The Secrets of Social Media in Salesperson Performance

June 1, 2022

Melanie Bowen, PhD, Christine Lai-Bennejean, PhD, Alexander Haas, PhD, and Deva Rangarajan, PhD

Stock Image of a Woman Standing in a Living Room and Speaking Toward a Cell Phone on A Stand in A Ring Light

Social media has become a core component of communication within our society, and as social media has positively impacted personal life, it has also positively impacted business. Through the years, researchers have studied the positive impacts social media has on various aspects of business, from improving sales to customer relations. Although many studies have focused on the impact of social media within the linear selling model,1 few studies have shown the impact of social media usage within concurrent selling tasks, including how these concurrent selling tasks impact salesperson performance. Our study focuses specifically on the relationship between social media usage, key selling tasks, salesperson performance, and peer social media usage as a relationship moderator.

Impact of Social Media Usage on Key Selling Tasks

Our initial hypothesis stated that increasing B2B salesperson social media usage is positively correlated with three key selling tasks: value-oriented prospecting, adaptive selling, and proactive servicing.

Value-oriented prospecting reflects the idea that salespeople can utilize social media to better identify and understand prospective customers through constructing various customer profiles. These profiles would then allow the salesperson to focus on profiles that have the highest value potential with respect to sales or profits. 

The hypothesis also highlights how social media provides the opportunity for salespeople to use adaptive selling, in which salespeople will modify their behavior in customer interactions based on customer characteristics and situations.2 Social media provides a unique opportunity for salespeople to interact with customers and understand more about individual customers. Therefore, as salespeople use social media to understand their customers and prospects, they can also strengthen relationships with each customer by personalizing each interaction.3

Third, our hypothesis mentions how social media provides a platform for salespeople to take initiative in reaching out to customers in preparation for issues, providing guidance for usage of products, and receiving feedback from customer experiences.4 Not only does this proactive servicing allow for salespeople to improve customer experience, but it also helps convey how customer needs are changing over time.5

Although each of these three selling tasks show positive effects resulting from the usage of social media, only value-oriented prospecting and proactive servicing showed significant positive effects. Previous findings suggest a relationship between social media usage and adaptive selling, but it is likely that salespeople often do not consider social media as a mechanism in which an actual sale could be closed. Therefore, social media would not have been instrumental in facilitating salesperson adaptability in direct interactions.  

How Selling Tasks Impact Salesperson Performance

Our study hypothesized that these three selling tasks—value-oriented prospecting, adaptive selling, and proactive servicing—directly impact salesperson performance. Specifically, there is a positive relationship between value-oriented prospecting, adaptive selling, and proactive servicing on salesperson performance. Based on our study, each of these three selling tasks significantly and positively influence salesperson performance.

Increased value-oriented prospecting highlights high-potential prospective customers, allowing a salesperson to better utilize time and increase engagement with these individuals. This higher engagement with high potential prospective customers could, in turn, increase the possibility of the prospects becoming actual customers, leading to an increase in salesperson performance.

Similarly, the customized customer experience provided through adaptive selling is hypothesized to increase the likelihood of customer purchasing through increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty. Satisfied customers would, in turn, prompt customer loyalty which leads to additional sales over time and higher salesperson performance.6

Third, as salespeople employ proactive servicing, salespeople can directly assist customers to prevent or solve potential issues, leading to higher satisfaction and customer loyalty. Enhancing customer experience and satisfaction allows salespeople to increase prices or successfully sell products without the use of discounts.4 In addition, being proactive in listening to customer issues allows salespeople to discover new areas of possible sales.4 Together, these factors cause an increase in sales through proactive servicing and increasing salesperson performance.

Impact of Peer Social Media Usage

With previous components of this study discussing a salesperson’s use of social media impact on selling tasks and sales performance, our study also highlights the idea of a moderating variable. Specifically, our study identifies peer social media usage—a salesperson’s perception of their coworker’s usage of social media—as a moderator between the individual salesperson’s social media usage and the three selling tasks. That is, as more peers within the salesperson’s network utilize social media, the more beneficial it will be for the salesperson to engage with social media due to increased information availability.7 Increased peer social media usage can also help motivate salespeople through the competitive nature of sales and help provide more and better quality information.8 Our results showed a significant positive moderating effect from peer social media usage on the relationships between social media usage and value-oriented prospecting and proactive servicing. These results suggest that a peer’s use of social media can amplify the impact that a salesperson’s social media usage has on value-oriented prospecting and proactive servicing, which indirectly affects salesperson performance.

Implications and Conclusions

Stock Image of a Hand Holding a Cell Phone with a Social Media Folder Open on the Screen Showing Icons For Facebook YouTube Google Instagram Twitter Linkedin Line Whatsapp and Pinterest

Our research solidifies the importance of using social media within the sales profession. Therefore, for managers who recruit and hire, we advise seeking candidates who understand how to best leverage social media. A company should seek to train salespeople in how to use social media for sales as well as when to use social media, specifically in the areas described in this study: value-oriented prospecting and proactive servicing. It is also important to encourage your team to master various social media platforms, especially considering the positive impact peers can have on salesperson performance. As this is a new application of social media, managers can also incentivize their sales forces to interact, observe, and grow in their understanding of social media for boosting sales.

Social media usage positively impacts selling tasks like value-oriented prospecting and proactive servicing, which in turn, positively impacts salesperson performance. Peer social media usage also magnifies the positive effects of social media usage on selling tasks. So, as you look at how you manage a team of salespeople on a day-to-day basis, consider integrating social media usage strategies to improve salesperson performance within your business.

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Recommended Reading

Bowen, Melanie, Christine Lai-Bennejean, Alexander Haas, and Deva Rangarajan (2021), “Social Media in B2B Sales: Why and When Does Salesperson Social Media Usage Affect Salesperson Performance?” Industrial Marketing Management, 96, 166-182.

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  1. Moncrief, William C. and Greg W. Marshall (2005), “The Evolution of the Seven Steps of Selling,” Industrial Marketing Management, 34(1), 13-22.
  2. Spiro, Rosann L. and Barton A. Weitz (1990), “Adaptive Selling: Conceptualization, Measurement, and Nomological Validity,” Journal of Marketing Research, 27(1), 61-69.
  3. Agnihotri, Raj, Prabakar Kothandaraman, Rajiv Kashyap, and Ramendra Singh (2012), “Bringing “Social” into Sales: The Impact of Salespeople’s Social Media Use on Service Behaviors and Value Creation,” Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 32(3), 333-348.
  4. Challagalla, Goutam, R. Venkatesh, and Ajay K. Kohli (2009), “Proactive Postsales Service: When and Why Does it Pay Off?” Journal of Marketing, 73(2), 70-87.
  5. Berinato, Scott and Jeff Clark (2010), “Six Ways to Find Value in Twitter’s Noise,” US: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation.
  6. Franke, George R. and Jeong-Eun Park (2006), “Salesperson Adaptive Selling Behavior and Customer Orientation: A Meta-Analysis,” Journal of Marketing Research, 43(4), 693-702.
  7. Kraut, Robert E., Ronald E. Rice, Colleen Cool, and Robert S. Fish (1998), “Varieties of Social Influence: The Role of Utility and Norms in the Success of a New Communication Medium,” Organization Science, 9(4), 437-453.
  8. Guenzi, Paolo and Edwin J. Nijssen (2020), “Studying the Antecedents and Outcome of Social Media Use by Salespeople Using a MOA Framework,” Industrial Marketing Management, 90(October), 346-359.

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About the Authors

Melanie Bowen, PhD
Postdoctoral Researcher, Justus Liebig University

Dr. Melanie Bowen (PhD – University of Giessen) has published in multiple journals such as Industrial Marketing Management, AMS Review, Journal of International Management, and Marketing Review St. Gallen. Her research interests center around sales management, digitalization, and social media.

Christine Lai-Bennejean, PhD
Associate Professor, EMLYON Business School, France
Dr. Christine Lai-Bennejean’s (PhD – ESSEC Business School) research focuses on frontline management with a focus on sales force satisfaction and motivation, key account team selling, buyer-seller negotiation, and customer success management. She has published in multiple journals such as Industrial Marketing Management, European Journal of Marketing, Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management. She serves on the leadership board of National Conference in Sales Management (NCSM) and is involved with the American Marketing Association (AMA) Sales SIG and Association Française de Marketing.

Alexander Haas, PhD
Professor of Marketing and Sales Management, Justus Liebig University

Dr. Alexander Haas’ (PhD – University of Erlangen-Nürnberg) main areas of research include sales management and personal selling and how these areas evolve in a digital era. His research appeared in journals such as Industrial Marketing Management, Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management and Journal of Retailing. He set up the Center for Sales Research at Justus Liebig University, and led it to become the first non-US full member of the University Sales Center Alliance (USCA), a consortium of renowned universities dedicated to advance the sales profession through teaching, research, and outreach. Dr. Haas has worked as a consultant for many companies, and also developed and taught in executive programs on Sales Management.

Deva Rangarajan, PhD
Professor of Marketing, IESEG School of Management, France

Dr. Deva Rangarajan’s (PhD – University of Houston) main areas of research include B2B industrial marketing and sales force and key account management. He was instrumental in setting up the first Sales Center at Vlerick Business School, and, together with three other schools, set up the first European Sales Competition. He has worked closely with many companies to consult and deliver customized workshops. Among others, he has worked with 3M, ArcelorMittal, Schneider Electric, Siemens, Philips, Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic, Johnson Controls, Tosoh Bioscience, Doosan, Bekaert, Atlas Copco, AGC, SWIFT, Cummins, and Vesuvius, and he has also developed and taught in executive programs on Sales Management and Key Account Management.