Tag Archives: Robert Caruso

Professional services marketing & the used-car salesman approach to social media

by Kirsten Hodgson

Image by Thomas Hawk via Flickr

I was going to blog about some ways to engage via social media this week, but a couple of things have happened that have made me realise there are a number of so called ‘social media experts’  out there who are behaving like used car salesmen.

I don’t think this is in the interests of professionals and could really damage their reputations.

Yes, social media is new. No, there isn’t a defined way to use the tools. We’re all learning and we’re all able to try new things and that’s the exciting part. These media allow two way communication and enable us to initiate relationships online that we can then take into the real world.

So, I simply don’t believe that the used-car salesman approach is sustainable nor in the interests of those in professional services (in particular).

The inspiration for this post came from Robert Caruso @fondalo who has been writing a series of great posts on this very topic. In light of what I’ve seen recently, his posts have really resonated with me.

What is used-car salesman behaviour?

Basically, this is when people you’ve never met nor come across before try to sell to you via social networks, WITHOUT trying to build a relationship first.

In the last week I’ve come across two such approaches and one other issue:


I got an automated ‘thanks for following me, now recommend me to someone who might need my help’ message on Twitter from someone I’d never met. When I checked, they weren’t sharing any valuable information in their field via their Twitter feed – so why would they think a stranger would recommend them?

Maybe I’m just over automated messages but if you want someone to recommend you, you have to demonstrate your value first.

Otherwise, why should anyone refer one of their contacts to you when they have no experience of you nor your work.

If you’re going to use automated messages please focus on the other person and say something like ‘thanks so much for the follow, look forward to reading and sharing your tweets’ and make sure it’s set up correctly (see the other issue below!) – you only get one chance at a first impression – it’s up to you how you wish to be perceived.

Better still, ditch the automated message and send a personal one to key people with whom you wish to connect. Start to build a:



Being sold to on LinkedIn by someone I don’t know. Again, what’s in it for me? Had they sent me some useful content and allowed me to read more for myself it might have been a different story. I may have wanted to connect to them and to find out more (buying from them would still take a bit more time…)


I also noticed that someone I knew was following me on Twitter so followed him back. Within the space of 20 mins I got 25 automated ‘thanks for following me messages’. Something had clearly gone wrong.

I let him know and then unfollowed him until he got it fixed. However, two days later he stopped following me – automatically adding people to try to build followers? Definitely (following almost 2,000 people with 200 followers). Automated tools can be helpful but you do need to build relationships.

More followers may mean better exposure. But not if they couldn’t care less what you’re sharing. In a professional setting, I think it’s better to take a slower approach to growing your following, whether using an automated tool or not.

Social media is NOT a silver bullet

I don’t blame the professionals themselves. I just think they’re getting some really bad advice from social media companies acting like used-car salesmen. Who wouldn’t want to believe that there’s a silver bullet and you can quickly attract new clients via social media?

The reality is what damage does attempting to sell to someone you don’t know do to your reputation? How many of those who’ve ignored you have told others? Is it really worth even trying?

What’s a better approach?

You can absolutely approach others you don’t know but do so trying to form a relationship, not an instant new client. This morning I read a great  post by Seth Godin in which he said:

Don’t try to convert strangers into customers. It’s ineffective and wasteful. Instead, focus on turning those momentary strangers into people eager to hear from you again and again.”

He’s hit the nail on the head and, as usual, put it way better than I ever could. If you are using social networks as lead generation tools you have to form a relationship with the other person first.

This could be by sending them information they’ll value, inviting them to an event that’s relevant to them, asking for their input into something – there are an infinite number of ways you can do this. Turn yourself into someone they want to follow because you share great information and make it easy for them to keep up to date with developments in a particular area.

The point is that acting like a used car salesman and putting the sale first isn’t going to be a successful way to go about things in the long term.

If you’re not positioning yourself by either producing relevant content or curating content (effectively doing people’s reading for them) then why the heck should someone hire you over someone else who has?

You may get a few meetings in the short term but you’ll have to work hard to convert them – the prospect won’t have been able to assess whether you know what you’re talking about in advance and may not feel a driving need for your offering.

And you may have put a lot of people off. Perhaps this isn’t so important in a larger market but certainly in a smaller one or in a niche industry, people talk. I’ve certainly told at least 5 or 6 other people about the poor things I’ve seen, mainly because I was with them when these things happened. That’s a dangerous position for a professional to be in.

If you build relationships first then, by the time you do meet to discuss how you can help, half the work’s been done for you and the work is yours to lose. I’d far rather spend the extra time up front to build relationships and credibility and to begin to build trust than focus on old-school selling.

Consultative selling has to be the way forwards.

What’s your view? 

Social media YES’s

  • Build relationships
  • Share relevant content that you, or others, have created
  • Ask questions and seek others’ opinions
Social media NO’s
  • Outsourcing engagement (other things you can outsource but not the conversation)
  • Sending automated responses to Twitter followers – make them relevant to the other person
  • Constantly selling (it’s tantamount to cold calling)
  • Treating social media purely as a numbers game
What behaviour have you seen in the social media sphere that hasn’t sat well with you? 

Conversely, what have you seen that’s been really good?