The pros and cons of provocative social selling

Successful social lead generation requires careful planning and an in-depth understanding of customer needs, says Richard Hadler, CEO of alan.

In a previous blog, I mentioned a brilliant interview with American Express VP EMEA Rupert Bedell on a recent edition of The CMO Show. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend checking it out.

Rupert pointed out that social selling “went bananas” during lockdown – a trend that anyone keeping half an eye on their LinkedIn messages can attest to. 

As I scanned through some of the irrelevant and impersonal pitches in my own inbox, it struck me that there’s never been a better moment to instigate a closer relationship between sales and marketing. 

Because – as exciting as it was to return to pubs and restaurants – some things have changed for good during the pandemic. Content provided by marketing departments is now key to the B2B sales process, and only a select few salespeople understand the nuances of social selling.

This is something I talk about in my book, Marketing: The Bottom Line, which will help marketers to understand and sell their commercial value within their businesses. 

In the meantime, I wanted to share some advice to guide brands in the pursuit of a fit-for-purpose social selling strategy.

So what is social selling?

Social selling is where individuals use social media platforms and apps to communicate with their audiences. We’re mostly talking about LinkedIn, but social selling can work on any digital network, forum or membership group where business leaders can interact with potential buyers.  

LinkedIn offers a bunch of tools to automate social selling. A subscription to its Sales Navigator dashboard will help marketers to identify audiences on LinkedIn, and to integrate activity with the company’s own internal sales systems. 

Done well, social selling makes people look like experts in their field, which in turn builds credibility and trust. The individuals that do it best in our industry – the likes of Mark Ritson, Dave Gerhardt and Jeremy Waite – are the people you don’t even realise are selling a product or a proposition. 

One problem – salespeople are currently in charge

Since the start of the pandemic, face-to-face networking had been placed on hold, in-person events had been cancelled, and prospects had been too busy trying to home-school kids to pick up the phone. Brands were trying to use content more cleverly to engage prospects through digital channels.

Unfortunately, in many cases they’re not doing a very good job of it. 

That’s because, until now, social selling has been mostly led by sales teams. The ‘spray and pray’ approach to communication might make sense to a salesperson on the hunt for their next deal, but it’s unlikely to deliver long-term results. 

Social selling requires planning and strategy. It’s about trying to initiate conversations at the top of the purchase funnel, and this is where marketers come into the equation. 

It won’t be easy, of course. Brutal as it sounds, sometimes the best thing a marketer can do is to let sales colleagues fail in their attempts at social selling. Show them that audiences aren’t engaging with their messaging, and that they need to change their approach. 

After all, salespeople are on the frontline and hear directly from prospective customers. They understand their needs. The job for marketers is to take those insights and to use them to create the content to fuel a successful social selling strategy.

Working more closely with sales teams

At alan, we’ve spent the last 12 years helping brands to find a story and a tone of voice to resonate with their target audience. Many of those same processes will help to improve your social selling. 

You need to get the basics right. That means agreeing on a coherent and compelling story, which makes sense of a company’s place in the market. Understand what your audience wants to hear about; spend time working out who you want to be. It’s vital not to skip those necessary steps. 

Watch our recent webinar The power of storytelling for ideas on creating your own brand story.

As Rupert explained on The CMO Show, if you find a prospect you want to reach out to, don't write them the “standard script”. Instead, he says, “drop a video into their inbox that's going to be very useful for their particular business. And you'll get an alert when they look at that video. That's the moment to follow up.”

With the rigorous prep work done, you can then turn your attention to more elementary considerations. Make sure that your social media profiles and bios are up to date. Ensure you join all the relevant LinkedIn groups and forums. 

A lot of people get hung up by the type of content they should share – whether research, videos, infographics, or something else entirely. In reality, this is far less important than the insights shaping those posts. 

While it’s possible to attempt social selling on a one-to-one basis with tools like Sales Navigator, no amount of automation can overcome a poorly conceived strategy and irrelevant content. Social sellers should aspire to becoming thought leaders, and not simply behave like salespeople in a digital context. 

Social selling also takes time. The longer you spend doing it, the more likely it is that you will become successful.

The social sellers that prevail are those that are prepared to build up a following with regular posts, and happy to comment on posts by others with no expectation of an immediate transaction. It will take months to steadily build engagement.

Because, ultimately, social selling is a strategy to get people to seek you out the next time they have a problem that your brand or product could solve. 

Rather than going ‘bananas’ like the rest of the market, and spamming your prospects with annoying messages, try following the steps I’ve outlined in this blog. It’ll stand you in good stead, whatever may come next.

To finish off this blog post, I’ve summarised what I believe to be the key pros and cons of social selling:


  • You can directly reach your target audience with the click of a button and join conversations that your prospects and connections are having (without even having to know them).

  • It’s not all about business anymore. Social media gives you the chance to be authentic and show off your personality as not only a person, but a brand too. 

  • Building your network. Referrals are one of the strongest marketing methods. 

  • It’s effective. LinkedIn in particular is the highest rated platform for B2B effectiveness. 


  • It takes time for a brand to build up a credible online presence and reputation. But, as the famous saying goes, “slow and steady wins the race”. 

  • There is a lot of spam. No, I’m not talking about the ham. I’m referring to the amount of unrelated posts that pop up in your messages or feed. In order to stand out from the rest, you need to be provocative in your posts. Don’t get lost in the crowd. 

  • Direct selling on social media is not as effective as you might think. LinkedIn is all about connecting with like minded professionals, not selling. Nurture your audience through LinkedIn, show them why you deserve their business.

As always, I’ll leave you with this provocative truth: Social selling is just another PR tactic. It’s all about communication and how you want to be perceived. What do you want to be famous for? Amplify your PR strategy by getting your social selling right. 

Want to find out more about how marketing can help with social selling? Call us on 020 3877 3800 or email us at to speak to one of our specialists about how we can help create the assets you require. You may also be interested in our other blogs:

Electrify your B2B storytelling - 4 essential tips

How to publish true thought leadership

Ready to provoke the truth?

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