Social Selling Differences in the UK and the US: An Interview with Lee Bartlett, Part 1

Lee Bartlett, sales leader, author and blogger on high performance in sales, has enjoyed a highly successful sales career working for a variety of tier 1 institutions. He has held roles in large US, UK and European-based corporations, and sold extensively across most countries in these regions, as well as in Asia. With extensive experience selling to the financial sector and C-suite executives, Lee has built multi-national sales teams, been co-founder and CEO of a tech start-up and has recently authored his first book, The No.1 Best Seller. He shares his personal sales methodology and experiences in his book and blog, both of which discuss the mindset, strategies and processes of top salespeople.

Tamara Schenk: Thanks for taking the time today to share some of your insights. You have interviewed five multi-national organizations regarding their experiences with social selling in the UK versus the USA, and how selling has changed over the last five years. One of the highlights was the challenge of dealing with buyers who perceive themselves as very well informed, whereas they miss the necessary context. Is this situation self-inflicted by social selling? Is it a challenge or an opportunity for sales professionals?

Lee Bartlett: It’s a challenge AND an opportunity. An inability to identify where the customer is in the buying journey can lead to missing vital objections, communicating the wrong information, and a breakdown in trust in your ability to service their needs. So, an over or misinformed buyer, combined with a poorly prepared salesperson, is a disaster waiting to happen. However, a well-prepared salesperson can quickly identify the customers’ level of understanding and understanding of product value, and meet them at the appropriate point in the customer journey and guide them to a solution. It’s an opportunity for a salesperson to differentiate themselves by demonstrating expertise, solving their problems and building rapport.

TS: What did you learn from the organizations you interviewed? How is social selling different in the UK versus the US?

LB: The key takeaway from the research was that the customer buyer journey differs, and thus dictates differences in the sales processes by region. It was perceived by all senior sales leaders interviewed that the US buyer has a more systematic approach to procurement and is more educated before initial contact with a salesperson. Therefore, salespeople meet them further through the buyer cycle on initial contact. However, in the UK, customers look to the salesperson for education, and this has two effects. The “relationship” sale is of increased importance to the UK buyer (more so than the US), and the sales teams function differently by region. This is supported by a difference in hiring policy (in the UK a more senior account executive is preferred over SDR hires), and sales training is focused on a more interpersonal approach in the UK.

TS: That’s what we see as well. The SDR trend has not yet fully arrived on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. And we still see the need for senior account executives, especially in highly complex selling situations. Based on your interviews, what are the three most important differences between social selling in the UK versus the US?

LB: First, there is a consensus that the US buyer is more tech savvy than their European counterparts, and therefore better educated.

Second, as a consequence of this, US businesses in the B2B tech space tend to be ahead in the adoption of digital transformation within their business strategy. This is important because the level of customer education in the public domain must now be crafted to inspire an inbound approach, yet careful not to over-educate the buyer before speaking with a salesperson.

Third, as a consequence of the second difference, sales and marketing are more closely aligned to deliver a consistent sales-based message based on the changing customer journey. They can no longer effectively operate independently.

TS: Yes, they shouldn’t operate that way for many reasons. We have seen that the close alignment of marketing and sales regarding their social strategies is one of the critical success factors to make social selling effective. And what’s the impact of culture?

The cultural impact is in how the customers in each region respond to information overload, or “vendor confusion” as it is commonly known. In the UK there is still a reliance on the salesperson to educate customers, rather than trying to make sense of the vast amount information in the market. In the US this is not the case, and customers typically seek the price and little else.

TS: For global organizations especially, it’s always a challenge to understand the cultural differences, and to adjust their approaches on a regional basis. And the differences you just described for the UK are even more relevant in Germany, for example.

Thanks so much, Lee! We will stop here and allow our audience to digest the wisdom you just shared. Stay tuned, the second part of the interview will be published next week on July 20!

You can download Lee’s research paper on US versus UK social selling on his website.

Twitter: @No1BestSeller 


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  • Pete Post
    Posted at 12:35h, 14 July

    I really enjoyed this short interview piece. I think the distinction made between UK (and Germany) and USA is very useful. I presume relationships are still an important factor in the USA, just not as important. David Hoffeld has some interesting stuff to say in his Science of Selling book in this area, I believe he is based in the USA.

    Perhaps we could hear more from CSO insights about how selling and buying operates differently across other national cultures. I think it is easy to assume that just because communication is virtually friction-less we are all somehow becoming homogenised, which Lee has so expertly pointed out is not the case. Such areas as negotiation, account management (for example, customer expectations of their account manager/team), and presentation could be interesting.

  • Tamara Schenk
    Posted at 03:20h, 23 April

    Thanks, Pete Post, for taking the time and writing a comment!
    Glad, you found our interview valuable. Whenever we have enough data, we are happy to share more about the differences in different cultures. Thanks again for your feedback!

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