Increase in Social Selling Yields No Improvement in KPI’s


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Yeah, just in case you didn’t get that, I’ll lay it out for you.

In a recent mining of Objective Management Group’s data from June of 2013, there was a huge increase in the number of salespeople using social sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Spoke, Plaxo and Reachable for selling. The graph looked like this:

Social Selling Stats

I was impressed with this development…but…there is a huge problem with this. For all the attention that these sites get, for all the salespeople who now spend their evenings perfecting their profile, adding people to their networks and asking for introductions, what hasn’t changed for the better are these key metrics:

  • Calls-to-contact ratio is now over 10:1 – worse than ever before.
  • Contact-to-meeting ratio is worse, not better.
  • Sales cycle length is longer, not shorter.
  • Closing percentages are lower, not higher.

Weren’t the social sites supposed to help with those metrics?

Not really. These sites help salespeople connect – in the slightest of ways. Do you even know half of the people in your network?

Your network is like your neighborhood. You know that they are there, you recognize them as they go by, in their cars, on their bikes or while walking their dogs. But, you are only friendly with a small percentage of them. How likely is it that salespeople could improve their effectiveness because of their neighborhood? Well, the same is true of their networks. And the online networks don’t work any better than the real networks that they belong to in their home towns. You know the ones I’m talking about. The chamber, the business networking groups, the peer groups, the resource groups, etc. In theory, they’re all great, but in reality, how often do they produce measurable business from people who aren’t your friends?

Networks provide the framework to connect, but nothing happens automatically. Salespeople must still be effective enough, when reaching out, to convert that connection to a call, meeting, opportunity and sale. And sadly, we just aren’t seeing any improvement in the selling capabilities of the global sales population. It’s almost exactly the same as it was 10 years ago!

It’s time that we stop expecting sales to increase as a result of CRM, social selling tools and email. They are great tools, but none of them replace actual selling, and even worse, all of them serve as distractions, false safety nets and busy work that must be completed before salespeople are caught up and can get on the phone.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Dave,

    Without writing a long-winded discussion… I’ll let 1 story, from the 100’s of Social Selling stories we’ve collected disprove your theory.

    Story of Jen MacAskill @ Cision Canada forming relationships with LinkedIn in her first month on the job (no previous experience with PR & Communications), so needed LinkedIn to develop her “Community”

    Results: Jen won a $28,000 deal in her first 60 days! This would never have been possible without Social Selling

    There are 1,000’s of sales reps around the world with similar stories.

    I agree “Selling” is still required, and yes LinkedIn will not close the deal for you… but to suggest Social Selling has not improved KPI’s, that’s just not true.


    Jamie Shanks

  2. Thanks for chiming in Jamie.

    The statistics are not incorrect, they are simply different from your statistics. You cited an example and I’m sure, even from my statistics, there are success stories. I have personal success stories of my own. However, the story wasn’t about success stories. It was about a change in KPI’s that are simply not improving.

    One of the challenges here is that there are certain industries, products and price points that are more conducive and better positioned to leverage social selling. I’m sure that if you looked at the data from only those businesses, you would see great results. However, our data includes companies of all shapes, sizes, industries and markets. I’ll give you a for instance and I’m both over simplifying and mentioning only a few examples so I apologize for that. Manufacturers selling through distributors, dealers selling heavy equipment, and even technology companies selling 6-7 figure software and integration services, all represented in my data, haven’t seen changes to their KPI’s the way that a SaaS company selling $29/month subscriptions would.

  3. Dave,

    I don’t disagree that sales people with great selling skills is what closes deals, and I also know that using social media as part of your sales process can and does lead to revenue.

    Smart use of tools can lead to:

    -More meetings with the right people
    -Reaching the right decision makers more quickly

    If it isn’t happening for sales people, it is generally because their approach is way off the mark. They use LinkedIn InMail, as an example, and simply send a pitch. They send out a couple of Tweets and expect sales deals to come rolling in.

    If sales cycles are strung out, it is often because the opportunity was never qualified in the first place.

    Last fall Jim Keenan and I conducted a survey of sales people to find out if sales people were in fact achieving a measurable return where it counts…quota. The answer is overwhelmingly yes. And these sellers were also able to track their use of tools like LinkedIn to closed deals.

    Using social tools may not be working for everyone, but that’s because social selling doesn’t work, it is because the sellers don’t have a clear strategy for what they are doing. Instead, they use social to broadcast more spam and then wonder why it doesn’t work. For myself, my clients and for hundreds of sellers using social for selling does work!

    Check out the research report…

    I do agree with your last paragraph, because like you, I believe that technology doesn’t do the selling for you. But to suggest that social selling offers no value in terms of sales performance is way off the mark.

  4. I love posts and threads like this, as they help reinforce that shiny new tools cannot replace selling because they are NOT selling in the first place!

    Channels are just channels. Tools are just tools. If you use LinkedIn as a selling tool but still fail to provide value to the buyer, you’re not going to sell much.

    On the other hand, if you provide value, if you help your buyers make smart decisions, if you create those teachable moments and use the social web to not only accelerate impressions to drive familiarity, trust and preference but also identify the buying signals that tell you a prospect is ready to engage….

    That gives you the opportunity to sell. But efficiently creating selling opportunities is just setting the table. From that point forward, you need to be good at selling. And those skills are fundamental, and will be around far longer than today’s shiny object social selling tools & tactics.

  5. Dave,

    Enjoyed the post. I think the findings are interesting. Often, we hype one thing (CRM, Social, a methodology) and expect that one thing to change everything.

    It rarely does.

    Sales takes a combination of skills, tools, and traits. Those that believe one thing (Social Selling) will make bad sellers good are misguided.

    If I did have to pick one thing, it would be becoming customer focused—orienting around addressing their needs instead of orienting around what you are selling–that could make a big difference. But success in that also requires tools, skills, and traits (empathy, for example).

    I’m sure there are successes, but those are countered by legions of reps sending generic connection requests to people without context….Done in concert with other things, I’m sure social can help good sellers be great.

    Done in a vacuum, and it might help bad sellers be bad more easily.


  6. …”countered by legions of reps sending generic connection requests to people without context…”

    Great set of words!

    Context is missing from most conversations, questions and presentations but it’s even worse when done online. There is never enough context online and when it’s missing in its entirety, well, nothing good happens.

  7. Dave: This suggests that when companies deploy social selling strategies and tactics that executives are tracking KPI’s that don’t properly measure the efficacy of those tools.

    Or, the findings might indicate the presence of other variables that aren’t being measured. For example, since you don’t reference a control group, it’s unclear whether a group of salespeople who did not adopt the social tools you mention had the better results, worse results, or were about the same than the group that did. In other words, economic and other forces could have played a significant role in these outcomes as well, but since you’re measuring social media use, the conclusion is that social media offers no improvements, when in fact, the performance results could be much worse without it. We don’t know, but my suspicion is that like many other selling tactics, much of the success (or lack) depends on the execution.

    Overall, I’m with Hank on this one, though it’s an educated guess on my part – “Sales takes a combination of skills, tools, and traits. Those that believe one thing (Social Selling) will make bad sellers good are misguided.”

  8. Social media plays a role in selling today, but it can never sell for you. Loved what you said about “generic messaging”…drives me crazy. For the sellers who do it, it is completely wasted effort and actually hurts them more than helps them.

  9. Dave, your question was about using social sites to find new opportunities. I’m not surprised by your findings.

    Prospecting on social media is best left to the marketers, who are better equipped with the tools to find people worth contacting. Predictive analytics could help.

    That said, I think a better use of social media is for relationship development and nurturing of an existing prospect. Some social selling pioneers have reported success here.

    Maybe in future surveys you could ask about prospecting vs. nurturing. Since social selling is relatively new, I would be surprised if a general survey shows much success right now. So the trend could be interesting to watch over time.

  10. Bob,

    Again, I will have to completely disagree. Social Selling, especially “Social Lead Generation” is a critical element that top sales professionals have mastered.

    The opportunity for sales professionals to leverage LinkedIn, Twitter, Social Content as a means of driving business is enormous.

    There is nothing worse than Marketing taking a centralized role to all Social Media Listening. This is the failure to Social Media adoption within a company.

    Sales professionals need to take ownership for both listening and engaging THEIR “patch of land”. Their named accounts, Their hot prospects. No centralization is going to help hear a job change alert of a CFO of a Medical Device company, that John Smith has as a named account. Only John creating a Saved Search in LinkedIn himself, being responsible for his named accounts.

    Social Selling is 100% a function of sales professionals using these tools as a means of creating relationships… not marketing.


    Jamie Shanks

  11. I respectfully disagree, Bob that prospecting is merely a function of marketing. When I was still in corporate America, if I had to wait for marketing to produce qualified leads, I would have starved. I think most sales people would agree. When you own an account list and a territory, your job as a seller is to surface new business. If marketing can augment that work with qualified leads…fantastic.

    Marketers are not necessarily better equipped to surface leads via social. Marketing is doing what marketing does…building visibility and cultivating loyalty for the brand. Rarely have I seen the marketing team using social media to surface sales leads.

    In daily selling life, smart sellers use social media to listen to what customers, prospects, competitors and influencers are talking about. They use tools like LinkedIn to create lead lists based on the ideal prospect makeup. They use social media to surface real time information and insights before ever have a conversation with a prospect. That is NOT something that marketing does for sales people. They do it for themselves.

    As for a survey…if you have time, check out the Social Media and Sales Quota report I referenced earlier. It gave us 3-years of solid data as to the ROI of using social media for selling. Contrary to what some folks think, the concept of social selling is not brand new.

  12. Thank you all for contributing to the discussion and in both challenging and adding your own results and evidence for and against. I’m sure we’re not done yet…

    It’s clear that everyone is approaching this from their own perspective, using their own experience, anecdotal evidence, surveys, studies, clients and subscribers, in the industries in which they work and the marketing and/or sales teams with whom they communicate.

    I’ll repeat the essence of the article because it already seems to be getting lost or twisted.

    The data I used was a selection of around 10,000 Objective Management Group sales assessments (not a survey) completed in the month of June 2013. The results show us that usage of these tools is way up. The companies that these salespeople worked for were reporting no change, or worsening of KPI’s. The conclusion is what you had the problem with: Lack of correlation between use of the tools and key sales metrics. That’s it – nothing more and nothing less. How could you conclude anything else from this particular set of data?

    The 10,000 assessments were taken in a cross-section of industries (companies in more than 200 industries use our assessments) so that is part of the problem. Most of you who are surprised with these results are working with companies and industries that are more likely to see results than the overall population of 15 million plus salespeople.

  13. Social contact is not for direct sales, therefore direct sales statistics aren’t very useful or meaningful (though a great reminder of what social media is not for).

  14. Dave,

    I appreciate your post, which clearly has stirred up some strong opinions.

    As someone who is biased toward Social Selling’s efficacy, I wonder if the tools themselves are not to blame vs. improper (or complete lack of) training thereof. Maybe not surprisingly, most sellers have not had any Social Selling training to date (LinkedIn estimates this number at close to 70%), but instead people have fumbled around trying to figure stuff out on their own. So no wonder the needle is not moving for many people, and in fact they are probably making things worse by wasting a lot of time on social media without a solid plan or process that aligns with their buyers.

    Matt Heinz pretty much hit the nail on the head with what he said. Tools without the right application of them in the right time and context are pretty useless, alright.

  15. I don’t think that anyone can argue with you since you found no correlation between social media activity and sales metrics – based on assessments, not on surveys.
    Social media is a subtle thief of time that demands our attention, luring us away from the path of moving the sale forward. I think that social media technology was created to tickle our egos and when I hear people brag about the number of their Twitter followers, the number of LinkedIn Connections and the number of “friends” on Facebook, I begin to wonder if salespeople are paying more attention to growing their social media metrics than their customers base.

  16. Hi Gerhard,

    I love that – but that’s exactly what it is!

    No question that there are some terrific, handy uses for all of these tools, and they can help people to be quite resourceful. They have helped me connect when I’ve used it in an isolated, targeted, contextual, way. However, it’s equally true that these tools suck up time, not just to build the network or followers, but after you you’ve built it you can’t just let it sit there. I often wonder whether we’ve created the biggest, most widespread, viral form of unnecessary busy work ever.

  17. Dave and All.

    Social selling is part of selling yes – but does that change the data? No!Go back 20 years and networking was part of selling as well but that didn’t guarantee success in sales, in fact it was often a distraction and merely socializing for the sake of socailizing.
    Great sales people use social tools – of course, but so do bad ones. So Dave’s point is validated. It isn’t worth looking at as a KPI but it is important and always will be to the best sales people. Just because something isn’t a trackable or important KPI by the way doesn’t mean that the activity is not important (context) Great sales people might engage in a number of interesting activities that generate business but that wouldn’t necessarily make them transferable to the entire sales population.
    I – of all people am a big believer in social tools. After all I wrote the book “Sales Shift – how inbound marketing tutned sales upside down making it ore difficult and more lucrative at the same time”. Sometimes I am amazed by sales experts (people that should excell at reading, listening and comprehending) could read this article and draw the concusions they draw)

  18. The KPIs haven’t moved because I think the market has changed. Try cold calling CXOs, and see how many people you get on the phone. Everyone seems so busy these days, that they let calls roll into voice-mail. And with so much information available on the internet, many buyers start their sales cycle with out a sales person. So, I think it’s really hard to proactively initiate a sales cycle by cold calling. So, I think you need the social media to make warm calls. Targeted calls. Using connections on LinkedIn. Because without that market intelligence, I think cold calls are a very low return activity.

    Dave, what would you say the success rate is for a salesperson getting a CXO on the phone today?

    And without using something like LinkedIn to look for a connection, or searching the company’s website news for some corporate initiatives you can tie into, or salesloft for personal changes, how are you going to get above the noise?

    I personally find prospective much more difficult in the last three to four years unless it’s through people I know. What’s your experience?

  19. Hi Guest,

    It takes 10-15 attempts to reach a CXO today. But what makes you think that same CXO will accept your LinkedIn invite and then take your call if he or she doesn’t know you?

    There will never be a more effective way to gain traction with a new prospect than through an introduction. And this goes for LinkedIn too. You must ask for the introduction in much the same way you would have asked for it at a networking event. And if you have to ask for an introduction, then it’s probably not a client you are asking…and an introduction from a non client or customer will never be as strong as one from a client or customer.

    Finally, as for getting above the noise, companies have changed the way they add value. Years ago, value add was a phrase – a marketing pitch. Then, it became what your company uniquely did to add value to its offering. Today? You are the value. And if you haven’t found a way to BE the value, you won’t get above the noise.

  20. Think back, waaay back, to when the phone became the latest technology to help people communicate. In the first few years of sales people using the phone, did their KPIs improve? Probably not, if you look at averages. It takes a long time to “move the needle” on an entire population.

    10-20 years later, I’m betting the phone outperformed shoe leather.

    But now, I’m not so sure that technology will have such a dramatic effect. With the internet, social media and mobile devices, there are lots of ways to communicate. Yet the use of any of these tools does not by itself make selling any easier. Just different.

    Buyers are more empowered by these tools, but so are sales (and marketing) professionals. I think the key is not just using new tools to execute old processes.

    I would like to hear more from the social selling pioneers that say it is working. What are the successful reps doing with social media? What have they learned that doesn’t work in the new medium?

    Let’s see if we can learn from the pioneers, and share their insights with the rest who are using social media, but not getting an obvious payback, yet. Only then will the KPIs move.

    Of course, the answer may ultimately be that all we have done is swapped communication channels, just as we did when door-to-door selling gave way to the phone. So long as reps keep up with the communication preferences of their prospects/customers, selling is still selling.

  21. Great visual Bob.

    When I first began selling 40 years ago, I banged on doors. Through several businesses, I continued to bang on doors. When I started my sales training company in 1985, I still preferred walking in to calling. But there came a point in time when I could cover a lot more ground (and save the leather on my shoes) by calling.

    The current migration of outside sales to inside sales is simply a much larger scale version of what I described. It’s more efficient and less costly.

    To a certain degree, the collective set of internet based tools are more efficient than calling or walking in on one person at a time; but they may not be as effective.

  22. Barbara, I agree with you that sales should not depend solely on marketing to generate leads.

    But there is lead generation, and then there is lead generation. Should we kill the marketing department and just have sales reps generate all leads? No.

    I think the issue is how can a sales professional productively use social media for lead generation. Again, the context of Dave’s post was about *new opportunity* generation.

    I’ve been an advocate of “social selling” from the beginning, but for me it means something a little different that raw lead gen. For reps with an established territory and accounts, I can see social media being used to build relationships and perhaps get a foot in the door with an executive that might not have happened with cold calling.

    I’m skeptical that reps can use social media productively in a large territory with hundreds to thousands of potential prospects. This is the job better left to marketing, in my view.

    Can you give a real example of how a sales rep used social media to generate new opportunities?

  23. Hi Dave,

    The announcement of the results from your research has stirred the pot!

    As was noted by Bob earlier, I am wondering if the impact of this new approach called ‘social selling’ was washed out give the size of the dataset. This could be an issue with measurement.

    Perhaps it would help to divide up the practitioners of social selling into two groups: those who are smashing quota and those that are failing badly. Statistically you should be able to determine if the use of social selling is helping top reps exceed quota or if it is by chance (i.e. correlation vs. causality).

    Dave, this addresses your comment on your home blog, that if you suck at selling, you probably suck at social selling.

    On the other hand, I can see that you have prompted a lot of religious-type comments.

    To add to the fray, I just don’t get it.

    Sales is getting beat up by buyers because buyers have empowered themselves with knowledge via digital channels. Why shouldn’t sales take this opportunity to develop intelligence through social media & networks?

    Sales shouldn’t squander this opportunity to level the playing field with buyers and work smarter.

    Or should we just hand out phone books to sales people and ask them to work faster?

    Thanks for the debate.


  24. Dave,
    In my opinion, social selling is a really just a different/new medium. Customers read what is said on Titter, LinkedIn, Blogs etc., and if they are not reading your thoughts they are reading those of your competitors. If your customers are indeed hanging out in the social universe, then you need to be there – but with a voice that is authentic, considered, engaging, and delivering some value first before you expect something in return.

    From that perspective it is really no different than ‘more traditional’ media. But if you don’t execute well, you can screw up much faster. Like everything else worth doing, it takes time and continued effort.

    Speaking anecdotally, I have seen significant return from our social media activity, but it has taken many years to see that return. I write about what we do, and what we learned in a post here.

    Dave, thanks for starting the conversation.

  25. Do they still publish phone books?

    Robert, you’re right…we need to embrace the tools but we need to use them more appropriately, efficiently and effectively.

  26. Answer: because bolting wings to a car doesn’t make it an airplane

    Dave, you said: Calls-to-contact ratio is now over 10:1 – worse than ever before.
    Of course!!! Because using LinkedIn as a replacement for a phone book isn’t really what LinkedIn is built for (Think ‘wings on a car’).

    You said: Contact-to-meeting ratio is worse, not better.
    Of course because people don’t want to spend time and listen to the sales rubbish. (driving a round with the wings on your car makes it even worse to drive).

    You said: Sales cycle length is longer, not shorter.
    Well that is absolutely wrong. And we saw this in many reports. But sales people take longer to chaise clients that just don’t want to buy anything at that point. (Maybe you didn’t realize that your winged car is still on the ground)

    You said: Closing percentages are lower, not higher.
    Correct!!!! Sales people close less and less!!!! Because the old techniques just do no longer work (unless you think that all of the 70 Million sales people are all of a sudden stupid and lousy)

    Squeezing sales people in that winged car and asking them to fly is exactly what 90% of sales organization do today. It appears that most are not willing to accept that it isn’t the stupidity of sales people but the blindness of executives and consultants who live in their success world from eons ago!

  27. Thanks Axel – loved the winged car analogy.

    Let’s not let salespeople off the hook and blame it all on executive blindness and consultants living in the past.

    One piece of sales assessment data that has not changed one bit in 23 years is that there is not a bell curve when it comes to sales performers. There is not a top and bottom 20% with 60% of the middle players earning B’s. Oh, companies may rank their people that way – calling the middle 60% B’s – because they think they’re supposed to. But the reality is that there is an elite 6% – the superstar A’s. There is another 20% right behind the elite that are pretty good – the B’s. And then there is everyone else – all lumped together – the C’s – the bottom 74% – and they all pretty much suck.

    You can blame the executives for keeping these under achievers around but the under achievers must carry some of the blame for not improving themselves.

  28. I also saw your comment that I need a new career.

    That’s the kind of attack comment I was talking about in this article. That was unnecessary…

    You must have misinterpreted something along the way. I completely agree that social selling is here to stay. What did I write that caused you to believe I said it wasn’t? You aren’t disagreeing with me…

    All I said was that it didn’t correlate with KPI’s. Period.

  29. Dave, the title of your post uses the term “social selling” yet your data refers only to using social media sites to “find new opportunities.”

    Surely you’re not saying finding new opportunities is the only thing included in selling.

    Some might interpret your post as an attack on social selling in general, when in reality your data just says, on average, a population of sales reps hasn’t yet found a new communication tool helped them generate leads in a way that improved KPIs.

    I still get calls and emails from reps who want to sell me something, but can’t be bothered (or don’t have the right tools) to look up basic info about me or my company, available on LinkedIn, Twitter,, etc. They would benefit from “social selling” if it meant learning something about a prospect before contact. Or not bothering to contact me, because I’m not a likely buyer.

    Since you have the data, why not dig deeper to figure how elite reps are using social media. Or not. Social selling is here to stay, we’re not going to put the social media toothpaste back in the tube. We need to figure how social media site and tools can help reps, not distract them.

  30. Great post (as always) and very interesting comments!
    Sorry for chiming in a bit late.

    From my perspective, social media drive companies to share their valuable expertise in order to attract prospects. That’s (mostly) great news for everyone in the market to buy.

    The downside is that sales professionals and managers have been lured to believe that social media is a “quick fix” to boost sales.

    Social is not selling. It’s not a quick fix to boost sales. It’s an amazing way to provide and consume valuable information and to network online.

    I think “Social Selling” ought to be split into (1) “Social Learning” and (2) “Social Teaching”, whereas the first should assist sales teams to improve the latter to gain more traction, trust and business.

    In order to do so, we should use all the great tools available, but ensure to use them in a context and with a plan.


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