In my 12+ years at Guardian Life, one of the largest life insurance companies in the U.S., I developed and ran a social selling program for nearly 2,500 financial advisors. I learned a lot during my journey to build the program from scratch and see it mature. In this post, and those that will follow, I’ll share findings from my experience that I hope will help your organization launch, scale, sustain, and, ultimately, win on social media.
Today, some of the most successful sales teams are harnessing the power of social media to build stronger relationships and attract new leads. But cultivating a thriving social engagement program goes beyond sharing the right content at the right time. As with any mission-critical program, selecting the right vendor and software goes a long way.
In my previous post, the first in a multi-part series about launching and scaling a social media engagement program, I discussed the importance of setting expectations with employees. In this post, I’ll recount some of the lessons I learned from onboarding a social engagement platform and, ultimately, selecting a new vendor to replace our legacy solution.
Pros and cons of early adoption
When we first launched our program, only a few of our competitors had already embraced social media, which gave us a significant advantage. Despite a head start, we did encounter challenges in the early stages of building our program. For instance, being an early adopter also meant there were very few vendors who could help us pursue our strategy. But, as I tell my five-year-old, “you get what you get, so don’t throw a fit.” In my case, I was fortunate to work at a firm that was willing to invest in social selling at a time when many others were not.
Moving beyond a legacy platform
Our initial platform served its purpose for several years. It included compliance and publishing capabilities that allowed us to manage the daily demands of a social media engagement program. As our program evolved, however, we began to notice challenges that limited inhibited growth and retention of employee advocates.
The limitations of our legacy platform had a noticeable impact on our financial advisors and our overall return on investment (ROI). After five years with our legacy solution, we were confronted with a decline in active users—down to 400 active monthly users, although we were paying for 1,000 licenses.
In order to transform our social engagement program and increase participation and retention, we needed to address the limitations of our legacy solution. A critical step was to develop a checklist of must-have criteria to meet our growing needs:
- Compliance – In order to streamline workflows, we needed a solution that automated approvals and allowed us to enforce our social media policies.
- Third-party content – Limit the oversharing of corporate content by providing access to high-quality third-party content.
- Content curation – Equip employees with a diverse range of content that aligns with specific markets and interests.
- Personalized communication – Give employee advocates the flexibility to develop status updates that align with their personal brand and alleviate the burden to produce corporate-approved status updates for the entire content library.
- Mobile experience – Mobile-friendly solutions that would enable advisors to easily manage their social media presence using their smartphone.
- Intelligent technology – Artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing to improve the content discovery process.
Selecting the right social selling platform
Using the above criteria, we considered several vendors and, ultimately, selected Grapevine6, now Seismic LiveSocial. As we planned the transition to our new social selling platform, we partnered closely with our new partner and internal stakeholders to create a roadmap that would expand our program to enable all 2,500 Financial Advisors.
Collaboration was essential to our transition. We worked closely with our new partners and a range of internal stakeholders to develop a comprehensive roadmap. In addition to collaboration, I can’t underscore the importance of testing at every stage of the journey.
If your organization is planning to transition to a new vendor, these are a few things to consider:
- Identify and include key stakeholders from the start
- If possible, take advantage of project management resources
- Develop a project plan and identify critical milestones in advance
- Meet regularly with stakeholders to ensure timelines are met
- Develop a comprehensive communication plan
- Partner with a field sales sponsor to help plan, communicate, and troubleshoot rollout plans
- Soft launch with a “friendly market group”
- Plan, but anticipate unforeseen challenges.
Rolling out a new platform
After we settled on a roadmap with our partners and stakeholders, we determined that piloting the program would help ensure long-term success. Our pilot program consisted of a, “friendly market group,” or a team of users to validate our plan and provide real-world feedback on social selling training and launch materials. Your pilot program should be reflective of your organization as a whole. While it may be easier to get buy-in from super-users, testing with a broader group ensures that results reflect the broader organization.
Not as scary as it first appeared
Our usage data told the story of our transition. By the end of our first month, more than a thousand financial advisors had activated the Grapevine6 (now Seismic LiveSocial) platform and implemented their own social selling strategy. Within five months, that number grew to 1,500 active users. The new platform delivered what our financial advisors had demanded for years—highly relevant and timely content that was unique to each of them.
In a world where technology might gather dust on the shelf, we were able to earn a place in the business-building routines of our advisors and continue to build from there.