Sales research has widely noted the growing importance of social media in contemporary B2B selling. Yet, scholars have noted that measurement issues represent a challenge for advancing the study of social media use in selling, since research is lacking on high-rigour measures that provide insights into how salespersons are leveraging social media in their work. Accordingly, this study develops and validates activity-based measures for social selling based on two empirical studies. We find support for all three social selling dimensions of insight generation, connecting and engagement. The findings also extend the current knowledge about the outcomes of social selling by showing that salesperson thought leadership and acquisition performance mediate the sales performance relationship. On the antecedents' side, we show novel evidence that management plays a central role in boosting social selling among the sales force through social media strategy, social media sales tools and firm content support. In turn, sales technology orientation and social influence represent the key individual-level drivers.
Digital and social touchpoints play an increasingly important role in B2B customers' buying (e.g. Diba, Vella, & Abratt, 2019; Itani, Agnihotri, & Dingus, 2017; Itani, Krush, Agnihotri, & Trainor, 2020). Social media has, accordingly, become a central means for B2B salespeople to identify leads, understand buyers, foster relationships, and even build a personal brand through the systematic presence and sharing of engaging content on digital platforms (Agnihotri, Mani, Chaker, Daugherty, & Kothandaraman, 2020; Ancillai, Terho, Cardinali, & Pascucci, 2019; Chaker, Nowlin, Pivonka, Itani, & Agnihotri, 2022). Many sales organizations have recognized social selling as a strategic approach to attain organic visibility among customers, build thought leadership, and drive revenues, especially when applied throughout the salesforce and other customer-facing employees (see Meire, Ballings, & Van den Poel, 2017; Rapp, Beitelspacher, Grewal, & Hughes, 2013). Thus, even traditional industrial firms are investing in social media strategies and supporting technological platforms to increase the effective use of social media among their personnel (e.g. Moncrief, 2017; Trainor, Andzulis, Rapp, & Agnihotri, 2014).
This study has built activity-based measures for B2B social selling and validated the construct within a nomological network, based on the MOA framework and earlier social media use-focused sales research. The findings offer three substantial new contributions to the extant research.
First, this study contributes by developing activity-based measures for B2B social selling. We build on recent qualitative conceptualization research (Ancillai et al., 2019) and develop a salesperson social selling measure including three dimensions of i) insight generation, ii) connecting to relevant actors, and iii) engaging customers. The measurement validation provides evidence that all three dimensions contribute significantly to the higher-order social selling construct. This novel measure can be seen as a substantial contribution to extant sales research for two reasons. To begin with, scholars have recognized that measurement issues represent a challenge for advancing research on the role of social media in selling (Guenzi & Nijssen, 2020). Thus far, all high-rigour scales have focused on measuring the extent to which salespersons use social media in sales work (see Agnihotri et al., 2016). Extant research has lacked high-rigour measures that specify how salespersons actually leverage social media in their work. The developed measure overcomes this challenge by offering a conceptually rooted and activity-based approach for measuring social selling. In addition to providing a new measure, our study also provides insights into the validity of the extant ‘social media use in sales’ scale (Agnihotri et al., 2016). Specifically, our results indicate that this extant overall usage scale sufficiently captures the whole domain of social selling in a valid way (see Fig. 1). The developed formative social selling measure has high convergent validity with the reflective overall scale, although the reflective scale seems to emphasize the insight generation dimension in relation to two other dimensions.