Social Selling to an audience of IT executives. The NetApp case study

How NetApp communicates with IT executives from target companies through networking and building a personal brand on social media.

NetApp's initial goal was to reach new audiences

The NetApp sales team focuses primarily on working with current clients and scaling their business. However, the company is growing and expanding its solutions portfolio. So, it's important to start communicating with new positions (Big Data, AI, DevOps, Cloud Professionals) and bring in new clients.

NetApp sells complex and expensive data management solutions with a long sales cycle. To expedite whether or not to buy, the company needs to build trust with potential clients. Social Selling is well suited for networking with large B2B customers, building relationships, and demonstrating expertise.
Social Selling is a lead generation tool for B2B that uses a company's experts' personal social media profiles.

Developing the social media profile of Irina Chernova, Regional Marketing Director, NetApp

When we met Irina Chernova three years ago, she was launching an Account-Based Marketing program, and she needed a partner to help her with Social Selling.

Irina gradually implemented Social Selling into NetApp's regional marketing strategy, starting with a personal example - developing her own social media profile.

Inviting potential clients to NetApp's Insight conference

We started Social Selling by attracting potential clients to a large offline NetApp Insight conference.

To achieve this goal, we developed Irina's personal brand on Social Media. In addition, we used Social Selling mechanisms to unobtrusively reach out to IT decision-makers and invite them to the event.

We divided all activities into three categories: before, during, and after the event:
What we did before the event
  • We connected with potential clients on social media
  • Made event posts: Announcements and backstage
  • Sent personal invitations and registrations
What we did during the event
  • Helped potential clients from social media navigate and get to the conference
  • Made situational social media posts during the event
What we did after the event
  • We followed up with the participants and people who couldn't attend the conference and presented them with useful materials
  • Made Social media posts that summed up the results of the event
Before the event, Irina published announcements and shared her opinions from an organizer's point of view. During the event, she wrote short situational posts, and after the conference, she talked about insights and sent conference materials to those who could not attend.
Social media posts before, during, and after the event
During the project's first stage, Irina connected with 473 IT professionals on social media. Two hundred and ten people regularly interacted with her content about the conference and then received the event materials. Twenty-five people visited the event in person.

Despite a good connection with potential clients, only a few people out of over 800 who connected through Social Selling activities attended the offline event. A small number of participants confirms that Social Selling is unsuitable for attracting participants to large-scale events. However, it works well when building long-term relationships within a narrow audience, leading them into a substantive dialogue.
I have received personal messages from potential clients and even existing clients who asked me to share the contacts of salespersons or engineers and sometimes to discuss some exciting topics about technology. It's nice to know that not only do we reach out to the target audience, but the audience reaches back out to us as well. It is a significant indicator of how effective Social Selling is.
Irina Chernova
Regional Marketing Director at NetApp

Lead generation mechanics with exclusive content

Lead generation mechanics have been another way of attracting new customers at NetApp. Social Selling involves neat and unobtrusive lead generation. In Irina's case, we offered valuable content to the audience using short texts with a bright background. These posts attract attention and usually get a high response rate.
Announcement of helpful content Post on Irina Chernova's social media page
Seventy-nine people responded to the post, 44 of whom were part of the target companies. Irina handed eight leads to the sales team. The conversion from targeted responses to potential customers was 18%, which is relatively high for mechanics that deal with exclusive content.

Irina continues to develop her brand on social media. Top managers of target companies reach out to her, ask questions and interact with the content. She proved that Social Selling works and, just six months later, encouraged her colleague Tatiana Bocharnikova, a Regional Director at NetApp, to develop her social media profile.

Consulting for the social media profile of Tatyana Bocharnikova, Regional Director at NetApp

We proposed a format for developing Tatyana's profile without active lead generation, as Tatyana is a high-level executive, and active sales aren't her direct responsibility. However, it was vital for her to build visibility in IT, network with potential clients, and create a personal brand as a technology and data visioner. This would help her promote NetApp as a market leader and attract potential clients.

What we did:

  • We defined goals and objectives of personal social media profile development
  • We divided the target audience into mid-sized and large data-intensive companies, system integrators, government organizations, and business media.
  • We analyzed current activity on their personal social media profiles.
  • We completed the three stages of preparation for Social Selling: positioning, content plan, and target audience growth
  • And we initiated consulting support for Tatian

Tatiana's key message is "I am a visionary, who shares cutting-edge IT trends. I am an open-minded, pleasant and positive person".

Tatiana originally had 800 connections on social media; she now has 5,000. About 4,200 are target audience representatives: top managers and IT directors of medium and large companies, editors-in-chief from industry media resources, editors, and journalists.
Target audience growth data on Tatyana Bocharnikova's social media profile
At the beginning of the project, the average post would reach 34 reactions and ten comments. Recently, we reached the maximum in average activity per post with 85 reactions and 31 comments. This increase in interactions proves that the audience likes the content and is willing to engage.
Examples of content. Posts on Tatiana Bocharnikova's social media page
Interestingly, some top managers of large companies do not openly comment on posts but go straight to personal messages immediately after publication and start discussions there. Tatiana's profile is credible. It helps her make friends with IT executives from target companies faster, shortening the deal cycle.

Thanks to Social Selling, potential clients know Tatiana, trust her, and associate her with cutting-edge technology and data management topics. This is a good pretext for small talk and more in-depth communication.

Developing the social media profiles of Svetlana Alifanova and Georgy Nefedyev, Business Development Managers at NetApp

Svetlana and Georgy's stories are similar. They followed Tatyana's example and joined the Social Selling project four months after she did.

Svetlana attracts target clients from energy companies, while Georgy's goal is to build trusting relationships with the employees of large banks and their subsidiaries.
For me, Social Selling is a way to communicate key messages to the target audience and increase NetApp's visibility. Over the last29 years, NetApp has often been the first in the industry, but not many people know this. Therefore, I am spreading the word about the company and NetApp technologies.
Svetlana Alifanova
Business Development Manager, NetApp

How did we solve this problem?

We showed examples of content best practices, made a content plan together, generated social media post ideas, and made a list of relevant articles. We trained Svetlana and Georgy on how to use different methods of finding target audience representatives on social media and how to communicate with them.
I like that I can reach people I can't just call. So, it isn't too discouraging when I send them messages on social media. They see what I do and why I reached out to them.
Georgy Nefediev
Business Development Manager at NetApp
Also, we regularly compiled the lists of target audience representatives to send them connection requests and prepare content based on interviews - added one expert post a week for Svetlana and Georgy. Georgy and Svetlana prepared personal and company news posts themselves.
Help, support, explanations, and constant reminders about activities are the foundation of our project with Svetlana and Georgy. And it's especially meaningful when we discuss new acquaintances and conversations with the target audience. It inspires us to keep up the productive work!
Project Director at ModumUp
Content examples. Posts on Svetlana and Georgy's social media pages
I like the format of our collaboration. Many thanks to Valeria, the project director, who urged me to work on some issues. Sometimes there's not enough time to write a post or reach the target audience. I need this kind of help to keep things moving.
Georgy Nefediev
Business Development Manager at NetApp
Social Selling requires the client's time and resources. Therefore, it's essential to be ready to spend 1-2 hours a week in a format of complete social media profile management by the agency team, or 4-5 hours a week working independently with consulting support. In this case, Social Selling will bring you many valuable connections and deliver your expertise to your target audience.

NetApp uses Social Selling and builds a personal social media brand to reach new audiences and develop long-term relationships with IT executives from target companies.
I am pleased with our partnership with NetApp. They are positive people who value our expertise and appreciate our performance. For example, someone told Tatiana on one of her business calls after the holidays: "Tatiana, I miss your posts! I look forward to your publications because I read them regularly".
Project director at ModumUp
Content editor at ModumUp
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