With a webinar subject line like “Social Selling or Social Intrusion?” you can understand how I might be concerned. After all, I am the CEO for a company that makes a social media content distribution software platform. But when I was graciously asked to be a panelist on this Top Sales Roundtable earlier this year, how could I refuse? I was pleasantly surprised that the entire panel agreed: Social selling is alive and well and completely integrated into the day-to-day selling that Enterprise salespeople perform each day.
But if that’s the case, what ever happened to the Social Selling revolution that was supposed to put an end to cold calling and transform Sales? Why are sales people from coast to coast still managing funnels in many of the same ways they did before LinkedIn Navigator was created? These are good questions and the answers to them have surprising repercussions. The answers reveal an admission that anyone in the social selling world needs to humbly accept: While social selling is having a profound effect on selling, it is by not going to turn selling on its head overnight. Those who treat it that way will find its efficacy lacking and will be off to the next latest trend well before they discover its profound power.
I still remember the first unsolicited InMail that came into my inbox. I was astounded that LinkedIn was allowing users to reach out like this, but curious of whether it might work. It was 2017 and I was headed to Web Summit in Lisbon to look for new customers. I decided to purchase as many InMails as possible and carpet bomb my target market based on the profiles I mined from the Web Summit app. The result still haunts me. I did not successfully book one meeting this way. Cold outreach based on the fact that I was going to be in the same city as a prospect just didn’t buy me much. I reflected on what just happened.
First, I used social media to send a cold message. How did this really differ from an email campaign? Although the message ended up in the ‘messages’ section in the LinkedIn App, they weren’t viewed any differently than what they were—spam.
Second, I learned that a successful InMail campaign might come down to quantity but this is neither smart nor efficient.
Social selling has always meant leveraging a social media platform to expand the horizons of prospects using new and provocative ideas. For me, social selling has been about building a network by gaining the trust of others. To do this, sellers need to carefully connect with prospects and add value, primarily through sharing thought-provoking content. Before you ask me what helping clients has to do with getting new leads, it’s important to internalize this. A network with no content is like a full address book of friends in a city with no places to go out on a date. True networks require interaction and interacting doesn’t often spring from nowhere. The catalyst in social selling is content.
Furthermore, online interaction is the beginning of a thing called trust. And we all know trust is the basis of any relationship–without it nothing can be sold.
If social selling is really as easy as building a network, sharing content and waiting for interactions, why is everyone so down on social selling? I think the metrics the Sales industry has applied to social selling has led to its reported demise. Looking for leads and sales to come from social selling as the first measure of success often leads to frustration. We need to find a way to assign ROI to social selling. In order to assign a ROI to social media an attribution model needs to be built. This is where many marketers and sales organizations fall down in the process. It is way easier to just give the team access to Navigator, have them blast InMails and report the results. However, we already know where that will get us.
Creating a model to measure social selling is a logistical headache. This is essentially an ABM (Account Based Marketing) approach to social media. It is extremely hard to pull the combined analytics to prove that social media Sales ‘touches’ are contributing to wins. At this point I’m reminded of the Lyft and Twitter IPOs. Here are two companies that have not figured out to create a positive ROI, yet there is no doubt in the mind of the public that these services add value to customers. This may be a problem for some time until the sales tools and the analytics catch up to the needs of social sellers.
What can we do in the meantime? The first step needs to be the creation of social selling discipline inside the sales force. The training and tooling should be considered standard issue for a modern sales force and budgets for it should be modest reflecting the complexity of measuring impact—around 5% of the total marketing/sales-enablement.
Collection of data on social media efforts is critical to the future of social selling in business sales. The sooner you start to collect data on how social media is performing the sooner the ROI question can effectively be addressed and answered!
The next time somebody asks, what ever happened to social selling anyway? I hope you will be better prepared to answer. More importantly, I hope it is a bit clearer what role social selling is playing today and will play in the future of sales.