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Umberto Milletti, InsideView: How social fits into the sales process

30th May 2011
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Brent Leary interviews Umberto Milletti, CEO and co-founder of sales 2.0 vendor InsideView, about understanding how social media can benefit the sales process - and the challenges facing firms who wish to tap into social sales.

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Brent Leary: Hello, this is Brent Leary and I am about to speak to the CEO and founder of InsideView, Umberto Milletti. Umberto, thanks for joining me today.

Umberto Milletti: Thank you for having me.
Brent Leary: For those who may not be as familiar with your company, maybe you could fill them in and talk a little bit about what you guys do. Also, talk a little bit about your background as well.
Umberto Milletti: Before InsideView, I founded a company called DigitalThink, which was one of the first companies to develop what is now called e-learning - the ability for people to learn not in classrooms, but through the internet and through their browser. This was in the mid 90s and we had a lot of success. The company went public and then was acquired by Convergence, and the experience that I took away from my eight years running that company was the impact that information can have to make people more productive. We all understand when people get trained to do a job more effectively, that has a positive impact on their performance. Just as true is the fact that people that are customer-facing desperately need relevant intelligence and information to be more productive themselves.
I believe that the days of traditional selling, which is a lot of cold calling, email blasting, kind of transactional 1.0 selling is dumb. I don't mean dumb people, but an unintelligent, unfocused effort, and that those days of ineffectiveness will continue to decrease.  
What a customer wants today is not a cold call that is generic in nature… not an email blast. They really want to engage with the company and be helped in understanding how you, the company, can help me, the customer, get my job done more effectively. That is not a generic interaction. That has to be a relevant interaction. 
I started InsideView with the vision that we could make customer-facing employees, sales people to begin with, more productive, more effective, more efficient by providing them with the intelligence they need to understand who they should be talking to, and what they should be saying to that person. When is the right time to reach out to that person. What do they have in common for that person to really use information intelligence to create velocity in sales conversations, and to create efficiency.
Brent Leary: Now, you have been a champion of what has been called Sales 2.0. It's kind of interesting to me, because it seems like with the rise and interest in social media from a business perspective, you have social CRM, which has caught a lot of people's attention and a lot of the focus on that has been on the marketing branding aspects of it. In 2011, you are seeing even more of an interest now, on the service aspects of how social media can impact the customer experience and customer service. It seems like the sale aspects of social media have been less emphasized. Maybe you could talk a little bit about, if that is the perception that you see, and why that is?
Umberto Milletti: There are tremendous benefits. But you are right, adoption in sales of social has lagged marketing and service. There are a number of reasons for that. Actually, not too long ago, I read an article in Mashable, just about this topic. Some of those reasons are, first of all, we all understand the "united breaks guitars" use cases or other B2C use cases of social media. Those are the ones that everybody understands. Those are the ones that are being talked about in the media. Those are really either marketing or service use cases. So its normal, I think, for the initial interest in the market to really be focused on how does social media help customer interactions from a service perspective and how does social media help marketing organisations understand their brand and sentiment and all of that.
“I believe that the days of traditional selling, which is a lot of cold calling, email blasting, kind of transactional 1.0 selling is dumb. I don't mean dumb people, but an unintelligent, unfocused effort, and that those days of ineffectiveness will continue to decrease." - Umberto Milletti
Furthermore, marketing and service tend to be a little more forward thinking… a little more technologically savvy, a little bit more curious and hence more likely to jump on to a new trend. Sales and leads are said to be very focused on execution/results- a little bit less interested in technology. So that also creates a reason for lag. Lastly, the sales audience, as you have met sales people in your career, they are not necessarily techno geeks. They are not out there trying the new thing. In general, they expect their employer to train them and to give them tools that are going to make them more effective. They are not likely to go out on their own and research and experiment with new things. They are more likely to expect their employer to tell them about social selling - to give them social CRM tools an train them on how to do that.
These are all reasons why adoption has lagged. On the other hand, we are starting to see a really strong adoption and strong interest in this area. The fact is that the social use case in sales, is quite different than it is in marketing and service.
Brent Leary: Is it also a case with sales folks, them just not necessarily seeing exactly how social media impacts them because they are used to being very face to face - very one on one with their selling process. Has it been a challenge to understand where social media fits in with them?
Umberto Milletti: In some ways, it has, but what you just described is one of the key use cases of social media. So, five or ten years ago, sales people spent a lot of time on the plane, in the office of their customer, looking at the pictures on their desk, on the golf course talking about their kids and their interests and all of the things that allowed for a relationship to be created. People still at the end of the say still buy from people. So that relationship was critical to have effective sales transactions. Over the last ten years companies and people have much less willing to travel to put people on planes. Its expensive its time consuming and more and more the business has moved away from that space and it has happened over the web, over teleconferencing.
Frankly, customers are also not interested in hosting sales people for a three hour lunch or a three hour golf meeting. So, social media can really be a tremendous asset because now, even though I might never meet the person I am dealing with or selling to, just a look at their Facebook profile, or their Twitter handle, what they are saying and look at an article that has been write about them, gives me tremendous insight and allows me to have a much more relevant conversation with them to create a relationship, to understand them as human beings and allow me to build that relationship that then facilitates the business transaction.
As you see, that is a very different use case then the marketing use cases on social media, which is not about one-to-one, I am trying to learn more about Brent. I am trying to understand what pundits think about my company, broadly. So sales is intrinsically different from marketing.  It’s a one-to-one job. 
The way that social media is brought to sales, which is what we call social selling, is really quite different than social CRM. Because of that, we have actually sponsored and help found a university and online program for sales people called Social Selling University. It's a free education - webinars and other online programs to just help people in sales, what a social means to me and how do I become more productive using our social media. 
We are doing this because ultimately, we believe that adopting social media sales is critical to that success that we have been trying to drive as a company. Even though, this is all free and there is really not a revenue component for us, as a company. We think that education the marketing is a good thing for the market and a good thing for us as well.
Brent Leary:  What are some of the misconceptions you see folks who are going through your course, maybe saying this social sales stuff doesn't work because....
and then we they get into your program they find out "wow, we didn't understand that…".
Umberto Milletti: There are many, but one comment is about a specific social media platform: "Twitter does not really matter to sales. Twitter is something that marketing should care about and that service should care about." But, I see many, many examples of where Twitter is tremendously useful for sales.
An example is, recently there was a soccer company here in the Bay Area. You could see his Twitter handle, you could see him responding to unhappy customers, who were tweeting to him saying, Its talking a long time for your product to be provisioned to me, what's going on? He was responding saying, I am sorry, we will address this issue for you, thank you for reaching out to me. Now, if I am in sales and I sell something that helps a company do better provisioning or better service, what can be better than the CEO of that company, admitting that there is a problem there. That is now a one-to-one interaction that you are doing - you are targeting a specific CEO, a specific company. You are recognizing by what they are talking about that there is an opportunity for you and your company for turning that into a sales cycle. 
“Social media can really be a tremendous asset because now, even though I might never meet the person I am dealing with or selling to, just a look at their Facebook profile, or their Twitter handle, what they are saying and look at an article that has been write about them, gives me tremendous insight and allows me to have a much more relevant conversation with them to create a relationship." - Umberto Milletti
There are many examples of executives of companies on Twitter, giving pointers to the market on their issues, what they are interested in - all of them are really selling opportunities.
That common misconception of Twitter doesn't really matter for sales. Twitter is a customer service, marketing channel is one of the simpler examples of how there are misconceptions broadly that social media doesn't matter as much as the sales.
Brent Leary: With social sales and the rise of social media, what are some of the new job functions or new skill sets that successful sales people need to have in the age of social selling?
Umberto Milletti: A key skill set is to understand that interacting through social media is different. You and I know that because we have been active in social media for a while, but you really have to understand, not just how to listen to social media, how to listen to a Twitter feed or how to discover someone on Facebook and understand more about them through their Facebook profile or LinkedIn profile. Really, what is an appropriate way for me to reach out to this person? Is it appropriate for me to send them a direct message on Twitter? Is it appropriate for me to mention the fact that I saw their Facebook profile, which told me that they were interested in horses, as an example. Or is it not appropriate to do that? 
That is the skill set of really knowing how to interact with social media. Another challenge that not, just the sales individual, but really also a sales management challenge is the fact that social media sites in general, have been designed to distract.
Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter get measured by how many minutes you spend on their site. So they have designed their social network to distract you to keep you on their site for as long as possible. If you are not careful from a sales manager perspective, a research exercise of learning about a specific executive can turn into a Farmville gaming half hour session by your sales people. One of the things that we do as a company, through our application is we keep sales people in their sales automation system, in their sales work flow. We keep them from being distracted. We give them access information that is on Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn, but we do it within context of an opportunity of a lead, of an account and really minimise the distraction that otherwise is intrinsic and built in to social media.
I do hear sales executives ask questions whether they should allow their sales people to be on social media, with the fear of them really spending too much time gaming and doing other things that are not relevant. It reminds me of what people used to say in the mid 90s when it came to the internet. Where a whole bunch of companies shut off internet access to the desktop completely because they were afraid that their employees would be on the there doing wrong things and not really doing work. To me, shutting off social media from employees is clearly, not a long-term strategy. What I think is more appropriate for management is to think about is how we want people to use social media. Give them the training, tools and technology that allows them to be effective in using social media. If they don't, they won't know how to use social media. They will lose a whole bunch of opportunities to engage with prospects and to be more relevant. 
Brent Leary: Are we at a point where organisations that aren't deploying and intergrading social tools and strategies into their sales process, are they already at a point where they are at a serious enough disadvantage or are we still kind of early on still trying to figure this out?
Umberto Milletti: I think it's here already. I look at our sales people. Our sales people over the last three years have shifted away from email or phone as being the only way that they interacted with prospects. Now, we are effectively using social media to see what people are up to. To find reasons to reach out to people. Sometimes to contact people and find that those conversations are much more relevant. 
“A key skill set is to understand that interacting through social media is different. You really have to understand, not just how to listen to social media, how to listen to a Twitter feed or how to discover someone on Facebook and understand more about them through their Facebook profile or LinkedIn profile. Really, what is an appropriate way for me to reach out to this person?" - Umberto Milletti 
I am a big believer that more and more companies will realise when it comes to building new business, that volume is not the answer. More leads into the funnel is not the answer. The answer is really effectiveness. How do you take a lead and turn it into an opportunity more efficiently, effectively and social media is tremendously helpful in increasing quality of interaction, increasing conversion rates. 
That's not just been being proven only anecdotally in my impressions, but recently a research firm called CSO Insights, did a study of sales productivity. They looked at a very specific metric which is, win rates. Of the opportunities that a sales organisation creates, how many do they win, what percentage? They found that companies that just didn't give any information to the sale people, just let them use Google and LinkedIn, whatever by hand, they had 43% win rates. This is a pretty big population of companies, about 2,000 companies. The companies that gave their employees some data, like email addresses, Hoover's profile, a Jigsaw record. They were able to increase their win rates by about 2 percentage points to about 45.5%. The companies that gave their employees real intelligence, social media intelligence had 51%win rates. That proves that sales people who are leveraging this new approach, this new intelligence have 6% higher win rates or if you compare to giving them nothing, 9% higher win rates. That 6% is over a $100K of additional revenue per sales rep, per year.   That is tremendous impact that is real productivity, which tells me that the day is here. It's not one, two, three years in the future.
Brent Leary: Sales intelligence is improving, not only the win rate, but also is it being more efficient? Are you seeing a change in how fast deals are closing, in addition to getting better deals, or maybe even deal size as well?
Umberto Milletti: That's a great question. The answer is yes. It's pretty simple to understand why. When I think about sales intelligence, they think about buying a list, a bunch of names, email addresses, phone numbers, titles, inside of companies. They call those things leads. They give them to their sales people and they say, go get these leads. The problem is that an email address or a phone number, might help you in the lead generation of business component at best, although I would argue that even there, it's not very effective because an email address does not make you relevant. It just allows you to do a bunch of cold calling. 
Then, furthermore, once you get engaged with a prospect, their email and their phone number doesn't help you anymore. You have it. The question is what are you going to learn about that person or that company that is going to help that lead become an opportunity and that opportunity become a customer? After you have a customer, what intelligence are you going to have about that customer that is going to tell you when there is an opportunity to sell more to that customer or maybe there is a threat that the customer is going to go away. All of those things are not leads, defined the old way. They are not lists of names and phone numbers. That is all the intelligence that we are talking about.  
Intelligence, unlike data, has productivity all the way through. So we see our customers being able to do things like, increase the average deal size by about 4X. A customer of ours called Zuora, has seen that by giving their sales people sales intelligence. We are seeing other customers SuccessFactors being able to sell at the VP and CXO Level by using intelligence. So we are seeing companies improve their renewal rates and their attachment rates. We are really seeing intelligence impact the whole revenue cycle, not just the lead generation component, which I think conceptually makes sense, but we are also seeing that in practice.
Brent Leary:  This has been a great conversation with Umberto Milletti from InsideView. Umberto, if you had to say, maybe a year or two from now, do you see social sales getting the same kind of attention as some of the other aspects of social business like marketing/service or is it just because it is more B2B oriented that it may not ever get that kind of attention?
Umberto Milletti: In general, B2B solutions get less attention then B2C solutions for a number of different reasons. I think in the B2B arena, which is ultimately where companies spend a lot of their money. Many, many companies are B2B, they are not B2C. There is nothing more important then making your sales tam more efficient. It is much more important, much bigger ROI then more effective brand management or more effective sentiment analysis or even more effective service. 
Almost every CEO I talk to who runs a B2B company, their number one issue is how do I grow my top line more quickly? How do I grow and get more customers effectively? So, I have no doubts that its going to become more and more focused, which is why you see companies like really invest in acquiring social CRM capabilities. You are seeing Microsoft really push the concept of an intelligent sales person using their CRM. You are seeing SAP really be focused on individual sales productivity. All of these companies, at the end of the day, the real money and focus of companies is in sales and sales productivity, more so then even marketing and service.
Brent Leary: Where can people learn more about what you guys are up to at InsideView?
Umberto Milletti:, and for those who are interested in educating themselves on social selling go to the You can also follow me on Twitter - my handle is @UmbertoM and I tend to talk about these topics. I also have a blog at, where people can follow what I am writing about.

Brent Leary is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award winning blogger. He is co-founder and Partner of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. In 2009 he co-authored Barack 2.0: Social Media Lessons for Small Business. Recognised by InsideCRM as one of the 25 most influential industry leaders, Leary also is a past recipient of CRM Magazine's Most Influential Leader Award. He serves on the national board of the CRM Association, on the advisory board of the University of Toronto's CRM Center of Excellence, and on the editorial advisory board for The Atlanta Tribune. Leary writes a regular online column for Inc. magazine, and blogs at BrentLeary.comHe can be found on Twitter at


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