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Help Needed for New Altimeter Report on Social Selling

Jon Cifuentes

Altimeter Group is planning to publish a research report this fall on how businesses are enabling sales organizations with social media tools. We will be discussing the markers for social selling transformation, best practices on training and governance, and a snapshot into the suite of tools available as marketing and sales organizations are pushed to evolve.

 I’ve provided a short snapshot below of insights gathered thus far in our research to begin the conversation. If you are a practitioner and would like to be highlighted as a case study, or are a vendor that supports social selling, we would like to hear from you. Send an email to me at with a short description of what you are doing in social selling.  


The Buyer Power Shift

Most B2B buyers today have all the information they need at their fingertips. 75% of B2B buyers are on social media, and 60% of their decision process is already complete before they’ve been touched by a salesperson. On top of this, 90% of decision makers don’t even respond to cold outreach (CEB, Harvard Business Review). If this is the reality, what are sales teams to do to keep up and stay relevant? What’s marketing’s role in empowering sales with the tools to be successful at impacting the decision journey?

The key challenge is for salespeople to continue establishing genuine connections and build the ability to seamlessly find the right buyers faster. And it’s getting more and more crowded. Even the notion of a primary decision maker is outdated; today, buying teams is the rule. According to a 2013 CEB study on B2B decision making (link), the average buyer is a groupof 5.4 people. And their collective insight and influence through social signals gives them tremendous power in a sales cycle. How can sales organizations get back to controlling the narrative when all the information necessary to make a purchase decision is available to so many relevant parties? Simple. They can’t. But through modern digital sales tools and better integration with sales and marketing teams (particularly around the production and dissemination of content), many sales teams are seeing great success at having a bigger impact on the buyer journey.


Sales and Marketing Must Align Around Content

More than ever, the brand of each of your ‘sellers’ is directly touching customers through social signals - and organizations need to be concerned that they’re communicating the right message -  whether it’s creating content or even just using their profile as the core representation of your brand.

 At LinkedIn Sales Connect in San Francisco, Tom Eggemeier, Chief Customer Officer & EVP Global Sales at Genesys said, “One of the biggest pains I see is on alignment with marketing and sales. From a sales perspective, I want leads/opportunities that have budget, where we know the timeline, and also have a decision maker. I don’t want to waste my sales reps’ time going through hundreds of leads.” In this case, it’s critically important for Sales to be enabled to give feedback to Marketing in terms everyone can understand. Sales teams are typically great at complaining that the leads aren’t good, but very poor on giving guidance as to why they saw leads as good or poor, and how they can use the data available to collaborate and improve.

Genesys’ marketing team looks at each sales rep and evaluated their Social Selling Index (SSI), which is proprietary to Linkedin. It consists of 4 sets of attributes, each scored on a 25 point scale:

1. Create a professional brand

2. Find the right people. (it’s not individuals anymore, it’s teams)

3. Engage with insights

4. Build strong relationships


Relationship-building Technology Powers the Modern Salesperson

The buyer power shift is also pushing many organizations to evolve sales processes to keep up. The cold call barely works. In 2007, it took an average of 3.7 attempts to reach a prospect. Today? 8 attempts. A recent research report from the Keller Center at Baylor University found a 330:1 call-to-appointment ratio. But even when cold-calling does work, there’s a sense of instant gratification, even if the odds are stacked against the sales person. It takes a completely new model of success (and therefore, measurement) to understand that impacting the modern buyer decision journey at various touchpoints is a long play. That instantaneous reward is gone, and replaced by more subtle cues dictating deeper relationships.

There’s a growing list of tools available to help salespeople meet this call, too. Whether it’s social listening tools, advanced calendaring apps, collaboration or content curation - it’s a bevy of available digital tools redefining the way we get work done, sales processes included. The important connective tissue here is the data - where tools like these attempt to transform intuitive sales knowledge spread across an entire sales team into data science that ideally scales out to other team members in the most relevant way possible. Data-rich tools require new forms of measurement and metrics, which ultimately reflect on new ways of measuring success for sales people. Would you rather your sales associates making 100 cold calls a day where less than 1% will listen to what they have to say - or spending the time making connections on LinkedIn to grow their networks and cultivate more opportunities? Most CRM systems are set up for the former situation, which presents a complex challenge for large sales organizations.

People buy from people, and smart sales organizations are figuring out how to use digital tools to a degree where leads aren’t doled out arbitrarily by geography or deal size - rather, it’s who you know - and the relationships you’ve built around that primary contact - that add context and real value to the sales opportunity.

We call people who don’t want to change “former employees." 


Social Selling: ‘New Normal’ or Cultural Barrier to Overcome?

Our early findings indicate pockets of activity and interest in social selling, often stemming from marketing service organizations. Still, many companies lack a business case to get started, and most lack an effective training and governance model for enabling social selling success -- while more evolved companies rely on the success they’ve seen integrating social into other areas of the business as a model for scale. And this only applies to companies with an existing burgeoning interest. According to Jill Konrath, author of AGILE SELLING, SNAP Selling & Selling to Big Companies, ”There’s slim adoption [on social selling], particularly in middle market. A whole lot of execs don’t want people “Twittering.”

Gartner predicts that by 2015, 20% of enterprises employing social beyond marketing will lead their industries in revenue growth (Gartner, Social is here - Where’s the ROI?).  These types of predictions have been echoed by other firms backed with quantifiable evidence (The Digital Advantage: How Digital Leaders Outperform their Peers in Every Industry, Capgemeni). Some organizations realize the time to transform is now. David Hagan, Director of Sales Enablement, Lexmark remarks, “We call people who don’t want to change “former employees.” That’s just our culture. [Our social selling model] works by creating enthusiasm and modeling success, [as well as] understanding that you won’t get what you expect out of the tools. Rather, it’s what you in-spect. Measurement plays a critical role.”  

Completely new sales success models might not be too far off as social selling continues its push towards a potentially new normal.