Today we are interviewing Mike Ellsworth, a partner in Social Media Performance Group and one of the people who really “gets” social media. He is one of three authors of The Infinite Pipeline: How to Master Social Media for Business-to-Business Sales Success. It’s not just about getting shares on social media; it’s about doing business on social media, and by “business”, I don’t mean just selling. And that’s where we ask Mike…
What motivated you to write the book?
My business partner, Robbie Johnson, has had great success using social selling techniques in his business. Back in 2011, when the first version of the book was written, social selling was not as well known as it is today, and we thought that a book would be a good way to help sales people understand how social media could drastically improve their sales results. As we got into the writing, it occurred to me that just learning how to use social media for business-to-business sales might not be enough to ensure that company sales efforts would be successful. That was when we combined social selling techniques with internal and external social business communities, a concept we’d written about before, in our Be a Person series.
What’s the difference between internal and external social business communities?
The Infinite Pipeline concept involves creating communities and adopting organizational changes to enable sales people and sales management to make social selling sustainable. In the Infinite Pipeline, not only do sales people get trained on social selling techniques, but the company creates two communities: an internal, sales-oriented community for everyone who touches the sales effort (like marketing, communications, product management and so on); and an external, problem-solving community to help customers and prospects resolve their issues.
The internal community foster communication about sales opportunities, customer problems, and encourages anyone in the company to contribute leads and information about possible sales influencers.
The external community is just about solving customer problems. A company may want to ensure their sales support and customer service people are heavily involved in this community along with sales people.. The idea is that, if the company becomes known for solving problems, sales will follow. Typical selling behavior is prohibited in the external community.
The book contains a long list of external B2B communities developed with the tremendous help of Vanessa DiMauro of Leader Networks, who is experienced in setting these communities up.
Have you found this to be successful?
Without the organizational commitment that Infinite Pipeline requires, we expect inconsistent application and success with social selling techniques. In fact, we predict that in five years, fewer than 20 percent of sales organizations will have realized the benefits of social selling.
Sales people, as a rule, aren’t early technology adopters. Their skill set is more on the relationship side, and so that’s what we emphasize in the book. We compare and contrast old-style sales techniques like Eat What You Kill and Farming to the Infinite Pipeline and show how our system can work with each.
We’re readying for publication two more Infinite Pipeline books: a sales executive version that goes deeper into how to lead the social selling change, and a deluxe sales executive version that has lots more practical implementation advice.
Why did you go with three authors?
Social Media Performance Group has three principals and all three of us contributed in some way to the book. I am the primary author and worked closely with Robbie, the subject matter expert, and Ken Morris, who helped give a sanity check based on his extensive experience as an HR executive.
Is there a real-world example, a company that has followed your process?
There is no company that has followed our process as of yet. There are plenty who have implemented external communities, and we have a list of them in the book. The list was created by us in collaboration with Vanessa DiMauro of Leader Networks, who is an experience community builder.
There are plenty of companies that have internal communities, many of which are dedicated to sales, and some of them have done social selling training. A good example is Oracle, where our contributing author Jill Rowley let a social selling transformation a couple of years ago. She used Jamie Shanks’ Sales for Life social selling curriculum to train hundreds of Oracle sales people and used Oracle’s internal communities to reinforce, along with Shanks’ standard training followups.
But the innovation proposed in the book—our Infinite Pipeline Relationship Development Process combined with both and internal and external community—has yet to be implemented fully anywhere.
What tasks would the internal, sales-oriented community typically undertake?
One key to the internal community is to leverage the relationships company employees already have. So a sales person might ask a question such as, “I’m looking to engage Hugh Bigend of XYZ Corp. Anybody know him or an influencer?” Employees might also volunteer information about target companies and people they know who work there.
Another use of the internal community is to solve customer support issues. I wrote a blog post on transforming the help desk, that talks about integrating social media into customer support processes. An issue could come in to the external problem-solving community and be taken care of there by customer service people. They could alternately turn to the internal community to elicit the help of other parts of the organization, such as product development, production, or marketing.
The internal community also offers a collaboration space where sales people can ask marketing for materials to curate to their customers and prospects or to jointly work on messaging based on what sales people find in the field. We’re under no illusions that just having a space like this will end the war between sales and marketing, because that’s the biggest transformation that we propose in the book, and one that requires a revamping of compensation for all parties involved in influencing sales.
A fourth use of the internal community is to keep everyone up to date with the latest in their industry, in social media or social selling, and in what people are saying about the company by contributing the results of social listening.
What tasks would the external, problem-solving community typically undertake?
SAP is a great example of using external communities to solve customer problems and also to enable customers to help find solutions. We use SAP as a key case study in the book because they’ve been doing this for 12 years. Here’s the case study from the book:
In the B2B space, since 2003, SAP has pioneered using external communities to create and prototype new products with their Idea Place and SAP Research Prototypes communities. Their framework integrates their third-party social presence with their community presence.
A key to succeeding with Infinite Pipeline external problem-solving communities is to ensure that your goals for the community support your company’s goals. SAP’s strategic goals include:
- Build and Harness Communities—of prospects, users, developers and partners
- Amplify awareness and purchase consideration—to bring SAP into purchase consideration set
- Enhance demand generation—by enhancing lead gen and nurturing programs
- Accelerate adoption and end-user nurturing—via richer and proactive engagement of end-users
- Extend market coverage—by enablement of developer & reseller partner community
As you can see, this is a mature strategy. SAP has laid out the following goals that support this strategy:
- Awareness—evangelize SCN
- Immediacy—real time
- Reach—broaden audience
- Reputation—social media leader
- Conversion—to contributor, customer
SAP has successfully involved thousands of members from their customers in rich, problem-solving communities.
You can tell these guys have been working on this stuff for more than 10 years by the complexity of their vision. The communities have paid off, yielding:
• 2.4 million members from 200 countries in 2011
• 2,500+ Top Contributors in 2011
• 2 million topic threads and 7 million messages in 2011
• 100 SAP Mentors
• 7,180 ideas contributed, with 183 turning into actions
SAP gets results from their community, including 750+ SAP solutions sold and also lots of little victories for their customers:
• “Siemens resolves NetWeaver-related technical problems using SDN 50% faster than through other channels.” Richard Hirsch, Senior Portal/SAP NetWeaver® Consultant, Siemens
• “SAP EcoHub is an easy to use single source that will streamline the process for identifying trusted, relevant solutions that meet our business needs and work within our existing SAP installations.” Matt Stultz, Vice President, Global Information Technology, NewellRubbermaid
• “SCN offers SAP partners like us the opportunity to get connected with 2 million members of the SAP ecosystem, who live and breathe SAP, to exchange know how and to demonstrate our thought leadership. It’s a great way to connect directly with SAP customers, partners and SAP employees.” Ross Moris, Director of Alliance Sales, Sabrix
The idea of the external community is simple: Solve customer and prospects problems and they’ll naturally gravitate to your products. Don’t be salesy or you’ll scare them away.
Another great example of an external community is SPS Commerce’s Retail Universe. SPS does EDI and other electronic communications infrastructure that help companies communicate with their supply chain. They got the brilliant idea to set up a community where partners could find one another. So a big retailer could find someone to drop ship a special order from China, for example.
The only requirement to join this community is to sign up and be vetted by SPS. You don’t need to be a client or use their network. But naturally, it leads to sales for SPS because small suppliers or retailers who don’t have an EDI solution are naturally going to consider SPS. They do no selling on this community. It just solves problems.
This is only for B2B sales…what if a B2C company picked it up? Would they find it useful? Are there parts they could benefit from?
Most B2C companies have a B2B component. They generally have trading partners or suppliers or other type of purchasing that is B2B. So that’s a natural fit.
Beyond that, many of the concepts of the Infinite Pipeline can be adapted to work with consumers. A company may want to create an external community for their consumer customers. In the book, we recommend caution for any company wanting their own community. Just because you create it, doesn’t mean people will use it. You need to determine that your customers need a place online to communicate with each other and with you. In many cases, B2C companies will opt for public social media communities like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.
However, we have a case study in the upcoming executive edition of the book about GM that illustrates the change in mindset needed to have an effective external community.
If you haphazardly approach this task, you can spin your wheels without gain. No one will hear your message. And you might conclude, as some companies have, that social media doesn’t work.
That’s what General Motors concluded in May 2012 when they pulled their $10M a year ad budget from Facebook, initially indicating that their ads weren’t giving them the return they expected. But check GM’s Facebook posts even today. They’re mostly self-congratulatory, “Look at our new Chevy” types of posts. How likely are fans to engage with this old-style advertising approach?
They’re treating Facebook as just another channel for their advertising and marketing messages.
Don’t make the same mistake with your external Infinite Pipeline community. You’ll want to keep the salesy promotion to a minimum and tie your implementation ideas directly to your external social media goals.
GM is a great example of a company that we would call B2C, since the people who buy their cars are consumers. But in reality, GM sells to dealerships, which are businesses, and thus they’re really a B2B company.
It’s the same with food companies like General Mills. They sell to wholesalers, not you and me. Both companies, though, drive consumption via B2C media. We talk more about marketing with social media in our Be a Person book series.
Who should be reading The Infinite Pipeline?
This version of the book is targeted at sales people. We hope these sales people will pass the book along to their management, or recommend that their managers get the executive version, our next book, which is all about leading the social selling change.
Ultimately, the transformation of the sales force to using social selling techniques is inevitable. The value proposition is just too compelling. Here are some stats from the book:
i. In 2012, Aberdeen Research measured the effectiveness of social selling and found a 15 percent increase in team attainment of quota.
ii. LinkedIn reported a result from an IDC study that showed social media use actually increases with the seniority of the buyer— 84 percent of decision makers at the VP level or higher use social media when making a purchasing decision.
iii. LinkedIn research shows that 86 percent of buyers would engage with sales professionals if they provided insights or knowledge about the industry.
a. Achieved almost 3000 percent ROI
b. Reduced sales cycles by 25 percent
c. Multiple threading allows access to several key contacts within a company
a. Achieved 100 percent ROI in one month
b. Tripled database of leads in the first six months
c. Response rate increased to 20 percent with improved conversion rate
a. Achieved greater access to companies in their target market, 500-1000 employees
b. Enhanced credibility
c. Dramatic growth in networking
As we know, change is hard. And salesforces are an even harder sell for new methodologies. That’s why we predict it will take many years for the majority of salesforces to transform into social selling organizations. Infinite Pipeline lays out the roadmap for this change, but it will take commitment and investment for a company to complete the transformation.
So is this book of interest only to large companies?
We feel that the concepts in the book are useful for any size company. Smaller companies may not be able to execute all the strategies in the book—such as creating the communities. But any company with sales people can benefit from using the Infinite Pipeline Relationship Development process.
And that ends our interview
Social selling is a topic I expect we’ll all be hearing more of, probably too much of, in the years to come. Companies who do it right will not be “selling”, as much as networking, as suggested in The Infinite Pipeline. How many companies will follow this advice? Let’s not ask GM.
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