Getting a social selling program started is turning out to be a tough sell for many “change agents” within companies. While size and vertical of the company doesn’t seem to be a factor, maturity of their market certainly does. We know this after speaking with, literally, thousands of people across the world.I use the term change agent to describe them because, quite frankly, they’re trying to bring about a behavior change in the way their sales teams operate. What they’ve figured out is that the B2B buyer today has a marked change to them from even 10 years ago. Although they can’t get a pulse on what’s causing or contributing to this change, they see the raw effect of this through a myriad of scenarios.
Here are some common ones we’ve heard from sales, marketing and enablement professionals and leaders:
- We’re losing deals to unlikely competitors.
- Our sales team is being engaged so far late in a buyer’s purchasing cycle, resulting conversations are frequently about price and fulfilment.
- Dozens of companies we hear this from are aggressively revising sales playbooks to account for training and talk tracks around this.
- The average of conversations by cold phone and email outreach has plummeted.
- Interesting side story: the CEO of an organization with over 1000+ sales professionals has a solid solution to this – make more cold calls.
- Prospects are asking us “late funnel questions” much earlier on in the sales process.
There are many more but this short list provides you with enough to consider if you’re experiencing this as well. All of these scenarios are a result of the B2B buyer becoming empowered with information.
If you’re a change agent inside your org, you’ll agree with this.
But, what do we do about it? How do we tactically initiate a homegrown, organic social selling program that begins to address these new market realities?
Let’s begin to examine some immediate steps you can take.
The 7-Point Plan
I believe that the first iteration of the program is meant to be upgraded and changed along the way. I also believe that speed is the key. The longer we wait, the more disadvantages we face in not being able to service the market efficiently.
That being said, the below is a plan to help you start. The fundamentals remain intact for ongoing program management, though.
1. Know your end goal
Be very clear on what you’re trying to achieve with the implementation of a social selling program. I advise you to have adoption and behavior change at the centerpiece of your plan. Without this, the plan will have no substantive elements for measurement.
The end goal will differ based on how you’re approaching this and what your current role is.
For example, marketing has the goal of getting sales to share more content. They feel the pinch from the lack of sharing it and by capitalizing on their sales team’s massive social networks.
Sales leaders have goals as well: generate more sales meetings, pipeline or revenue. They’re also interested in shortened sales cycles and larger transaction sizes.
Whatever the goals are, know them.
However, I caution you to be realistic about your goals. Social selling is a journey like all major initiatives. Expecting change or promising it within weeks or months may have negative consequences for alignment and morale.
2. Bring forth market data
There’s really no shortage of this. From the CEB, Forrester, Gartner, LinkedIn, SiriusDecisions, etc. there is a mountain of data and evidence from leading research studies that have evaluated, measured and documented the benefits of adopting social selling into the overall sales and marketing process.
I also advise you to speak with companies that have implemented social selling into their culture – find the good, bad and ugly of what they have to say.
3. Have milestones in place
Although unique for each company, you must have timelines in place and a method to account and measure for success along a set of predefined milestones. I think this factor is fairly obvious but it’s interesting to note how many companies are “trying” social selling without any semblance of timeline goals.
What’s more, without milestones in place, ongoing execution and reinforcement will falter. This can’t be good for the sake of the program as it will quickly fizzle and lose steam.
4. Plan for resource allocation
Be cognizant of resource allocation throughout the timeline. Very few companies will have the bandwidth and expertise to implement a social selling program on their own. Know the extent of outside help you’ll need and budget for it accordingly.
If this is to be a strategic initiative, it must be planned and budgeted for in terms of resources, time and financial commitment.
5. Align the right resources internally
Very obvious to us all, this becomes an overbearing obstacle if not addressed at the outset.
Who’s needed for a proper social selling rollout? There are 4 main stakeholder groups you’ll need to partner with from different perspectives:
- Executive Leadership: nothing happens without change management initiation from the top down.
- Sales Leadership: considered the primary practitioners and benefactors of social selling, no social selling program can exist without the full buy-in, practice and ongoing management from sales leaders. Yes, this includes frontline sales managers, who can tactically accelerate or throw ice on the success of your program.
- Marketing Leadership: if you believe that a small or even large portion of your buyer’s journey is now done online – and this journey impacts their buying decision – then marketing is, likely, the most critical partner you’ll need. Their ability to create go-to-market content that sales uses to spark and nurture conversations will separate you from the herd. Mark my words and don’t engage this partner later in the process, they should be there from Day 1 of your meetings.
- Enablement Leadership: for mid to large organizations, the enablement function (typically residing in sales or marketing) plays a vital role in being a cross-functional (and, cross-cultural) partner. Upon program launch, enablement will be the torchbearers that take the program forward and spread it to new hires, different pockets of the org and geographies.
With this knowhow, you can confidently begin to plan your first steps.
6. Have a plan for reinforcement
Far too often, we see company leaders exert effort to do “something” with social selling to check a box. I’d urge you to reinvest your time and finances elsewhere if that’s the case.
Social selling workshops and mini-courses are a great start but reinforcement is the ultimate differentiator between a program that’s tried and one that truly sticks.
Know what you’re going to do – even if at a high-level cursory level – for reinforcement. Social selling has a few complexities, one being the ever-changing landscape. Hence, ongoing education and reinforcement is critical to the long-term success factor. Aberdeen Group research states that companies that are “post-training reinforcers” achieve better business results. The companies that use post-training reinforcement have seen 34% more new sales hires achieving the quota designed for them by their leaders.
This can and will break your program if not planned correctly.
7. Know your metrics for success
Pipeline and revenue are ideal goals but they may not be possible in 3 months. Remember, they are lagging indicators of success.
Before we determine which metrics to use, the focus should be on the stages of measurement.
Put yourself in the seat of one of your sales professionals: what stages will they go through during the program?
From a high-level perspective, plan for success metrics this way:
- Know your leading indicators of success: this is typically learning retention and application. Have a plan on measuring if they’re learning and how well it’s happening.
- Know your current indicators of success: once learning and application take place and you’re in the reinforcement phase, you must measure the adoption through activity metrics. Very similar to having plans in place for measuring emails and dials, you’ll want to measure how social education is translating into social activity.
- Measure the lagging indicators of success: once learning and application have taken a firm foothold in the organization, activities will follow suit. Once you pull the activity lever and hold sales teams accountable, an increase in sales meetings, pipeline and revenue are a natural by-product.
Forrester Research recommends that organizations shouldn't rush metrics, since timing is key, by rushing it you will create unneeded pressure on your sales team. Once the social selling program is up and running, you can start to benchmark social interactions (such as liking, commenting, and sharing). Develop more sophisticated measurement when your organization’s social marketing capabilities have matured.
The Bottom Line
While this list isn’t exhaustive, it’s meant to provide a tactical start to your social selling program initiatives. Once followed, a mid-sized company with up to 500 sales professionals can expect a program to take shape within 90 days.
Change agents, I’d love to hear from you if you’re thinking of launching a social selling program in your org. And, if you’ve launched one already, are you tracking progress on your path?