A Blueprint for Executive Social Selling

Overview

In an ideal world, every company’s executive leadership would project an authentic thought-leadership presence in Twitter, LinkedIn, and other digital social channels. In reality this is too time-consuming for many executives, both because of the learning curve and because of the the daily effort required to curate and personalize high quality social content. The solution I recommend—based on a number of years coaching executives in social media, and my former role at a leading social selling solutions provider — is to minimize the time required for the executive without eliminating the authenticity of the executive’s social presence. This can be accomplished by outsourcing just the right amount of executives’ workload to the combination of trusted assistants and technology, as described in this post.

Such a program includes

• social listening

• publishing content to social channels

• engaging in social channels, on an executive level, with appropriate people

• measuring and reporting on Program results, and

• evaluating and passing along new leads, opportunities, and influencer connections.

The company’s own marketing and sales teams will also contribute by

• providing insight into their brand strategy and priorities,

• providing case-by-case input for high profile social engagement (e.g. conversations involving key accounts and analysts),

• delivering leads and opportunities to sales reps as appropriate,

• enabling connections to their company’s existing link tracking (like Google Analytics) and sales tracking (CRM) systems, and

• contributing to periodic reporting and assessments of Program impact.

Benefits for The Company

Digital Marketing Amplification. The people who work for a brand—including CEOs, Executives, and Employees—are more trusted than media spokespeople (2017 Edelman Trust Barometer).

Digital outreach from executives, who are seen as the human faces of their organizations, is a powerful addition to branded marketing channels for

• Brand Awareness & Influencer Engagement (reach), and

• Demand Gen (driving downloads of gated content, webinar & event signups).

Account Based Marketing and Sales. In account based marketing and sales, marketing and sales are actively building relationships with specific customers, buyers, and/or buying committee members. Often they are also selling additional products/services, or reaching out to new buyers, within existing customers. An executive social presence can be structured to  target specific prospects, current customers, and influencers. Executive outreach adds impact, visibility, and credibility to account-based relationship building by impressing prospects: they aren’t just communicating with sales and marketing, they’re engaging with an Executive.

• Executive outreach to target accounts via social can shorten the sales cycle and reduce the cost of sales.

Public Relations / Analyst Relations. Journalists and analysts are constantly looking for influential, articulate industry leaders who can bring key insights to their audiences. Social media has become the laboratory of public opinion, where industry-specific points of view are developed. Social media is where journalists and analysts discover and rate industry sources, including executives.

• The higher the social media profile of executives—including their social media following and influencer connections—the more PR value they have as quotable interviewees and/or guest authors.

Recruiting / Employee Retention. An important (if sometimes less recognized) goal of many marketers and executives is recruiting and retaining talented employees. An executive social presence can be highly influential in this realm. Job seekers prefer to work for high visibility, authentic leaders like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.

• A strong executive social media presence reduces the cost (increases the speed) of recruiting by attracting more qualified candidates

• An executive social presence can helps reduce turnover by making the workplace more engaging.

Team

Executive Social Specialists (provided by the company’s marketing team or an external partner). Executive Social Specialists (“Specialists”) handle the bulk of the day-to-day social selling activities (which are defined below). Specialists are carefully selected for their curation skills in brand-relevant subjects (like SaaS, BPM, and consumer finance), their strong communication and writing skills, and their technical fluency in social media.

Executive Social Manager (provided by the company’s marketing team or an external partner). The Executive Social Manager (“Manager”) provides overall technical and editorial guidance for the Specialists. The Manager is the point of contact and Program accountability for the company. The Manager is selected for expertise in executive-level customer engagement and social selling as well as knowledge of brand-relevant subjects.

Marketing Team. The company’s marketing team helps the Manager define guidelines for content selection. Marketing provides URLs + tracking codes + timing for company content. Marketing also facilitates communication when needed between the Manager, the company’s Sales team, and the company’s Executives.

Sales Team. The company’s Sales team accepts marketing qualified leads generated by the Program, arranges to make necessary entries in CRM to track Program-driven sales activity, and periodically produces reports (including CRM-generated reports and collections of anecdotal success stories) about the impact of the Program.

Company Executives. Each executive who wishes to participate in the Program will provide limited, permissions-based access to their Twitter and LinkedIn accounts (via tools such as Hootsuite or Buffer), which allows Specialists to assist with the management of these accounts. Executives may choose to contribute a minimal amount of personal input, in which case the Specialists act mostly autonomously, under the guidance of the Manager, managing the Executive’s social presence. Or, Executives may choose to be active participants.They may wish to do some of their own social posts. They may wish to approve some or all of the social posts created by a Specialist on their behalf. Some may even wish to do their own engagement, and use a Specialist only for periodically curating and/or scheduling content. Executives may be asked for input when it’s needed, for example, to help respond to a message from their personal friends.

Key Components

Social Listening. Based on guidelines provided by the Manager, and approved by Marketing, the Specialists monitor activity on the Executives’ LinkedIn and Twitter accounts, supplemented by appropriate hashtags, Twitter searches, LinkedIn groups, Google Alerts, or other tools, to identify relevant trending content and topics as well as opportunities to engage with appropriate people.

Content Curation. Based on program guidelines provided by the Manager, and approved by Marketing, the Specialists curate topical, timely 1st and 3rd party content to share or to engage with via likes, retweets, etc.

Scheduled Sharing and Engagement. On a daily basis, the Specialists select content for sharing and engagement and draft compellingly written Tweets, incorporating exceptional graphics, hashtags, and @mentions, and/or draft similarly exceptional text for LinkedIn posts to accompany that content. The Specialists schedule content appropriately for publication to Twitter and LinkedIn. They also like, reshare, and otherwise engage with suitable posts from others on Twitter and LinkedIn. The Manager monitors Specialist activity and periodically advises Specialists regarding editorial style and engagement technique.

Special handling. Using guidelines provided by the Manager and approved by Marketing, the Specialist identifies and share with Marketing any customer / prospect / analyst / journalist  / influencer engagement with Executive social accounts so that these engagements can receive special handling from Sales, PR, or the Executive personally. (Engagement with customers and prospects may be considered marketing qualified leads, depending upon how Marketing defines this.) The Specialist keeps a record of all special handling requests, and later follows up with Marketing, Sales, and the Manager about what happened with these requests, to help build periodic reports (see Measurement, below).

Training. Executives will receive three 30-50 minute orientation sessions from the Manager and Specialist. These sessions will build on the Executive’s current knowledge and interest in social selling, with focus on maximizing the Executive’s returns for participating in the program. They will cover

• Program goals

• the Executive’s personal brand and how it support social selling

• revising the Executive’s social profiles for social selling

• Program tools and cadence

• social media technique

• metrics and reporting

Measuring Program Performance. Metrics and reporting are essential to justify an investment in the Program and enable the team to optimize their day-to-day activities. Components include:

• The Specialist, using guidelines developed by the Manager, and assisted by metrics built into the Platform (see below), prepares reports detailing sharing and engagement. These include: what content was shared; engagement over time by type of engagement (sharing, commenting, likes, etc.); growth in Twitter followers and LinkedIn connections (reach-awareness); and success stories (such as leads passed to Sales, influencer engagement, etc.).

• Marketing periodically reports on web traffic and conversions from links shared by the Program, and (when applicable) PR opportunities attributable to the Program.

• Sales periodically reports on sales pipeline opportunities attributable to the Program, including revenue touched by the Program. This will include CRM data showing Program activity, as well as success stories provided by  sales reps who have used insights obtained through the program.

• The Manager compiles a comprehensive report rolling up the reports of the Specialists, Marketing, and Sales. The Manager may also (with the approval of Sales) interview appropriate sales reps to capture their stories about actions taken on insights obtained through the Program.

• The Manager, Specialists, Sales, and Marketing, periodically meet to evaluate performance reports, identify what is working well, and what can be improved. Executives may also wish to participate in these meetings.

Platform. Before launching the program

• The Manager will select a software platform for listening, sharing, and measurement software for use by the Specialist, such as Hootsuite, Buffer, or Sprout Social. The platform will be selected based on the budget, its ability to provide secure team-based access to Executive social accounts, and its ability to facilitate integration with link tracking and CRM systems.

• Marketing will arrange for any necessary configuration changes in Google Analytics (or similar website tracking systems) to enable measurement of traffic and results attributable to links shared via the Program.

• Sales will arrange for any necessary modifications to CRM that will enable reporting on leads, opportunities, and revenue connected to engagement initiated by the Program.

Program Expansion

Based on learning and successes from Phase 1, it may be time to design and implement an expanded social selling program for sales account executives. Key differences between Phase 1, in which specialists do the bulk of the work, and Phase 2, where sales reps will be doing much of their own work, will include

• providing a platform that automates as many social selling steps as possible;

• training for sales reps and sales managers; and

• coaching—ongoing feedback and behavioral reinforcement).

Why 3rd Party Content?

Organizations considering social selling for the first time often ask: why should our social sellers curate and share 3rd party content—content that doesn’t directly or indirectly promote the organization? There are several compelling reasons for including plenty of 3rd party content in social selling.

• First, real, authentic people don’t exclusively talk about themselves and their own companies, whether on social media or face to face.

• Second, high quality 3rd party content is plentiful and free. For the purposes of building a social media presence, 3rd party content is much more cost effective than creating enough relevant custom-created content to supply an active social media account.

• Third, custom-created content isn’t always timely. Social sellers frequently need to join conversations happening in real time and don’t have custom content for a particular topic.

The key challenges of 3rd party content–which is easily mastered with the right preparation–are time and timing. Social sellers, including executives, typically don’t have the time to curate content for themselves on a day to day basis about the topics that arise on any given day. Many days (and for some executives, every day) they have more pressing matters to attend to. Thus a competent social selling program will supply relevant, well written, timely 3rd party content, with appropriate commentary (i.e. tweet text) for all program participants.

Worst case scenarios for social sellers would be if they were wasting time curating content for themselves in an unorganized way, or, if they drop out of the social selling program because they are unable to keep up an authentic presence because of the time required to curate content. For all of these reasons, investing in social media outreach without providing high quality 3rd party content to sellers is self-defeating.

Of course, all of the same principles of time and timeliness apply to curating first party (company created) content. Social selling program participants shouldn’t have to take the time to find timely content, and write commentary for it, when they are too busy doing other things.

Why not fully delegate (or automate) sharing?

Another question frequently asked by organizations starting social selling programs is: why don’t we fully automate content sharing, or fully delegate all social activity to assistants like the Specialists? The short answer is: authenticity is a critical component of a social presence, even for busy executives. Although Specialists (and equivalent workflows combining human curators and automation) can easily handle the day-to-day task of content curation and sharing, plus routine interaction, certain interactions are so personal that they have to come from the social seller themselves. Other tasks can be handed off. Examples: Sharing a new, topical blog post can be handled by someone other than the social seller. Handling a request for an expert opinion on a particular topic should be handled by the seller themselves.

Risk Management

Sandboxing. To increase security and limit the possibility of user error, Specialists will not use the same Platform used by the Program to access their personal Twitter or LinkedIn accounts.

Crisis Planning. Before launching the Program, Marketing, the Manager, Specialists, and Executives should establish a crisis plan of what to do, and how communications will be shared, in the event of a PR incident that could potentially impact the style and substance of social outreach. Such incidents might include: an upcoming major product announcement by the company; breaking news about a world event such as a terrorist attack, during which time social sharing might be inappropriate; or a negative news story involving the company, which might require a different approach to social outreach. For example, the plan might empower Marketing to notify the Specialists and the Executive to stop sharing and engaging until further notice or until an official response could be delivered.

Happy to hear your reactions and suggests in the comments section below!

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