Social media is now a proven and important element of most digital marketing campaigns and the majority of marketing practitioners will be comfortable with how it integrates into their existing communication programmes.

However, there is still a dearth of information on how social media integrates with and supports selling and engagement activities.

During 2010 I worked closely with Peter Abraham of Econsultancy to research the subject, and we focused on one of the most complex high value service markets, that of professional services (lawyers, accountants/consultants and surveyors).

Whereas in many companies it is common for marketing to be separated from sales, the problem is exacerbated within the professions as often the marketing and business development professionals are often not allowed to get involved in direct selling as this is undertaken by the lawyers, accountants and surveyors themselves.

Furthermore, these professionals are often unsophisticated and reluctant in their approach to selling and relationship management. However, the professions are well known for leveraging the close personal relationships that they develop with their commercial clients and for the long sales cycle.

We developed a series of best practice guidelines for how lawyers, accountants and surveyors could integrate various social media tools (and LinkedIn and Twitter turned out to be the most popular) depending on whether they were social media newbies, average users or “star” performers.

We also provided guidance for various stages of the sales cycle and the relationship management process and pulled all the elements into a preliminary model which is presented in the White Paper “The use of social media in relationship development in the professions (Lawyers, accountants and surveyors)“.

Six of the main strategic lessons learned:

  • Understand the sales and relationship development processes used by the organisation, teams and individuals before you attempt to see how social media might support them.
  • Develop standard policies and procedures to ensure that you protect against inadvertent problems with client confidentiality, brand and reputation management, disclosure of valuable know-how and the ownership of critical contacts and network.
  • Assess which vertical markets externally and which professionals internally are most enthusiastic about social media, and work with your champions in a pilot project. 

    This allows you to bring the early adopters (and potential mavericks) under the umbrella of the organisation’s criteria for effective use. Particularly cautious firms might explore social media by using an internal tool such as Yammer for internal communications campaigns.

  • Look at existing marketing, sales and account plans and try to develop some measures by which social media activity, when incorporated into other traditional activities, can be assessed.
  • Provide introductory training on appropriate social media tools, which may involve working alongside the professionals as they perform their day job and delivering new layers of complexity in bite sized pieces.
  • Monitor activity and results carefully, be patient, provide regular support and encouragement, promote successes (however small or anecdotal) and allow social media use to develop in line with experience and update the best practice guidelines and systems regularly.

Six of the top operational tool tips were:

  • Using social media as a method to learn more about markets, organisations and individuals. A targeted form of market listening in order to gain insight into trends, needs and opportunities and map client-side relationships.
  • Using location based social media, particularly those providing information on different aspects of individual’s preferences, habits and places frequented, to learn about and connect with different members of the decision making unit.
  • Consider how to integrate social media contacts and connections with traditional “centralised” databases, sales automation and CRM systems.
  • Ensure that corporate and personal brands (business and self profiles) are aligned and that consistent key messages about specific strengths and expertise are promoted through all channels.
  • Using the traditional networking advice of “Giver’s Gain” and using social media to add value to every interaction with existing and potential clients through a careful shared content strategy.
  • Use status updates, particularly on professional and business networks such as LinkedIn, on a regular basis to ensure that you remain “on the radar” of a large number of contacts with ease – and provide hooks to prompt interaction.