Social selling is a hot topic in sales enablement, with many leaders trying to determine what tools their reps should leverage, how they should engage online with buyers, and what training and support is required.

On a recent call, a client asked how SiriusDecisions defines social selling. “That’s easy,” I replied. “It’s the ability of a rep to close business in 140 characters or less.” I was met with dead silence on the other end of the phone. This was a good reminder that humor sometimes loses translation over the phone, just as it does online.

Jokes aside, we define social selling as the practice of incorporating social media tools, such as LinkedIn and Twitter, into core sales competencies to increase sales productivity. When sales organizations seek to build an enablement strategy around social selling, a common mistake is to assume that all reps are able to engage socially and all buyers are willing to be engaged socially.

Because this is often not the case, assess the following criteria before beginning to enable social sellers:

  • Buyer engagement. I was recently asked to present on social selling for a client’s sales kickoff meeting. In preparation, I spoke with a sampling of reps as part of my research. This client sold highly technical solutions to engineers, scientists and technical analysts. In my discussions with reps, it quickly became apparent that the client’s core buying audience is inactive on social channels (at least while at work). Preparing reps to socially engage with buyers who are not present on social channels is analogous to opening a car dealership in the middle of an Amish community. In this situation, rather than only focusing enablement efforts on directly connecting with buyers, teach reps to use social tools for pre-call research (e.g., reviewing a prospect’s LinkedIn page) and amplification of the organization’s own marketing content (e.g., sharing a link to a blog post). Stress the importance of maintaining a professional online image. Just because a buyer group is not yet active in social channels, don’t assume they won’t use social to research your company and reps.
  • Rep knowledge requirements. Do your reps have the knowledge to engage with buyers in person? The answer will determine whether they are ready to converse with clients online. If the answer is no (if, for example, reps use subject matter experts such as sales engineers on sales calls), consider whether reps should directly converse online. Instead, focus enablement efforts on teaching reps how to use social tools to listen to their buyers and play the role of strategic orchestrator to connect buyers with the appropriate subject matter experts in the organization.
  • Most social selling methodologies assume that both buyers and sellers are ready, willing and able to engage through social tools. When one group is not, sales enablement leaders can end up wasting considerable time, resources and productivity. Before your organization jumps into the deep end of the social selling pool, make sure your buyers are there and your reps are ready for the plunge.