate technology into their prospecting strategy. As a result, their unsolicited invitations go unanswered and their lead generation campaigns under deliver. So, they rely on outdated tactics that fail to engage the 21st-century buyer—tactics like cold calling, sending cold emails, and stalking prospects on social media.

These practices only alienate potential customers and eat up company time and resources in the process. They don’t fill your pipeline with qualified B2B leads.

Don’t believe me? Consider this: Despite the ever-growing treasure trove of new sales technology, sales is actually harder than it used to be. In a recent HubSpot survey, salespeople said it’s 40 percent harder to get a response from prospects than it was just two or three years ago, and 30 percent harder to close deals.

Granted, there are many reasons that sales has gotten harder, but technology clearly isn’t the only solution to common sales challenges, or even the best solution.

Technology has an important role to play in sales, but it’s a supporting role. Human beings are still the stars of the show. Relationships are still how deals get done and how you get quality B2B leads. And technology can either help or hinder those connections.

The Evolution of Cold Calling

Fifteen years ago, I would have told you that cold calling was the most annoying, least effective sales prospecting method. That’s still true, but cold calling has evolved as sales channels have evolved. Now, you don’t have to call cold prospects to bug them. You can send them cold emails, pitch them via text, or stalk them on social media.

Social selling is a powerful way to build business relationships, but pitching strangers on LinkedIn isn’t social selling.

Many so-called “social sellers” don’t even try to build relationships before promoting their solutions. They pitch their products in their LinkedIn Invitations, as well as in their acceptances. You get the pitch in an InMail with a link to schedule time on their calendar. Talk about rude and disengaging behavior! Who would make the time to schedule a call with someone who doesn’t even ask about their business before asking for a meeting?

This multichannel cold calling madness isn’t helping sales, and it certainly isn’t helping business relationships. Your prospects aren’t just B2B leads—they’re people.

The Sales Technology Tipping Point

Technology drives communication, messaging, and information access at warp speed, and our clients expect immediate access. This pattern of ever-increasing sophistication not only creates an intensely competitive marketplace; it also places further demands on us to act and react quickly.

The good news about digital technology is that we can exchange information quickly. The not-so-good news is that:

  • We now have the privilege of working 24/7.
  • We can get competitive information instantly—but so can everyone else.
  • We depend on technology for everything.
  • We have gotten away from building relationships.

All these technologies lure many sales pros into scaling back their personal interactions and relying on tech tools to surface easy “qualified” leads. Big mistake!

We’re turning into creatures who are uncomfortable talking to each other. It’s so easy to hide behind the technology curtain. People email colleagues who are right down the hall, text family members even when they’re in the same household, and stare at their phones during networking events because they’re afraid to start conversations with strangers.

That’s a problem, because sales is all about turning strangers into connections, and turning those connections into sales. And that all starts with a personal conversation.

Tradeshow Traps

Tradeshows are a great opportunity for salespeople to meet new people, grow their referrals networks, learn and share industry best practices, and (best of all) make in-person connections. But many salespeople find ways to muck up these opportunities with intrusive technology.

In fact, tradeshow vendors are often the most egregious abusers of technology. They hang out in the aisles waiting to scan your badge. I recall walking across the Dreamforce exhibit hall with a client. We were headed to one of the curtained-off areas for a private conversation. This loud-mouthed guy was poised and ready. I put my hand over my badge and shook my head “no,” and he yelled (yes, yelled) to his colleague: “Watch out, this woman doesn’t want her badge scanned.” (Like I was the weirdo in this exchange.)

That’s not the kind of genuine sales behavior that helps build relationships and convert prospects. It’s the kind of behavior that makes people avoid your booth like the plague.

Regardless of whether tradeshow vendors scan your badge, you still receive emails thanking you for stopping by their booth (even if you never did). Marketers think that by blasting all conference attendees with emails, they’ll get some B2B leads. But the emails are all about them, and who cares to read that?

Many companies no longer exhibit at these shows. The trend is to book at a location near the main event, hold a more intimate gathering with interesting speakers, and spend time talking one-on-one. Not only are these smaller events more pleasant to attend, but they acknowledge the real reason for networking events and the true value of business connections for sales.

Maybe you meet a new prospect, or maybe you just expand your referral network. Either way, you leave with much deeper connections than you get by scanning badges and heckling people who don’t want to talk to you.

From Personal Connections to B2B Leads

In sales, it’s not technology, but rather the person behind the technology, that sets you apart. You have a conversation and you share a comment, a reply, a laugh, or a common interest. It’s emotional! And it has the power to give your business a personality when you thought that wasn’t possible.

Technology has changed many aspects of our lives, but has it changed the way we sell? Yes, it enables us to more effectively gather information, conduct research, and identify connections. No, it has not changed the way we talk to prospects, how buyers relate to us, and why they choose us over our competition.

Top salespeople understand that selling requires building strong relationships with clients—relationships based on mutual respect and trust. And with few exceptions, this cannot be done online, especially if you’re targeting high-level decision-makers.

For the record:  If you’re not taking advantage of modern technology, you’re not in business. But after you’ve done your homework, it’s time to log off and rely on your relationship-building skills to get you the introduction, secure a meeting at the level that counts, and seal the deal. You are the ultimate sales technology.

Want to learn how to fill your pipeline with referral leads? Learn more about my Virtual Referral Selling Workshop Series.