Interview with Jill Rowley, Social Selling Evangelist

Share this post

It is not just about being connected via the social web, you have to get out there and be face to face with people. That’s how the real relationships develop and take shape. So as much as I’m an advocate for social, social is just one channel. And your network is your net worth.
Your network is your net worth so ABC, Always Be Connecting.

Jill Rowley is a Social Selling Evangelist, Startup Advisor and Modern Marketing Expert. Having started her SaaS career at Salesforce as an account executive back in 2000, Jill’s consistently awesome performance has taken her on an upward journey through Eloqua, Oracle and now where Jill advises on Social Selling to companies like Hubspot and TrackMaven.

Jill joined SaaScribe for the SaaS Revolution Show Podcast to give us some insight into her background, the secrets to her success, why Oracle fired Jill and a deeper discussion on the value of Social Selling for SaaS Professionals. You can listen to the interview on iTunes or Soundcloud now. This interview is published as a lightly edited version of the conversation.


Hi, Jill, why don’t we start by you telling us a little bit about yourself and your background?

Sure. I won’t take you too far back. But in university I studied undergraduate business program. So a broad mix of finance, marketing, computer sciences, accounting and entrepreneurship.
I’ve had a 21-year career. I’ve spent 6 years in consulting. 13 years in software sales at and Eloqua. Then Eloqua went public in August of 2012 and then unfortunately, or fortunately, December of 2012 Oracle acquired Eloqua.
I spent a bit of time building a global social selling program at Oracle for the 23,000 sales reps there. And then about a year and a quarter ago, I launched my own company and now I get to decide what I do, when I do it and how I do it.

Throughout your time as a Software sales executive, you were consistently a top performer. Often Number 1 or Number 2 within the organisation (Salesforce, Eloqua). What was it that helped you to be a consistent top performer over such a long period?

You know, I think a lot of it has to do with my consulting background. And even before that, my business background.
I have really an insatiable thirst for understanding how companies work. I’ll go into a restaurant and I’ll be running the numbers in my head. I’ll be thinking how many tables are in the restaurant? What’s the average cheque size? How many times do they have to turn the tables? Things like that.
And the best salespeople aren’t out there pitchy-pitchy, selly-selly, always be closing. They’re really understanding the customer: understanding the customer’s business, understanding customer’s customers, understanding the customer’s go-to customer strategy, understanding what the business goals of the customer are, what are their priorities, what are the ways that that company is organised, what are the gaps in either skills, process, technology.
And really being someone who can put their self in the world of the world of the customer and be someone who can advise the customer rather than, again, pitchy-pitchy, selly-selly, always be closing.

Having an insatiable thirst, curiosity to understand what the customers needs are and then to be able to advise, rather than to be closing and to be pitching, that’s really, part of your secret to success?

Yeah, for sure. And I just wrote an email this morning, because I sent a company that I’ve been talking to about social selling and social selling training and enablement for their sales organisation. I sent them a new report that’s out from a company called MHI Global. It’s Miller Heiman.
And this is where I’ll say, “I’m down with OPC, yeah, you know me.” I’m down with Other People’s Content.
As a sales professional, which I still am even though I’m an “evangelist” and an “entrepreneur” and a “business owner,” whatever label you want to put on me, but, at the end of the day I’m a salesperson. That’s what I am. I’m trapped in a marketer’s body but I am a sales professional.
So I sent them an email. I sent them this report just sort of talking about social selling is going mainstream and the data behind that. And they come back with, “Yeah, this is still something that we’re interested in, we just have other priorities that are taking precedence.”
And I responded, “Hey, I will continue to nurture and educate you. My job is not to sell you. It’s to get you ready to buy. And so I’ll continue to nurture you. And when you’re ready to have a conversation, let me know.”
But I’m not selling, I’m helping people buy. That’s the difference.

Oracle had you teaching social selling to the 23,000-strong sales team.
And then they fired you. What happened there?

Yeah. So that was Month 10, Day 17 when I got the call. A phone call to terminate my employment. That was basically how the message was delivered.
My boss was on the line and he says, “Good morning.” I have a really fabulous relationship with my direct boss, my second direct boss at Oracle. My first direct boss couldn’t handle me. And so he says… I had just come back from a week off. He was getting ready to take a week off so I thought we were just going to talk about the priorities.
And he says, “I have HR on the line.” I’m like, “Oh, shit. I know what that means.”
And the HR professional says, “The company has decided to terminate your employment.”
I said, “Excuse me, but companies can’t make decisions. They don’t have a brain, a heart, or a soul.” And Oracle doesn’t have a heart, or a soul. I said, “So who’s decided to terminate my employment?”
She said, “No, the company has decided to terminate your employment.”
I said, “I’m sorry. You’re not understanding my question. The company can’t make decisions. Who’s decided to terminate the employment?”
But anyways, that’s just how Oracle is.
So I was actually quite surprised. I loved every moment. Literally, the 10 months and 17 days I spent at Oracle I learned so much. I am grateful for the experience. It was one that I never thought I would’ve gotten because I’m inside working for a $40 billion company that moves slower than my 90-year-old grandmother. That’s just not who I am.
I’m a startup person who really wants to move fast. I always feel like there’s a window of opportunity to take it to market or grow the revenue or beat the competition or whatever it is. But I was there to, not just drive social selling as a mindset and a skill set into the sales organisation, what I was really there to do was to change the culture of Oracle.
And in one hashtag Oracle’s culture is #oracleobsessed. If you walk down the halls of Oracle, there’s posters. Number 1 in this. Number 1 in that. A 100 out of 100 Top Fortune 500 companies run on Oracle. Number 1 in Pharmaceutical. Number 1 in Life Sciences. And it’s all about chest pounding. You go to events and it’s all Oracle-centered posters. It’s nothing about the customer.
And I spent over a decade at Eloqua, we were customer-centred, we were customer-centric, we were we were customer-obsessed. Now, it doesn’t mean we did everything right and that our product was easy enough to use or fast enough to deploy or didn’t take an army of experts to get it up and running. We weren’t perfect but we were always looking at things through the eyes of the customers.
So I don’t know that I’ll take a breath and let you ask another question. I don’t know if that answers it, but I was there to change the culture. That’s not what they hired me to do. I can’t believe I made it to Month 10 Day 17 before they fired me because I wasn’t there to become like Oracle. I was there to help them become like Eloqua.

There are many different variations of social selling. What is your definition of it?

So I’ve actually put a stake in the ground and have my definition that I repeat. So that I’m consistent.
I define social selling as using social networks, not social media, social networks to do research on the buyer, the buying committee, and the sphere of influence over the buyer and the buying committee. So it’s to do research so that you can be relevant. So that you can build a relationship that ultimately not only drives revenue but customer lifetime value and advocacy.
Done well, social selling is about using social networks to find, listen, relate, connect, engage with buyers and ultimately to be found by those buyers.

Do you think there is a best channel for social selling?

It’s all about being where your buyers are. So I can’t say if there are 7 billion people in the world, you have to think about where your ideal fit customers…
Well, first of, who are your ideal fit customers? Right? Who are the companies and the people within those companies that are going to get massive value from either buying your product or your service?
So if this is all about looking at things through the eyes of the customer and asking yourself where are my buyers, where are they offline? I was at a physical event yesterday. So I still believe in face-to-face.
And where are they online? Which social networks are my buyers in? And not just my buyers but the people who influence my buyers?
And in the B2B world… I live in the B2C world obviously but I work in the B2B world. I work with business-to-business companies that sell products that range anywhere from $500 in ACV to a couple million in ACV. And so it’s all about being where your buyers are.
So for me personally, where do I spend my time? Well, my buyers are head of sales, head of marketing, head of sales enablement, head of sales training, the CEO. So my buyers are on LinkedIn and a good amount of them are on Twitter. Sure, some of them are on Facebook but that’s not where they want to have a business relationship with me. I’m sure some of them are on Instagram and they’re on Snapchat and they’re on Pinterest but again, that’s not necessarily where they want to have a business relationship with me.
So for me personally, LinkedIn and Twitter.

I read recently Twitter has overtaken LinkedIN as the Number 1 Social Media site for Sales People. What’s your thoughts on that?

I want to give you a specific example of why Twitter is a more interesting platform for engagement than LinkedIn.
I love LinkedIn. I don’t hear a name without immediately like physically wanting to go type that name into LinkedIn and see who that person is. And this is where the difference between networks and media comes in.
Social networks layer on three primary things about someone. About you, Alex. It layers on your identity: who you are, where you’ve worked, where you went to university, what skills you have.
It layers on relationships: to whom you were connected. What groups you’re a member of. Lots of SaaS groups.
And then when you look at it from a Twitter perspective, let me give you one specific example. Parker Conrad.
So at this physical event yesterday, Forecast 2015 put on by Base CRM. They’re coming in and they’re trying to disrupt and drink’s milkshake. Designed for the mobile workforce. Really modern UI. Very simple to use and so they want to come in and drink’s milkshake.
So one of the speakers at this event, Parker Conrad, he’s the CEO and co-founder of Zenefits. I know you know of Zenefits because it’s literally one of the hottest, fastest growing SaaS companies with a $3 billion valuation and only $40 million in revenue. Compare that to ADP, the big boy in this space, $40 billion in revenue, who’s actually suing, they just filed a lawsuit against Zenefits.
Well, Parker Conrad is speaking at this event and while I’m at the event I’m actually tweeting some of the sound bites from Parker Conrad. And I look at Parker on Twitter and he…
Well, first off, he has the default image of an egghead which, I don’t know if he’s doing it deliberately just to say like screw you. I don’t care what you think. Like I have an egghead and I’m still Parker Conrad. Because he’s a cowboy. He’s like really hilarious. I love the guy.
But then I look at him and he has 102 people that he’s following. Only 102.
So I go in and I look at who are the 102 people that Parker Conrad follows? Because I want to better understand who he’s influenced by, who he cares about. Julie Bort, the editor for Business Insider. That’s one of the most recent people that he started to follow. That tells me something about him.
So anyways, I wanted to go back to that because sometimes when we talk about social selling and we use these terms, we don’t make it real for the listener to understand, okay, conceptually that makes sense but practically how do I use social as the channel to do research to be relevant to build a relationship and how do I use it for a channel for engagement?
And when I tweeted some of the sound bites from Parker, he actually engaged. He engaged and commented, and he would never have done that on LinkedIn. I wouldn’t have gotten him to engage on LinkedIn because that platform isn’t as engagement-friendly as Twitter is. So I really thought it was important for your listeners to have some practical advice and an example of how this platform really works for finding, listening, relating, connecting and engaging.

Connecting is more than connecting online but also in person. Whats the best example of connecting that’s really helped you close a deal or get a new job?

Yeah, you bet. So let’s actually go back before even social networks existed, which we can fast forward and talk about when they did exist and how the physical world has helped me.
But I moved to San Francisco in 1997. I actually came out to San Francisco for a project when I was still in consulting. I then took a project over in Hawaii for a year and I worked in Hawaii on Oahu for a year.
I came back to San Francisco and actually started to date my now husband. I kissed a lot of frogs before I settled down with my prince. And so as we started to date, I know I wanted to live and plant some seeds in San Francisco. And I knew I wanted to get out of consulting and I wanted to get into sales. I didn’t know what kind of sales.
So I was in this exploratory period and I went to this small, Bay Area networking event where we were in a room and we were talking about trends and technology and we were drinking beers. There was this guy, Drew Sechrist is his name. He said, “Would you be interested in interviewing at We’re hiring.”
And mind you, Alex, Salesforce, this was in 2000, Salesforce the founding date is 1999. They had probably less than 100 employees, less than 100 customers and I didn’t care. All I wanted, I was trying to interview for sales jobs and no one was interviewing me because I didn’t have sales experience on my resume. And so at this physical event, this sales person at Salesforce said would you want to interview at Salesforce and I said absolutely. I was able to get the interview because of his recommendation. Otherwise, they never would have interviewed me because I didn’t have sales on my resume.
So, yes. I mean, it is not just about being connected via the social web, you have to get out there and be face to face with people. That’s how the real relationships develop and take shape. So as much as I’m an advocate for social, social is just one channel. And your network is your net worth.
Your network is your net worth so ABC, Always Be Connecting.

What are Jill Rowley’s top social selling tips?

Sure. Top tips:
First, you have to look as good online as you do offline. People are getting their first impression of you via your digital presence.
So one of the things I say is if you suck offline, you’re going to suck even more online. So don’t suck. Optimise your online digital presence for the community, the audience, the people that you want to build relationships with.
So from a sales perspective, if you’re bragging about your quota crushing capabilities on your LinkedIn profile, people are going to be allergic to you. So think about your digital presence through the eyes of the people that you’re trying to build relationships with.

Two: Connecting with people. One of the expressions to be interesting, be interested in something other than yourself.
So Alex, how I got your attention was by listening to your podcast and tweeting about it. I didn’t tweet to you pitchy-pitchy, selly-selly social selling, you need to be covering social selling on your podcast. It was tweeting about your podcast, bringing you more visibility and viewers and listeners to your podcast. So to be interesting, be interested in something other than yourself.

Three: content is the currency of the modern professional. I wouldn’t even say sales professional. The modern professional. We are so overwhelmed with content. And the content I know for my personal behaviour that I consume is the content that comes to me via the people in my social networks. And so if you’re not reading and sharing relevant, edu-taining, informational, insightful content, you have less opportunity to be in the consumption of the people you’re trying to attract.
So what you do, Alex, is you have a podcast with awesome content and that’s drawing people to you because you are a resource for people who want to learn about the SaaS industry.

And then four: Listening. Not just listening with your two ears but listening to the social web for things that are triggers where they trigger the opportunity for you to help someone, to engage with someone, to edu-tain someone. So there’s a whole new channel for listening and that channel is the social web.
So those are just a few and that’s designed for the actual individual. If we were talking about Cisco or GE from a strategic perspective at the Beth Comstock CMO level of how should she design and operationalise and scale a social selling initiative for her entire global salesforce, my advice would be completely different.
But for your audience, the entrepreneurs, everyone’s in sales, so every single person on this podcast should be thinking about their digital presence, thinking about their professional network, thinking about content and how they can leverage that to get more people to notice them, to engage with them, and listening for opportunities to add value and contribute and help others.

Final question. One sales book, or actually it doesn’t have to be sales book, one business book that every SaaS professional should read?

There isn’t one. And that’s the thing. If all you’re going to do is read one book, you won’t be successful. I think that’s an obviously, duh, right. Just like you can’t listen to one podcast or read one white paper or look at one infographic.
But timing is everything so the book I’m going to recommend today … I’m an adviser to HubSpot and I was at the Forecast event with a bunch of VPs to Sales at SaaS companies yesterday.
And Mark Roberge, who if you’re not following Mark Roberge, @markroberge, he grew HubSpot from $0 million to $100 million. And grew customers from 0 to 12,000. And grew the sales team from 0 to several hundred. His book The Sales Acceleration Formula is really a recipe. And what I love about the book, it is so freaking data-driven. And that is really how businesses need to, you have to have a data-driven, process-oriented hyper growth mentality. And you have to know what are the right metrics that need to be measured and how to pull the levers, how to understand whether the business in a healthy state or not and then how to make course corrections.
So the book that I recommend today, because of, one, the audience who’s listening, but two, just having spent time with mark yesterday, the sales acceleration formula.

Jill Rowley Spoke with Alex Theuma for The SaaS Revolution Show Podcast. You can listen to the full interview now on iTunes or Soundcloud

In this article