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Social selling: Whose job is it anyway?

Full disclaimer: I have a love-hate relationship with marketing. Marketing teams are great at producing events and flashy campaigns, but as a salesperson I didn’t benefit from their involvement. I realised early on that I was going to be acutely responsible for my own pipeline and success.

When I first got into sales in 1999, it was a very traditional job that basically involved cold calling people on CRM databases – but being measured on 200 dials and three hours of talk time was a colossal waste of time. That’s when I discovered social media and the importance of visibility in creating opportunities that wouldn’t normally happen through traditional sales methods.

Using social media, I could identify decision makers very quickly, connect and engage with them, and eventually get them on the phone or score a face-to-face meeting. My success rate was beyond anything that I’d ever experienced with cold calling – much to the disdain of my manager.

In my view, social selling is an evolution of the sales process, much like the way door-to-door selling evolved. In fact, I’d go a step further and say that social selling eclipses marketing efforts to a certain degree because the sole intent is to drive a business conversation, while marketing’s role can be very fluffy.

Asia is ready, but structural issues persist
As with social media adoption, Asia Pacific is at the forefront of embracing social selling. Our recent research with Forrester shows 96 percent of companies in the region see it is a key priority. But while lots of companies are doing it well, only a handful are doing a great job – and that’s because of a fundamental misalignment between sales and marketing, and an ongoing debate over who owns it.

For a long time, I believed it was the responsibility of the sales teams to develop a social selling strategy because ultimately, they’re executing on these programs. However, since moving to the dark side (marketing) I can see why social selling cannot work without marketing’s buy in.

In many ways, marketers are more accustomed and equipped to build these programs. It is a skill set that marketing has over sales, marketers understand and execute social better than sales teams do, which is why I believe they need to own this piece and empower sellers with the training and data with the buy-in from sales leadership. Besides, sales teams typically don’t have the budget to buy technology or training, so in many cases it isn’t a matter of choice.

Fujitsu is a great example of a brand that has successfully combined the capabilities of marketing and sales to deploy a social selling strategy. The company’s marketing team analysed all their content and cherry picked the ones that generated most interest and engagement, and optimised those pieces for the sales team. I’m happy to report that success metrics were off the charts with reach up 150 percent, and significantly higher click-through rates.

Bridging the gap
Marketers are tracking one set of KPIs and sales people are watching another. Getting them on the same page and determining what those KPIs are is key to bridging the gap between the two functions. But I’m afraid that isn’t going to happen until the directive comes from the executive leadership team.

In many cases marketers aren’t going to be interested in this at all, because they’re reporting numbers that are impression-based rather than revenue-based. At Hootsuite, we run something called a digital maturity assessment to understand how far down the path brands are. Often, marketers think they’re doing well, but the analysis shows gaps. That’s when we level with them and urge them to loop sales into conversations and plans.

On a broader level, getting boards involved and measuring marketing teams not only on impressions and click-through rates, but also on downstream revenue generated from their initiatives, is also helping to make the shift.

You can have visibility and a great network, but all of that only matters if you can convert it into offline conversations and revenue.

Koka Sexton

Koka Sexton is the Global Industry Principal, Social Selling at Hootsuite. A recognized expert in social selling that has produced revenue for B2B companies like LinkedIn and Hootsuite, Koka continues to make generating new business the focus of social media, finding creative ways to plan, develop and execute content marketing campaigns that break through the noise and provide value to buyers in excess of what they expect.