How To Build A Social Selling Pilot Program That Drives Business Results

Jamie Shanks
Jamie Shanks

social-selling-pilot-program-results.jpgWhen it comes time to choose a group of salespeople for a successful social selling pilot group, there are many variables to consider. Does age matter? What about specific sales roles? And does your pilot group need a certain amount of social experience? These 6 pilot grouping options will help you nail down a foolproof way to build a successful social selling group. The key here is to reverse-engineer future objections to uncover your pilot roadmap.

No matter how much success you have in a social selling pilot group, you will encounter internal detractors. You know your internal politics. Flesh out these potential landmines in advance before solidifying your pilot group. As an internal champion, your goal should be to mitigate the “yes but… it won’t work for our group” conversation as much as possible.

Product Team

Screen Shot 2017-01-09 at 11.09.24 AM.pngPro: Easy to make pilot product contextual. Same buyer persona, buyer challenges and content needs. This group is focused on mastering selling the same solution.

Con: Most likely to receive pushback from other groups on a second phase. This doesn’t prove social selling is effective for all sales professionals.

Job Function

job-social-selling-pilot.pngPro: Easy to make pilot focused on sales cadence, tactics and process. Everyone in this group should be selling the same way to each buyer.

Con: Many companies naturally think to start a pilot with demand generation/inside sales, using social selling at the top of the funnel. The most resistance comes from field, customer success and channel, arguing social selling is too top of the funnel. Your objection could be overcoming how social selling is applicable to all elements of the sales process.

Business Unit

business-unit-social-selling-pilot.pngPro: You have social proof amongst various age groups, making expansion more likely.

Con: If your organization has drastically different sales cycles between business units (time to close, size of deals), then you can anticipate pushback on complex selling vs. transactional selling as a key ingredient for social selling.


geography-social-selling-pilot.pngPro: You can contextualize the training to meet the culture, value and social etiquette   of that geography.

Con: Americas, EMEA, and APAJ are very different with different social platforms and approaches. Some America’s centric pilots receive a “too American” pushback from EMEA. Social is universal, but you’ll need to fight that fire.


Pro: This will be your best engagement. These participants ALL want to learn more.volunteer-social-selling-pilot.png

Con: Balance. Can you factor in Product, Job Function, Business Units, Geography and/or skill-set to have even representation? Your pushback will be on the Pareto 80:20 rule, as leaders will say, “sure it worked with volunteers, what about when you make training mandatory for those who don’t want to be there!”

Class Valedictorians (Skillset)


Pro: Most likely to complete a highly successful training program. Everyone in your training group is a high achiever.

Con: The literal Pareto 80:20 rule, where your remaining Core Performers (B-Players) and Laggards (C-Players) make up 80% of your workforce. How will social selling be implemented with this type of sales professional?

Don’t Believe The Hype That Millennials Are Better Than Seniority

Age is a major factor because many organizations will launch social selling pilots with the inside sales or lead generation teams, which are typically made up of millennials. However, only choosing millennials for your pilot program means you’re missing a huge opportunity.

Justin Shriber, the Head of Marketing for LinkedIn Sales Solutions, presented incredible data that contradicted the idea of starting your social selling pilot with “digital natives” instead of “digital immigrants.”

Digital natives are millennials, who are born after 1980. The iPad and social media were part of their DNA and their day-to-day lives from their teenage into their university years, and into their adult working life.

Old schoolers, also known as “digital immigrants,” didn’t have social media as part of their growth and development years, but were likely introduced to it in their 20s and 30s.

Justin Shriber discussed a LinkedIn study, which evaluated the LinkedIn SSI scores of the performance of people under the age of 35 versus those that were over 35. And you may be surprised to hear that those between the ages of 35 and 45 outperformed sales pros under 35 years of age by 5% per unit on the SSI scores! They scored on average 5 more points, and those over 45 scored 6 points higher than those under 35.

So when you’re choosing which sales reps to include in your social selling pilot program, don’t forget to include digital immigrants, who bring a lot of value to the table.

Your Core Performers Are The Most Important To Address

By definition, your core performers are like your B students. They’re your average sales pros that may or may not make quota. They may be a few deals away from quota. They’re hungry to improve but haven’t become your rock stars yet.

CEB stats show that if you can improve the skillset of these core performers by 5%, if you can get your core performers to achieve 5% better individually (remember your core performers make up 50-70% of your total sales force!) that can have up to a 60-70% revenue increase for your business perhaps in a year or two.

Why? Choosing your core performers is moving the biggest subset of your sales professional.

When you’re building a initiative program, you need to look at a demand curve. On average, 15% of your team will be laggards; 50-70% of your team are your core performers; and 15% are your rock stars.

Sprinkle the rock stars in, but DON’T train only them. This goes back to class valedictorians (skillset): the excuse can be made that even if the rock stars succeed in the initiative program, your internal sales enablement and operations will say the rock stars already being successful despite social selling, and it didn’t seem to make a massive incremental uplift of those people.

And that’s true – they’re already doing well and you’re just giving them a few more tools in their toolkit. But the core performers are where you can make the biggest dent. They are by nature still willing to learn and willing to improve themselves – they will ingest the knowledge, and are most likely to succeed.

Considering objections, choosing the right sales team and understanding how to shift sales performance are what the top companies do to effectively implement a social selling program. And remember, because they make up the majority of your sales force, your core performers are your biggest investment.


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The Ultimate Guide to Social Selling