Last night, leaders from the field of B2B marketing gathered for one of our ‘Comms Confessional’ events at the Duck and Waffle restaurant in London.

The conversation this time was centred on ‘social selling’ – not a topic as lofty as the venue’s stunning location.

The panel of experts was united in the definition of social selling: a form of relationship marketing, initially born out of supporting the sales team with the ‘right’ content, but increasingly also relevant throughout the business.

We discussed the challenge of getting senior executive buy-in, whether the sales team play ball, the role of employee advocacy tools, and whether the content created is engaging enough.

Here’s a summary of the general views of our senior marketing professionals.

Make a game of it all

Employee advocacy tools are increasingly used to encourage workers to share content, which is pre-approved by Marketing.  One executive spoke about the benefits of gamifying engagement. This works by awarding points to employing for sharing content supplied by the marketing team. He acknowledged the risks of these tools making employees’ feeds too sterile and the challenges of getting people to put their own spin on the content.

While employee advocacy tools can be useful, there’s a risk that they can end up eating themselves, the more popular the gamification element becomes. It’s the quality engagement that matters, not the number of shares or likes.

Profiling senior executives

Senior C-suites executives play an increasingly important role in social selling. Not just the external audience, but with internal comms benefits too.

There’s a growing trend for their content to be ghost-written by PR or marketing teams. There are concerns about social content being written by a third party, as it loses the personal touch and feels less authentic. Ghost writing long form content such as blog posts and LinkedIn Pulse posts for senior executives is regarded as a good idea, however.

Getting senior executives to buy in to social selling continues to be a problem. Some see the appeal, but getting the time to commit to it is seen as the main challenge. Other senior execs still question the value of social media generally; the age-old success-attribution problem remains.

The right content at the right time

A major barrier to successful social selling programmes is the relevance and quality of the content itself.

One marketer said she felt embarrassed to ask colleagues to share content on their personal channels. Another spoke of a change in the strategy her company  adopted in making content more personally engaging and entertaining.

Another marketer said he felt that the big issue was finding a way of bringing out colleagues passion for their subject matter. He said he knew colleagues had strong views and were passionate about their jobs, but that content is detached from that and feels irrelevant to people.

There’s a risk of making content ‘too selly’, turning advocates off from sharing what was still regarded as people’s personal channels. Instead, think about the Gary Veynerchuck ‘jab, jab, right hook’ principle of repeatedly giving people something away that they want, before coming in with a sales right hook.

Finally, one of our group said she wanted to see an end to practices where people sent pleading emails to their colleagues: “can someone please share my LinkedIn post!?”

In summary…

Overall, my take out from the debate was that social selling is seen by B2B marketers as a highly desirable, but as an industry there’s a lot of work to do to make it truly effective. Like all areas of marketing, attributing success remains a challenge, but the biggest issue is actually the content.

If we’re asking people across the business to share our content, it has to be something that they see as authentic and relevant to them. And we have to provide the tools and training to help unlock the passion, ideas and insights that they have to truly make it fly.

If you’re interested in attending future Comms Confessionals then please reach out to amy.bateson@harvard.co.uk and we’ll be in touch.

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