Every day we work with growing businesses trying to improve their social marketing and sales capabilities. Since we work in the IT Channel, those businesses range from small technology solution providers to global manufacturers with marketing teams in the hundreds. But the questions we hear everyday are surprisingly consistent across teams of all shapes and sizes.
The most common question we hear is “where do we even start?” Which seems odd at first, because most businesses by now have started something in social media, and some have done quite a bit, from hiring dedicated social media managers to running cross-channel ad campaigns.
Yet many still feel like they don’t have a good handle on their approach, much less a cohesive business strategy. Their efforts feel like random acts of marketing based on whatever best practices are trending for social media. Even businesses with organized social campaigns will say that while they’re generating metrics, they’re not sure they’re doing the right things.
So let’s start there and talk about how to orient yourself toward a sensible strategy.
Finding Your Way toward a Strategy
Often when companies start to think, or rethink, social media, the process starts with a review of Best Practices, either a collection of blog posts someone Googled, or an eBook provided by an agency or vendor. Working through the basic blocking and tackling is good:
- Update your company social media profiles
- Link your website to your social media profiles and vice versa
- Publish some keyword-optimized blog posts or pillar pages about your key solutions so anyone looking can find up-to-date information
- Share those posts and pages out to your social media profiles
- Boost your posts to a target audience with a paid media campaign
- Get your analytics sorted so you can track inbound visits from social sources
If you’ve done more than that, you’re ahead of the game. If you haven’t done that much, it’s a good foundation to start with, since any of the activities you undertake in pursuing a strategic social media program will require this minimum level of social media fitness. But even accomplishing a fuller list of social media best practices will only take you so far. At some point you have to graduate from matching what everyone else is doing to figuring out how to move your business toward your next strategic objective.
What is the most important revenue or business objective you need to accomplish in the next 2 quarters?
Choose Your Strategic Focus
To keep things simple you should focus first on one of three areas of strategy to work on depending on the circumstances at your company, the resources you have available and the objective you’re trying to achieve:
- Social Selling
You’re already successfully selling a product or solution through traditional sales methods, and you want to leverage social media to connect with customers and grow your market.
- Market Development
You’re introducing a new product, or addressing a new segment, and you want to use social media to find new prospects who are interested in your value proposition.
- Social Branding
You want to establish, strengthen or change your company’s reputation by using social media to engage with customers, market influencers and stakeholders.
We approach this choice with our own customers by asking: What is the most important revenue or business objective you need to accomplish in the next two quarters? The answer usually drops easily into one of those three areas. If you’re not certain, we always suggest starting at sales and figuring out first how your activities can directly support or accelerate revenue in established pipelines.
The best way to start a successful social selling program is to take a successful sales approach and extend it into social media.
Activating Sales Teams for Social Selling
At many companies, particularly in tech, there’s a gap between marketing and sales that can often be difficult to navigate. In an ideal world, marketing fills the funnel with qualified prospects ready for sales reps to convert into customers. But often marketing and sales operate in their own silos with competing objectives, metrics and and cultures. Research clearly shows that companies with a strong culture of cooperation between marketing and sales outperform those that don’t, so a particularly strong strategic mindset is to always look for ways to try and bridge that gap.
The best way to start a successful social selling program is to take a successful sales approach and extend it into social media. If sales are lagging for whatever reason, adding a new approach like social media will only further muddy the waters. Sure, it’s possible you have the best product in the world that no one knows about, and if you only produce a viral campaign that puts your brand on the map you’ll be a runaway success, but the odds are vanishingly small.
If you start with a product or service your company already knows how to sell successfully, and you develop a campaign to extend your market visibility and engagement through social media, you’re far more likely not only to improve your results but also to develop meaningful sales insights, because your results aren’t clouded by existing sales process problems. More important, you’ll be able to track impact on sales metrics rather than only measuring likes and follows.
A particularly strong strategic mindset is to always look for ways to bridge the gap between marketing and sales.
If you can broker a partnership between sales and marketing leaders to identify a successful sales program that might be augmented by social media, that’s the best place to start. You could upload a list of recent customers to LinkedIn, for example, to try and create a matching audience to target for a lead generation campaign. You could connect your web analytics to your social media platform in order to retarget visitors to your website to bring them back for more. You could take a successful lead-gen activity, like a webinar or lunch-and-learn, and promote it through social media to extend your reach. By focusing on a sales activity you already know produces results, you’ll easily be able to watch and learn how social media activities can build on your success.
If your sales and marketing culture is too siloed—or if you’re not in a position to influence department-level initiatives—you can start with trying to find one or more allies between departments that might be interested in developing social selling skills and techniques. Again, it helps to start with what already works. So teaming up with a successful sales rep that is hungry to extend their influence to social media will likely be more successful than engaging a brand new rep that’s trying to learn how to sell your product.
Once you have a couple of allies, you could start by focusing on how to build a compelling profile for your sales reps on a social platform of choice, then on optimizing their network of customers to tune their profile for that platform, and finally on engaging with customers on that platform to extend communications reach. Those activities alone will get you collaborating on message, network and value proposition, which should deliver meaningful insights you can build on.
Rather than focusing on the transactional value of one-to-one customer relationships, Market Development focuses on exploring the shared interest you have with many customers in solving a critical business problem.
Developing Your Customer Community
The second level of strategy you can pursue is Market Development, in which you systematically test various paths to new prospects and revenue. This is a good option If you don’t have a successful product or service to promote—if you’re a startup, for example, or if your company is repositioning after market disruption—or if you’ve already extended successful sales activities to social and you’re looking to expand your capabilities.
Market Development is by definition more complicated than Social Selling, since you don’t have a successful sales model to build on. Good Market Development is essentially about building a customer community: rather than focusing only on the transactional value of one-to-one customer relationships, you focus on exploring the shared interest you have with many customers in solving a critical business problem. The more dialog you have with prospects and customers around those shared interests, the more input you’ll gain for tuning and positioning your solution, and the faster you’ll fill your pipeline.
With Market Development you’re signing up for a lot of trial and error, a lot of A/B testing, and a lot of mushy metrics until you find solid ground. But you’re also developing more advanced skills and exploring future revenue streams for your business, which is not infrequently crucial in rapidly shifting markets like high tech.
We’ve detailed a methodology for agile Market Development we call The Fastest Path to Revenue, which is detailed in a series of short blog posts. In a nutshell, the idea is to assemble a small team focused on market testing product offerings, messages, segments and campaigns until you find the first customers willing to buy. Whether you’re taking this approach to promote your business’s core solution or to build an additional revenue stream, the principles are the same: start small, iterate constantly, embrace failure as an opportunity to learn.
The minimum elements for a solid market development approach might include a social media page to spotlight your solution, a compelling offer to promote like a discount or an event invitation, and a simple call to action that makes it easy for prospects to convert. Then you can use organic and paid media campaigns on social media to test the ways you drive traffic to that page while you also test and refine your offer and value proposition. Much of this activity you can even do for free, like setting up a page on social media and driving traffic with organic outreach, but keep in mind that social networks often tune their systems to favor advertising and paid media programs, so it pays to allocate some budget to boost your presence.
Social media provides so many channels, so many avenues for engaging with prospects and customers, it’s a perfect agile environment for rapidly testing and tuning all the elements of your value proposition and approach.
It’s important to note that while you may have difficulty measuring branding activities in ROI, that doesn’t mean they’re not important.
Building Your Social Brand
The third level of strategy is in some ways the simplest and also the most complex: building your social brand. It’s simple in the sense that, for most companies, brand development is pretty distant from revenue, so the scrutiny on metrics and outcomes tends to be softer. It’s complex in the sense that brand development should be closely aligned with revenue, so getting the motions and metrics right can often be more complicated than market development, combining everything from social listening to loyalty programs and everything in between. But for most tech companies, brand development starts with polishing corporate profiles on social media, developing a brand voice through the content you share, and building a network of consistent touchpoints that lead traffic back to your website.
The strategic heart of branding is positioning. You can think of positioning as establishing your brand’s story—why you’re unique and why your customers should care about what you have to offer. There are dozens of good books about branding and endless brilliant articles online. You can choose to focus on building your brand voice, establishing your brand presence in a valued market community, developing a thought leadership position, or just generating a closer rapport with your customers through social channels while face-to-face meetings are scarce.
Because these activities are often not tied directly to sales, social branding metrics are often weak beyond the typical measures of likes and follows. If you can sort out your website analytics and monitor inbound traffic from your social profiles and company pages, that at least gives you a useful metric in understanding how your brand activities are leading measurable traffic to your website.
It’s important to note that while you may have difficulty measuring branding activities in ROI, that doesn’t mean they’re not important. Even in the absence of direct revenue contribution, brand building activities are an important part of any good marketing strategy, and that is no less true in social media. We know that people often validate businesses they are considering by visiting not only their website, but their social profiles on major platforms. Being able to clearly communicate a compelling value proposition that attracts and engages customers is critical whether you’re a small family run business or a multinational manufacturer. If that’s the only strategy you have the mandate or resources to follow, it’s not a bad place to start—just review the bullet points listed near the top of this post.
Opportunities for Strategy Workshops
If you’re established in the IT Channel, particularly a VAR, integrator or distributor, you may be eligible for MDF program funding for social selling programs and workshops SocialRep provides through many manufacturers, and you may be eligible for free access to our Social Media Center. Just ask your partner manager at your favorite OEM if they offer SocialRep programs, or connect with our team to see if your OEM is in our network.