Social selling will transform the way sales teams do their jobs.

At least that’s what a lot of people have predicted over the past few years. They claim sales reps will use social networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to identify and engage prospects — and, most importantly, close more deals.

But according to a recent survey by PeopleLinx, only 31 percent of sales reps today use social media in their selling process. And if my experience is any indication, many of these early adopters don’t understand a significant point.

The fact is that social networks are best used for networking — not selling.

The Lure of Social Selling

Now to be clear, I’m a big believer in social selling for specific objectives. It’s great as a means to:

  • Research prospects to get a better sense of backgrounds and interests
  • Listen to social conversations to identify prospects and gain insights into what they care about
  • Tap into social networks to ask for introductions
  • Get (and stay) on the radar of prospects by sharing their updates
  • Engage with prospects to build relationships
  • Develop a personal brand as an expert in your field

As a matter of fact, there’s no better way to do all of the above than by participating regularly on the social networks that actively engage your target buyers. Plus, social selling is a welcome alternative to cold calling.

With that said, why hasn’t social selling gone mainstream?

Could it be that social media just doesn’t fit in with today’s sales culture? Do sales execs lack the right tools? Are they just uncomfortable using their personal social handles for work?

Or is there something else putting the brakes on the adoption of social selling?

Increasing Adoption

With that question in mind, I turned to Barbara Giamanco, a social selling and sales process expert. I wanted to discover what she saw as the biggest challenge to wider adoption of social selling by sales teams. She explained:

Resistance to change, especially among sales leaders who largely do not understand the value that engaging in social channels can have on sales results. These tools did not exist when they were moving up the sales ranks. Cold calls, email or going door to door worked fine for them.”

How can this challenge be addressed?

It starts with accepting that buyer behavior has changed… and that social selling does drive measurable outcomes. Our research proved that 72.6 percent of sales people using social media in selling achieved their quotas more often than their peers who did not.

Success in social channels requires a new mindset and a different way of thinking. My advice to salespeople is to invest in their training even if their employer is not.”

Seems pretty straight forward, right?

So if your sales team has not made social selling a priority, then you need to dig a bit deeper. Start by asking these three questions of your sales leadership (or yourself, if you’re a sales leader):

  1. Does sales leadership understand that target buyers are increasingly turning to social media to learn about solutions and research products, services and companies?
  2. Have sales leaders bought into the fact that social selling can help more sales reps reach and exceed sales quota?
  3. Are sales leaders investing in social media training for their teams?

If the answer to one or more of these questions is “no”, then chances are good that social selling will still be an idea who’s time has yet to come for your sales organization.

Going Mainstream

With that said, I still think we are in the early stages of social selling adoption. Yes, entrepreneurial sales leaders and sales reps are active on LinkedIn and Twitter, and also experimenting with how to engage prospects and build personal brands using social media.

But a few more things will have to happen before social selling becomes the norm:

  • Social media training will have to become part of the sales organization’s on-boarding and ongoing sales training programs
  • Measurement of sales team productivity and the sales compensation structure needs to incorporate and encourage social selling activities
  • CRM technologies need to make it easier to create and track lead sourcing based on social handles (even if no email address yet) so sales reps can get credit for their efforts

What will help drive these changes?

My bet is that we’ll need a few “best-in-class” companies that trumpet their success with social selling to show others the value of making it part of their sales processes. For example, think: HubSpot with “inbound marketing” and Marketo with “content marketing”.

I also believe sales enablement technology providers that push social selling tools will need to play broader roles. These technology providers have a vested interest in educating sales leaders on why social selling is a must for building world-class sales organizations.

Your Turn

Has your sales organization embraced social selling? How are you learning to incorporate social media into your daily sales process? Do you know of a company that’s winning in its market because of social selling?

[Editor’s note: this article was first published in CMSWire]