At Tribal Impact, we’re focused on driving value from social interactions. Whether that’s better engagement, bigger sales or greater social impact, we are passionate about delivering business growth through employee social media conversations.
SAP is renowned for being at the cutting edge of social selling and this doesn’t stop with their online presence. Tribal recently spoke to Michael Labate, who heads up operations and program development for SAP’s Global Social Selling Program, to learn about their ground-breaking innovation that introduces a new way to measure social selling’s ROI and business impact across the company. In fact, Michael will be keynoting at several conferences this year to unveil the methods behind the approach so that the wider sales enablement community can expand on the research and practices.
The Social Selling Landscape is Evolving
It is now almost a cliché to state that buyer behavior has changed. We’re more than familiar with the statistics such as 70% of a buyer’s journey and up to 90% of the decision is made before customers are ready to talk to a vendor. But over the past few years, SAP has noticed another, perhaps more subtle, behavioral change.
It involves buyers’ peers influencing the online narrative and it presents a real challenge for large organizations because it happens on very small scales, often within community discussions or in relation to very specific enquiries.
Michael explained using a recent example SAP encountered.
“There was a conversation taking place on LinkedIn where a Head of HR had asked their contacts to recommend a provider for a Cloud solution. She was representing a medium-sized [company or organization] who planned to take their traditional HR model and move it to the Cloud. She was right at the early stages of this project and wanted some evaluation and collaboration from those who had already made the change.”
Successful Social Selling relies on the ability of organizations to be able to listen to trending topics and influence their target customers using their people who bring wider networks to bear and spread the brand messaging and capabilities in a credible and authentic way. But this particular enquiry was far more granular than anyone had considered.
“Basically, a marketing demand agent or sales rep should have been creating a thought leadership presence around this topic – “moving legacy HR to the Cloud” – which might have caught the attention of this lower-level, early stage enquiry,” explains Michael.
But the really interesting thing was the way the narrative played out next. For around 48 hours, none of the big brands or their representatives responded. Instead, the enquiry was jumped on by the authors’ contacts, her peer group.
“Peers controlled the narrative and pushing forward ideas for the first two days of the post”, says Michael, “they were making recommendations, thankfully including SAP. Peers have become the influencer placing vendors outside the buyer’s immediate source of influence.”
Ahead of the Game Instead of Catching Up
This small development made Michael start to think about the behavioral elements of Social Selling from the perspective of those building relationships.
“As a personal brand, you are the conduit for your organization” says Michael, “As an individual, we can have these conversations, unlike a website. It’s not really about pull or push, I think that’s becoming an old way of thinking. This is more about organic engagement. Passion for a particular topic or movement invites others with similar interests to join your journey—and those that do essentially develop their own version of that hero story that attracts others to connect, build, attract others and so on.”
He continues, “This type of discussion is balanced and authentic so it’s key for our social sellers to be a part of it in an authentic way too. They need to be inside the debate, in their capacity as a personal brand, in order to influence things in a very authentic way. It’s possible to do, providing you have built up the right levels of credibility and trust. For example, social Selling impact on SAP’s Selling performance is quite salient, and top social sellers at SAP are enjoying the gains they’re experiencing.”
Michael set out to investigate a collection of buyer behaviors, from the buyer doing their own research to the significant downturn in responses to cold outreach calls and realized that such a pronounced change in behaviours needed to be reflected in the way SAP measured its success.
“We’re changing the way we measure Social Selling” says Michael. “The selling behavior needs to change in order to engage the modern buyer, therefore sales and marketing managers need to identify new ways to measure performance. We need to be proactive and understand what this change looks like, why is it needed and what we can do as sales and marketing enablement professionals to measure what we are doing in such a way that we capture and reflect this new behavior. That’s what the Global Social Selling Key Indices program is all about.”
Development of the Social Selling Key Indices
SAP has a great history, not just of evolving their Social Selling approach, but also of driving ever more incredible outcomes as a result of doing so.
However, in their latest program, Michael and the global Social Selling team at SAP are taking things a little outside of the box:
“Our thinking was whether, by creating indices, we could measure behavioral performance in the same way as the Equity markets measure performance of different sectors” Michael explains.
“Because we’ve been able to gather sufficient data, we can now start to see where there are symptoms of under or over performance. We can learn from those who outperform and help those that underperform indices.”
Michael points out that they are simply extending the standard sales measures that exist today. “We’re covering all the metrics you’d expect to see – lead-to acceptance, opportunity size, deal size, conversions and so on,” he says. “The uniqueness of this program is in how we apply what we measure. I felt that it was needed given that every other aspect of social selling and customer engagement is evolving and changing, and the only considerable social selling measurement in market today is LinkedIn’s Social Selling index (SSI) score.”
The results, in true SAP style, have been compelling. The team is now at the stage where they can start to demonstrate the power of this new analysis. They are able to map and really dig out the detail of where underperformance is occurring and do something about it.
Michael says “Our next step in the program is to integrate these measures into the performance review process. By doing this, managers and team leaders can start to tap into the training that is readily available for anyone struggling with social selling.”
Wins Tell the Story
The team now needs to focus on embedding this new approach to measurement across SAP.
Michael clearly believes in the power of what they have developed. “We have some great case studies to demonstrate this new way of measuring” he explains. “People, by their nature, love to celebrate wins. When you can show them how they’re measuring up against an index you’re providing additional insights that can stimulate action to continually improve.”
Venturing into the Social Community
The team plus some external community members will be delivering a keynote at the forthcoming ‘Enabling Customer Engagement’ Conference on the morning of Tuesday, September 18th. The conference takes place in Denver from 16th to 19th September and represents an opportunity for SAP to share its findings with a wider community. Michael will also be keynoting at the ‘Sales Operations Institute’ Conference in Atlanta, GA on October 8th.
Says Michael “We’ve partnered with folks across academia and strategic industry advisors on this project and I’d love to expand the input further by sharing what we are championing. Ideally, we would be able to build an even bigger index portfolio in the future which would increase the power to measure sales and marketing behaviors across organizations.”