Do you think social media is better for researching prospects than for attaining face-to-face meetings where deals are won and contracts are signed?
If so, think again, and pay attention to the experience of Gari Johnson, Vice President Australia & New Zealand, IntraLinks.
If you hear about a merger, acquisition or IPO in the news, chances are IntraLinks was involved. It provides secure software-as-a-service virtual data rooms that allow collaboration with sensitive information between global banks, law firms and thousands of the world’s major corporations.
In this high-tech world, social media has revealed itself to be a lead generation goldmine. In just four months, it has helped IntraLinks achieve:
- Deeper brand penetration into its marketplace
- A 50% connection rate with potential customers on LinkedIn
- Twice as many sales-ready leads as any other lead generation channel
All it needed was the right strategy.
Setting social strategy
In February, Johnson enlisted the help of a B2B social media lead generation agency, to develop a lead generation campaign on LinkedIn. Three steps kicked off the process:
- The team clarified the IntraLinks value proposition, which focused on virtual data rooms and their ability to remove risk in time-critical, strategic transactions and enable secure collaboration between multiple parties.
- The team identified “Social Sellers,” the IntraLinks sales specialists who would be responsible for connecting with potential customers through LinkedIn, and who would promote the company’s value proposition via their personal brands.
- Finally, they identified senior corporate executives, investment bankers and lawyers in Australia who would be most interested in that value proposition. The Social Sellers used LinkedIn’s search functions to target prospects by:
- Company name
- And other relevant targeting criteria
Once the list of prospects was created, IntraLinks Social Sellers began sending each of these prospects an invitation to connect.
“We were able to segment the marketplace in a very targeted way,” says Johnson. “The quality of prospects we were able to reach was superior in both marketing relevance and seniority compared to previous approaches, such as direct mail or telemarketing.”
Using this approach, the IntraLinks Social Sellers were able to connect with multiple people in the same organization, creating more opportunities to engage and influence.
Changing the paradigm
“Typically, you meet someone and only then connect on LinkedIn. We reversed the process, so our invitations to connect had to be personalized, relevant and focused on achieving the connection, not the sale,” says Johnson.
Johnson admits about half of the people they contacted did not respond to their invitations.
“But a 50% connection rate is still higher than anything we had imagined. B2B has always been a numbers game, so achieving that connection rate meant hundreds of valuable connections,” he points out.
Resist the urge to sell
In the spirit of good lead nurturing, it became all about the prospect once he or she was engaged, and not the sales team’s quotas.
This required a change in the sales professionals’ mindsets.
“It’s very tempting, once you find a prospect, to approach them and ask for that meeting, but that could be disastrous,” warns Tom Skotidas, founder of the agency IntraLinks used.
Instead, he advises companies to:
- Understand exactly who your prospects are, and what insights and information they need to do their jobs better
- Identify and package the content that satisfies these needs
- Identify the sales specialists within the organization who can distribute this content and engage with potential customers
“In essence, each Social Seller becomes a content distribution channel for Marketing, delivering key insights while also building their personal brand as subject matter experts and, by extension, their company brand,” Skotidas explains.
“Over time, prospects begin to see the Social Seller as an industry expert,” says Skotidas. “They begin to feel like this is a person they might want to meet someday and learn from. The process builds trust; instead of selling to prospects, the sales professional is adding incremental value on a consistent basis.”
Building that trust takes time. Skotidas says there is an incubation period before sales professionals can even think about taking the relationship to the next level.
“It was a little painful for us to figure out how to realign our sales professionals’ approach,” Johnson admits. “They are salespeople, let’s not pretend they’re not, and they are going to try to sell. It’s a matter of educating them – helping them focus on the longer-term outcomes and guiding them through the process to get there.”
Enlist the marketing
Not surprisingly, Johnson’s chief challenge was providing the relevant content that sales professionals could use to drive conversations with their new LinkedIn connections. The team curated content like whitepapers, articles and industry reports.
“If you want a surefire methodology that brings Sales and Marketing together, this is it,” he laughs. “I’ve been in B2B marketing my whole life, and I’ve never seen Sales and Marketing depend on each other so much.”
Marketing sourced and packaged content to ensure it was legally compliant, brand-compliant and channel-compliant. Sales ensured it was relevant to the needs of their specific LinkedIn connections. After all, distributing the wrong content on social media could be embarrassing at best and disastrous at worst.
“Sales and Marketing really began to understand the value that each team was bringing to the process,” says Johnson. “Not only did social selling help us build trust between us and our prospects, it built trust between Sales and Marketing.”
The team was quick to point out two details about content development:
It is not a once-and-done deal
“You can’t go out and look for a whole bunch of content and say, ‘Okay, let’s kick off the project,’” says Johnson. “It’s evolutionary; you have to pay attention to what your network is saying, what they are interested in, and provide content to address that. You have to be invested for the long haul and continuously refine what you’re sharing to be more in tune with their needs and interests.”
Fortunately, figuring out the most attractive content is as simple as observing which posts attract the most comments or likes.
“It’s a good way to identify the issues that are important to segments of your market,” Skotidas notes.
It requires regular feeding and attention
“You have to provide relevant content regularly. This is what will give insights to your prospect and isn’t self-promoting. Companies produce plenty of the self-promotional stuff – that’s advertising, not content,” explains Skotidas. “I’m referring to content that benefits the industry and the prospects as they consume it. That’s the kind of content most B2B companies don’t produce often – maybe once a month or once a quarter.”
To keep your content stream flowing, Skotidas advises subscribing to newsletters, RSS feeds, YouTube channels, iTunes and Google Alerts.
“There are dozens of sources of content,” he says, “Use keywords to narrow the focus of what comes through the funnel.”
Interestingly enough, some of IntraLinks’ fresh LinkedIn connections ultimately turned out to be content sources. They responded with their own compelling articles and reports, and contributed to the campaign.
“It truly was a sharing of best practices,” says Johnson.
The Payoff: Real-world meetings
Once a minimum period of time and status updates had taken place, IntraLinks Social Sellers leveraged the trust they had built over time by getting in touch with their connections and requesting a meeting.
“We acknowledged our LinkedIn connection, and expressed our interest in meeting and discussing our value proposition,” says Johnson. “Our Social Sellers made it clear who they were, and that they wanted to share information and have a real-life conversation about best practices.”
Even when the person was not the decision maker, he would often direct the Social Sellers to others whom he considered a better fit for the discussion.
“They’d thank us and say, ‘I’m not the right guy, here’s the name and phone number of the best person you should be talking to,’” says Johnson. “So the LinkedIn community actually looked after us and pointed us in the right direction. I don’t mean to sound trite, but it was a very social experience.”
In just over three months, the LinkedIn strategy has produced twice the number of face-to-face meetings of any other lead generation channel given the timeframes and number of contacts.
“Anyone who has lived and died by sales targets knows that in the end, you have to generate that meeting with stakeholders and sign that contract,” says Skotidas. “With the right approach and engaged sales teams, social media allows you to take that conversation all the way there.”
Johnson admits the outcomes surprised him.
“We were willing to test this because we thought there was an opportunity there,” says Johnson. “We went in assuming we would see some kind of positive result, but we certainly weren’t expecting to achieve so many meetings and to develop so many valuable touch points that have lead to active sales engagements.”
Skotidas– B2B social media lead generation agency used by IntraLinks