In the early stages of launching my company Grapevine6, we met with all kinds of businesses to find a fit for our social engagement tool. One of those early conversations summed up the negative perception of social selling. The director of an inside sales team asked, “Why am I paying our reps to spend half their time on LinkedIn when they’re just building their résuméto get another job?”
Management should have known better. Salespeople are driven to generate revenue and don’t spend half their day doing something that doesn’t drive sales. Social isn’t just for wasting time or finding a job. It’s a powerful resource for advancing the buying cycle and is especially effective for considered purchases where trust is key. It’s a Rolodex that’s never out of date, a network you can be in front of 24/7 and a treasure trove of background information on every contact you want to reach.
SAP Adopts Social Selling
It seems obvious now, but it took a few early adopters to prove the business case. Global technology giant SAP jumped in early and had so much success that it scaled up to a global social selling program. Building over 1 billion Euros in pipeline across 15,000 salespeople around the world, SAP proved that social selling was a game changer.
Sales wasn’t alone in using social media. Early on, marketing recognized the stickiness of social, which created a huge opportunity to drive brand awareness and more importantly, build credibility. The Edelman Trust Barometer consistently showed that companies had a trust problem. Consumers trusted their friends, not brands. Social marketing was a way to tap into that social proof.
Content Marketing Jumps In
The technology supporting the first wave of social marketing specifically served brands. Highly complex tools sifted through the firehose of social content to identify brand mentions and orchestrate multi-touch campaigns. While effective, these technologies demanded dedicated expert resources to operate, which restricted access to mid-to-large enterprises. There was a gap in the market to make social and content marketing more accessible to individuals and small businesses.
Employee Advocacy Gains Traction
As social marketing evolved and matured, brand marketers also saw an opportunity to exploit employee social networks to amplify their messages. Brands were investing heavily in content, and any added impressions helped ROI. A new set of tools emerged in the employee advocacy space that served up marketing content to employees to post in a simple application. Dozens of advocacy apps appeared, but results were hit or miss. Because posting brand content wasn’t authentic and didn’t necessarily deliver any real value for the employee, companies constantly needed to come up with outside incentives to keep employees posting. Giving the same content to every employee caused user adoption to suffer.
The one-size-fits-all approach to content was particularly frustrating for the sales team. Sales was the most interested in engaging customers on social to build relationships with buyers, but posting the same brand content as everyone else was turning customers off. They needed relevant third-party content that was authentic, helpful and could build a personal brand that buyers could connect with and trust. Employee advocacy tools elevated the company brand, but a new wave of tools was needed to that elevate the salesperson’s brand.
Getting Personal With AI
The key to creating an authentic brand on social is personalization, but marketing could never manually curate personalized content for an entire salesforce of thousands. AI changes the game by enabling differentiation at scale. The next wave of social selling tools is here and has content and AI at its core. Tools like Grapevine6 use AI to read through the thousands of articles published yesterday to find the 10 that are most relevant to each salesperson’s brand.
AI also enables scaling regulatory and risk management in social selling. Digital risk tools from Proofpoint, SafeGuard Cyber, ZeroFox and ThetaLake can inspect content, including video and images, for dozens of different types of risk that impact corporate brands. They can also secure social accounts from security risks, like hackers.
As both the market and tools mature, companies that sell on relationships must be actively engaged in social selling. The practice has moved past the early adopter stage and is becoming table stakes for a modern digital salesforce. Today, with the right tools, salespeople in any industry can be empowered to develop an authentic personal voice on social and leverage the full potential of these channels without posing a regulatory or reputational risk to their employers.
Mike Orr is the Co-Founder and Chief Operations Officer at Grapevine6, where he is responsible for product delivery. Before joining the Grapevine6 team, Mike spent several years in management consulting, working with some of Canada's marquee brands. He led a skunkworks and project management team at one of Canada's leading digital advertising agencies on projects that won global awards and recognition.