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The Social Media Double Standard

By Sander Biehn | Apr 3, 2014

Talking shop last week with a colleague, we got on the topic of social selling and measuring its impact inside a business.  It turned out we both had seen the same thing with our clients: a maniacal desire to measure all the levers on social media interactions to build an air-tight return on investment (ROI) formula that applies to social selling.  The only problem is this level of measurement will surely take more time than the social selling itself.  My knee-jerk reaction is that too much measurement can be onerous and often takes away from the momentum of any social selling campaign.  I ask my clients, do we measure how many times a sales rep picks up the phone? Do we keep track of how many emails are sent leading up to a sale through traditional tactics?  Of course not. So why are we measuring that with social selling?  Besides, this type of granular assessment isn’t much good, because it does not take into consideration how well the sales person is positioned with top brass of the customer or their ability to progress a sale using the written word or a telephone call. In other words, sales is a “targeted” exercise and cannot adequately be measured by just running the numbers.

So why is it that social selling programs revert back to the look and feel of a pure marketing campaign? Why is that a social selling program makes the CMO want detailed analytics before ever agreeing to even start?

Frist, social selling like any other new program is going to be given a lot more scrutiny that ‘tried-and-true’ approaches. Never mind that all the evidence suggests that social channels are rapidly eclipsing traditional channels and in some cases making those channels irrelevant. Complain all you want  about how rational it is, social selling is going to be closely watched just because it is new.

Second, not all social campaigns are created equal. While still relatively new, social selling has been around long enough that many organizations can point to an attempt to use it that has not panned out.  If you read CMO’s and Sales VP’s reactions to these social campaigns, the feeling is often that it could have gone better. Rarely do managers tell us that social selling is a fad or trend anymore, but they often feel it should do more for them to move the needle today.  In other words, there a large expectation for social selling.   I think there is an expectation that social selling had better be 20 times better than ‘traditional’ selling or it is not be worth the conversion. This kind of thinking is dangerous because it undermines the truth. First, that social media is where the conversations are moving and second that many traditional selling tactics are quickly becoming outdated.

Today I saw a post in the Wall Street Journal suggesting that performance appraisals should be eliminated. That made me uncomfortable. While I agreed with the data in the article that suggested that it was very hard to properly measure people objectively, I didn’t feel that  just eliminating any attempt at measuring performance made sense. There is no reason to stop doing something just because it is difficult.

In the same vein, I think we do need to measure social selling programs in the same way we measure sales normally: using sales metrics. Attributing what percentage of sales are coming from social efforts is fine, but even better is the work of moving sales teams onto social platforms at the expense of older technologies while keeping sales numbers at quota or higher. Social selling will not change the world, but it will keep you from becoming extinct.

Having the right expectations and spending the right amount of time measuring versus implementing the program is extremely important to the success of any social selling program. By having an honest dialogue with clients about what to expect we can avoid the pitfalls of false expectations or self-fulfilling Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) that stack the deck and create a false positive.  Measure, but leave room for the program to take hold and transform the sales team.

What has your experience been? How have you measured social selling success? What are the dangers and difficulties of measuring social selling??

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