Infiltrating The Social Selling Mafia

Tony Hughes


The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.

Ladies and gentlemen, I've recently been accused of being inducted into the Social Selling Mafia as a 'made man.'

I assure you, this is patently untrue but even if it were true, I really couldn't admit - could I? Live by the social media, die by the social media. I have no intention of 'sleeping with the fishes.' I prefer my shoes to be Italian leather rather than lead.

But seriously; I've been pushing like crazy in LinkedIn for 90 days and it really does work. You can leverage it more effectively than a telephone. What case study am I referencing? My own success in the channel and that of those whom I mentor. I think it's because I approached it with an open mind and little experience.

I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance." - Socrates, from Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers

Instead I decided to use RSVP, TAS, Battle Plan, Challenger, Strategic, Solution, Power Base, Miller Heiman and especially SPIN in the channel. Since I couldn't find it anywhere, I coined what I'm doing as #strategicsocialselling and launched a new hashtag. That's not to say that many of the #socialselling elite are not strategic. Many are and I'm meeting them along the way, as they agree it's about fusing old and new school methods together. I called many out in a Strategic Social Selling Unicorns Post.

I was writing a post about the power of 'Pay It Forward' and that being 'interested versus interesting' is the great hidden secret to all social selling hiding in plain sight in order to generate profitable new business via LinkedIn when a thought leader responded that 'Social Selling is a Myth' and he does not agree with the tenets of the ruling families of the Social Selling Mafia. I thought it would be amusing to write a retort as a post. Also, I don't really see myself as part of any mafia of any kind. As Groucho Marx stated facetiously, "PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION. I DON'T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT PEOPLE LIKE ME AS A MEMBER." [Rimshot!]

I've blazed a trail as a pioneer out on my own in social selling endeavoring to make it more strategic and writing about ways to use LinkedIn Sales Navigator, InsideView, Avention, Trigger Event Selling and stealth B2B technologies akin to or FrontLine Selling. I've tried to just go out and produce results via massive action rather than buy into any of the prevailing theories out there. Thus I've posited various paradoxesI see in social selling as well as ways to leverage it in every aspect of the traditional prospecting engagement funnel. I'm pleased to hear that thought-leaders are reading and thinking about my work. Rest assured, I serve no master but the truth and am looking for ways to tangibly help those that I coach achieve cut-through leveraging the new tools.

Unbeknownst to me, by promoting LinkedIn so heavily, I inadvertently got hazed into the amorphous mob of the social mafia. I ended-up on a Top 100 Social Sellers list from Onalytica, within a few months at #87. I started to newsjack and leverage David Meerman Scott principles which, blended together with my RSVPselling Methodology, gave me what I've calculated to be one of the highest read blogs in my network. Humbled and grateful to be there; thanks for your support!

The truth is, that everyone who's taken the deep dive into Social Selling 1.0 and 2.0 are the trailblazers. They've laid a foundation for a brave new world. They've gotten in the covered wagons and gone West toward their manifest destiny (or in Australia where I am, East - over the great dividing range). LinkedIn is so much more than a yellow pages or CRM of contact records. It's so much more than noise and hype. It's everywhere that you want to be. It's where all your prospects are and with Navigator, you can now passively monitor your prospects' streams. At long last, by leveraging that one relevant insight to crowbar in a 'warm introduction,' you are 500% more likely to secure a meeting.

So in many ways leveraging LinkedIn for B2B upstream engagement is exponentially more successful than a traditional phone. You move from servicing demand to creating it. You move from prospecting to uncovering latent demand pre-trigger events. You're upstream to Challenger. You're upstream to the 57% of the decision making process. You're serving them insights and new solutions to problems they may not even know they actually have.

Only 2% of attempts on a phone get through for a result and it's just not high enough. I've made 100 calls in one day - I won't settle for second prize or a set of steak knives! I want to be the CEO in charge of my own life. I want to win. To sell I need to make contact. I need someone that I can sell to. What I will say, is that seeking to get in without a compelling insight, without speaking CXO, without ideation in your go-to-market strategy that aligns sales and marketing and challenges the sector's status quo: that's high risk. You will fail. So social selling just to 'open' faster, is transactional whiz-bang. Strategic insight applied to social 'opening' as a conduit to meaningful value exchange [the V in RSVP = value creation], landing the coffee meeting, on-site and then hopping on the airplane - that's the tour-de-force trifecta or four-fecta! Fuggedabouit!

I come to social media with a completely open mind. I'm on a clandestine operation of old school strategic selling, a cunning fox in wolf's clothing. I approach every day like a rookie would. I ask why? I explore every possibility and I read the #socialselling hashtag like mad. But I also watch all the top sellers on Amazon, read the consultants' white papers, research any credible data I can get my hands on and follow many blogs of the contrarians who believe social selling is a myth.

The argument that is accurate in my opinion is that any communications channel mistakenly leveraged for cram and jam, slam selling and push button gratification is inherently fatally flawed. Agreed. Can you use social media and elevate it into sending the language of outcomes and risk over the wires to the right executives to break through in dream accounts? Yes. Can you build the right target network and engage with them in Groups, InMails and respond to their Publish, Blog and Updates on LinkedIn? Yes. Proof? I receive e-mails and invites from CXOs constantly in response to what I write. The proof is in the commentary arguing against Social Selling. If you're not using social selling to engage, how are you reading all of my articles and leaving long meaningful comments? Your existence as an executive in the channel is empirical proof of its very success.

So thus: WE ARE ALL IN THE SOCIAL SELLING MAFIA or perhaps we are just selling. 330+ million on LinkedIn strong are getting a spectrum of results every day based on their ability to wield the technology by making meaning in their message. It's communications 101 or maybe 202. Sellers are as powerful as the quality of their insight - in any channel - and that's the way it will always be. So what's really changed? The medium but not the message, dare I say. A Twitter with 200,000 followers cannot hold a candle to the right 1,000 connects [thousand true fans] on LinkedIn that are hyper-targeted and segmented to match to your solution fit.

Ultimately, if we study Metcalfe's law and the history of network effects we find that there is always a network with nodes. It's all a human communications systems grid. Text messaging surpassed voice calls for Millennials. Snapchat and WhatsApp exceeded Facebook. Ultimately, it's all just network communications with changing media. Wherever the majority of customers communicate will always be the penultimate channel for business success. Penetrating a social based ecosystem with a telephone is in violation of the basic laws and science of network effects. There's a basic scientific argument that would support the efficacy of social networks, the internet and Web 3.0. Wherever the fish spend the most of there time is where the fishermen go. They even risk their lives for the deadliest catch! The bait is quality insight-driven or Challenger content. Call it what you will! It's factual and empirical. Just like early phone sellers who didn't master a strategic approach, the phone was rendered worthless. Because of the way LinkedIn notifications hook into mobile, you're literally buzzing their smartphone in pocket.

My prediction from 2015 toward 2020, is that social sellers will become increasingly strategic by fusing the old and the new. The universal methodologies and frameworks that have always won enterprise business will fuse with the new technologies that enable sales acceleration and omniscience. The role of big data, predictive analytics and smart AI algorithms cannot be overstated. The Social Selling Mafia stigma will fall away. This is just like I argued the future of CRM is not CRM although I'm sure that's what it will still be called. Everything will solely become 'selling' once again and I doubt there will even be mobile phones. It will all be about wearables, smart contacts, Google Glass II Designer Edition and we'll have heads up (HUD) displays giving us readouts from managers hooked into the cloud, seeing what we see in a virtual space. Can you imagine? Live sales coaching in real-time?

You may think I watched Minority Report one too many times. The keys to unlocking the riddles of the future of selling are hidden in our deepest past. It's the alchemist - the answer is hiding at the beginning of the journey, buried treasure right beneath us, hiding in plain site. Communication is the most powerful thing we do as humans, much of it is even non-verbal. Communications networks follow the law of divergence, not convergence. They're extremely powerful leveraged in concert. When salespeople connected with prospects through GoToMeeting and turned on their webcam, they had a 34% higher close rate than when they connected through GoToMeeting without video. This is because 10,000 possible facial expressions speak volumes more in universal parlance to humanize our brands. We read people via Gladwellian thin slice, don't you? The majority of Top 100 Twitter profiles are swiftly becoming brands so personal branding and thought leadership via content strategy at scale becomes a profound trend we're seeing.

The future will belong to strategic social sellers 'opening' sales opportunities upstream with holographic and Skype-like means of first calls and demos. There will be stratospheric travel that shrinks the globe so that C-Levels can interact for on-sites to create partnerships in a single day trip. The phone will still exist of course but all the virtual conferencing innovations will be the method of choice. Just look at the explosion of FaceTime, Skype, Join.Me, WebEx and GoToMeeting!

I respect all the sellers out there pushing the envelope regardless of their moniker. Social selling is neither myth nor lie. There are very real case studies. Check out the LinkedIn Navigator success stories in the enterprise and testimonials at that link. There's your social proof on social selling and the data does not lie. Look at all the real world case studies these leading enterprises are touting. Multiple 300K+ deals, 40% pipeline growth and millions in net new revenue!

Shakira said it best, 'My hips don't lie!'

Huge increases in engagement lead to higher revenues. LinkedIn is clearly the new effective cold call if done strategically with relevant insight in context. We must challenge ourselves to approach the new tools strategically. Welcome to the brave new world. I never intended to take the 90-Day Social Selling Challenge on LinkedIn in order to join some 'mafia.' I was seeking to get on board the superhighway like Einstein riding the light beam. If good ideas that work are mafioso, then we're living in an upside-down world. I don't care much for tools or rules.

I do whatever it takes maintaining integrity, to get the deal over the line and I suggest you do too. The greatest strategy of all is the one that works in that moment on the field. 'Opportunities multiply as they are seized,' Sun Tzu. The mafia know who I am and have been encouraging so far, more proof perhaps there isn't mafia at all. More just luddites against the early adopters. I have seemed to upset a few people by putting myself out there to this degree. It was worth it to gain thousands of new connections to help us collectively figure this all out. Disruptive change is hard on everyone. People fear change and seek security and stability, something impossible in high technology markets. Let your results speak for themselves and boldly go where no one has gone before! Adaptation and agile learning are the key. Only the curious will survive.


Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at or his sales methodology website at

Main image photo by Flickr: Eneas De Troya


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