Toward the end of last year, I was named to Analytics Week’s list of the Top 200 thought leaders in big data and analytics.
Let’s put it in perspective–compared to the Justins (Bieber and Timberlake, with 50M followers each) or Bill Gates with over 15M followers, I’m a guppy on social channels. In fact at SAP, I barely make it to the Top 50 most followed employees. Still, it felt good to be recognized because I’ve invested a lot of time and effort in being an active contributor in social media over the last several years.
Over time, I’ve built a network of 4,600 connections on LinkedIn and I’ve just passed 2,900 Twitter followers. Raw follower counts don’t speak to quality or engagement but those numbers are one indicator of reach and what you can achieve with steady effort over time. You don’t have to be a superstar.
Lists and stats aside, for me the real benefits of being social more lasting and less easily quantified. What I’ve learned using social media has made me a better salesperson.
The humanizing effect
First, social has helped humanize me. SAP is one of the world’s biggest companies. When we suit up, throw on our ties and get in front of a big room to do a sales presentation, for a lot of people we seem unreachable. Social media has helped me break down those barriers.
I’ve been working in Asia-Pacific Japan for the past 2 1/2 years. In so many of the cultures inAPJ, people aren’t confident going up and talking to a stranger. That’s true other places as well, but more so here. Since I’ve been more active with social media, I’ve noticed more people approaching me after presentations.
At the last event I did in India I presented to a room of 550 people. That’s an experience that most audience members would never have or want to have, just because of the fear factor. The fact that I was presenting made me someone they couldn’t relate to. But after my presentation, literally the moment I got off the stage, I had people coming up and saying, “I follow you on Twitter,” or “I read your post.” They’ve established a connection with me, and even though it’s a virtual connection, they feel comfortable enough to want to start a conversation about their business problem.
As salespeople, that’s always the goal of meetings and events—to have conversations and engage the audience. Social media not only helps those conversations get started, it is a tool to help scale the conversation beyond the people we have time to meet face to face, and it helps to keep the conversation going day to day even when we don’t have a meeting or event.
No more “death by PowerPoint”
Using social media has also made me a better communicator. I’ve never thought of myself as a great communicator. Far from it. Back when I was at Pilot software, a large part of the reason I wanted to bring Jonathan Becher on board was because he was such a thoughtful communicator.
I’m a little bit faster and from the hip, and for certain personalities, especially in sales, that resonates really well. Salespeople typically don’t want to spend a lot of time chatting. Short conversations like, “We’re going to take this hill and here’s how we’re going to go do it,” are enough. Boom, they’re gone, out talking to customers.
But there’s a whole other part of the organization, with different types of personas that need to be told why we are taking the hill, exactly what’s going to happen after we take the hill, and a lot of additional details that, quite honestly, are very difficult for me. I get impatient.
Social has helped me focus on connecting my message to the audience. I do a ton of reading, and I find lots of really cool things that I want to share. So, before I post something I have to stop and think, why do I find it interesting? Why would the people I’m connected to care? What do they need to know?
This has had a big impact on my presentations. Now they have fewer words and more visuals. The slides are there to support me having a conversation with the audience, instead of having them read a bunch of slides.
Finding my voice
Most importantly, social media has helped me find my voice in a way that isn’t SAP-speak. SAP provides a lot of encouragement and support for employees using social media, and they provide us plenty of material to share.
If you look at a lot of what I blog and post about, most of it is not about SAP, and if it is about SAP it’s more about my experiences at an event, and my key takeaways. I’m not tweeting the SAP sales sheet or links to marketing collateral. I’m aligned with the company message, and I also try to make it more personal and tell more of a story.
For example, one of the things I recently posted to LinkedIn was an article about the importance of investing in girls, and how it’s going to change the world. It’s a big issue in APJ, and, it’s a big issue to me, because I have a daughter and one of the ways my wife and I are investing in her is giving her this experience of living abroad.
After I posted it, I got on a long flight. When I landed I had all these notifications from LinkedIn that people had liked and commented on my post. This has nothing to do with SAP other than it’s now a topic I can talk about with a customer or anyone who liked it. It makes people realize, “Okay, Kurt’s not just a software license salesman. There’s another dimension.”
And I think that’s incredibly important. One of the things I learned early on in my career is that people buy from people. Yes, when you’re in sales you represent a logo, but people have to like you and relate to you, and they have to want to work with you over an extended period of time.
Being social has helped me build more and better relationships at every part of the sales cycle, and has helped me grow personally and professionally in the process.
A version of this article previously appeared on LinkedIn.Google+