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by Alex Low | @Alexander_Low

I have sat where you are sitting. 2 board presentations, convincing them of the merit of investing in Sales Navigator and why social is the way forwards when it comes to sales, business development & marketing. I was even able to give a real example of where the power of the network and a referral had led to a £40,000 opportunity. Which initially was going to be ignored by the team in question because, and I quote :

“we don’t know them and they are a client of competitor X”

I then went on to prove the value of the opportunity that we were presented with. We have 150 people in the programme, all of them use social selling tactics to uncover another sales opportunity worth £40,000 – 150 x £40,000 = £1.5mn of opportunity value over a 12 month period.

The board couldn’t really argue with those numbers, and I was able to back it up with an actual example of where this had worked.

I was then challenged with this “You understand Social Alex, but what about the rest of the firm?”

An entirely valid question, and in hindsight with absolute merit. Me being me and if you are familiar with Carol Dweck’s thinking on a “Growth Mindset” versus a “Fixed Mindset” – I am most definitely of a Growth Mindset. I was convinced that this was still right approach to take, lead with the technology, in this case, Sales Navigator, and then bring people along the journey with you.

It became apparent on the very first training session, which was delivered online, that there was work to be done.

The training needed to be bespoke to the user; the job titles, functions, industry etc, all had to be about the users and how it would fit into their workflow. The generic approach just did not work, and I almost lost them in the first month.

Lesson 1: If you are considering running a social selling programme, using any social platform, standard or premium, then make sure you understand how your team sells and who to first, and then build your training accordingly. Work with some individuals to beta test, get some data and relevant examples. Use this to the wider audience.

Once I had worked with Linkedin to help both me and them understand the type of onboarding we needed, we had some great initial success. Primarily this was through TeamLink and unlocking referral opportunities within the corporate network of c. 50,000 employees. SSI scores were improving (we all know my views on this today…..) and I was getting good anecdotal feedback from some of the more active users.

Then the next challenge presented itself, which had nothing to do with Social Selling. It was more basic than that. It was just the basic sales approach. If there was no obvious route into a client via the usual decision maker or influencer, via TeamLink or one’s own network, then the opportunity was stalled or ignored. This meant working with the teams to get them to understand that there is more than one way to start a sales opportunity. If there is a strong relationship with an influencer within the organisation, even if what you are selling has nothing to do with them, you can still work that angle – I did this and it presented us with a £100,000 opportunity which we duly won.

The challenge is that by association of this behaviour, “social selling” doesn’t work – whereas, it is, in fact, the understanding of sales, or as Microsoft refers to it, Relationship Selling.

Lesson 2: don’t make an assumption about the way your individuals sell, will fit the 21st-century buying model. This is not to say the way they are currently selling is wrong, it is more the process for lead generation which may need to be considered – back to Carol and her mindset theory. Engaging in social is a different way of starting the sales conversation from how the team may be used to doing.

I worked with our marketing team to create a monthly newsletter for the users; sharing examples of successes. I created a global social selling group on Yammer for anyone to join, where I share updates on what we were doing, not only in the UK but working with my peers in APAC & NAM.

What became evident, was that this was just another email from the millions of others which landed in their inbox. Also, because I was working with a mix of roles and functions, not all examples were deemed relevant to all the audiences, so again, because it was not personalised to them, and how it can help them in their day to day, this led to a dip in engagement.

Lesson 3: You need to work across teams in clusters based on what they sell and how they do it. Whilst you can have a general framework, this will need to be made relevant to each cluster – which is where you will need the support of a champion in each of these clusters to help you scale, but with relevance.

The challenge that I was presented with by not taking the cluster approach or by having champions, meant I had a scale problem. In order to get the engagement, I then focussed on one to ones, where I was able. This then led me full circle to what my Board had cautioned for :

“what if the business doesn’t understand social like you do?” 

It became apparent that this was the case for most of the users on Sales Navigator. It was nothing to do with the technology, although that was getting the blame by some for this not working, it was the fact that it had not been articulated, ie by me, what it means to be social in a sales & marketing sense. Brand, network, content, how to use social to engage with your target market and clients. Using your network in a meaningful way, seeking the referral opportunities and more. Once they had understood the framework, how they would build that into their workflow, then, and only then, did Sales Navigator, and by proxy, social selling mean anything to them.

Lesson 4 : This is a people play and not a technology play. Sales Navigator is the best B2B lead generation tool out there at the moment. However, if you, your sales team, or your business, does not understand what it means to be social in a sales & marketing context, then you can throw all the technology you have at them, they still won’t get it. This is a change management and behaviour change play.

ROI. This is the crux of it all. Proof that “Social Selling” actually works to the board. As I have mentioned, it is easy to calculate the value of the opportunity your network presents, but this is just theory, it is not cold hard cash or genuine pipeline of business (which in itself can mean different things to different people). 

Where do we end up, back to the old challenge of CRM and use of it.

The nirvana is to be able to record the source of where every conversation originated: cold call, email campaign, inbound, referral, TeamLink, event, onsell, upsell, repeat – whatever you use. The challenge is getting the sales teams to do this. It has always been seen as an administrative task, with no value other than keeping management happy; nothing ever really happens to it. If you are in this place, or worse, then you will be on a hiding to nothing when it comes to proving “social”. Without this audit trail, you will struggle to keep the buy-in from management. The great thing is that the CRM integration with Sales Navigator is getting better and the Microsoft MRS solution is a great pointer to where Social Selling & end to end social engagment is going. It will only get better and easier.

This is where I ended up, and it is a tough place to be. I had feedback and we had “proof” from the users in the programme that, if they had not understood this process, realised you can use social in this way, understood the importance of content – one of the team generated £50,000 worth business from 1 blog post – because I was unable to report on this, it became somewhat meaningless for management.

“That’s all well and good Alex, but where is the proof in hard numbers in the system” they weren’t there.

Lesson 6: Have a clear agreement with your stakeholders & sponsors on how you are going to run the ROI. If this relies on CRM reporting, be sure to build this into your onboarding, with the why and the how.

Does this mean the programme was a failure? No. Through survey and working with the team, we proved in the first full 12 months of running it, we generated half a million in net new business & built a pipeline of £4.9mn, this was 2015. I didn’t get a chance to run the 2016 numbers as I had left the business by December 2016 and would have run the survey again in Jan 2017. What I do know is that the Sales Navigator licences paid for themselves, almost 5x over. Thosethat understand the behaviour process & change required to build social into their sales processes, excelled.

Could I have done things better? Absolutely. Hindsight is a fine thing. I should have heeded by Board’s caution – back to Carol and her mindset theory. I should have recognised that this was a people, process & technology play; not here is Sales Navigator, now let’s figure it out as we go. I will be the first to admit I got sucked into the “marketing” of social selling, being asked to speak at conferences sharing my story and success, and being “on brand” with all of this. Do I regret that, not at all. It has given me unique experience in the market to help you not make the same mistakes I did.

I wanted to share my story as I am working with more and more Sales Navigator clients where the call for help is “social selling isn’t working” or “ the sales teams are just not using Sales Navigator”. When I sit down and work through where they are at, it feels very familiar to my story. For the most part, the challenge they face is the people aspect – a core group will get what it means to be social, but don’t know how or why to articulate this back into the business. The majority want to learn but don’t know where to start and the sponsors don’t have the bandwidth needed to deliver a change management process; or the experience. There is then the small minority who will never change, unfortunately, these always seem to be those who shout the loudest about this.

How does this help you? If any of this resonates, or you are facing different challenges, I would love to connect and share war stories.

Even if this is just so that you don’t feel like you are fighting this battle on your own. You are not, I have been there. Others are in the trenches with you fighting the same fight.

If you are thinking about launching a social selling programme and need help with internal stakeholder management, want to understand more about what I would do If I were to do this again, and wouldn’t, then let’s connect.

One thing I can be certain of – you are not wrong to be thinking about how to embed a social culture into your business. Be it for Sales, Marketing or Recruitment. Even internal collaboration.

You can read my story here from my time leading this in-house for a global commercial real estate firm.

Learn more about our dedicated Sales Navigator programme here .

Learn more about what it takes to drive a Digital Transformation Culture by Microsoft here .

People who read this also read these:

Employee Advocacy Program? How To Get Executive Support

How to Roll Social Selling Across an Organisation – How to make it Stick!

You are Going Full In on Digital Marketing, Why?


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