Tackling the 3 Main Challenges of Social for Sales Teams

For the past 15 years, I’ve been leading sales teams for a number of companies. These range from scrappy startups to aggressive growth stage companies to major industry leaders. As many of my colleagues in similar positions can attest, much has changed in that time with how sales teams operate, the tools we have available, and even in how we engage leads. Still, the fundamentals for sales teams remain the same: sales is about building trust and relationships.

Perhaps the biggest change for sales over the past decade has been the rise of social. Up until now, the two “killer apps” for salespeople to engage have been the phone and email, but social has the potential to transform how we do our jobs. Social allows salespeople the opportunity to foster genuine relationships with leads earlier than ever before, have much broader reach – both in listening to potential customers and in engaging with conversations – and it breaks down the barriers of communication to entering those conversations.

Yet while social selling has been hyped as the latest, greatest development for lead gen, the truth is that for sales managers, it has really just exacerbated a lot of our fundamental challenges, and even created some entirely new ones. The potential of social selling is great and can be an invaluable asset to our sales teams, but as more companies are looking to ramp their social selling efforts this year, it’s important for them to understand the challenges.

1. Consistency across the sales team

In leading sales teams, one of your primary frustrations will always be achieving consistency from your A, B, and C performers. The way an A performer communicates on email, phone, and in-person is different than B performer. This is equally true on social. Consistency is the common denominator and without it, your team’s efficacy in Social becomes marginalized.

There is also a steep learning curve to doing social sales well. When I talk to sales leaders, I ask them how many people on their teams are comfortable in social. The response is usually about 20 percent are comfortable, and about 80 percent are not. The truth is that once we actually really dive into their processes, we find that it’s really only about 5 percent that truly get it and are really comfortable. Without proper training and the proper tools, it is hard to instill best practices across the sales organization.

This problem is compounded by the actual adoption of tools by sales teams. Some tools that are out there are really robust, fantastic tools, but for many salespeople, they are too robust and too complex. To learn them and put that in your muscle memory is difficult. The result is that you can only scale to a handful of people in your sales organization, and the consistency gap widens even more than before.

On the other end of the spectrum are point solutions that add value to one element of the social selling process – whether it’s CRM, sharing, content management, or analytics. These point solutions are ultimately just as expensive, and still create an adoption challenge.

You can’t achieve consistency unless everyone is using the same tools, with the same KPIs and metrics. The truth though is that companies aren’t really willing to invest their time in the small point solutions because the month-end revenue results come in and the knee-jerk reaction of senior leadership is to pick up the phone and make some phone calls. Every senior leader will say that they want to leverage salespeople to expand their reach and have passive listeners participate, and everyone understands how social selling works in theory, but then they struggle to truly commit to the behavior needed in social, largely because they have tools that frustrate consistent performance and results.

2. Selling is no longer just limited to the sales team

With social, your entire organization is representing the company, and in view of potential leads. There is now more overlap between marketing, employee advocates, customer service, and even the C-Suite with our sales teams than ever before. Everyone now can contribute to sales.

This represents a great opportunity for salespeople as it can be incredibly valuable.

By the time our customers now get to the point of decision, they have already performed a great deal of vetting and research, are likely much more knowledgeable of the options and other customers’ experiences, and are essentially entering the funnel at any number of various points rather than just the top. This creates a challenge for sales teams to understand exactly where leads are in their decision process.

It also comes back to consistency, but not just for the sales teams. Even if we’re able to achieve a common denominator among our salespeople, we have to take into consideration the messages coming from the rest of the organization. Sales is not necessarily the frontline of engagement anymore.

As a result, consistent messages need to be developed across the entire organization. Likewise, the company needs to be cognizant of social selling efforts, understand best practices, and know when to bring salespeople into the conversation. While other departments stepping into the line of fire of sales can be frustrating, we need to turn them into allies and assets. Sales and marketing working together can be a powerful asset on social, but it’s up to the sales team leaders and VPs to coordinate and ensure optimization at the top levels of the organization. That is no easy task.

3. Best practices change rapidly

Social is by nature always moving, so keeping up with the conversations, latest trends, and best practices requires even more of a systematic approach and process for sales teams than ever before. That is as true internally as it is externally.

Tribal knowledge and insights need to be communicated and shared more effectively across the team, especially as those insights rapidly evolve on social. What works well often suddenly changes, and new strategies are constantly developing. As sales managers, we need to make sure the entire team understands the best tactics and strategies as they emerge.

Our teams need to be able to adapt more quickly, while preserving consistency. Just as more departments are now overlapping with sales, so too does sales need to begin thinking about how to leverage the rest of the organization. For example, salespeople can learn best practices on social media from social media marketing teams, and they can learn how to leverage content by speaking with content marketing teams.

Although social creates many new challenges for sales teams — especially as companies begin to tie more concrete ROI to their social selling programs — the opportunities and potential are equally great. For socially progressive leaders, social is truly the next greenfield opportunity, but we need to understand the unique capabilities and best practices for social selling. And as sales managers, we need to recognize that we are no longer just leading sales teams, but also coordinating across the entire organization.

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