Science Behind Social Selling Professionals

by Amar Sheth and Mark Truggle Ph.D.

amar sheth, science behind social selling

Amar Sheth is joined by Mark Truggle Ph. D, Lead Scientist on Research, to discuss the science of an ideal Social Seller, the results of a special research report that the Sales Conservatory and Sales for Life prepared. Is Social Selling a random tactic? What value can be gained from implementing Social Selling in your organization? What are the traits of today's most successful Social Sellers?

Webinar Transcript

Amar: Hi, everyone, welcome aboard. This is Amar Sheth at Sales for Life, and thanks for being a part of the second Social Selling Summit. We're so happy that you could join us. This entire summit is basically focused on helping you, so we hope that you've been getting a lot of value out of the summit so far, with all the excellent speakers that we have. And I bring you another incredible guest right now. So let's go ahead and get started. As you know, this is Amar. And today I have the distinct pleasure of introducing you to Mark Tuggle. He's a PhD. 

And the study that we're going to discuss today, I'm not going to spoil it too much, I'll have Mark speak about it a lot, but we're here to talk about the science of an ideal social seller. And Mark was a part of the Oracle team that conducted a lot of studies and research on learning and sales performance. He's the co-founder and president of his own new company called the Sales Conservatory. And we're so happy that he could make some time to join us today. So, Mark, welcome aboard. How are you? 

Mark: Thanks, Amar. I'm doing great, and I'm really pleased to be here with you today.

Amar: Fantastic. So let's get started. And I have a bit of a story to tell everyone, Mark, so I hope you don't mind and I hope you indulge me. Basically, it goes like this, folks. In the early 1900s, there was a guy by the name of Napoleon Hill. A lot of you know him. He set out to find patterns amongst the most successful people in the United States. He published some works that you probably know of, called the Law of Success in 1925, and then the blockbuster hit, Think and Grow Rich, in 1937. 

Now, Napoleon Hill was convinced that success wasn't random. It was a repeatable set of actions that anyone could take to improve the quality of their life in whichever area they set out to do. What an amazing concept, if you think about this. Now, let's translate this to social selling. Social selling started out as a random set of activities using LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, and anything the early pioneers tested. Results came in, and boy, they came in super quick. Now, since then, social selling and the world of it has grown significantly. There's now a bevy of training options, tools, and much more. And that brings me to our original point. 

We in sales think that success is still an accident; it's some sort of random event. But it's not. We've applied the same train of thought to social, to all other parts of sales perhaps, but our goal today is to dispel these myths, that social selling isn't random. And instead of just listening to me, I thought, "Why not bring in Mark?" Mark is the bonafide expert. He's a research scientist. And our goal today is to make sure that you understand that there's repeatable patterns that your sales professionals, and if you're a sales professional yourself listening, that you can use to consistently generate more pipeline and revenue. So, let's get started. Mark, why don't we walk the audience through your findings right now? So, I'll turn it over to you right now. 

Mark: That sounds great. Thanks, Amar. So for the last two and a half years, I've been doing sales research, essentially full-time, through my work at Oracle, through the work at my own company, as well as even my dissertation work was related to sales performance. And what I wanted to do with this research, is really to try to capture and define what do we mean when we're talking about social selling? What are the best practices? How is social selling related to sales performance, if at all? And to really, as well, create a baseline for future research through surveys and quantitative methods. 

And so I began the study by interviewing some highly successful, highly active on social media sales professionals, and we created a profile, a very high standard of social selling activity, and discovered these sales professionals. And I interviewed each one, conducted an analysis, a textual analysis of those interviews to draw out themes and codes from those conversations. And really, those codes and themes clearly emerged and were weighted based on the frequency of those themes showing up, as well as how many of the people that I interviewed talked about them. 

And so that's what you'll see, the little themes and the weighted numbers. And it clearly did provide for us some very important and telling information that we're going to talk about here. Amar? 

Amar: That's great. So folks, I mean, if you've been listening to this, this is a scientific study. There is no ambiguity about this. You know, sometimes when we train sales people, and sales training, the world of sales training as a whole, there's really not much thought put behind what are the outcomes. So we wanted to basically bring you Mark to help you understand, from a sales professional and leadership point of view, what's possible when social is done correctly. So let's get started. Let's move right to the key findings. And here's the very first key finding that we want to discuss. It is the misalignment on the definition of social selling. So Mark, let me turn this over to you right now. 

Mark: Certainly. Well, you can see from those weighted scores in the lower right hand corner about the technology. With regard to the question about describing social selling, the technology was the primary focus of that part of the conversation with the sales professionals. They talked about the tools, of course, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and Facebook, and they spent a lot of time mentioning these technologies as being primary. But it is important to note, and we'll see as we dive into the other key findings, that one of the things that sets these successful social sellers apart is not their focus on the tools themselves, but the way they leverage the tools to do what, really, we uncovered as being the key and core part of social selling itself. 

Amar: So Mark, would you say it is a safe assumption to make, perhaps, that the technology is one thing, but really they focused on changing their mindset first? Would that be an accurate assumption? 

Mark: I think that's absolutely a fair assumption and accurate assumption, Amar. Really, the tools could have been anything. It just so happens that obviously the place that it occurs is in the social media and social media platform world. But really, it's the sales mindset of how they were going to really leverage those tools to do certain things that is what has made them successful as social sellers, and as sales professionals in general. 

Amar: Yeah, so this is absolutely fascinating. I want the audience to get a sneak peak, though, into the next finding, just to piggyback off your last point, Mark, which is that connecting and adding vale was determined to be the ultimate driver of success, not just technology. So let me turn this to you now. 

Mark: Certainly. Time and again, talking to each one of these sales professionals, they were adamant that the key to their success, the key to their growing pipelines, the key to their deal closing, the key to their closing deals more quickly, the key to even developing expertise and relevance in their industry to where they had inbound sales traffic coming to them, people reaching out to them to buy what they were selling, was because of their ability to leverage the technology to make more connections and to add more value to the people in their circles and networks. 

Amar: Yeah, this is absolutely fascinating. So in a nutshell, Mark, I would sum it up almost as it's not just the fact that you're on social. Because everybody has a LinkedIn profile, right, Mark? Call it the way it is. 

Mark: Absolutely. 

Amar: But it's what you do with that LinkedIn profile, it's what you do with your Twitter account, correct? 

Mark: Absolutely. And these are men and women, and we'll see a little bit later on as we get into some of the specifics, who were very intentional. You've mentioned before, Amar, mindset. Their mindset was to use these technologies to meet more people, to grow their network, to establish credibility by providing value, whether that was content, referrals, references. And they used those technologies in a variety of ways, numerous different ways, but all with the focus of building relationships and adding value to the people that they are connecting with in those relationships. And really, it's important that you note here. Sales is not in this circle. They didn't use the technology to sell; they used the technology to connect and add value. The sales came down the road as a result of that adding value and building those relationships. 

Amar: It's fascinating as you explain this, Mark. Your last statement there, it sums it up so nicely that that's technically what sales is about. Sales is not about selling anything, right? It's about the ability to provide value at the right place, the right time. And once you build enough of that value, once you've provided enough of it, the sales are a natural byproduct. So, it's incredible that social selling is new, and we have to do studies like this to remind people that it's just a brand new communications medium after all, but the inherent experience of sales remains the same. 

Mark: Absolutely, absolutely. And they've figured out how to leverage this technology to maximize the key successes of sales. As you said, the successes for sales have always been related to relationship and adding value. But these men and women have figured out how to use the technology to do this in an exponential way, with more people, and to provide more real-time value. And that really has been the differentiator for them. 

Amar: Yeah, that's brilliant. Okay, we're going to march forward here. So let's move to the next finding. And this is a key one, because we all equate LinkedIn as a place where we should just go and do research on our prospect. So Mark, I'll turn this over to you, because I love this one. 

Mark: All right. So, certainly, LinkedIn was the number one mentioned tool and the primary tool for the top social sellers. No denying that. But they didn't talk about research as being the primary purpose for LinkedIn. Yes, they did, and you can see research on the list there with LinkedIn being one of the research tools, but really, they mentioned just as often that buyers are using LinkedIn to research them. That led to the importance of their talking about having their brand and building their brand with their profile, having up-to-date information. 

That was really an important use for the LinkedIn tool, even more so than them using LinkedIn to research or find other people. They had a lot of means to do that. They used a variety of social media and online tools for those purposes, including advanced things like Google Alerts and those sorts of things. But when it comes to LinkedIn, they all mentioned, "You start with having your full and complete and up-to-date profile, because as you begin to build relationships, people are going to circle back around through LinkedIn, and check you out." 

Amar: Wow, I think this slide is so important for everyone listening right now. Mark, the key takeaway for me personally on this slide, is the last point. It's the fact that buyers are researching you. We've all heard the stats from CEB and Forster about x percent of the buying journey is now done online before someone reaches out. I personally don't know if a broad based percentage could be applied like that, but I think every person is different. But it's so key...if you're a sales leader or a sales professional looking at this right now, I want you to really internalize what Mark has just said, because buyers are out there researching. I mean, now we have yet an other scientific data point validating what all of us should already know quite frankly, right? 

So Mark, what amazes me, is that all of us, we're all buyers in the overall economy, right? We're all purchasers of goods and services. We all use the internet in many different ways, whether we're looking to find a restaurant, a movie, buying furniture, or a car, or what have you. And yet, I think the propensity is still for us to believe, as an overall industry, that buyers are not doing what we're already doing ourselves. So, I really appreciate that you went this deep into your research to go and talk to the sales professionals who are on the ground and actually revealing this back up to their leadership. So this is very, very cool. Any last points on this slide, Mark? 

Mark: Well, I would just say they used advanced LinkedIn tools and premium accounts and LinkedIn Navigator. So it's very clear for them to see who is looking at their profiles and when it's happening. So I can assert with great confidence to a person, they all indicated their customers and prospective customers are using LinkedIn to check them out and to vet them. There's just no doubt about it.

Amar: Wonderful. I think you and I will have many follow up discussions on this one point alone. All right, we're going to march forward right now, folks. A few other things to discuss. This one is key, because there's been a lot of talk about ROI around social selling activity. How should ROI be measured? What should the KPIs be? So let's actually show the team here. Mark, I'll have you explain this, and then I'm going to chime in with my thoughts later. 

Mark: Sure. When it comes to tracking performance, of course you see there are traditional sales metrics, things like quota, attainment, and pipeline. All of those things, every one of these sales professionals talked about, but they all also attributed anywhere between 30 and 75% of their activity, of their sales success, to social activity. And when it comes to tracking that social activity, yes, they're using their CRMs to indicate "hey, how did this contact? Did it come through social?" this sort of thing. But in addition, and you see it highlighted there, the top guys and gals are tracking conversational activity as a measure of success for social selling. So that was the new piece. It's the tracking relationships that really started to come through as a difference maker. 

Amar: This is huge, because, Mark, in many organizations right now, we're seeing that marketing. The marketing team is leading the charge around the social selling transformation within an organization. But where marketing focuses typically, are on KPIs that are traditionally marketing based, if you will, such as likes, comments, and shares. And I think the disconnect within organizations has really been that marketing is telling sales, "Hey, these are the things we're going to measure, you know, likes, comments, shares, favorites, re-tweets, mentions, etc." But sales literally is measured on only one thing - it's quota attainment. Everything else is secondary, as well all know. 

So this is huge because I think it shows us where the future of social selling is going to be. It's going to have to be around the idea of measuring, as you said, Mark, conversational activity, to borrow the phrase from your research. And I think that conversational activity will ultimately be the thing that helps sales professionals and leadership understand that yes, it is possible to track and measure success overall. Now, I had no idea that the number was 30 to 75%. Can you talk about that a little bit deeper? 

Mark: Sure. So as I talked to each of the sales professionals, I wanted to get a sense of "Okay, I understand you do social selling. I understand you're a successful sales professional. What percentage? How do you make the connection relationally?" And so, many of them track their social activity in CRM, and they're able to show that between 30% and 75% of their closed business, they could attribute directly to social selling activity, the relationship building, the value add, did the lead come through social media, all of those things that they're tracking in their social activity. The lowest number that I got was about a third. About a third of their sales at their closed business and their pipeline was attributed to their social media activity, their social selling activity, upwards up to 75%. 

And the fun part about it too was, when they mentioned their most complex deals and their largest deals, they consistently indicated that those were successes primarily attributed to their social selling activity. So it's not just an increase in sales, but the complex deals and the larger deals, they were finding greater success through social selling. And just one more note on the conversational activity. There have been many studies out there that have indicated successful closed business as related to even the number of touches with a prospective customer. And social media, social selling, is a game changer in that regard, because of the access you have with people and the timeliness of those touches. And that's why that conversational activity becomes so important. 

Amar: That's such a great point you make. Because ultimately, I feel sales professionals don't have enough touch points. If you're an account executive in the field, for instance, if you physically can't be in front of a prospect, or if you're an SDR BDR [SP] and you can't have enough phone conversations to move the needle forward, social allows you to be there without truly being physically there. I completely agree with you on that. Let's march forward.

Mark: It really is a force multiplier for an individual sales person. 

Amar: Yeah, definitely. And I love the fact that you use that term there. Let's talk about prescription. What's the road map? What's the path? What's the prescription? So I'll have you talk about this next. 

Mark: The thing that came through, and honestly, just for a full disclosure perspective, this was a very exciting finding to me. A lot of my research, even prior to sales research, is in the area of self-directed learning and autonomous learning, so I just have an eye open for this sort of thing. And one thing that came through very clearly and very consistently through these interviews, was that the top social sellers, when I asked them "how does a person become a social seller?" right here at the top, a willingness to learn. They want to learn. They're willing to learn from each other, and to experiment, and to try, and to fail. 

And every one of them said, "Hey, I just chose one thing. I started small. I learned it. I got good at it. I grew from there. I learned from other people." And that's how they have developed, really, their skill and the depth and breadth of their social selling prowess. It's because of a willingness and desire to learn and grow and connect with other sales professionals who are using social media and social platforms effectively. 

Amar: Yeah, I love this slide as well, exactly for the reasons you described. But for me, there's a different point that really resonated, Mark, which was the fact that social selling success is not defined by your age. It has no bearing on where you live in the world. It doesn't matter if you're a woman or a man. It's basically and only coming down to your willingness to learn. Now, we've seen that from the people that we've trained, but I'm glad that your findings are unearthing this as well. 

I think this is a huge one, that if you're a sales leader or a professional sitting on the fence, wondering if social is right for your know, I've heard many times sales leaders say, Mark, that, "Well, my team is 'older,' Amar. Go slow with them." And I think, really, age has no bearing, as your findings have uncovered. So, I appreciate you digging in this area as well. We're going to basically wrap up and move towards wrap up, but Mark, before we do, just tune us in on some additional observations that you found here. 

Mark: Certainly. One thing that is important to understand is that these men and women that I interviewed were not haphazard in their approach to social selling. They established daily routines, daily and weekly objectives. You can see some examples here, in terms of "Hey, every morning, I'm starting out. I'm going through my Twitter feed," or "I spend this many hours a day reviewing where are my touch points with my current prospects. I'm looking at Google Alerts. I'm looking at Twitter feeds. I'm looking at my news feed in LinkedIn. What do I need to review? I'm responding to everyone who comments on any content that I provide." 

You see that second point there, "I have a commitment to make eight new conversations each week with buyers that I don't know." That same sales professional said, "I expect to move four people into my pipeline on a weekly basis, that weren't there before, for sales prospects." And then again, as I mentioned before, just a willingness to try, fail, try again, to experiment. This is a wide open platform. Several of the sales professionals I spoke to said "Look, I don't know why my peers, even in my own organization, aren't doing this. But it definitely gives me a competitive advantage." And for those who are willing to step out and to do it, it absolutely right now has given them a competitive advantage over other sales people and sales organizations. 

Amar: Once again, the persistent reap the benefits, right? 

Mark: Absolutely.

Amar: I think that's the key message here. Mark, I really want to thank you for your time. And to the audience listening, I hope you've enjoyed this interview. We strive to bring you interesting viewpoints from across the spectrum of sales. And I think this entire social selling summit is symbolic of that gesture. So, on behalf of Mark and I, thank you so much for being a part of this. I leave you with this. I want you to download this eBook that we have, and we're going to leave the links for you. It's called Beyond LinkedIn. And this eBook encapsulates a lot of the philosophies that Mark's research has uncovered. So if you've enjoyed this, if you've resonated with a few of these points, we encourage you to download it. Go deeper into the rabbit hole, if you will, around implementing social selling, or expanding the results that you may be looking to have. So Mark, thanks once again. I appreciate your time. 

Mark: You're welcome, Amar. It's my pleasure.

Amar: Fantastic, Mark. Thank you. Thanks again, everyone. Have yourselves a wonderful and positive day. Take care.