Social selling and the social enterprise: From fantasy to reality

social enterprise

Many organizations are experiencing frustration with the concept of the “social enterprise.” On paper, the prospects seem so tantalizing, but when it comes to execution, very few companies have been able to make it work.

By some measures, Dell stands alone in its pioneering approach to embedding social media into corporate functions beyond sales, marketing, and the call center. On a recent visit to their corporate headquarters in Austin, I had the opportunity to interview Bryan E. Jones, Dell’s VP – North America Commercial Marketing, and one of the forces behind his company’s social transformation.

Mark: Bryan, tell me why you are so passionate about driving this cultural transformation at Dell. What has been the key to your success?  

Bryan:  It comes down to four things. The first one, and the most critical one, is top-down leadership. I have a leader in Michael Dell who understands social media and this change is aligned with the company agenda.

The second piece is the cultural setting. The DNA of the company begins with our direct relationship with customers. Being connected to your customer is mission critical. We were doing social media before social media had a name. So we have the underlying desire and culture to make this happen.

The third driver is the opportunity for differentiation and competitive advantage. The long-term goal that I have is a socially connected end-to-end organization. I just recently met with the staff that runs Treasury for us. I said, “Hey, you guys have a role to play in this.” And they responded, “No we don’t. We sit so far in the back that we can’t possibly use social media.” I said, “No — 100 percent not true. People want to know what you’re doing. People want to know the value statement you have inside of Dell. Even if you don’t necessarily see it up front, you are absolutely part of our brand.”

This team can be a brand ambassador to friends, family, and professional communities. They have an opportunity to tell the story.

The fourth driver is creating a more connected and effective salesforce. People buy from people. They don’t buy from a company. The connection that social media extends to us is so critical. I think we literally have the ability to completely differentiate our sales force from the competitors.

Social media provides me new, interesting, digitally-bred ways to meet my customers. They do more of their upfront connection on the web now and I need to be out there, so they’re hearing our voice.

Statistically, with a socially-connected sales force, our deals are bigger, our deals are more strategic, our deals have more stickiness to them.

Mark:  Let me ask you about the big question — company culture and adoption. There is often so much resistance to change. People will often nod their heads and say, “Yes.” Then, they’ll go back to their Rolodex files. What are you doing to help the culture embrace these new tools, both the people who have been here for 10 or 20 years, and the new people who are coming in?

Bryan: It really goes back to the expectation that comes from leadership. We have to model this behavior, this expectation all the time. Obviously Michael Dell is very active from a social media perspective and he does his own stuff. And he is even more active internally, on Chatter, encouraging our sales teams, asking the right questions, asking tough questions. So he sets the expectations high.

The culture of the sales force is certainly not there 100 percent, it’s probably 50 percent, but a bigger portion of my sales force gets it than most other companies.

I look for the early adopters, and I’m going to feed them faster. They’ll have everything running and they’ll set the pace. Nothing brings success in sales like some healthy competition with each other.

Mark: I see the same thing. When I do social sales training, I tell the companies I work with, we don’t need a room full of hundreds of people. Bring me the 15 who raise their hands and say, “I’m ready to do something different.”

Bryan:  We’ve seen that work in all different settings.

We find the ones who are ready to do this. Then, their peers will stand around and go, “Wait a minute. I really want what this person has.” They see that it works. There is concrete proof.

Mark:  Let’s go down this road a little bit. The concrete proof, that’s where a lot of people get held up. 

bryan jones of dellBryan:  I know what ROI I’m looking for. I’m going to look at this in a very pragmatic way. For every dollar I spend on social solution and a social objective, I want to know what my ROI is on that. I’ve got to be able to show our leadership value n the language that they expect to see it, which is campaign ROI.

In the short and medium term we can look at KPIs that are indicators of progress but eventually you have to sell stuff.

Mark:  So hard though, because in B2B sales, that cycle might take years.

Bryan: Sometimes but not always. We do have large enterprise solutions that have a long sales cycle but we have some very high velocity products so we can absolutely track the deliverables of our program. And it builds on itself. For this thing to be successful and self-sustaining, I have to create inertia. By that I mean, I have to get enough sales people behind this, that they start to clamor for more and more capabilities.

Mark: It takes a long view to succeed, doesn’t it?

Bryan: I am super patient. You have to be with change like this. But I also know this is going to be supported in the long-term and I have the time to do it right and the room to make it work. Don’t get me wrong, we move fast and as long as we are moving as fast as we can, I am willing to wait and see what the results will be and I am supported by my boss in that too.

Mark: Such a key point. You don’t need just sponsorship. You need long-term sponsorship. I was working with a Fortune 500 Company on a social selling effort and they were doing everything right. They were growing organically, they were rewarding their employees, building change into their objectives. Then, the Vice President changed, and within two months, the whole thing collapsed.

Bryan:  Why do think that happened?

Mark:  Because the corporate culture could not sustain it. It was incredible to see this collapse. After all this success, the old guard comes back in and all of a sudden, the whole team was disbanded. People were laid off.

Bryan: Patience and a long-term committment to cultural change is a huge piece of it.

Mark: Let me ask you about that connection between how you are growing a social enterprise and content. Content is the fuel. How do you work to assure that you have the right fuel you need?

Bryan: We spend a lot of time trying to get this right and we’re still iterating. The content comes from many places because we have so many kinds of customers. We need content for the education market, for healthcare, for security, and so on. So we work in many ways and partner with service organizations to get the relevant, interesting content we need.

And the content I need now is different from the content I needed five years ago. So a big part of the job is learning what we need and putting together the plans to get there. We need to feed the fire and our sales people are asking for more and more. We are also working on creative delivery systems to support our sales team with content, almost like an internal RSS feed.

We also have to coordinate the dance between content and product launches and announcements. The editorial calendar plays a key role in all aspects of marketing these days.

We get input for our content from many places and it’s continuous. I’ve got an editorial person who is saying, “These are all the conversations that we could have.” I’ve got a sales team pulling on us saying, “This is who I should go talk to about this.” We have a broad view based on product strategies, customer needs, and business goals.

I carve off a small portion of budget, every quarter, for innovation. New types of content, new vehicles of content delivery, new on demand generation activity, all of it.

Our content is also very metrics-driven. I can tell you statistically, what’s worked, and not worked over a period of time. We’ve also closed the loop with our sales team. We can see what content is bringing in the best-quality leads. They only have so much sales capacity. They only have so much time. If I send them low quality stuff, it hurts my reputation with them. It hurts that marketing sales bond and trust.

Mark:  One of the terms often in use is distinctive ubiquity … meaning you can’t annoy your customers with the same content in every channel. There’s got to be something interesting and compelling, every time they connect. That’s hard to do.

Bryan:  It is.

Mark:  Doesn’t come cheap, either.

Bryan:  It requires a lot of rethinking about how we use content and how we develop things on the content team. Some customers like technical white papers but more often, we need small bites of wisdom from those white papers. Then we need to turn those bites into an infographic. So we’re trying to serve our customers but also be smart about leveraging and amplifying our assets.

I also believe in this environment you need to sacrifice perfection for velocity and utility. Would you rather be 100 percent right, or 100 percent done? Or, would you rather be 80 percent there and go faster? I would always choose the 80 percent and go faster, as long as it’s effective and it’s not going to impact the customer experience.

Mark:  One of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about is how do you scale human engagement in a large company. How do you create that balance where sales people have quarterly objectives while working on these long-term relationships that come with social media?

Bryan:  It’s a matter of priority and leadership, isn’t it? If something works, and it is something that you state is a priority then you better put some resources to it. This sounds maybe a bit barbaric, but it’s not, it’s pragmatic. If this is 20 percent important, it should have 20 percent money. If we said this is important, and we gave it no money, then it’s really not important. If you don’t put any resources on this, you’re hope-casting. meaning your strategy is simply “I hope it works.” It probably won’t.

For us, social works. It’s a priority. So of course we will resource it in a way that can make it scale. I hold on to the fact that I’ve got a really strong team that is aligned, and I work with them so that we have built a culture that fosters this environment.

This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. To learn more about tech news and analysis visit Tech Page One. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.

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