The incorporation of social selling into any organization’s culture can be challenging. While enablement, marketing and sales leaders inherently realize this, sometimes what we don’t truly know can hurt us in the long run.

While social selling may feel similar to launching other corporate initiatives, beyond this launch phase you will find unique challenges that you may not have prepared for.

Before we even move on in discussing the common causes of social selling program failures, I’m compelled to ask you a baseline denominator question. If the answer to this question is no, I advise you to reconsider delaying the start of your program until the time is right.

Here’s the question: are you planning to use social selling to drive pipeline & revenue?

Again, if the answer is no, it’s time to delay the launch of any program. Because ultimately social selling activities must tie back to sales objectives.

We’ve been fortunate to speak with over 1000 organizations worldwide who have kick-started their own internal, homegrown social selling programs. These variables below are commonly cited as core reasons for programs to go sideways and/or fail completely.

That said, let’s dive right in.

1. Not Enough Training

Training is one of the central pillars of any social selling program. Here are some classic misses you should avoid:

  • Thinking that training from social selling software tool providers is enough. FYI, it isn’t. It barely covers the basics of the tool itself.
  • Providing training for a few hours through your own efforts through workshops (online or offline). Workshops serve a great purpose but aren’t enough.

This isn’t a message for smaller companies only – it’s for companies of all sizes. We know of some of the biggest companies on the planet not investing enough time into social selling training and then wondering why results aren’t there.

2. Training Isn’t Detailed Enough

Social selling isn’t just LinkedIn training, or LinkedIn Sales Navigator training. It’s much, much more detailed. While that detail can be learned over a longer and sustained period of time, don’t let commonly-held beliefs about what sufficient training looks like.

In a recent discussion with a Chief Revenue Officer in San Francisco, he mentioned that his sales team had sufficient training on how to use LinkedIn Sales Navigator. When asking questions around this, he revealed how the only value he wanted from social was how to build prospect lists. As long as his reps knew who the prospects were, he was okay with them “hitting the phones” or “starting an email drip campaign.” Clearly, there was a miss in training somewhere here.

Secondly, the way you train should be different. Social requires an approach that respects how each person wishes to learn. The days of showing up at a sales training workshop with workbooks and hypothetical role scenarios hasn’t helped us for the most part.

Learning takes place differently in each person; the key is to build a program that addresses each learner’s capacity and appetite to absorb information. While some enjoy the formal classroom/workshop teaching style, others may want to learn completely on their own on-demand. Some enjoy working in small, peer-led groups. And of course, some prefer a mixture of all of these but when they need help, they want to speak with a live human to help answer their question.

While this takes time to build, it should be addressed as a part of a long-term roll-out plan.

3. No Visibility Into Application

The goal of training is to translate the learnings into application. Where most social selling programs fail is having no visibility into how learners are applying education.

For the most part, many organizations call people into a room (physical or virtual), teach them some concepts and then say “go!” This isn’t a criticism but a reality in most training worldwide.

While we should expect learners to apply on their own time, a more meaningful way would be to see application in action, measure its performance and provide feedback.

In over 1000 companies we’ve spoken to worldwide, only two companies come close to having visibility into application. They are able to ensure that learning is being practiced, applied and that it’s being done correctly.

4. Reinforcement Isn’t There

This has a lot to do about my earlier question at the start of this piece: is your main intention pipeline and revenue growth? If so then reinforcement must be a part of your plan.

What’s more, without reinforcement, application fades naturally. It’s technically not the fault of the sales professional because they have competing priorities and missing one day turns into two, which turns into a week and before you know it, they’re forgetting the basics and reverting back to what they think works. 

Aberdeen Group research states, companies that are “post-training reinforcers” achieve better business results. The companies that use post-training reinforcement have seen 34% more new sales hires achieving the quota designed for them by their leaders. This is why reinforcement is critical.

This is where smart reinforcement plans can save the day. Not only must you test the retention of their learning, you must test their ongoing application.

5. Management Buy-In Is Missing

Let’s be clear here: management buy-in must come in two levels.

First, the executive leadership team must stand behind, support and evangelize social selling. Without this, sales and marketing professionals will not be likely to change habits.

Secondly, frontline sales managers must ensure accountability from their direct individual contributors. This is where coaching materials for them help immensely. If you can’t make it easy for the frontline manager, you’re going to have an extremely hard time ensuring buy-in.

6. Missing Metrics Can be Messy!

Every successful social selling program I’ve seen takes into account multiple KPIs that can be measured in all parts of the learning journey.

From training through to application right through to seeing growth in pipeline and revenue. Ensure that you, too, have your metrics figured out from the outset. Once done, be sure to know where you’ll be housing these and how often you’ll be measuring them.

This isn’t a discussion to be had in a silo, you’ll want to work with management on this so that accountability is there from the get-go.

7. Change Management Focus

I’ve spoken about the importance of change management a lot. The rate at which social media platforms are changing is astounding. New features are being introduced often. Some features are being changed or taken away outright. How platforms integrate into a sales professional’s daily routine will be impacted by all of this.

This amount of change and flux can cause learners to be turned off. How can they learn if curriculum isn’t current and updated?

Whatever you do, ensuring that your curriculum is updated, applicable and whole is a task you must accept. Without this, sales professionals will learn social selling in a vacuum. This is to say that their learning will only make sense in the time period in which they learned it. The minute changes happen by the major social media networks, your curriculum may not be applicable any more.

The Bottom Line

These challenges represent core, fundamental reasons why social selling programs fail. If you have a program that’s already underway, be sure to match up these common failure points with your own program. It’s better to pivot now rather than later if needed.

Do you have a social selling program underway that addresses the needs we’ve highlighted for you?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Tweet me @AmarSheth or connect with me on LinkedIn to collaborate.


Amar Sheth

Author: Amar Sheth

Amar Sheth has trained thousands of people worldwide on the topic of Social Selling, through a style that’s part storytelling and part motivational.

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