One of the practical opportunities for companies that acquire and engage customers through a sales force, is through social media content and participation. In fact, many corporate marketing departments have found their field sales reps active on sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and even YouTube before headquarters has. Such “rogue” social media activity might be proactive, but can also create issues without adherence to corporate standards and provide conflicting experiences for customers.
A salesforce that functions as educators, consultants and in some ways “subject matter experts”, can be a formidable asset for corporate social media efforts towards engagement and customer acquisition. Rather than shutting down individual sales reps blogs and Facebook accounts until corporate gets their social strategy in place, companies should consider how to coordinate and empower sales teams as social media ambassadors of the brand to their individual circles of influence and social networks.
Those same sales people are already maintaining contact with prospects and customers through other communication channels like email, phone, snail mail and newsletters. Why not social networking and media sites?
As business managers decide how to best leverage sales people for social media objectives, here are a few ideas on tactics they may decide to implement:
1. Create a Destination - Whether it’s a blog, tumblr, posterous site, YouTube or even Facebook Fan page, a destination for social participation can serve as the hub for a salesperson’s social media activity. This is where social content is published, aggregated and curated. It’s also where calls to action, offers and invitations to engage on a more business level can be posted. The social hub scan serve as a destination for other publishers and bloggers to link to and appear within search results.
2. Monitor for Leads & Engagement – As more consumer and B2B buyers participate on the social web during the discovery and consideration phases of the buying cycle, sales people can monitor for comments and conversations that indicate engagement opportunities. IBM’s Listen for Leads program has uncovered millions of dollars in sales by monitoring social media sites for keywords that indicate prospects with questions or in the search phase.
Simple tools like search.twitter.com, board reader or a variety of Facebook search engines can provide access to discussions. Free social search engines like socialmention.com or topsy can also be used along with Google Alerts. Ideally, a robust social media monitoring tool would be used that includes advanced filtering options. It takes some refinement of search queries to make this kind of monitoring work, but can be very effective at identifying prospect conversation opportunities at their greatest moment of need.
3. Create, Curate & Repurpose - Most Sales Reps, Account Executives and Business Development people that I know are pretty busy, so efficiency with social media and content is essential. With an understanding of relevant search keywords and social topics that matter to prospective customers, salespeople can create a content plan as a guide.
However, creating new content on a regular basis while maintaining high quality can become a challenge, so it’s important to think about where content can be repurposed.
For example, salespeople might each maintain their own blogs that they publish to once a week. But they might also share portions or customized versions of their blog posts with other industry blogs, online publications and industry newsletters. They could compile blog posts into ebooks or could be used within corporate content marketing materials.
An effective way to become a “go to destination” for information on a particular topic is to aggregate or curate news from different sources on the web to the salesperson’s hub. Subscribe to other industry news sites, newsletter and setup Google Alerts for topics of interest to collect news. Collect the most interesting and/or themed news of the week and add short comments. The same curation tactic can be used to create a newsletter. With some practice, the process of scanning headlines and putting together a weekly news roundup can be done in only a few minutes a day, resulting in one beefy blog post per week.
4. Participate - In the course of researching useful industry news to aggregate or to cite in original blog posts, salespeople will undoubtedly find other blogs and online publications that allow commenting. They’ll also find others discussing topics of interest on sites like LinkedIn, Groups & Forums, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and others. Searching or monitoring for prospects also reveals these kinds of interaction opportunities.
Answering questions, sharing useful resources and asking questions on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ helps communicate personal characteristics and thought leadership for the salesperson. Corporate marketing might be able to use their resources with social media monitoring tools to identify social channels, groups or individuals that are most influential and relevant. Salespeople could also use tools like Klout to find others with influence to engage with.
This can seem like a very time consuming task, but many salespeople who are the most productive with lead generation through social media make a consistent effort to participate on a frequent basis. Setup a recurring reminder in Outlook to spend 15 minutes each morning to ask/answer questions, collect, aggregate and share useful links. Spreading this activity over several days using a consistent amount of time is very productive. Schedule Tweets and Facebook updates during the day in advance using a tool like Hootsuite.
5. Collaborate - Corporate sales and marketing leadership can keep tabs on the most effective uses of social media and networking sites by their sales teams and create best practices for the benefit of all. Continuously improved processes, new social tool evaluations and tactics evolution can improve salesforce social media effectiveness and overall ability to create value and engage prospects.
In the end, it’s about empowerment, not control.
Companies can provide sales teams with templates, process and training plus regular internal networking opportunities to share best practices in order to help salesforce social media efforts succeed. It’s also important to provide ongoing education so salespeople know what it looks like to be overzealous and forward with their social participation efforts.
As with all social media marketing efforts, mileage varies according to the target audience, industry, resources and sales teams capabilities. There’s no doubt that strategy alone doesn’t sustain long term social media marketing success. Ongoing training and feedback mechanisms are essential to improve skills and identify both productive and non-productive behaviors.
Has your organization had to deal with “rogue sales reps” initiating social media marketing efforts? How did you handle them? Have you implemented or observed other companies effectively incorporating sales teams social media participation as part of corporate social strategy?