This article is a second part of the previous issue’s edition. The first part of the article described in detail the risks you will experience while implementing LinkedIn (LI) sales in large sales departments. This second part is about exact solutions and ideas on how to overcome the obstacles. I will very simply focus on 33 points solutions using the knowledge of change management, which I consider crucial for such a larger project. This does not mean that every point mentioned has to take place, but most have to. Also, and that’s important, it’s always necessary to adapt appropriately to your specific situation.
ADVISED SOLUTIONS IN THE PROCESS OF CHANGE
1. Change must be first communicated internally from the sponsor (the one who orders the project). The consultant shouldn’t communicate the change. That would increase the resistance.
2. Don’t start with LI training but start with a kick-off.
3. Kick-off is an opportunity for the consultant to show examples from other companies, his/her own experiences, etc. The goal is for sellers to capture the added value and most importantly increase their participation.
4. Kick-off should be facilitated more or less as a discussion. Many points can be by the consultant or management supposed, but they can be distorted. We need to know: a) What are the sellers’ concerns? b) What would help them to overcome them? This information might be crucial for the following implementation. You need to verify, record, and work with the concerns.
5. Different emotions are likely to come up in the kick-off. Focus on them and watch from who they are coming from. They suggest a lot. E.g. questioning, silence, asking the same question, and other signs provide us with useful instructions on how to proceed.
6. Negative emotions are good. It would be much worse if people were just quiet. That’s a pretty bad sign.
7. Let the negative emotions be processed. It’s not good to argue, explain, and persuade immediately. Even a few minutes in the state of negative emotions helps to handle them. The role of a consultant is not to argue or to win, but to inspire. That’s important.
8. The kick-off should be led by a consultant, but the sponsor can also have his inputs. He can provide additional support and above all, help to explain them. The consultant does not have yet all the internal information to understand the whole company context and help from the sponsor is welcomed.
9. I believe people should be told the truth about all the risks and problems that await them along the way. Why? I saw the initial enthusiasm and the subsequent failure to overcome obstacles. Such cases are a great pity and lost opportunities. From the company’s point of view, you lost the additional profit that would follow.
10. Understanding the change curve. Even if people seem to agree, resistance will often surprise you at later stages. This is often forgotten. Don’t just give to a first impression, because it will probably be distorted.
11.The ideal way to eliminate many risks is to start working only with the so-called supporters. According to some change management theories: a) 20% – 30% of people support the change, b) 20% – 30% are in strong opposition, c) the rest is deciding, which side to join.
12.Use the change ambassadors. Look for internal allies. The manager or consultant only creates the conditions for the change, but the change has to take place in the team dynamics.
13. Classify at least important influencers, where they are on the change acceptance scale. The worst alternative is if a strong influencer is in strong opposition. In that case, it’s necessary to work with him/her individually. Such a person can completely sabotage the whole management effort. But be careful, that influencer can also be from management. Managers due to various reasons can also sabotage this change.
14. Training is necessary but be careful of the following. It is not enough just to explain and show how and what to do. That’s insufficient. People need to try it out for themselves. Therefore, if we talk about training for 3-4 hours, then it will not work effectively enough. It does not provide time even for basic testing.
15.The training must be adapted to the industry and the client’s segment. If the information is identical for each company, it is a clear sign of poor consulting quality. The financial segment is different from IT. CEO’s or sales director’s LI presence should be different from the sellers, etc. Correct adaptation is the key to success.
16. The consultant should understand the broader context as well as the various hidden patterns of sales that may not be visible on the LI, e.g. the importance of the so-called “LI ghosts” (senior managers, directors, and owners who regularly read LI content but rarely engage), LI sales synergies with other sales activities, or understanding the principles of acquisition emails, private messages, and appropriate follow-ups. Etc.
17. Regular and consistent consultant’s work with the involved sellers in agreed cycles. This is an essential point. By completing the training, the change will not happen. That’s just an introduction. Group consultations address issues, successes, other perspectives, inspirations, sharing information within the group, etc. For a consultant preparation for each meeting is quite easy because, in contrast with other sales activities, the vast majority of the activities at LI are publicly visible.
18.Setting-up cooperation between the sales and marketing departments. The marketing department, or an outsourced external agency, is in charge of managing the company’s website, the so-called company page. It is important to look for synergies to support each other. If everyone goes for themselves, the possible positive impact is reduced. Still, it’s a standard feature in almost every company. This is often difficult, because usually a sales director is the one who orders the solution, and the marketing department might not be willing to fully cooperate. You know the world of big companies and inner politics.
19. Throughout the implementation process, it is important to set-up an information-sharing system. Simply a platform with discussion and information accessible for everyone. E.g. case studies of what succeeded (posts, reactions, private messages, activities, cooperations…). It should be a Sharepoint but not with given examples from a consultant or someone else, but cases from the sellers involved in the project. The reasoning behind is simple. We want to encourage a strong tendency of us people to learn and be influenced by others from the same group. Also, this helps partially to save the company’s investment into this activity. It’s understandable for a company not willing to pay for a consultant to the extent, that he/she works individually with each seller.
20. Small rituals celebrating success and spreading awareness across the group, detractors, and other departments are also highly welcomed in the change management process. E.g. first new customers’ meetings through LinkedIn, first closed deals… On the other hand, it is important that people do not feel embarrassed, which is often the case. Therefore, I recommend that you carefully consider whether, with any success, it is necessary, for example. ringing the bell, which may have the opposite effect we originally wanted to achieve. Choosing the right rituals and awards is best to be decided by the sellers itself. The consultant can’t know in advance about what is suitable for your company, your department, your people. I saw wine bottles, vouchers for restaurants, a photo of the seller with a CEO sent per email with some nice words to everyone in the company, etc.
21. The introduction of change indicators for management is another good idea. If I exaggerate a bit: “What in business is not measured, does not exist.” E.g.: a) How many people handle the new skill already? b) What is the produced quality? c) How much it’s really used?…
22. If possible, defining what is success, is best to be done together with all participating sellers. I strongly advise you, to resist the urge to set the expectations only by management. That will bring more resistance. After that, from the defined success, which the manager or management can influence, use metrics that are tracked, and make sense for a particular company and its culture. Of course, the main goal is additional revenue, but with LI this metric can’t be measured accurately. Therefore, other metrics are more important.
23. Understand that many metrics can be easily “cheated”. E.g. creating a certain number of connections. In one month, I can easily add 1000 relevant contacts without the slightest problem, but I still might ignore to do any meaningful work connected with LI sales. And other examples.
24. Use the OKRIs system (Objective – Key Results – Initiatives) for assigning longer-term objectives. It’s significantly more efficient compared to standard KPIs.
25. Consider carefully, what is the goal in the first phase? It’s easy to add revenue to the targets, but that’s a huge mistake. Of course, additional revenue is the main reason for the change, but it can be easily fooled. You can’t credibly verify it. Therefore, other truly measurable metrics are important. I know it’s annoying because as a sales director, you want clear, measurable results. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work. Remember that LI is accompanied by a “snowball effect”. If sales starts, it will increase. Therefore, it is good to look into the future and understand what will come later.
26. Throughout the process, the consultant and the sponsor purposefully look for problems. They should be searching for problems. That’s the essence of change management. There will be enough issues and only if hidden problems are revealed, we can respond to them. There’s always something new coming up.
27. When the consultant is not in the company, which is essential all the time, management and senior management must manage and support the change themselves. Meetings, communication, information sharing, tracking metrics, rituals, etc.
28. Patience is important because LI sales results will only become apparent over a longer period. Nevertheless, a person who knows how it works can see if it is going in the right direction. There are clear indicators
29.Sellers may give the impression, that they are applying the knowledge, but don’t be fooled. LI sales is specific. If the work is not regular and consistent, the result won’t come. Simply said, e.g. publishing something, of no added value to your target group, on LI twice a month, is a clear indication of a future failure. However, it depends on how LI is used for sales. There are several ways. Each suitable for a different strategy. We’re coming back again to a proper adaption to your specific situation.
30. It’s good to understand what are the psychological indications that the seller’s activity will increase on LI. If I generalize, we humans need interaction. If we do something, we want to see the result. But the business results will take a while. If sellers do not interact with others for a long time and the required discussions on LI don’t come up, it’s an indication that the seller will quit with the activity. First comes the psychological involvement through increased views, interactions, likes, comments, private messages, and then gradually the real business. An exception is when LI is used primarily for direct acquisition with direct private messages. That might be appropriate in some segments, or when the seller supports several countries with different languages. Interactions with this different strategy work on different principles.
31. If you use LI for proactive acquisition and directly contact customers, the results will come sooner, but this method also has significant shortcomings. It’s necessary to correctly adapt to the situation. For some companies and segments, this makes sense, but for others, it doesn’t.
32. Ideal sellers for LI sales are people with the so-called “hunter” mindset. Those who enjoy the acquisition are usually better than the so-called “farmers”, who are ideal as key account managers. Of course, this knowledge must be taken with a grain of salt. It also depends on how LI is used. Some affinity for digital technologies is also important. If someone refuses to install the application on a mobile phone, it might be a sign he/she won’t be probably as good.
33. If you have chosen an easier way to implement the change, with only promoters in the first phase, gradually the time will come to spread the change to others as well. Don’t rush it. Positive examples must start to spread with your help too, in the sales department, and only then is the ideal time to move on to others. I will not discuss this phase in detail, but several common things can be used. On the other hand, you can’t avoid a new cycle of training, consultations, etc. Positive is that it should be easier because you already have the experience, on the other hand, don’t forget that the next phase involves sellers who were in opposition at the beginning.
More and more people and companies understand that LI sales works. Still, you need to consider whether it makes sense to you. There are several sales streams and time is limited. In my opinion, the mastery is to adapt to a specific situation, industry, segment, and use those business streams that synergistically bring the best results. I know that in most industries and companies, LI sales is a suitable complementing strategy, but everyone has to come to that decision on their own. The fact is, however, that the development of LI sales is unstoppable. A comparison with the recent past, when people often did not even have an LI account, LI was considered just a digital resume and the term LI consultant did not exist yet, and the current situation, where LI can easily bring additional revenue is significant. Over time, this skill will become increasingly important and quite easy to verify. All you have to do is to check the profile and activity of any seller and it will immediately be known whether he or she masters this new skill or not. An interview for this is not required. This trend will gain momentum and those who adapt to it will gain the necessary competitive advantage. At the very end of the article, I can’t forget to mention what I consider to be the main idea.
Delivering high-quality training or consultations that engage people and add value to them, is the easier part. Of course, it is necessary to have the experience, to be able to present, to be able to work effectively with the group, and so on. However, it is much more difficult to achieve that the change is successful across the department. Of course, we make changes mainly to increase revenue and the long-term competitiveness of the company. But training is just the beginning of the whole process. Implementing a change in a company, that eventually gets canceled, is an unfortunate result. Not just in terms of what the company lost. In this case, it is a clear financial loss, but also in terms of what’s the impact on the peoples’ feelings in the company. The loss of sellers’ trust can’t be easily changed.
I wish you success and successful change implementation.
Viktor Kosticky specializes in Sales & Leadership topics. You can find more information on his website http://www.viktorkosticky.com or his LinkedIn page. In case of any questions please send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org