The NFL player draft is now a prime-time media event. In ratings this year, ESPN pulled more than seven million viewers on its evening kickoff. That gave it a lofty second slot in audience size. This year’s first draft pick signed a $78 million, 6-year deal. No surprise that plenty of dough is changing hands.

Another kind of draft is going on. It lacks big-time media presence, but it’s happening right in front of our eyes on social networks. Consumers are actively “drafting” influential coaches to help them make buying decisions. A growing share of spending hinges on the advice they get through social sites like Facebook and Twitter. Even the biggest NFL deals will look like small change in comparison.

Gartner – the information technology research firm – released eye-catching findings at the end of July. “Social networks have become,” Gartner says, “a critical, but underutilized, aspect of the marketing process.” Their “survey results showed that one-fifth of the consumer population is composed of ‘Salesmen,’ ‘Connectors’ and ‘Mavens.’ These are three roles that are key influencers in the purchasing activities of 74 percent of the population,” according to Gartner’s research director Nick Ingelbrecht.

Call them what you may, I like to think of these new product influencers and evangelists as coaches. Like coaches in sports and business, brand and product coaches on the Internet enjoy authority plus. The best of them know how to radiate credibility with almost effortless ease.

In everything we do, each of us looking for the sweet spot. Who is going to help us make countless buying decisions? We all want to make the right ones all the time. And there are so many to make . . . with so many conflicting claims.

Want to navigate today’s world? The profs at Harvard will teach you one skill above all else. Rate your considerations: Learn how to prioritize what goes into your decisions. Great coaches help you internalize the decisions they would make if they were you.

Has the center of marketing influence moved from the store to the Web? The answer is: Maybe. As I’ve maintained, the primary job of the store is now custodial. The great salesperson of the future is like the curator of a truly wired, cutting-edge gallery. A combination of passionate authority plus easy-going suggestion to help you make tough choices: That’s the heart of cool influence.

Should retailers resign themselves to the Web being boss? Brand managers should immerse themselves in the brand and production communication saturating the Web. First, they need to support these emerging coaches with the highest quality, best organized, easiest-to- relate information they can. The second challenge has an even bigger potential wallop. Case out the style and approaches of enthusiastic professional laymen in the social network world. Why aren’t the Web enthusiasts and evangelists of today the smart model for the official salespeople of tomorrow?