According to Facebook, there were more than a billion active users of the social networking platform in December 2012. (For context, if recent estimates are close, there are now over seven billion people on the planet.) Granted, those Facebook accounts are both individual and organizational, but the keyword in the stat isn’t the number as much as the word “active.”
Then there’s LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Pinterest, and a host of other sites and platforms to draw your attention. Some people try to compartmentalize their social networking by using LinkedIn for business and Facebook for personal, but those lines are increasingly blurred. (Are your LinkedIn connections only colleagues, or are you also connected to people such as friends, relatives, neighbors, and college classmates with whom you’ve never actually worked?)
LinkedIn’s foundation is an online resumé for users, but its power is in facilitating dialogue with your network as well as in groups where you can follow trends, research companies, make thoughtful comments, and build your reputation. However, too many people neglect to engage and miss the opportunity.
We were curious as to the impact of social media among sales reps. To find out, we conducted a survey to learn more about how sales reps were using social media in their jobs, in what ways, and with what levels of success. Here’s an overview of what we found.
Social Media in Sales Key Survey Findings
- A surprisingly large number of sales reps don’t actively use social media.
- Many companies in regulated industries block or prohibit social media activity.
- Many sales reps say they don’t know how to use social media effectively, which suggests a training need.
- Low blog utilization by sales suggests a disconnect with marketing.
- The top three common uses for social media in sales are related to researching people.
- LinkedIn is the most popular social media tool for selling professionals, but sales reps still haven’t unlocked its true potential to support prospecting and account management.
Social Media in Sales Survey Questions and Response Data
1. Do you engage with any social media sites as part of your sales and marketing process?
Barely half (54%) of respondents answered “yes” to this question. This number is surprisingly low and reveals that sales reps have much ground to cover with regard to leveraging social media in their selling efforts. Of course, the 46% who are using it are enjoying a broader audience since so few sales reps are actively engaging clients and prospects online. Hopefully, they’re making the most of it.
Note: The data presented in the following questions reflect the responses of those who answered “yes” to this first question.
2. What has been the biggest hurdle in using social media in your sales efforts?
A staggering number of companies (71) block access to social media sites. That was understandable a few years ago, but companies have had several years to establish policies and procedures for effectively using social media for business. (See our recent blog post on establishing social media policies and procedures.) The real hypocrisy is that these same companies likely have their own social media pages and expect their clients and prospects to engage with them there, yet deny their own employees access to this resource.
For those lucky enough not to be blocked, they cite a lack of understanding of how to use social media (60, which suggests a need for training) or that they’re too busy with other selling tasks (46). This latter group needs to remember the need to plant seeds on multiple plots and nurture them for sustainment when the current crop becomes exhausted.
3. If you were using social media tools in your selling efforts, please indicate which tools you would use.
Sales reps report using LinkedIn (130) nearly twice as often as Facebook (76) for business. YouTube (44) outranked Twitter (42), but neither are getting much use.
Corporate blogs ranked third with 62 respondents, but that number is less than half of LinkedIn users. Why the disconnect? It suggests a lack of awareness or credibility of the blogs. Those LinkedIn users should be engaging their networks and groups with content from the corporate blog, which is really low-hanging fruit. Sales and marketing should get together to improve the blog or weave its use into sales reps’ repertoires in order to leverage it more effectively.
4. How much time per week do you spend using social media sites as part of your sales process?
Respondents were asked to answer this question with regard to their prospecting efforts and attempts to strengthen existing relationships. The amount of time spent on both tasks was very parallel. The majority of sales reps (approximately 150) claim to spend less than two hours per week using social media, which equates to at most 24 minutes per day. Slightly more time is spent prospecting in this group.
Between 50 and 60 sales reps report spending three to five hours per week on social media, with a greater focus on strengthening existing relationships.
Power-user groups spend six to eight hours (15-25 respondents), nine to ten hours (~ten), and greater than ten hours per week (15-25) using social media. Again, more time is spent on current connections than on prospecting.
5. How has social media helped you succeed throughout your selling process?
Of the 15 choices, the top three answers all related to researching people. Specifically, they were learning more about prospects (190), learning more about existing clients (168), and identifying possible prospects (162). They seem to have this tactic down.
However, they need more help using social media in the latter stages of selling, including getting more invitations to RFPs (23), closing more deals (38), and converting prospects into real, qualified pipeline opportunities (58).
6. What percent for each of leads, opportunities, and closed business have originated through social media?
A majority (~110-150 respondents) claim to have generated less than 5% of leads, opportunities, and closed business through social media, indicating that it hasn’t had a significant impact on their business thus far. But a healthy number (~40-60) report between 6% and 15%, and a smaller number (~10-15) have had success 16% to 25%. So, it is possible, and it is intriguing to consider how these numbers could change over time with more frequent and effective use of social media among sales reps.
7. Which of the following social media tools do you use in your selling efforts?
LinkedIn is the most popular social media tool for selling professionals, being used by more than 360 respondents nearly equally for prospecting and to strengthen existing relationships. Facebook was ranked second with nearly half the number of users. All other platforms were used with much less frequency.
One respondent commented that, “YouTube is an excellent tool to show videos about performance and provide an explanation for some applications,” which is an excellent point to remember when devising your social media sales strategy.
8. Rate the effectiveness of each of the following social media sites that you have used in prospecting and strengthening relationships.
While LinkedIn is used most often, it is viewed as being 40% effective when prospecting and 45% effective in strengthening existing relationships.
Conclusion: Social Media Sales Strategy Starts at the Top
Sales reps are finding varying degrees of success in using social media, from relationship building to working business opportunities through the pipeline. Will we still be using LinkedIn and Facebook ten years from now? Probably, but they won’t be the only platforms available. In order to move the needle, companies need to invest in creating a social media strategy that fits their business and industry, define rules for usage, train employees (including sales reps) on how to use it, and expect senior leaders to hold their people accountable for working it into their routines. As the younger generations take on more leadership and purchasing decisions, you can pretty much bet on them being influenced by social media. And as the saying goes, “You’ve got to be in it to win it.”