success happens here

By Sander Biehn, {grow} Community Member

It’s true.

I helped my company get $47 million in new business through a blog-centered social sales strategy. Here is our story.

Late in 2011, my company, AT&T, put together a new sales team to re-build business relationships with a Fortune 100 company in Atlanta. We decided to take an entirely new approach that heavily favored building relationships through social media. We HAD to try something new.  Our relationship with this client had suffered in the past five years, creating strain between our executive offices. All sales had dried up.

With training from Mark Schaefer and support from our internal team, we began implementing a content strategy aimed at strategic “persons of interest” from our former customer.

successThis created unique new opportunities to discuss and connect away from the heat of the emotion between our companies. Slowly, we saw a thaw and  a major shift in the relationship started. This led to productive conversations about the business solutions that were being discussed in the targeted content.

Inside of 18 months $47 million in brand new business was awarded to AT&T, directly attributable to our social media outreach.

Did that get your attention?

Good. Now let’s cover how it actually worked — a successful social sales strategy.

The Social Sales Strategy

To make this work, we knew from the onset we would have to place exceptional content related to potential solutions in front of them. But what would that content be?  To do this the sales team first looked at available AT&T solutions that were best suited to the customer’s vertical market. There were a total of 10 solutions targeted. We needed to teach our customers about these unique opportunities in a helpful way.

We decided that the primary source of this new content would be AT&T’s B2B blog, called Networking Exchange.

Of course putting content out there was not enough. We also had to let them know it was out there and build an audience. Making sure the content was viewed by “persons of interest” at the client was the next part of the strategy. To do this, we settled on leveraging two social sites that customers most likely frequented: Twitter and LinkedIn.  By placing original content in front of budget owners we reasoned that AT&T would be viewed as a thought-leader and we would not only be invited to bid, but we would be pre-disposed to win these RFP’s.

Tactics

Content —  One initial hurdle was finding exceptional content to put our technology in the right light. The content that existed was targeted at technologists, not business people, and often had too much of an AT&T sales slant. Our new effort needed to be focused more on the customer’s business and discuss their problems in their vernacular.

To better align with this target group, we wrote entirely new posts customized to the customer and their roles. The content was not only approachable and business-focused, it was also personal to help us build relationships and encourage engagement with the authors. No ghost writing. We did the work.

Moving the Content — As Mark Schaefer preaches, content is only powerful if it moves. We needed to build a relevant network.

happensOur first move was Twitter, probably the fastest way to build a network. I first had to connect with Twitter users in our customer base. We used many of the tools covered in The Tao of Twitter to help us find relevant Twitter users and we employed many of these tactics.

I looked to connect not only with customers who had job functions in areas where I believed there was budget for our solutions, but we also targeted industry specialists. Routine engagement with this targeted group included re-tweets and replies to tweets that they sent.  Additionally, when there was positive press about the customer I made sure to tweet that and mention key contacts congratulating them on their work to get on their radar screen.

I also tweeted relevant articles and blogs from the Network Exchange and elsewhere. Finally, I tried to engage these customers with the customized content from the blogs I wrote by not only tweeting it but also asking specific questions related to the content and mentioning the customers and people of interest from Twitter. I received engagement from the customers, who began to ask questions or agree or challenge points we made in the blogs.

I approached LinkedIn in a similar fashion by using well-established methods to find people in our customer base who performed the functions most likely to hold budget for the solutions we were targeting. I then examined the LinkedIn Groups that these people belonged to and correlated the groups between customers to find the groups most likely to have the largest base of potential customers attached. Sometimes these were industry groups or groups associated with the job functions or the even a group dedicated to employees of the customer.

The employee LinkedIn group for our customer had more than 5,000 members. After joining the groups I began to interact there. I joined discussion groups and posed questions and tried to bring in helpful solutions whenever possible. Also, I posted relevant articles and ideas from the industry and even from our competitors. Of course I was sure to post positive news about our customer and mention group members by name if they were involved with the news items.

Occasionally I dropped in our targeted blog content, which also elicited engagement when we asked questions and solicited opinions and ideas.

Results 

The reaction to our authentically helpful content and engagement was palpable. I began getting questions — and then requests to bid for projects — that mirrored the information we were providing on our 10 strategic solutions.

hereThis was an enormous breakthrough. Remember that relations between our companies had been icy and not exactly conducive to business, Our social media presence was changing the relationship with the customer.

We were being regarded as an expert resource and we were building relationships with people from new departments that had been out of contact with us.  They told us our approach was “refreshing” because we were building relationships without bombarding them with phone calls, emails and meetings (like the competition).

The ultimate proof of the power of social media marketing was that when these precious bids came to us, we were no longer outsiders. We had the inside track to win these bids because the RFPs appeared to have been written based on the proprietary information they were gleaning directly from the blog posts I had been putting into the information eco-system.

In less than 18 months from the moment we started our social media strategy, we were awarded $47 million in new business, all of it directed to the 10 target solutions we had strategized from the beginning.

I’d love to hear your comments on our case study in the comment section!

sander biehnSander Biehn has worked in B2B sales at AT&T for the past 17 years. He recently transitioned into a new position helping the sales force integrate social selling.

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and Flytography

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