The Evolution of Social Selling

First of all, social selling is nothing new. The origin comes from Referral Marketing, later also Affiliate Marketing which is a common technique to commercialize recommendations. Basically, it was already used at the first Tupper parties in 1948 by the "circle of friends".

When I took my first steps in sales in the 90s, I was dependent on recommendations. Satisfied customers have recommended me. That's how I built a customer base.

An old salesperson's wisdom says:

“A satisfied customer brings 4 new customers, a dissatisfied customer quits and takes 16.”

This statement makes it clear how important the personal support is on the one hand and the power of the personal recommendation on the other hand. Social networks and evaluation platforms live from this kind of exchange. We are asking for another one’s opinion and advice. And the principle of the Trusted Advisor was already described in 2001 in the book with the same title.

What can be found online?

Making a simple Google search on the term "social selling" will yield over a billion results. If you look for the exact term (in quotation marks) there are more than 3.7 million. Google Trends rejects the term as early as 2004 (previously, there was probably no data) and reached its peak in April 2017. In Germany, the term appeared in 2008 for the first time. Since we are sometimes one to two years behind in Germany, it is not surprising that the topic reached its preliminary zenith in February 2019.

The fact is, digitization has reached sales since a long time. Whilst pure digital business models have existed for more than 20 years, products in need of explanation are still sold face-to-face. However, the way of distribution has changed fundamentally. The availability of information and the comparability of products make it easier for buyers to find out in advance. For the seller, this is once again the challenge of being in the right place at the right time.

What’s the current status?

If you ask around the sales departments in enterprise companies, many have been running a social selling framework for years. However, that does not mean that everyone uses it consistently. On the contrary, there are several companies that are just beginning to discover the topic for themselves.

If we take at the famous German Mittelstand, the topic does not seem to have even arrived yet. If anything, one or the other decider has a profile on XING. This is then rather badly maintained than good, and frankly not actively used for the establishment of contacts. Again, our own experience shows that the purpose and use of business networks go far beyond their use as a digital Rolodex and career network. Here, in particular, we Germans who are trying to protect our data should perhaps show a little more courage to reveal something personal about us.

How does it look in action?

It takes time! No action, no outcome! Only those who consistently work on their personal brand, will build up a reputation for themselves and maybe become an authority in the market. I know it from experience. The mere will is not enough. You have to do it too! Everyone should spend part of their time working on "his" brand.

And when is the work done? That is certainly a legitimate objection. A salesman is there for his customers and he will be grateful for the good service. If necessary, hire a specialist to help you doing the work.


The subject of social selling is not new. We all use the underlying principles for a long time. With the naming, the topic has been given a renaissance in Europe. Using suitable platforms, above all Instagram (B2C) and LinkedIn (B2B), two possibilities of self-marketing are at our fingertips. If used properly, they may lead to a real sales boost.

If you want to discuss how you can leverage social selling in your organization - send me a message on LinkedIn.