What department should manage a corporate “social networking” program for generating business leads?
I thought about this while responding to the question posed on Linkedin Answers by Dave Biskner, How would you implement a staff-wide networking program? (You need to be a Linkedin member to see the whole question.) The context of Dave’s question was to have everyone in the company generate leads that can be potentially input to the company;s sales cycle.
I’ve had some experience with managing this type of process. What some may find interesting is that there may actually be situations where it make sense for a department other than Sales to oversee a program that (among other things) generates sales leads through social networking.
Here is my response to Dave’s question:
You will need to establish teams to generate some competition. If the sales cycle is long for what you are selling, keeping interest in the process will be difficult if the primary focus is on sales. Team motivation (plus a promise of a real cut of the sales) will help, but will not be sufficient to guarantee cooperation.
A tough nut to crack will be simply getting anyone to cold call who is not used to it, once you harvest and profile existing contacts (past employers and contacts for example). Just getting people to call and update old contacts on current activities will also be a challenge.
You will find some resistance to handing over contacts to “the sales process,” especially from senior people who have their own professional contacts that they keep from job to job.
Don’t attempt to provide a standard script for what people say over the phone or write in emails. They need to put the company message and the questions into their own words. Especially make it clear that these initial calls are not sales calls. (You may have a hard time convincing people that that is the case.) You can, however, provide an internal web based resource that provides people a wide range of messages and information related to what the company does and what it sells. Internal podcasts and videos will be useful — remember many folks will need help if they are not accustomed to this type of communication.
You may need a process for training people on understanding and communicating what the company does and how to respond when a friend “asks you what you do for a living,” plus more complex business and technical descriptions.
One possibility: divorce this “networking” process entirely from the sales process and sales operations. Make it the responsibility of all individuals in the company to use and actively “work” professional social networking systems (Facebook, Linkedin, dedicated internally managed system, etc.)
Employees should establish, maintain, and grow networks where professional and employment affiliations are clearly stated but appropriately kept in the background. Making sure people sign messages using signatures that clearly state position and company, or including company and web site info accurately in a searchable network profile, could be a challenge but worth it in those network situations where professional profiles are searchable.
Instead of just tracking the number of prospects that come into the sales pipeline through these networking efforts, emphasize tracking the number of new versus existing relationships, the number of communications, and the types of communications that occur within a well understood map of the market.
I would consider putting this activity under the sponsorship and control of the company division that oversees professional training and development, especially if employees are already expected to participate in certification programs or professional or trade association activities.
I’m not suggesting that every employee has to maintain a public-facing blog. I am suggesting that the options every employee has for networking need to be considered when defining each employee’s job responsibilities and compensation related to performance. How well the employee performs these responsibilities can and should impact the employee’s job satisfaction and performance evaluation.
Prospecting and lead generation are not the only processes that are impacted by an employee’s professional networking. Professional advancement, accreditation, learning, innovation, corporate image enhancement, social outreach, advocacy, and employee recruiting — all can be impacted by how an employee involves himself or herself in employer-relevant social and professional networking.