If I put the leadership aside, as well as a few particularly sociable people, it is within the sales team that any company’s best network skills can be found. Besides, they are those that are responsible for the turnover. And yet, if digital technologies have been recognized as an efficient tool for competitiveness, the industry is struggling to obtain the results expected, and therefore to invest in them as a business development tool.
Tools made for sales teams
Here, we are talking about really using professional social networks. They are not just a professional directory with a mailbox. They make it possible to do everything we do in our real social lives:
- Meet new people
- Develop our relationship with anyone we want and stay in their minds
- Implement monitoring and get specific information whenever needed
- Make ourselves visible and special, in particular by talking about others and do them favours
- Make our company and its products, customer service, expertise, values, or recruiting needs visible, and give them more value
- Smile, make people laugh, and make small talk because humanity needs it to create bonds
Sales people do that on a daily basis in “real” life, so they are natural ambassadors for their companies. In BtoC, brands look for ambassadors in the outside world: they fight over “influential” bloggers, conquer them, train them, and develop their loyalty. Well, sometimes they do…
And yet, in practice, in BtoB, few sales people use social networks for what they are: social life areas. Some of them are content with curbed uses (what cannot be seen, that is, contact search, search for information, monitoring), although they are ideal tools for them: a professional area available 24/7, where almost all market players’ employees are present on an individual basis and accessible independently of the time difference; a highly targeted area favourable to close relationships, where they can get decisive information for their own business, make appointments, pass on any messages they want, whenever they want to, without being intrusive, develop their likeability, give more value to the brand they represent… In short, do everything they already do in real life, only more efficiently, and without working more. That is the straightforward network effect.
Why do BtoB sales people deprive themselves of such a powerful, relevant tool?
There are several reasons to it, and they are all cultural:
1. Salaried sales people consider LinkedIn as their “personal” professional lives, their career management tool, and not a working tool to serve their employers. Sometimes rebels will try and speak openly, usually online. Once they have got caught, their managers forbid them to “express themselves publicly”.
2. The executive management, the communication department, the human resources, sales managers themselves… they all think the fact that sales people or any other of their colleagues express themselves publicly is risky. Of course, they do talk freely to their customers, and might actually make a little mistake once in a while, but it stays between four walls…
3. In addition, sales leaders consider that the employment contract confers them at least the right to have a look, or even access to their salesmen’s contacts. This point often generates tensions with employees, who do not share this opinion (see point 1).
How is it possible to break the deadlock?
All these difficulties find their origins in cultural brakes, and the whole company is concerned. These brakes often led to extremely cautious charters that banned the use of social networks. If this behaviour was understandable at first, it has become urgent to get rid of such protectionism, as it is no longer compatible with today’s customs, and to accept we should evolve with history.
Having sales people get trained to LinkedIn is useless. They will probably learn helpful tricks, but they will end up adopting an artificially curbed use of the tool. They will not manage to be themselves, although it is actually what helps them do their job and sell products. All sales people know it, human relationships are crucial for the complex sale of ingredients, packaging, or products manufactured by subcontractors in the cosmetics sector.
So, to manage to get rid of these brakes to competitiveness, I developed the DiVA method (DIgital à Valeur Ajoutée – Value-Added DIgital), which I formalized in 2011. It is structured around three phases:
1. Changing the way we view the tool, getting rid of cultural brakes to come up with a Charter on the use of social networks by employees that will add value to the business. The idea is to make three parties, the brand, the employer – both human resources and sales management – and the sales people find out how their interests converge.
2. Establishing guidelines on how sales people should use it: what should be done with a professional social network (LinkedIn in the cosmetics sector) to fulfil the current objectives and deal with the business’s concrete concerns? / Defining business performance indicators (those that already exist within the company are the most relevant).
3. Getting trained and adopting new habits: defining practical cases, so that sales people can imagine scenarios that include LinkedIn, as well as the moments when the tool will not be of any use for them. Indeed, if human beings are more efficient with the tool, it is because they remain the judges, the sole decision-makers / Identifying the best adapted solution for every single employee to gradually change habits so that, as a tool, LinkedIn can become as intuitive as the phone.
What results can be expected?
The immediate results are visible on the internal level: there is a shared vision of social networks as productivity tools that can be activated. It is a relief and a great driver for team projects. The first business results attributed to the advanced use of LinkedIn are obtained in the very short term, about two months.
If it occurs to you that the pilot team should be communication or marketing on the grounds that it is up to them to manage digital technologies, let me warn you about something. Appointing a leader to manage this transverse issue is ok. But starting with the marketing or communication teams would be like denying their very nature. Marketing and communication professionals find it much more difficult than sales people to understand how useful being active on social networks on an individual basis would be… which is easily understandable, as networking has less to do with their core business. So it will be harder for them, and most importantly, there will be no connection with the sales business. By contrast, if sales people have adopted new habits, communication and marketing people will acquire new ones more quickly, and will be able to work in collaboration with the former to efficiently contribute to the turnover, whether on an individual basis or on behalf of the brand.
Still, it should be noted that in a high value-added industry like cosmetics, the presence of experts soon becomes essential.
And do not forget that the same questions and brakes apply to your customers. If you cannot see them, it is because most often, they are content with watching. Seeing you embark on the social network journey, demystify the issue, and innovate on sales processes is always differentiating in a sector where vital innovation… seems reserved for products.