Korn Ferry's Monika van Hoogenvest on social selling in consulting

26 February 2021 Consultancy.eu 6 min. read
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With email marketing in danger of peaking, with jaded clients growing weary of impersonal messaging, a new approach to marketing could see professional services firms deploy a personal touch to cultivate lucrative new relationships. Korn Ferry’s Monika van Hoogenvest explained to Consultancy.eu some of the benefits of using platforms like LinkedIn to deploy a social selling strategy.

In the crowded professional services sector, firms are constantly striving to set themselves apart from their competitors. As consultancies look to boost their marketing efforts, the order of the day seems to be “more”: more white papers, more content, more investment in the marketing department. However, according to Monika van Hoogenvest, Vice President of Global Strategic Marketing at Korn Ferry, in the age of social media, firms could actually be doing a great deal more with less.

“I even think you can shrink marketing departments,” Monika van Hoogenvest explained, “During my time in professional services, marketing has always been extremely important, and it will be even more so in the coming years – but not as it currently stands. If professional services organisations look at marketing, they see it as the department which is creating stuff to help it get the brand out there!”

Monika van Hoogenvest, Vice President Global Strategic Marketing, Korn Ferry

“While you do need that in place, with a department making the content, the go-to-market of those products is not solely a marketing function anymore. People are the main capital of a professional services firm – so it’s increasingly more important engage them in the dissemination of marketing content.”

“Within the professional services sector, email marketing is traditionally the most important generator of sales leads – at around 40% of the B2B market currently. It is traditionally favoured because it is easy to track, and even now it is projected by many studies to grow as a tactic all the way to 2023. In my personal view, however, if professional services firms and consultancies continue to just focus on email marketing, they might miss the boat – as I expect email marketing is going to peak and commence its decline in the near future.”

Partially, this possible downward trend in the effectiveness of email marketing will be driven by regulatory changes. According to Van Hoogenvest, privacy legislation like the infamous GDPR makes it more difficult to approach new prospects, while necessitating the constant updating and maintenance of databases – something that requires a large amount of work. At the same time, the marketplace is fast becoming oversaturated, with clients simply becoming sick of receiving one-email-fits-all campaigns from hundreds of competing brands.

“People want a stronger human connection… That’s been illustrated even more drastically during the Covid-19,” Van Hoogenvest stated. “People need that connection – and businesses are driven by people)! Marketing emails will lose much of their appeal, because the human connection will become more important in the ever increasing digital world. For me, a key part of the solution to all of this is social selling.”

Social selling

Social selling uses media – particularly LinkedIn within professional services organisations – to help firms stand out from the crowd, while providing a tailor-made approach to find, connect, understand and nurture sales prospects. In Van Hoogenvest’s words, it is a “low threshold to build relationships,” through which a company’s employees supply a personal touch to engage with new clients. 

Compared to the impersonal tactics Van Hoogenvest mentioned before, social selling subsequently allows for greater transparency – putting a human face to a brand’s message – while also allowing for individuals at a firm to showcase thought leadership and intellectual property from their work. As a result, it can boost both personal and corporate branding – as while employees build a name for themselves as experts in their field, the company grows its digital footprint. This technique favours quality output over quantity, but ultimately provides the kind of exposure brands used to pay marketing for – “for free”.

Unlocking the ‘network power’ of social selling is easier said than done, however. Illustrating this, an internal poll by Korn Ferry among 2,000 staff on how engaging their profiles were – do they have pictures, banners, about sections, everything? – found that “only 20% of our population did this in the correct way.”

An even lower percentage of respondents actually utilised the platform on a very regular basis to showcase the Korn Ferry brand, or to showcase their own expertise. Fast forward over a year, and these number of are “significantly” higher.

Measuring for success

One of the factors which is possibly making firms reluctant to commit to improve their social selling efforts is that measuring the process can be difficult. Due to privacy regulations, much of it relies on employees telling their company about how many engagements they have had on certain posts. However, many professional services firms engaging in social selling use an employee efficacy tool, which they link accounts such as LinkedIn to. 

This can be used simply to help consultants with little time improve their social posting, by lining up content for them to then push out on their own profiles – but it also enables the company to access a diversity of metrics regarding the posts once they go live. When this is the case, companies can gain much more insight into how big the reach of their posts are, looking at how many connections were established following a post, as well as the more traditional views and comments counters visible on social networking sites. Beyond this, Korn Ferry is also starting to work closely with its staff to evaluate and coach social selling. 

As to what comes next, Van Hoogenvest admitted that “the future is always hard to predict.” It could be that social selling meets a similar fate to email marketing, should it become over-saturated. However, for now, “we are a long way from that point,” and as long as a user of tools like LinkedIn in the professional services sector maintains good digital ‘hygiene’ and posts regularly (at least once per week), they can still see an increase of up to 300% on their first post in a short amount of time.

“In the upcoming years, this will be the future – so building a social selling capacity sooner rather than later will be crucial,” she concluded.