• September 1, 2016
  • By Jim Dickie, research fellow, Sales Mastery

When, If Ever, Will Social Selling Really Sizzle?

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The technology visionary Jessica Keyes once made the following observation that has always stuck with me: “Technology does not beget a competitive advantage any more than paint and canvas beget a Van Gogh.” I think that far too often we forget that. We see the introduction of innovations and assume that technology, in and of itself, will transform business.

A case in point was driven home to me when CSO Insights recently released the results of the second annual Sales Enablement Study. One area of focus for this research initiative was to look at the technologies that companies are providing sales teams and assess the impact these tools were actually having on sales performance.

Over the past few years, social selling has generated a lot of buzz as a game changer for sales. So I was interested in seeing what the application of this technology was actually doing for sales effectiveness. When I first saw the chart from the 2016 Sales Enablement survey, I just stared at it for maybe 30 seconds. Then I started laughing. Why? Because of item number two on the bar chart below.

Today we have literally millions of sales professionals around the world who have access to social selling tools—tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc. On a regular basis they are connecting, tweeting, liking, posting, and brand building, and 37.2 percent of the companies surveyed were not sure what, if any, benefit all this effort was producing for their sales organization. By the way, let me also comment on item number one: Reducing research time is an efficiency issue, not a game changer.

I immediately started digging deeper into the study data to look for insights into why the benefits reported by companies that were utilizing social selling in their sales organizations seemed so lackluster or undetectable. It didn’t take long to find a key answer.

Another aspect of the Sales Enablement Study focused on the various types of training companies were providing their sales teams on topics such as products, process, value messaging, ROI/solution justification, and so on. So which training topic got the absolute worst ratings? Social selling. The chart above tells the story. Just over 70 percent of the companies surveyed said their social selling training needed improvement, if not a major gut job.

Reflecting back to Jessica’s wisdom, here is yet another example of how many of us fall in love with technology and assume that once it is in the hands of users, why of course they will figure out what to do with it. And then we are shocked when that doesn’t happen.

My personal views on social selling are that it still has the potential to transform many aspects of how sales professionals engage clients. But it’s like with painting: Just as aspiring painters need to be trained in concepts like lighting, managing depth perception, innovative uses of color and shapes, and so on to become great artists, so too do our sales teams need (and deserve) training on how to effectively integrate social selling into their daily workflow. If we indeed provide such training, then social selling will start to generate the sizzle we have been expecting it to. If not, then social selling will continue to just sputter along.

Jim Dickie is a cofounder and strategic adviser to CSO Insights, a division of MHI Global, a research firms that specializes in benchmarking CRM and sales transformation initiatives. He can be reached at jimdickie@icloud.com.

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