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Get started with social selling

The buying process has changed, and the sales function must follow. Customers have more access to information than ever before, giving them the ability to educate themselves throughout the sales process. Purchasing has become a self-guided process, often relying on advice from trusted connections on social media.

Instead of relying on cold outreach, sales professionals should establish a social presence to further gain trust, so that they are sought out and recommended during the sales process. A social presence calls for a personal brand to be established by the sales professional and promoted across multiple social networks. Through this approach, salespeople are more likely to find new clients, re-engage with existing clients, secure more meetings, uncover new sales opportunities and exceed quotas.

However, the emerging practice of social selling has additional challenges in highly regulated industries such as financial services. To maintain compliance, social selling requires a comprehensive, enterprise-level approach to training, rollout and execution. An enterprise approach also maximizes return on investment (ROI) by coordinating efforts to match the right messages to the right prospects via the right salespeople. To support enterprise sales organizations, marketing departments, aided by technology platforms, need to deliver social-ready content that’s tailored to different buyers at each stage of the buying process.

Sales teams need to achieve high levels of coordination wherever prospects and customers congregate online, whether on Twitter, LinkedIn, Xing or industry-focused professional communities. Using the powerful capabilities enabled by social selling tools integrated with existing customer relationship management (CRM) solutions, salespeople can cultivate existing relationships, search for new prospects, identify colleagues who can make an introduction to key decision-makers and share relevant content.

Success in deploying social selling in the financial enterprise depends on six key factors:

Tailor the deployment to the organization. Organizations will take different approaches to social selling based on their footprint and sales culture. A social selling initiative to support 10,000 financial advisors at a large wealth management firm will look different from social selling for an insurance agent network or a boutique high-net-worth advisory firm.

The capabilities enabled by social selling have to match the sales culture of an organization. For example, the new “TeamLink” feature of LinkedIn Sales Navigator allows salespeople to see how they’re linked with a prospect via the connections of anyone at their company. That level of lead-sharing would probably work best for collaborative sales teams using a territory-based sales model in industries such as insurance or corporate banking.

Budget social selling as a sales tool. One of the big hurdles in change management is getting past the widespread perception of social media as free marketing. Social selling is a sales tool, not a marketing tool. Even if your digital marketing team already uses social media tools like LinkedIn extensively, your sales team will be using it much differently. That’s why social selling should be budgeted and funded as a sales tool. It’s just as important as giving every salesperson a phone and an internet connection. Focus on how salespeople will exceed quota using these new capabilities, and buy-in will follow.

Monitor metrics for individual and sales team performance. Social selling activities generate many different kinds of individual and organizational metrics. For example, you can track comments, “likes” and shares for each salesperson as an indicator of personal engagement on each social network. While that’s helpful as an indicator, it’s also important to keep track of the growth of social relationships, such as each time a prospect who likes or shares a post today turns into a customer tomorrow. This kind of customer-centric monitoring builds support for social selling by demonstrating how greater social engagement leads to sales results. Across the organization, aggregated social selling activities can be collected and analyzed to demonstrate ROI based on incremental lift.

Build a system for social listening and communicating. In any conversation, listening is the most effective thing you can do. Social selling allows salespeople to transfer their listening skills to social networks. By paying attention to client behavior, you can determine how best to respond. For example, if you see someone posting updates about new store openings, it may be an opportunity to start a conversation.

Based on careful listening, social selling can match each prospect with appropriate communications selected from a library of fully compliant, distribution-ready content. These one-to-one communications allow salespeople to gain trust with prospects while opening up more in-depth conversations.

To some extent, aspects of listening and one-to-one publishing can be automated, but there still needs to be a live salesperson managing customer outreach and engagement.

Establish suitable controls for financial industry regulators. As with any other form of customer communications, posts and messages in social selling have to be archived for compliance with banking and securities laws. Onboarding and training materials must adequately cover the ways in which salespeople are permitted to communicate through social networks, and those rules have to be enforced. Banks will have to demonstrate compliance by saving and storing social media posts and monitoring instant messages. They also have to be ready to comply with legal requests for discovery. When approached correctly from the start, the same business processes involved in analytics and metrics can serve to support the compliance function.

Integrate tools and technologies into existing workflows. The tools and technologies of social selling require minimal changes to integrate with existing IT infrastructure and CRM solutions. At larger organizations, many of these tools will be integrated into an existing advisor or agent desktop portal. At smaller banks, however, browser-based functionality will suffice, allowing for rapid, low-footprint deployment.

By establishing a personal brand in social channels, salespeople can build a bond of trust with customers and reap the benefits of a deeper relationship.

Ms. Boyle is a principal with the financial services advisory, customer practice, with Ernst & Young LLP. She can be reached at [email protected].  Ms. Castagnetta is senior manager with the financial services advisory, customer practice, with Ernst & Young LLP. She can be reached at [email protected]The views expressed are not necessarily those of the authors’ employer.