Which Side of the Social Selling Tipping Point Are You?

Learn how social selling is providing a competitive advantage – and why that door may be closing fast.

July 2, 2016

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Malcolm Gladwell described the tipping point as “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” It sounds hugely exciting – and it is, provided you are the right side of that tipping point.

The tipping point opens doors for those that are part of the moment, but it also starts to close them, with increasing speed, for those that lag behind. The tipping point starts the countdown clock on competitive advantage related to the idea, trend or social behavior in question. And that countdown clock has well and truly started for social selling.

The era of transient competitive advantage

Competitive advantage used to have a feeling of permanence about it. If you were selling a product that nobody else manufactured then you had an obvious USP; if your business controlled distribution networks and could deliver solutions that nobody else could manage, then you could expect to have that advantage for a while. However, manufacturing and distribution have both become commoditized; increasingly, they are things that anyone can do. USPs are often only fleeting as a result, and competitive advantage is a lot more capricious. As Rita Gunther McGrath puts it in her book The End of Competitive Advantage, "To win in volatile and uncertain environments, executives need to learn how to exploit short-lived opportunities with speed and decisiveness.” Social selling is one such opportunity.

Social selling at the tipping point: the story in numbers

To benefit from a breakthrough technology or technique, you need to anticipate the early majority stage of adoption. You need to act while something is no longer high risk, but whilst it still offers high rewards. In his recent bestelling book, Geoffrey Moore refers to this as Crossing the Chasm. It’s what sales teams need to be doing right now, in order to exploit the opportunity that social selling represents. Fail to act and social selling will start to change from something that can deliver competitive advantage, increased revenues and growth, to something you have to adopt just to minimize your losses.

How can we know for certain that social selling is crossing the chasm? The answers are all in the numbers. LinkedIn’s Social Selling Index (SSI) measures the extent to which reps are adopting social selling behaviors: creating a professional brand, finding the right people, engaging with insights and building strong relationships. SSI leaders currently create 45% more opportunities per quarter than SSI laggards and are 51% more likely to hit their quota. This confirms that social selling provides a strong competitive advantage for those adopting solutions like LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator – but for how much longer will the door of competitive advantage be open?

To answer that question, we need to look at the average SSI scores achieved by sales reps – and how that is changing over time. Back in 2012, the average SSI score stood at 12.2. Today, it’s reached 28.5. In other words, social selling is rapidly moving from something that only leaders do, to something that is adopted far more widely. Yet, as we’ve seen, it’s still able to deliver significant advantage to those that get out ahead of the curve. It’s hard to imagine a clearer statistical embodiment of an approaching tipping point.

Competitive advantage rewards decisiveness

Getting the right side of the social selling tipping point requires decisiveness: in executive alignment, in education and in measurement. As Phil Lurie, the Senior Director, GCO Sales Tools and Technology at SAP, describes the process of rolling out Sales Navigator: “I was going to be either the hero or the villain. Someone has to take a risk to make things happen.” Yet Phil also describes the massive ROI that has resulted from SAP taking the initiative on social selling. It’s a story echoed across businesses like PTC, where VP Global Sales Enablement and Programs Mark Tefekis reports a 50x ROI from his Sales Navigator investment.

Stories like those of SAP and PTC demonstrate how it’s possible to move extremely quickly in rolling out a solution like Sales Navigator – and generating very real competitive advantage from it. The approaching social selling tipping point means there will never be a better moment to do so.

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To learn more about how to use social selling to gain a competitive advantage, check out our eBook How Personalized Selling Unlocks Competitive Advantage

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