On LinkedIn, Who’s the Boss of You?

I approached my employees and asked them how they’d feel if I asked them to revise their profiles and use “brand language” that I provided. For many, they felt the request was invasive, and it indicated that I was too controlling (there’s a shocker). But if one of my company’s goals is to present a unified brand front in every channel, how much responsibility should an employee take towards supporting that objective?

There’s no doubt that business to business interactions have shifted to the social media marketplace—especially when researching a company, its executive team or an individual you’d like to contact.

On any journey of discovery, you might start by visiting the organization’s website, subscribe to an RSS feed on their press releases, follow them on Twitter and check out their Facebook page. And eventually, like any good voyeur, you’ll review profiles of key executives on LinkedIn.

But many potential buyers/sellers take it one step farther—and start investigating the profiles of other employees of an organization. After all, if you’re trying to get an introduction into the company, it helps to know if you’re connected to someone (or know someone who knows someone) already employed at your target business.

Those in business development functions will tell you that LinkedIn is their new best friend. It’s a virtual cornucopia of names, titles, functional responsibilities and, if you do a little additional sleuthing, one could assemble a virtual org chart for any business.

If LinkedIn is used so heavily, and if brand perceptions are shaped by every interaction with that brand, just how heavy handed could you (or should you) get around your employee’s LinkedIn profile?

I approached my employees and asked them how they’d feel if I asked them to revise their profiles and use “brand language” that I provided. For many, they felt the request was invasive, and it indicated that I was too controlling (there’s a shocker) or was being an overly micro-managing boss. Another commented that any profile written by me wouldn’t sound authentic.

But if one of my company’s strategic positioning goals is to present a unified brand front in every channel, how much responsibility should an employee take towards helping to support that objective? Could it be viewed as a workplace responsibility akin to giving feedback/coaching on how to answer their business phone?

As one employee noted, your Facebook profile is personal, and since you have to “invite” or “approve” friends, you don’t have to worry about who might be looking at it. But LinkedIn is a very public forum, open to anyone who registers an account.

I might argue that, as an employee, if you’re not looking for work, your LinkedIn profile could be crafted with a goal of supporting your company’s strategic goals. If I wanted to demonstrate to potential customers that I had engineers on staff with an immense depth and breadth of experience, for example, should I “coach” my engineers on their LinkedIn profiles? Should I help those engineers craft language in their Summary statements or within their job responsibilities to ensure it will bode well for my firm?

Reid Hoffman, cofounder of LinkedIn, offers an interesting perspective in his book “The Start-up of You.” He suggests that you “establish an identity independent of your employer, city and industry. For example, make the headline of your LinkedIn profile not a specific job title … but personal-brand or asset focused … that way, you’ll have a professional identity that can carry with you as you shift jobs. You own yourself.”

Hmmm … weight that advice from a guy who currently labels himself “Entrepreneur. Product Strategist. Investor.”

Jeff Weiner, on the other hand, labels himself “CEO at LinkedIn,” and his job description sounds like a strategically driven, carefully crafted marketing message: “Connecting the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful. Since joining the company in December, 2008, LinkedIn has increased its membership base from 33 million to over 300 million members, increased revenue by over 20x, and rapidly expanded its global platform to include 23 languages and operate in 27 cities around the world.”

It’s no surprise to me that it closely mirrors the company’s description of itself on the LinkedIn Company page.

And that’s my point exactly.

But if you’re not Jeff Weiner posting your profile on the site that your company owns, should you (could you) influence/demand/suggest that the description of the company you work for, or the summary of your skills at that company, be in words that you dictate/control?

Or would this heavy handedness be just another disingenuous marketing attempt? Like trying to start a conversation in a LinkedIn Group on a particular topic just so you can demonstrate your or your company’s, expertise in that arena?

I could argue either way … but I’m more interested in hearing your thoughts on the subject.

B-to-B Marketing Is Falling Down on the Job

I heard a horror story the other day—a consumer packaged goods executive ranting about a meeting with a vendor. “I gave the guy an appointment, and he spent the whole time presenting his product,” she said. “Never asked me a thing about my situation, and what I needed.” Another exec chimed in, “Yeah, when I hear about an interesting new solution, what I need most is to sell it internally. I’m not getting the help I need from the vendors these days.” I am cringing. What is going wrong here?

I heard a horror story the other day—a consumer packaged goods executive ranting about a meeting with a vendor. “I gave the guy an appointment, and he spent the whole time presenting his product,” she said. “Never asked me a thing about my situation, and what I needed.” Another exec chimed in, “Yeah, when I hear about an interesting new solution, what I need most is to sell it internally. I’m not getting the help I need from the vendors these days.” I am cringing. What is going wrong here?

Of course, my first thought was sales training. Clearly the reps in these situations need a training refresher—and stronger management, and possibly an improved incentive compensation plan—to handle the engagement more effectively.

But I also cringed at the marketing failure. We marketers should be helping with these sales opportunities, to increase their chance of success.

So, herewith, I set down a list of oft-forgotten B-to-B marketing imperatives.

  1. Marketing’s Role Is to Provide Sales Support
    Unlike consumer-facing companies (where marketing owns the P&L and sales is one of its levers) in B-to-B, sales typically owns revenue responsibility. Our job in marketing is to make sales more productive. It’s a mindset that doesn’t come naturally to marketers. And some would debate this interpretation of marketing’s role. But when a sales rep goes in to a meeting without the tools needed to close, it’s marketing’s failure as much as anyone’s.
  2. Provide Sales With the Tools They Need
    This means presentations that can be easily tailored to target industries, and particular target accounts. It means pre-call preparation documents—company history, personnel backgrounders, installed technology analyses. And a library of content assets the sales rep can choose from, filled with white papers, research reports, case studies, infographics, videos and e-books.
  3. Prove the ROI on Your Solution
    Marketing must gather the data—and the stories—to prove the value of the product or service to the prospect. This might mean independent third-party research. It also means case studies, ROI calculators—whatever points can help the internal advocate represent the project inside the firm.
  4. Resist the Plea From Sales to Pass Unqualified Leads
    I’ve made this point before. But it bears repeating. Some sales people will claim that everything going on in their territory is their business, and there’s logic to that. But if you let them know that a mere inquiry came in from an account in their territory, and they pounce, only to find it unworkable, you know darn well what you’ll hear from sales: “The leads marketing gives me are useless.” A legitimate complaint. But the even more important consequence here: Marketing has failed to enhance sales productivity.
  5. Be Careful How You Promote Marketing Success
    If marketing is heard in meetings to claim responsibility for a certain level of revenue, watch out. Sales is making the same claim. So you might want to couch it in ice hockey terms, like an “assist.” And take full responsibility for interim metrics like cost per lead, and lead-to-sales conversion rates, which are more in the direct control of marketing.

I hope readers will comment on other imperatives for successful B-to-B marketing today.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Are We Too Nosy?

With today’s technology, we are able to collect more information about individual users than we could possibly process and certainly more than we could find useful—but that in itself isn’t irresponsible; it’s when we’re not careful with or careful to protect this data to the extent we should. Yes, the big data bandwagon is here and many marketers are eager to jump on, but we also have an ethical responsibility to our constituents

A few days ago a fellow Android user recommended an app[1] enabling me to view what risk each of my smartphone’s apps represent—what information they collect; what they share; and what degree of security they exhibit in collecting, storing and transmitting the data they collect. After the install, I was flabbergasted to learn how reckless these companies are, and I promptly performed sweeping deletes.

On the heels of this disconcerting revelation I started to think through our recent vetting of marketing-automation applications. Each vendor was quick to illustrate how its application—for instance—is a Google Analytics embed, augments these data points with individual user information, and boasts additional features profiling ever more complete pictures of visitors and subscribers. As a person hell-bent on keeping my private life private, have we marketers gone too far? Are we too nosy?

I think perhaps we have and we are.

Our Responsibility
With today’s technology, we are able to collect more information about individual users than we could possibly process and certainly more than we could find useful—but that in itself isn’t irresponsible; it’s when we’re not careful with or careful to protect this data to the extent we should. Yes, the big data bandwagon is here and many marketers are eager to jump on, but we also have an ethical responsibility to our constituents.

I see a great failure in our wastefulness; we collect data we don’t need and, in doing so, run the risk of eroding the trust of our constituents. When we collect data and send personalized campaigns referencing information our constituents have not knowingly provided us, they become aware of our activities, and in a way that may not be welcomed.

I received an email after visiting a website, and it started with, “Not to be creepy, but we saw that you visited our website …” Not to be creepy? The only possible reason for starting an email in such a manner is the sender is acutely aware their clients probably do not know that they can be personally tracked at a website. Most people believe their browsing activity is private, and by clearing their browser history, no one is the wiser about where they’ve been. We, of course, know differently.

Just because we can collect data doesn’t mean we should. We should be careful, useful, respectful and protective in our collection and use of both implicit and explicit data.

Full Disclosure
When I tell people that I am a behavioral marketer—I create campaigns designed to disclose the recipients’ behavior and interests—and describe how the process works, they are always shocked to learn how much information can be collected through drip and nurture marketing and website visits. They immediately draw parallels between the NSA, Google, and Spider Trainers or the clients for whom we work. They also swear off ever clicking another link—as if it were that simple.

Is full disclosure in our future? In the same way that website owners must adhere to what is commonly known as the cookie law[2], will we marketers be required to disclose what we are collecting about our subscribers, how it is used and allow them to opt out without unsubscribing? If we continue on our path of increased surveillance, wasteful collection and irresponsible use, yes, I believe we will.


[1] Clueful is the Android app. It’s also a feature included in the iOS of iPhones.

[2] A law that started as an E.U. directive, adopted by all E.U. countries in 2011, designed to protect online privacy, by making consumers aware of how information about them is collected and used online, and give them a choice to allow it or not.