Social Selling with Timothy Hughes

Guest Timothy Hughes is the author of Social Selling: Techniques to Influence Buyers and Changemakers, this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection. Tim discusses how personal tech and digital media have changed the way business is conducted, and how organizations can harness social media strategically to convert relationships into sales online. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can claim a 20 percent discount on Social Selling at by using the promo code BIGEYE20 at checkout.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS: 

Timothy Hughes: All organizations today should be reporting to their c-suites how much they’re generating from social. If you start using social media as a strategic platform within the organization, what you’ll see is a big difference.

Adrian Tennant: You are listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us today. As we’ve discussed previously on this podcast, over half of the world’s population uses social media – currently, 4.6 billion people. Of the top four social media platforms worldwide, three are owned by Meta, with Facebook being the most used platform overall. And as a result, marketers seeking to engage with consumers through advertising invest billions of dollars in the platform annually. But when it comes to business-to-business selling, LinkedIn is the default choice. A book entitled Social Selling: Techniques to Influence Buyers and Changemakers, now in its second edition, provides a practical, step-by-step guide to creating digital communities building and turning relationships into sales online The book’s author is Timothy Hughes, co-founder and CEO of DLA Ignite, a global social selling company. Last year, LinkedIn named Timothy one of the top eight sales experts to follow globally. And today, I’m delighted that Tim is joining us from his office in London, England, to discuss some of the ideas in his book. Tim, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Timothy Hughes: Hello, Adrian. It’s good to be here. I’m really excited to have a good chat with you.

Adrian Tennant: Tim, first of all, could you tell us about your career and what led you to specialize in social selling?

Timothy Hughes: Yes. So I’m a salesman. I’ve been in sales for 25 years and in B2B enterprises. My background is selling accounting systems and it was back in 2014 when I was in a role, like a COO role, at a large American software company. And we realized that something was going on with social. We didn’t know what it was. So I did some work to investigate it and we ended up rolling out what would be now seen as a fairly rudimentary social selling program across 4,000 people across Europe. Then what happened was, during that, I realized that I didn’t want to carry on selling for the rest of my life or being in sales leadership. It felt to be a little bit of a conveyor belt. I wanted to spend my life talking to people on podcasts about social media and stuff like that. And a number of things happened. I decided I wanted to be the number one social selling person in the world. I wasn’t at the time, but I became that in 2016 and have been ever since. I bumped into somebody, we got a book deal, which was the first edition of Social Selling: Techniques to Influence Buyers and Changemakers. And the large US software company was running a whole bunch of redundancies, which I very nicely squeezed myself into, which enabled me to give the funding that Adam Gray and I started DLA Ignite

Adrian Tennant: Well, your book Social Selling is now in its second edition, but the first edition was published back in 2015. Tim, what prompted you to update the book? 

Timothy Hughes: I was amazed at how much the book sold. My dad’s passed away, but at the time when my dad was alive, I just wanted him to see – “Look what your son’s done. He’s written a book. Isn’t that great?” And so what I did with the first one was, in effect, take what I had in my head and put it down in the book. There actually wasn’t anybody really doing social selling. It was the first book on social selling out. It was just really about taking the contents of me and my co-author’s heads, and putting it down [on paper]. And so what we’ve done with the second edition is update it. So, I’m the sole author for the second edition. I took two weeks off just before Christmas last year, and pretty much rewrote the book. There’s a whole bunch of concepts in there that have changed. You know, back in 2015, I was talking about a world where we would live online, and everybody laughed at me. And here we are living in a world where we do live online! And actually it’s seen as being normal. The other thing I did was I went out to practitioners. So people that are doing this already. So a lot of people think that this change in social is some sort of future state. It’s not. People are already doing this. So, you know, I’ve got a forward by Mark Schaefer. I’ve got people, contributors from, a drones company called Cyber Hawk, Telstra, RingCentral, Namos, which is about a hundred person Oracle consultancy, Mercer, Erickson. I’ve also got a head hunter friend of mine who does a lot of work looking for people online. What he looks for is digital skills and therefore he’s actually written something like 2000 words in terms of what you now need to look like online if you want to get another job, or if you want to be found from the job. So the first book had 187 pages. This second edition has 306. So it’s a massive expansion in terms of the detail of it and I’m really proud about how it’s turned out.

Adrian Tennant: So Tim, in brief, what can readers expect to learn from the second edition of Social Selling

Timothy Hughes: We certainly believe that the world has changed. Social media has changed that it’s changed society and it’s changed the way that we do business. You know, it’s now very normal that you would look somebody up on social media before you would have a meeting. Whereas, maybe 5, 10 years ago you didn’t do that. 60% of the world’s population are active on social. And what that means is that when active on social media, the average person spends two hours, 27 minutes a day on social media, and that’s a massive change to organizations. So there’s that. We’ve also learned that, certainly over the last six years, we’ve transformed a lot of organizations to use what we call social selling, but in effect, what we’ve done is that we’ve transformed their sales team to be digital. So we’ve empowered the people to be digital. So a lot of people think the digital transformation is a new ERP system or new application. It’s not, it’s about changing the way that you work. So let me give you an example. Namos Consulting, we took the sales team through a sales transformation. And because they now are positioned on digital and are having digital conversations and walking digital corridors, what happens is that the people out there, we know that buyers, because the data shows this, the buyers are now not in the physical world. They’re now in the digital world, and because of that, what they do is that they search and they search on Google, but they also search on social. The searches are different. So if you go to Google and type in “What’s the best CRM system in the world?” you won’t get an answer. You’ll get 10,000 CRM companies buying that search. It doesn’t give you what you want. If you come to social, you get discovery because what you get is a completely different experience. And what happens is that buyers know this. They know that every company goes to the market the same way, which is they say, “Buy my product because we are great.” And because of that, HubSpot says that people normally go to websites and are only on there for two to four minutes because you know what people are gonna say? They say the same thing. I sell accounting systems. Every single accounting system goes to the market and say exactly the same thing. So in Namos, what we’ve done is we’ve positioned their salespeople as experts in the area. So when people go online and they start looking for stuff to solve their business problem, they find the salespeople. And then what happens is that they actually walk towards the salespeople and say, “can you help me?” Now, this is transformational because normally with salespeople, we go, “I don’t like you. I don’t trust you. I don’t believe a word you say, and you’re gonna try and sell me something I don’t want.” But what we’ve done with social is that we’ve transformed that sales team to actually be positioned differently, have a network, have content that people are actually interested in, engaged with. And what happened is that deal turned into a 2.6 million dollar deal. They’ve subsequently taken another half a million out of that company. Now we’ve got businesses that are doing that all over the place. We’ve got one client that’s got a 10,000:1 ROI. And the reason for this is that’s the change that’s taken place and what most organizations are doing right now is they’re looking the wrong way. And what they need to do is they need to be leaning into this and understanding it. And what I do with the book is I provide a practical level of instruction that people can actually use. I’ve got all of the latest techniques, all of the latest terminology, so that people can actually understand what it is. And if you’re in leadership today, you need to understand what social and even more, what digital can bring to your organization. 

Adrian Tennant: Well, a central idea in your book is that over the past couple of decades, digital technology has significantly changed buyer habits, which you believe calls for anyone involved in influencing purchasing decisions to become adept in social media. So, Tim, in a world where the internet has changed everything, could you talk a bit about some of the skills you discuss in Social Selling?

Timothy Hughes: I’m old enough to remember when I got my first laptop. And we all had to learn how to use spreadsheets and Harvard Graphics in those days, but it’s now become PowerPoints. But now that’s like people will laugh when you hear that. The children learn how to do that at school. and now you don’t put those skills on your CV. 20 years ago you did. Now you don’t do that because of the fact that we’ve actually got all those skills. And it’s the same with digital. We’ve got the physical world, which is where we’re in now. We’re walking the dog, we’re feeding the cat, and then we’re in the digital world, which is, we’re on LinkedIn, we’re on Twitter. And at the moment there seems to be this curtain that seems to be drawn between the two, where people are basically working in the physical world and what they don’t understand is that their clients have moved over to the digital world. And what they need to do is that they need to make that migration. Hence the reason why what they need is they need to have digital skills. The World Economic Forum even said that, they had a report out recently that you need to have digital skills. These are soft skills. This is not about how to do Google ads or something like that. This is your ability to understand how you walk digital corridors and have digital conversations. It’s been interesting. We’ve had a couple of clients say to us recently, it’s like free money. And why isn’t everybody doing and the reason for this is that they’re looking in the wrong direction. They keep looking at all these things that they did in the past, hoping that somehow or other social media will be that fad that everybody thought it would be. And somehow or other think that people will go back to doing what we did before and we won’t, Covid has meant that basically we’ve walked through a door, into a new room and the door is shut behind us, and we can’t find that. There’s no handle to go back again. We’ve gotta keep going forward.

Adrian Tennant: Your book’s subtitle is Techniques to Influence Buyers and Change Makers. Now In consumer marketing, we’re very familiar with the opportunities and challenges that working with independent content creators and social media influencers can present for brands. Tim, in the fourth chapter of your book, you write about controlling influence. In what kinds of ways can we use business-to-consumer influencer marketing techniques in business-to-business contexts? 

Timothy Hughes: It’s a great question, Adrian. I think people are very tired of influencer marketing because what it’s become is just paid media. You know, I get a lot of people coming to me saying,we want you to promote our product. And really what they want me to do is stand up and go, “Hey, I’ve just used this product and isn’t this a great chair I’m sitting in? you can get one of these from, and they’ve got 30% off.” It’s rubbish. Everybody knows it. And what we’re seeing is that it’s creeping into the B2B area. Now, what we are seeing is something very fundamentally different and we are seeing that B2B people are using influence. So when I talk about influence it is about influencing somebody. Now we all influence somebody in some shape or form. You know, if I ask you, “Where’s the best restaurant to go?” Or “Did you see this film? What did you think?” What you are doing is that your influences? Because you may influence whether I go to see the film or not. And what we are seeing and what we’re asking a lot of companies, is who is the leading technical and commercial digital influencer in your market of vertical? What we’ve seen in the world is this, as I say, this move between the physical and digital and in effect what we have with digital, it’s very early days, so it’s a bit like when America just had people on the East Coast and there was a whole bunch of people that said, “I’m gonna go west. I’m gonna get in my wagon and I’m gonna stake out a piece of land and I’m gonna put a flag in it and it’s gonna be mine!” And what people are doing, certainly in B2B, is that they are able to define the marketplace because their competition is all in the physical world, talking about physical things and print and email, and cold calls and advertising and those things, what’s happened is that the buyers have moved into the digital world. And what we’re seeing are people in the digital world staking out that claim and saying that they are the number one in that particular area. And so what they’re doing is that they’re able to say that they’re the leading commercial and technical influencers in that space. And that is a big change because what they’re doing is actually leading the charge into digital, away from the physical world. 

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message. 

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing. December’s featured book is Social Selling: Techniques to Influence Buyers and Changemakers by Timothy Hughes. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code BIGEYE20. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free e-book offer. To order your copy of Social Selling, go to

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Timothy Hughes, a pioneer and recognized expert in social selling and the author of the book, Social Selling: Techniques to Influence Buyers and Changemakers, published by Kogan Page. Tim, the company you co-founded, DLA Ignite, consults with businesses and helps them create their digital strategy. What does developing a digital strategy aligned with social selling typically entail? 

Timothy Hughes: So what this is about is using digital from a strategic perspective. Most organizations use social from a tactical perspective. So for example, the classic response is, marketing will put out a post every two weeks. And what they’ll do is that they’ll tell the staff to basically like it. Now, they probably are generating nothing from that at all. When I mean generating something, you should be getting pipeline leads and meetings and you should be getting revenue. And all organizations today should be reporting to their C-Suites, how much they’re generating from social. If you start using social media as a strategic platform within the organization, what you’ll see is a big difference. For example, using social strategically within sales, which is what I would call social selling, we have a definition which is using your presence and behavior on social media to build influence, make connections, grow relationships and trust, which lead to conversations and commercial interaction. You should be using your position on social media to get business, which is what we call commercial interaction. And what you’re doing is that you’re doing that through conversation because what I sell in B2B requires you to have a conversation. So conversations create sales. and what we’re seeing taking place not only in sales, but we are also seeing it strategically taking a place in human resources, customer experience, right across the whole of the business. So an example for human resources. One of our clients, for example, spend any money on recruitment ads or on recruitment consultants because what they’ve done is that they’ve shifted all their business onto social, and now what happens is people see them out there and go, “you look like a really interesting place to work. we want to come and work for you.” Rather than the other way around. And that’s what we see what I’m talking about in terms of changing processes because of digital, stripping out costs, not needing to pay for recruitment and those sorts of things. And that’s the change that we are seeing taking place, as people use social strategically rather than tactically. 

Adrian Tennant: In the chapter entitled Community and Tribalism, you write about salespeople of 20 years ago having little black books of contacts or Rolodexes of business cards. Clearly a lot has changed since then. What do the most successful salespeople today use instead, what are their go-to online tools?

Timothy Hughes: There has been that move. And so what we do instead of using a Rolodex or something like that, is that we are using LinkedIn. We’re using that LinkedIn to grow our network and connect to people. And what people will find is that the wide and varied the network they have, the better it is, for them just as much as, going to networking events and meeting new people and growing your network. Generally, if you’re doing it face to face, it doesn’t really scale, whereas on LinkedIn, you are able to grow your network very fast and get a benefit from that as well. I think that there are a number of niche, social media,Products or communities. And I think that what people have recognized is that community is so important. If you think about community was the thing that we’ve founded when we were walking the Serengeti desert, trying to not be eaten by sabertooth Tigers. What we did was that we formed relationships with people because if there was a bunch of 20 of us we’re less likely to die than if there was just one of us. And it’s that fundamental feeling that we have inside that a community actually helps us. And we do that with clubs and unions and things like that. And what we do is that we try and get together and I think what we’re able to do, certainly with social is we’re able to build those communities at scale. and we’re able to do that online because in effect, we are working in the digital world.

Adrian Tennant: Well, at Bigeye in common with all marketing agencies we invest a certain amount of time and money every year to pursue new business, developing relationships with potential new clients, with the objective of hopefully signing new contracts. Now for newer agencies that are maybe still seeking to establish a roster of clients, time is often spent prospecting that is identifying potential clients and seeking opportunities to bid on maybe a small project as a foot in the door, what we typically refer to as outbound marketing. Now, after 20 years in business, Bigeye is fortunate to be in the position of responding to Inbound inquiries from prospective clients. They’re typically already familiar with our work or have been referred to us. And for our clients, an equivalent process unfold as many brand marketing teams are required to conduct annual or biannual reviews of their agency partners. So they’re writing RFIs and RFPs and scheduling capability presentations, and then, for shortlisted partners, reviewing actual costed proposals. And I’m sure you’re familiar with all of this. So Tim, what opportunities do you see for this sometimes combative process to become more human-centered?

Timothy Hughes: First and foremost, the way that people are looking for solutions to solve their problems, they’re going onto social media and they’re looking for that. Now, the first place that you will always turn to, will be the network that you know, and trust. And what your job to do is to be that person that people know, like, and trust. And remember that we can do that at scale using social. So I’ve got 31,000 followers on LinkedIn. That’s a lot of people. And what we’re able to do with social is also, build relationships and build them very quickly. so we’ve got two things. One is a new business perspective. What we do and what we teach people is how they can have buyer-centric profiles. So this is a profile that people will actually be interested in. if you think about your LinkedIn profile. Your LinkedIn profile is a shop window to the world of which 850 million people walk past it every single day. Your job is for someone to go, “that looks interesting. I’m gonna go and have a look at that!” Rather than, “that looks boring and looks the same as everybody else. I’m just gonna walk straight past it,” which is what pretty much 99% of all LinkedIn profiles look like. So your job is to make sure that you are getting people coming to you. If you’ve got a professional edition of LinkedIn and above, LinkedIn tells you who’s looked at your LinkedIn profile. Therefore you’ve got an ability to go and have a conversation with them. Now we already know the conversations create sales. So if all you have to do is create your profile to make it look interesting, and all of a sudden you are having more conversations. The other thing is that you, as we talked about earlier, in terms of the Rolodex, you need to have a wide and varied network as much as possible connecting to the people that you wanna influence. So, you know, if there’s a particular account that you want to sell to, then what you do is you connect to the people, not one person. For example, we have one account that we are particularly targeting where we’re connected to a thousand people. We’re connected to the whole of the C-Suite in the UK, and we’re connected to the whole of the C-suite in the us. Now when they come out to actually look for what we sell, We’ve been spending all our time waving across the internet at them going, “Hey, have you seen this? This is a bit of interesting.” “Hey, have you seen this? This is really interesting. Have you seen this? This is really interesting.” Now, it’s highly likely that they brought even looked for competition. They’ll just come straight to us. Now you mentioned that, and that’s what you are doing with social. You are able to build into the process. You can either do outbound to people or you are getting inbound to people. The third thing that you need is content. Content that people are going to be interested in. There’s a piece of research that came out, recently from Thinkers 360, and it says that content needs to be 94% insightful, 90%, forward looking, and 89% engaging. Which if you think about it, that’s exactly what All of us would say. We’re not interested in the brochure or brochure wear or a white paper that we are never gonna read. What we’re interested in is something short that we can basically read now that’s gonna inform us, that’s gonna give us some insight that we can go back into our company and say, “look how clever I am, I’ve just read this!”

Adrian Tennant: In Social Selling, you offer readers an epilogue devoted to the future of sales and marketing. Given that this is our last podcast episode of 2022, I’m curious about how you see 2023 shaping up for marketers in the US and the UK, especially given the – should I just say different speeds of our economies right now – what do you think marketers will be or should be focusing on?

Timothy Hughes: I think that certainly what we are seeing in the market now is this movement to seeing who is the leading, technical and commercial influencer in your market or vertical. The other thing is that we are seeing organizations creating a position of digital dominance. So basically pushing the competition right out. So in the book, there’s a piece by the CEO of Cyber Hawk. Chris Fleming. Chris decided to take his business to be digital two years ago. And what they’ve done is that they’ve actually completely pushed all of the narrative and conversation that takes place on digital away. They’re the only game in town. and obviously that has a competitive advantage. but the interesting thing was he did this two years ago. So if you are listening to this and you’re a business and you haven’t even started transforming your business to digital, you are already two years behind. And what we are seeing is a lot of organizations that are impacted with the current recession, mainly because they’re still thinking about the past and implementing what they did in 1980 and 1990 and expecting it to still work. As I say, we’ve got clients that have got an ROI of 10,000 to one. And it’s the movement to digital has happened. it’s not some future state, and this is gonna accelerate as we go through, with some of the interesting technologies that are coming in over the next couple of years.

Adrian Tennant: The new, second edition of Social Selling has been out now for a couple of months. Tim, what kind of responses have you had to the book so far? 

Timothy Hughes: Had some really great responses. I think the first edition was fairly, you know, it was a new subject and we wanted to get out there to have a discussion, whereas there’s been some big changes taking place. For example, rev ops, and the rev Ops revolution. So, Revenue operations, which is about taking all of the revenue generating parts of a business, sales, marketing, maybe an SDR team, and putting it under one set of strategy and one set of objectives. I know when I’ve worked for big organizations, marketing, sales and different teams actually had different strategies and were organized in different ways. And this is about bringing it all together and have one set of strategy and objectives and measures. and that’s one of the things that we’re seeing a big change take place in the world of sales and marketing. 

Adrian Tennant: Tim, what’s one question you wished I had asked you but didn’t, and what would the answer be?

Timothy Hughes: What I wanna do when I come on these things is get people to realize how much things have changed, how much that they’re still looking in the wrong direction. Where, we are seeing organizations that are getting massive responses for this. Now, I totally take the challenge that they’re getting massive responses because their competition doing it. The world has changed so much. We all have a phone. We can all go online and we can all search for stuff. You know, even if you come to me and say, we’ve got the best products, I can go online and I can search and say, well, it’s not. because I’ve got access to an infinite amount of information. I can also connect to an infinite number of people, and have conversations with them. Now, if I cold call someone the reaction that you get psychologically is fight or flight. Whereas if you’re having conversations with people online, you are having conversations, you know, of my team off a post. He put out there about him and his son on the beach. You’ll see stuff like this on LinkedIn, but off the back of it, he got 60 level meetings, two proposals, and he got one purchase order. And it only took him 10 minutes to do. Now there’s not one demand gen facility that you have out there – advertising, cold calling, email marketing, whatever it is – that can generate you 60 level meetings in 10 minutes. It just doesn’t exist out there. And this is what people have gotta see, they’ve gotta open their eyes to see that the world has changed. 

Adrian Tennant: Tim, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about you and DLA Ignite’s services, where can they find you? 

Timothy Hughes: You can find me on LinkedIn. I’m Tim Hughes on LinkedIn. Our website is but the best place to probably find me or any of the team is on LinkedIn.

Adrian Tennant: And if you’d like a copy of Tim’s book, Social Selling, you can save 20 percent on either the print edition or the e-book when you purchase directly from the publishers online at Just add the promo code BIGEYE20 at the checkout. Tim, thank you very much for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Timothy Hughes: Thank you, Adrian. And I hope everybody was able to learn something – and might even buy the book!

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week, Timothy Hughes, the author of Social Selling Techniques to Influence Buyers and Changemakers. As always, you’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at – just select ‘podcast’ from the menu. And if you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant, and with our last episode of 2022. We’ll be returning with the new season of the podcast on Tuesday, January 10th. So until then, goodbye from me and the entire team at Bigeye. And Happy Holidays!

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