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Building a social selling program: Recruiting employee advocates

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. This is the third blog in a five-part series (read part 1 and part 2), where I’ll share findings from my experience that I hope will help your organization launch, scale, sustain, and, ultimately, win on social media. 

As one might imagine, building a social selling program takes time and effort. It’s important to have a vision and well planned strategy, but recruiting and retaining active participants can prove to be a project in and of itself. This is but one of the challenges I faced when recruiting financial advisors to participate in Guardian Life’s social selling program. Given the nature of the challenge, it comes as no surprise that I’m often asked, “how did you get your financial advisors to adopt social media so quickly?

The answer is easier than you might think. 

How to move the needle

Truth be told, we didn’t build our social selling program as quickly as it may have seemed to outsiders. When I first set out to build a social selling program, social media wasn’t brand new. By late 2010, most of our financial advisors were active on Facebook (probably posting what they ate for breakfast or where they were having drinks at that very moment), so the idea of using social media wasn’t unfamiliar to our financial advisors. 

It was, however, novel to use social media for business. When we launched our program in 2011, I’d estimate that sixty percent of our financial advisors had LinkedIn accounts. Of those with active LinkedIn accounts, most profiles resembled resumes. Advisors didn’t fully understand the power of their LinkedIn network, with most using their account to connect with anyone who sent a request, including competitors.  

Given social media’s relative infancy, some of our advisors were reluctant to dive in. But where a few saw risk, we saw reward and got to work.

Don’t try to convince the reluctant

If you wish to avoid the trap that I fell into, don’t try to convince everyone. As we worked to launch our social selling program, I made the mistake of trying to recruit all of our financial advisors to use social media for business. I saw the value that social selling could bring to an advisor’s business, as did our early adopters, so I set out to convince all the naysayers. I eventually decided that it wasn’t worthwhile to convince advisors who didn’t yet see the value of social selling. As someone smarter than me once said, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”

Instead, I decided to focus my efforts on making as successful as possible those who bought into social selling. By doing so, I no longer needed to convince those who were reluctant–their peers did the work for me. 

Social selling isn’t for every advisor. By accepting this, you can maximize the time you spend supporting those who are invested in building a new skill, instead of trying to persuade someone who, ultimately, will never buy into the idea of selling on social media.  

Success speaks for itself

By going all-in with my support of the advisors who embraced the value of social selling, I was able to highlight the success stories that would eventually change the minds of skeptics. I was no longer the program manager encouraging colleagues to participate in our social selling program. Instead, they heard success stories from their peers which sparked growth within our program. By nature, salespeople are competitive, so when they learned that their peers had built an advantage, they were keen to participate. 

We all know someone who suffers from FOMO (fear of missing out). And once I shared success stories from other advisors, the naysayers no longer wanted to stand on the sidelines. Instead of recruiting them myself, they started to contact me, asking, “how do I take advantage of LinkedIn, Sales Navigator, and Grapevine6 (now LiveSocial)?”

If you’re trying to expand social selling in your organization, my best advice is to focus on three groups: your newest hires, the moveable middle, and advisors who are more inclined to raise their hands. Over the years, my experience has taught me that the most successful advisors you have today would’ve been successful in 1950, or any year for that matter. I say that to emphasize that some sellers are wired to sell. Even still, there’s value in social selling, but I wouldn’t focus my energy on recruiting your top one percent of sellers. Instead, focus on maximizing the impact among those who are interested, and let their success do the heavy lifting for you. 

If you’d like to learn more about how your business can achieve excellence, visit our resource hub for social selling

Nate Isaacson
Nate Isaacson
Nate Isaacson works in customer success where he designs pre-sales strategy for LiveSocial implementations and helps customers drive adoption. Prior to joining Seismic, he built and ran one of the most successful Financial Services social selling programs, and is passionate about helping the industry leverage LiveSocial.

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