Early on in my career an extremely wealthy entrepreneur gave me advice in the form of a story that I still remember to this day. He told me of two men who were walking along a stream and grew very hungry, when they noticed an orchard full of delicious apples on the other side.
The first man commented that he would likely wet his shoes trying to get to the other side, so instead he decided it was best to walk down stream in search of a more favorable place to cross. However, the further he walked the more he realized that the stream was only getting deeper, until finally it turned into a raging river flowing far too quickly to cross safely.
As he was overcome with hunger pain, he noticed his friend walking happily along the other side of the river with a sack full of apples and a hearty smile. “How did you ever cross to the other side?” he asked. His friend replied, “While you were looking for the perfect spot, I just jumped in and walked over.”
Many sales leaders today get so caught up in finding the perfect solution for generating pipeline or boosting revenue, that they inadvertently opt for no new solution at all. Rather than aggressively focusing on new methods that provide a competitive advantage, they adopt “good enough” solutions that don’t interfere with the status quo. The problem with the status quo is that it won’t help you dramatically improve upon yesterday’s results, especially in an evolving market.
Consider all of the statistics and research that have been released about the effectiveness of social selling and the use of tools (such as LinkedIn) to engage customers. In some industries (like technology for example) adoption of these new tactics and methods has been rapid, and ROI followed quickly. Yet other industries are sitting on the sidelines hoping to find a “better place to cross the stream”.
A Case Study
Let’s look at the philanthropic sector as a case study of group that has yet to adopt these new strategies, and how it could be affecting them.
For fundraisers who seek large monetary gifts from wealthy individuals, there are a few commonalities in their strategy. Generally speaking, they seek to engage with senior corporate leaders across a wide variety of industries in an attempt to win corporate financial support.
In addition, they attempt to recruit senior executives to their volunteer board, in order to leverage their relationships and gain introductions to other prospective donors. Finally, some fundraisers also engage staff at various Foundations that may donate to their cause. With a to-do list like this, you would think that the sector would embrace social networks such as LinkedIn, yet they are woefully unconnected.
A quick search of philanthropy in Canada shows a plethora of opportunity for early adopters using social tools to accelerate their engagement with potential donors. However, the latest research available showed that the sector was near the bottom of the list when it came to activity levels on LinkedIn (with only 2.8% of all activity).
I decided to zoom in a little closer to home and investigate whether this sector was doing better in Canada. According to the most recent statistics, two million people are employed in fundraising and nonprofits (in Canada), yet only 102,204 (or 5 percent) have a LinkedIn profile.
Clearly this sector is not fully utilizing this social tool. But does it matter? In other words, would the adoption of these tools have a meaningful impact in their day to day activities? Could these professionals engage more people? Could they more effectively “socially listen” to their target prospects and find clues that will make their proposals more relevant?
Finally, could they connect with more senior executives that have an interest in serving on a charitable board? All of these are possible, but only if the individuals they are trying to reach are also on LinkedIn.
Let’s tackle these issues one by one and find out.
Engaging With Foundations
I began with a Google search for the largest foundations in Canada by assets (and took the top 30), and then audited them to see how many of those employees are on LinkedIn. Here is what I found:
80% of these foundations had one or more staff with profiles on LinkedIn.
43% of these organizations had staff who were active on LinkedIn within the last 30 days (sharing content, commenting or liking content).
Although my quick search only included the largest foundations, it is clear that far more donors are on LinkedIn and active, than those trying to connect and engage with them. If fundraisers are having a difficult time connecting with foundation staff by e-mail and telephone (who are inundated with requests for support) they can begin engagement online. This strategy has already proven to be a competitive advantage in other industries, so there is no reason that it wouldn’t work here.
Next I looked for senior corporate leaders by searching LinkedIn for CXO, Partner or VP titles (presumably the titles that fundraisers wish to target) and further narrowed this search to organizations with more than 1000 employees, and the result was 115,328 profiles. That is a hefty amount, but how do we know that any of these folks regularly visit LinkedIn? (and thus provide an opportunity to engage with them online before we take the conversation offline). A quick look reveals that more than 10,000 of these executives posted on LinkedIn in the last 30 days. So, not only are they on LinkedIn, they are actively engaging and share ideas.
Not sure what that means? Well, many of our enterprise clients are using social selling to connect and engage with these very same individuals online, and are documenting millions of dollars in new sales because of it. Further, recent research now shows that connecting and engaging online results in both higher conversion ratios as well as faster sales cycles. But wait there’s more!
Recruitment to a Volunteer Board
Among all of these senior executives we found, 15,636 have identified themselves on LinkedIn as having an interest in skilled volunteering or board service to a charity. While fundraisers lament the difficulty of recruiting executives for their board, the very individuals they are seeking are raising their hand online and are waiting for someone to notice. With only 5% of fundraising professionals actually on LinkedIn, many don’t even know these opportunities exist.
What About Your Industry?
Don’t be misled into thinking that only the philanthropic sector is missing opportunities.
Many other industries are oblivious to the new tools, strategies and techniques that social selling can provide their team. As this case study tries to show, it is not whether your industry is well connected, but rather the industries your sales team is trying to penetrate that matters most. If those organizations are connected and active, then there is opportunity for those who “cross the stream early”.
Consider the technology industry for example, several large players in this space have already adopted social selling into their sales process, so any laggards in this space have some catching up to do in order to remain competitive. Other industries like financial services and telecommunications are starting to realize the potential now, and in this case the early adopters will reap the biggest rewards.
The opportunities that are being passed up by those who cling to the status quo, are much more significant than a few search techniques on LinkedIn. If accounts you are targeting are active on social, then introductions are being made, conversations are being had and ideas are being shared (both with and by your target audience) but you’re not there to participate.
You may not feel the effects of delaying adoption today, but as more competitors embrace more evolved strategies you will eventually be left behind. That’s never a good place to be, especially for a leader. When it comes to new opportunities, it’s best to cross over to the orchard early, before you’re faced with a much deeper river to cross.