Why Social Selling Works — and Doesn’t

At Altimeter, we’ve been conducting research and working with clients on “social selling”, loosely defined as using social channels like LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube as part of the selling process. I thought I’d share some of the early findings that my colleagues Linda Saindon, Jon Cifuentes, and I have discovered — and also ask for your feedback, best practices, and challenges in this space. This is part of our Open Research process, where we hope to engage people actively as part of the research process.

Why is social selling important? This stat is the one that we found cited over and over in our interviews:

79% of Salespeople who use social media as a selling tool outperform their peers who don’t

Source: Saleforce.com, The Smart Guide to Social Media Selling, Social Media and Sales Quota Survey

The impetus for this report comes directly our of our client engagement work, where in the process of creating social business strategies our clients wanted to leverage social to affect, influence and impact the sales cycle and ultimately, results. What started as efforts to train the sales teams to “be social” quickly escalated into questions around listening, content creation and marketing, and analytics.

We decided to research how companies are approaching social selling and found a wide variety of approaches to social selling – and not all of them were successful.

Here are some high level findings, with more on the way when we publish our report:

Social Media Training ≠ Social Selling

Access to Social Media Tools ≠ Social Selling

Social Selling ≠ Successful Selling

Too simple right? But we’re currently witnessing and hearing about a lot of activity that is very narrowly focused on training or tools and very light on strategy. Engagement and relationship-building are as important as how to send an informative tweet. Our report will address both best practices related to the art AND science of training as well as high-level mapping of the strategy, organization, tools and technology that support sales enablement. At the end of the day all the tools and technology are just a means to an end in terms of reaching and engaging with your customer.

So what DOES a team or an enterprise need to succeed in this new paradigm? The key is to strategically and precisely develop a new way for sales AND marketing to work together to develop and deepen relationships with customers.

Our draft framework for a social selling system has four components:

  1. Educate – Education must be tailored and targeted to multiple functions and stakeholders throughout the organization – executives, middle management, sales management, sales people and marketing.
  2. Activate – Activation includes the set up and optimization of social accounts and profiles, development of a personal branding strategy and engagement strategy, and baseline social listening to learn about customers and their needs.
  3. Cultivate – Cultivation as it relates to social selling means leveraging your strategy, tools and technology to prospect and discover leads, nurture customer relationships and engage more deeply across social platforms and networks.
  4. Iterate – Iterate in this case means starting to look at how this new approach to sales will affect enterprise business processes and transform them, including measurement, incentives, behaviors and activities, process, workflows and the integration and synergy that must occur within and between sales and marketing teams.

We would love to hear from you here in the comments and directly to Linda at: lsaindon@altimetergroup.com. In particular, we are looking for social selling success stories, best practices you’ve developed, and especially your challenges and how you overcame them. We’ll be finishing our report soon and look forward to sharing it with you.