On the Value and Future of Social Selling – With Koka Sexton @Hootsuite

Sales and Marketing departments have realized the massive potential of social networks – to connect with prospects and get a chance to make a meaningful connection. Some are better than others at using it in their sales strategy. But the future of social selling will depend solely on the value it provides to businesses – the Return on Investment (ROI).  I’ve had an insightful conversation about this with Koka Sexton from Hootsuite, and here’s what he had to say about measuring social selling ROI and the future of social selling.

Koka Sexton is someone I truly admire, because he had a lot to do with establishing the bases of social selling best practices. He’s a social selling and digital marketing advisor and he’s now working with Hootsuite to help large enterprises establish social selling strategies.

He has also been involved in the LinkedIn Sales Navigator go-to market strategy. Given that XANT just announced integration with Sales Navigator for a better user experience, I thought I could revisit my discussion with him. I truly believe that the integration of smart systems – CRM’s, sales acceleration platforms and social platforms – is the winning combination to boost sales processes and help us sell more, faster.

Koka Sexton Playmakers Podcast

We got some interesting insights on the value, strategies and future of social selling. So, I’m sincerely hoping you have the 7 minutes you need to read through this entire interview, you won’t regret it!

Koka, you’re running social selling at Hootsuite, can you walk us through your journey with social media and how you’ve helped develop and put social selling on the map.

This whole journey started while I was a sales representative and sitting behind a desk. My biggest issue was developing my own pipeline, because marketing couldn’t produce it for me. I have this love-hate relationship with marketers.

I had to find a way to develop my own pipeline as most sales people are struggling with. The answer that was always given to me by my sales manager was just make more phone calls. I wanted to find a better way. And then I came across this idea of social networks. (…) At that point, the idea of leveraging social networks as a sales person was basically unheard of.

My focus was optimizing that behavior. (…) I had the goal of building my pipeline and not building a brand or building a fan base.

It was 2010 when I made the switch from sales to marketing, which I call “moving to the dark side.” (…) I figured it was worth the risk to see if I could help marketing move in to this world of sales effectiveness.

And stop talking about the fluffy metrics and how I am driving pipeline through marketing activities.

smartphone in hand - app and social media icons

Tell us a bit about Hootsuite and how you use that in your sales strategy.

Hootsuite is the largest social media management platform. We have over 15 million users around the world, and you know, I’ve always been a fan of Hootsuite. I started using this platform in 2009. Even back then, I understood that the idea of a sales person jumping around from different social platforms to post status updates just seemed inefficient.

With Hootsuite, I can plug everything in to one platform and then it gets distributed to my social networks from there. It made my life much easier. It allowed me to schedule content, it allowed me to manage other content streams and identify trigger events through social by advanced searches. I mean it just didn’t seem that possible within the existing social platforms, standalone tabs on my browser.

Is Hootsuite is typically used in a B2B setting? Or what has been the primary use case? It’s not been more of a social selling tool, it’s been more of a social listening.

Yes, it was social listening and social marketing tool. Predominantly the customer service teams are monitoring social media for issues or compliments.

Or, from a marketing perspective, at Hootsuite or even at LinkedIn or a larger corporation, they could have upwards of three or four hundred different social profiles around the world that they’re trying to manage. They need a platform to integrate all of this. From an enterprise level, Hootsuite just makes life easier for marketers that are using social networks.

computer and tablet with colorful graphs - value of social selling concept

Have you had situations where you were struggling proving the ROI of social selling? How do you coach companies to get to that place where you can start to say: ‘Guys this is really working, this is good ROI?’ Is it still mostly manual?

I’d say it’s still a bit of both. Automating the activity, logging the activities in whatever CRM you’re using has become very easy when it comes to phone and email. (…) I think there’s always been an issue with that, but technology is also advancing now.

Here at Hootsuite, we have a platform called Amplify, which is a content curation, distribution mobile app. And that is now tying in to CRM, so as I share things from my phone while I am commuting, that activity can then be translated within my CRM, but more importantly that as I am engaging with people on social, that’s going to start getting embedded within the CRM records as well.

(…) But, for the most part, going back to the original question, it is manual and that’s why it’s harder to measure. The companies that have built that measurement, even if it’s manual, they are seeing the ROI from it.

This is interesting, because often a lot of people they can’t sell their product unless they can show clear ROI using social media. I feel like LinkedIn Sales Navigator is a must-have. They built a product that was sticky enough, so that even if the ROI isn’t easy to prove, you are still getting a lot of value out of it.

We also address that by creating the Social Selling Index (SSI score). That was one of the reasons why the SSI score was created, because in lack of ROI, what can we show? It gives you an endorphin rush – ‘Hey, I’m doing something good!’

(…) We tested the SSI score out internally for months before it ever saw the light of day. We really wanted to get a list off all the activities that can get you to a score of 100 SSI and how they should be measured.

They have already started to tie in SSI score to measurable sales outcomes, such as revenue or pipeline and other.

In your experience, what have you found to be tactically the best activities people should do to win with social?

As a sales person, we must be visible. We must put ourselves out there so that the buyers, when they’re looking around for answers, they can find us. That’s where this whole idea of visibility creates opportunity comes from.

The best thing a sales person can do is to make themselves look as presentable as possible to their buyers. And that starts with how they set up their social profiles. And then it goes in to what are they sharing. Are they sharing good, relevant content that educates buyers along the buying cycle? (…) Regardless of where somebody is in that cycle, you must be visible. (…)

As a salesperson, you have competition – other salespeople are trying to get the same business that you are. So, what is that determining factor with a buyer of who they’re going to buy from?

Data continues to show that buyers are self-educating. A decision maker is consuming five pieces of content, on average, before they want to talk to a salesperson. Where are they getting that content from?

Some of it may be coming from the brand. Some of it is probably coming from the sales people that are sharing it. But the age-old adage of ‘people buy from people’, that’s still true today.

A buyer is going to identify more with an individual than they are with a logo.

If you were coaching the typical sales rep – where is the time and place for them to be, not just curating social media content, but creating it?

That’s a great question. (…) I don’t believe that all sales people should be creating content. In fact, I think that most sales people should not be creating content. Because it’s a different skill set altogether. It’s a different mentality.

A sales rep all they should really be focused on is how are they connecting and engaging with these decision makers. They should be active in the social networks where their buyers are spending time.

They shouldn’t be creating YouTube channels.

There’s this idea of moving away from social selling into digital sales or digital transformation. Do you feel like sales transformation or digital transformation is a better conversation to have, rather than social selling? And why are we seeing this movement?

I believe that social selling is the act of leveraging social networks in your own professional brand to fill your pipeline. The idea of digital transformation in sales, which I’m also a huge proponent of, is the marrying of marketing and social selling.

One of things that became very clear to me (especially at LinkedIn and Hootsuite) is this idea of where the lines of ownership really lie within an organization that is enabling a social selling program.

To do that effectively, you must have marketing support and an agency type model internally. Companies are already going through a digital transformation. (…) It’s starting in the marketing organization, because that’s where they’re finding the money is coming from.

At some point, either in tandem with that transformation or shortly thereafter, the sales team is going to have to get on board also. If marketing is going all digital and sales is still being pretty much analog, there’s going to be miscommunication. The customer’s buying journey is going to be a mess.

This interview has been edited and contracted from the Playmakers Podcast ep. 113 – “The Truth About Social Selling”.

Listen to the Playmakers Podcast with Koka Sexton!


Koka Sexton Playmakers Podcast


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