How to Get Salespeople Aboard the Social Media Train

One of the most common frustrations I hear B2B marketers express is about the difficulty of getting salespeople interested in social media. Outside of prospecting with LinkedIn, few sales pros are willing to make the investment of time to learn and use tools that promise a payoff months or years down the road.

Jeffrey HoffmanJeff Hoffman says he knows precisely why salespeople are so reluctant because he was one of them for a long time. Hoffman, who runs the Boston-based MJ Hoffman and Associates sales training and consulting agency, shared four ideas for getting salespeople off the social media dime in a presentation at the Inbound13 conference in Boston today. I think they’re worth sharing.

Hoffman listed four characteristics of salespeople that make them poor candidates for social media success:

They’re reluctant to share. Information is competitive advantage in sales. Whispered tips from insiders and competitive intelligence can make the difference between closing the deal or losing it. Many salespeople see no upside in sharing information, which is a practice which is essential to building social capital.

They’re short-term thinkers. Sales pros are driven by quotas, which are measured in monthly increments. Telling them that social media prospecting will pay off in a year or two doesn’t interest them. They’ve got a quarterly quota to meet.

They express only neutral opinions. Anything that ticks off the prospect can sabotage the sales, so salespeople are trained never to express strong opinions, especially negative ones. How good is a competitor’s product? It’s great, but we’re different and let me tell you how we’re better. The problem is that visibility in social media accrues to those who have strong opinions to share. By keeping their opinions to themselves, salespeople limit their potential social capital.

They’re natural quarterbacks. Salespeople are lone wolf decision-makers. They want to be given goals and also the latitude to figure out how to achieve them. If you know any successful salespeople, you know what I mean. Don’t waste time collaborating on a solution; give them the ball and they’ll run with it.

Lemons into Lemonade

So how do you convince people to be more social media-savvy when their natural inclinations go against the grain of everything they need to do? Hoffman says you turn a handicap into a virtue. Here’s his advice for dealing with each of these anti-social behaviors in order.

Reluctant to share? Make it a contest. Sales pros are naturally competitive, so make the process of building social capital a game. Set measurable goals like the number of Twitter followers, number of LinkedIn connections of number of contributions to the corporate blog, then put rewards in place. People will try to cheat, but that’s OK. The point is to get them involved.

Break down long-term goals into short-term milestones. Using the technique above, share the numbers with your sales team as social quotas. Post a leader board that shows each rep’s progress toward that goal. Make sure everyone can see the rankings. Salespeople take pride in beating their quotas, so make sure they know their up-to-date progress toward this one – and also everybody else’s.

Make it safe to express opinions. Ask for a blog entry on what they like best about sales, why they came to work for your company or 10 reasons to love the local football team. Find topics that enable them to exercise their opinion muscles without risking backlash. As they gain confidence (and see response), they’ll feel more comfortable venturing outside their comfort zone.

Turn quarterbacks into captains. Give sales reps the same control over their social capital as you do over their territories. The conversations on Twitter and LinkedIn will go on with or without them. Don’t change quotas, but create incentives for sales brought in through social channels. Then let the reps figure out how to achieve them.

The one theme that runs through all four of these tactics is competition. Sales people respond better to challenge than they do to opportunity, and better to short-term than to long-term goals. Make the process of building social authority a game and let the instincts of your sales people take over from there.

 

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Social Marketing Wisdom From a True Practitioner

Stand Out Social Marketing starts a little slow, but if you stick with it you’ll be rewarded with truly actionable insight that can help your whole company become more social.

Stand Out Social Marketing coverThis new book comes from Mike Lewis, who is head of marketing at Awareness Networks, a personal friend and one of the nicest guys I know. Stand Out builds on the premise that a great online presence is a function of distinctive content delivered through multiple channels with the assumption that interactions with constituents are part of the process. The book’s initial focus on social listening tactics is somewhat incongruous in that context, but it gets rolling as Lewis moves along.

There have been plenty of books about social media marketing written by people (like me) who don’t do much of it. What makes Stand Out such a stand out is that Lewis not only brings years of field experience to the topic but also insight gleaned from hundreds of customer experiences.

This book is worth its cover price for chapter 4 alone. In it, Lewis sets out practical guidelines for getting the most out of social media interactions based upon real data from real campaigns. Lewis has the benefit of being able to tap into the knowledge that huge brands like Major League Baseball have gained from analyzing millions of customer reactions, and some of the insights are fascinating. For example:

–People post more content to social channels on Friday than any other day of the week, but Thursdays have significantly higher interaction rates.

–Nearly 100% of interactions around content posted to Facebook and Twitter occurs during the first 10 days, but only 34% of interactions around YouTube and WordPress content happens during that time. This means that content posted to these channels should be created differently depending on when people are most likely to discover it.

–Content published to three or more social channels generates about 30% more engagement than content posted to a single social channel.

This is what I call really actionable information. It will immediately change some of your tactics – and for the better.

In addition to  statistics like these, Lewis offers practical advice buttressed by concrete examples. For example, “Content should be focused on the needs of your prospects and customers – not on you, your company or your product.” While experienced social marketers may think this advice is obvious, it’s stunning how few marketers think this way.

Stand Out also has several excellent case studies from both B2C and B2B businesses that dramatize the advantages of engaging in conversation rather than spewing messages. An accompanying website provides bonus information that builds on many of the points raised in the book.

A metrics section near the end introduces some new measurement tactics that were unfamiliar to me but which provide a solid foundation for understanding reach and effectiveness. It goes well beyond fans or followers to include factors like SEO effectiveness, interactions, activity and even customer service. These are useful ideas to internalize in making a comprehensive ROI evaluation.

It’s hard to think of a social media marketing angle that hasn’t already been covered by some other text. Mike Lewis manages to find one.

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The Trouble with Klout

Estimating influence is a delicate balance of art and science. People are drawn to quantitative methods because scores are easy to understand. The downside of reducing influence to a number, though, is oversimplification.

Paul Gillin's Klout InfluenceLately, I’ve been looking at Klout, the popular new tool that bills itself as “The Standard” for influence measurement. The more I look at it, the less I like it. Klout’s weaknesses have not stopped it from amassing an impressive list of more than 3,000 business customers and from being incorporated into popular applications like HootSuite as a standard metric. It is “the emerging standard” for measuring influence online, said Klout Marketing Manager Megan Berry in a podcast interview with Eric Schwartzman last month. I just hope those clients aren’t taking this metric too seriously.

Beyond Followers

Klout attempts to determine influence metrics by looking at a person’s online activities and the actions of others that result from them. The thinking is that influence isn’t a matter of how much you say as much as the impact your words have on others.

Many people have a Klout index and don’t know it. The service crawls Twitter and ranks members automatically. If you want to grow your score, you can log in to the site and give it a bunch of information about your online activities. I spent 15 minutes on Klout registering my social networks and grew my score 10 points on the spot. This is a major flaw in Klout, but more on that later.

Klout uses a proprietary algorithm to estimate influence based upon comments, retweets, @replies and mentions, among other things. The company isn’t very transparent about how it calculates the score, and with good reason. The algorithm is a competitive asset and disclosure would inevitably invite people to manipulate the system.

The downside of opacity is confusion. By revealing so little about how its ratings are calculated, Klout essentially asks customers to put their faith in the service to do the right thing. This is dangerous, given Klout’s flaws. Nevertheless, the score is a public record that anyone can see, and its influence is growing to the point that Klout scores are now reportedly showing up on resumes.

The Shirky Effect

Clay ShirkyThe problem is that some of the ratings are nonsense. For example, my Klout score (66) is modestly higher than Clay Shirky‘s (60) and significantly higher than Marc Andreessen‘s (42). This is ludicrous. Shirky (right) is the author of two influential books about online sociology and has been a thought leader on the Internet since the mid-90s. Andreessen (below left) invented the browser, cofounded Netscape and is one of the fathers of the modern Internet. Both are sought-after speakers and the subject of extensive Wikipedia articles. Yet Klout says I have more influence.

Marc AndreessenThe problem is that neither of these brilliant innovators plays by Klout’s rules. They aren’t active on Twitter and they don’t have Klout accounts. The fact that a single post on Shirky’s blog can draw more than 1,200 comments or that Andreessen’s occasional writings appear in The Wall Street Journal is of no consequence. Klout doesn’t monitor either of those outlets.

Klout’s bigger flaw is that its scoring system is tied to membership. The more you tell Klout about you, the higher your score is likely to be. This linkage fundamentally undermines the quality of the service. In effect, Klout pays you to endorse its service by rewarding you with a higher rank. If Google did that, Congress would be holding hearings.

A Million and One Improvements

Klout admits that its methodology isn’t perfect. In the interview with Schwartzman, who is the co-author of my B2B social media marketing book, Megan Berry said the company has “a million and one” improvements it wants to make. Schwartzman pressed Berry hard on shortcomings in the Klout methodology, and her responses were a weak defense. In essence, Klout treats every social network the same and all interactions equally, she said. A retweet, which is a one-button operation, is just as good as a thoughtful commentary on a blog. Except that Klout doesn’t currently monitor blogs, other than those on Google’s Blogger service. That must be one of the million-and-one improvements in the pipeline.

Megan Berry on KloutA comparison of Berry’s and Schartzman’s Klout profiles showcases the service’s flaws.Berry’s Klout score as of this writing is 70, while Schwartzman’s is 60. Barry does have a couple of thousand more Twitter followers than Schwartzman, but she said Klout ignores follower metrics as meaningless. Berry is very active online, but not nearly as active as Schwartzman.  Her blog has been updated eight times this year while Schwartzman has posted 36 episodes of his popular On the Record…Online podcast and more than 30 entries on his Spinfluencer blog. Berry contributes occasionally to Huffington Post and Mashable, but Schwartzman is also active outside his own channels, contributing to Social Media Today and For Immediate Release. Schwartzman has 44 recommendations on LinkedIn, while Berry has three.

Eric Schwartzman on KloutAs far as I can tell, there are two principal reasons why Berry outscores Schwartzman on Klout. One is that she knows the system. She has at least a vestigial account on every social network that Klout cares about, whereas Schwartzman limits his activities to fewer outlets. Berry also tweets regularly on behalf of her employer, giving her Twitter account a Klout halo effect that attracts retweets and @replies.

My intention isn’t to pick on Megan Berry. She’s obviously a bright young woman who’s very savvy about social media. However, there’s nothing I can find that qualifies her as significantly more influential than the veteran Schwartzman, not to mention Marc Andreessen.

In her interview with Schwartzman, Berry described Klout as “[Google] PageRank for people.” In my opinion, it’s got a long way to go. Klout has some utility as a way to compare the online presence of active social media users, but measuring influence is much more complicated than counting retweets and Foursquare tips. Klout is betting that it can use its metrics to entice (coerce?) people to join its social network, which it can then monetize through advertising. The link between membership and Klout score is a disturbing weakness. Proceed with caution.