When you take your social business ideas to your company’s leaders, be ready to tackle their resistance and doubt. Tenured business leaders are sometimes guilty of rejecting progressive ideas. It’s for a good reason, though. They only want the best outcomes for the business and may have faced failure themselves many times before. As such, you need to be aware of this blind spot and stay on point with the business goals of your social program.
When launching a social business initiative, expect that many people will be on guard and it will feel like they want nothing more than for you to fail.
The truth is, you need to overcome these objections. Get comfortable with the art of persuasion. Nobody wants to be forced to do anything; they want to think for themselves and enroll themselves in its commitment.
This post is a part of my Social Business Explained blog series for social media professionals and community managers so they can create sustainable social businesses.
So, how do you win?
First, you need to fully accept that the resistance you may experience from others is driven by good intentions. Just like we discussed, some people are cautious of investing resources in a program if it won’t deliver results. The criticism you’ll face is not personal. I didn’t know this not too long ago. I often internalized people’s questions and critiques as personal attacks. This cost me a lot of success and opportunities. It has burned some bridges. It caused me to become judgmental and myopic based on my interactions.
Becoming self-aware of these feelings (and really, that’s all they are), you will stay strong in the face of challenge. When you feel defensive. never act out of emotions. Keep your cool and you’ll win your case every time.
When I refer to “challenge,” I am not referring to a fight. I’m referring to simply a tactful discussion where people pick your idea apart. Often when business leaders challenge you, they wish to relate your idea to an understanding they might already have. This isn’t to take credit; instead, to extend their support derived from past experiences.
Here are several challenges you will face and my advice on how to approach them when pitching your social business initiative:
- Where is the ROI?
Do your research and understand the numbers in the business. We’ll talk about this soon. The ROI is focused on the measurable business outcomes from the investment of resources. Two ways to win this: require minimal investment or net a large return. I suggest to make your estimates conservative.
- Will this work?
Ideas evolve from your slide deck into action when you detail a plan. Have it plotted against time. You can never assure 100% success, so be straightforward with the potential for failure. Outline the impact across the organization — all the way to the customers.
- How is success measured?
Again, we’ll get into key business metrics, but measurement should be defined as both project completion, business outcomes and what will compel you to pivot to ensure success. Social business can be a bit strange for you to measure, but you can measure its success throughout the entire organization.
- Why should we be confident about this?
Executives often hear a lot about social media. You need to assure them that it will be successful by showcasing past efforts that succeeded. If you have a track record of winning that helps, but isn’t required. Highlight examples found from competitors if you can get your hands on that. I’ve found that executives strongly dislike being bested by the competition.
- Show us the case studies, please.
Oh, case studies. I advise to refrain from using them to substantiate your business case. Case studies, unless published by an independent third-party, are often bunk. They frequently take a few nuggets of success and package a commercial message in problem-solution-results prose. However, it would be prudent to show verifiable, proven data that supports your social business program ideas on their own merit.
- Why now? We’re doing just fine as it is.
Business today has changed. Gone are the Mad Men days of pushing a unified message and expecting it catch on with a business’ audience. A successful social business strategy is crystal clear about the problems that are solved throughout the entire organization. Social business is not confined to marketing; it’s about R&D, M&A, managing costs against growth and even competitive intelligence.
- We’ve tried something like this before and it failed.
Before jumping into shark-invested waters, you need to ask about past experiences for the company. Probe executives on past attempts to become social as an organization. Beg them to be honest with you; most will be. I know first-hand what it’s like to not check into their perceptions prior to pitching a social business initiative. Trust me, their feedback is made in good faith, no matter how tough it is to hear. It’s your job to stack the deck in your favor. It’s not about being manipulative; it’s about helping them see the win.
- What are the resources and budget needed?
If you don’t ask, you don’t receive. Be forward about the resources required. Budget for staff, time for training, their time, and the executive commitment you want them to make. I’ve ran a social media program on nothing but me and my 14 hours a day and it ain’t pretty (just ask my ex-girlfriend). Think about scale and think about how the organization will continue to adopt the social business program.
- What do you need from us?
Related to the above, but you’re not only asking for budget. You’re primarily asking for their commitment and support. Be specific. Be strong and bold. It might be unnerving to ask someone who probably earns 2-4X as much as you to change their behavior and outlook, but you need to. Failure to get their commitment will derail your social business initiative and will be inviting them to kill it at the first failure you face.
- Why should we listen to you?
This is where you can draw on both your passion and past expertise. Mind you, you’re probably pitching your idea to executives who have earned their seniority often through many years of working experience; you can talk at their level. They probably can relate to passion and in-depth research. And they will laud the work you put into your plan, even if it’s not perfect.
ARE YOU A BUSINESS LEADER?
I think it would be awesome if you could comment about the questions you’d ask.
When crafting your social business plan, you need to position it as more than an initiative; you need to frame it as the way to do business in today’s economy. You need to offer specifics, address risks and be ambitious. Mediocrity, though tolerated, won’t get you the big results that you’re after. Social business is big and is far-reaching in nature. It requires changing people’s behavior, which is never an easy task.
Above all, listen. Listen to their opinions, questions and concerns. Doing so will allow you to sharpen your plan and keep it on track. It’s the hottest fires make the strongest steel. Your social business plan must be malleable and later forged into a rock-solid plan that the entire company is supported by.
Up next, I’ll explain some of the key business metrics you need to understand so you can measure throughout your social business programs. Metrics propel social business from paper into reality. If you expect to earn credibility, you need to prove its success.