I’m going to let you in on a little secret. There’s something most Americans (and global citizens, for that matter) do nearly every single day that is absolutely essential to our continued professional success in the insurance industry. Some people do it for social reasons, some have a business end in sight. Some do it on-the-go, some put hours of stationary work into it. If you haven’t already guessed, it’s building relationships via social media.

The way trust and relationships are built online isn’t all that different from the way relationships are built in any other form of sales. The crux of any relationship-building effort is the ability to connect with others based on a deep understanding of the problems they face and considering how you can best involve yourself in their needs or desires. Keeping that in mind as the central principle of your advising strategy will reap rewards, regardless of your industry, target market or medium.

I tend to think that truth about building relationships is what gets overlooked when the concept of “social selling” is introduced, debated and sometimes criticized. Firing off arbitrary tweets, blasting Facebook posts or badgering with LinkedIn solicitations disguised as invitations is fruitless without an honest end goal of providing value and solving problems for your potential clients.

At Guardian, our social media program focuses on relationship-building through LinkedIn and Socialware social management tools, allowing our financial professionals to identify and engage potential customers on LinkedIn while maintaining compliance in a highly regulated industry. Our results speak for themselves: With a pilot group of financial professionals using LinkedIn Sales Navigator, we increased leads by 56 percent and placed over $21 million of life insurance face value over just a 12-week period.

The impetus for the Guardian Life Social Media Program 

In recent years, we admittedly started noticing stagnation in our sales funnel. Our once healthy lead bank was dwindling. It didn’t take long for us to realize that the source of the bottleneck was our lead generation and somewhat archaic sales methods. According to Harvard Business Review, 90 percent of purchase decision-makers no longer respond to cold calls – a conventional sales method in our market. Unfortunately, the trust and relationship-building in phone conversations has all but evaporated.

It was clear we needed to advance our approach and respond to market trends with a social media program that helped financial professionals identify, connect with and engage prospects through new channels. Findings indicated that a significant amount of consumer research in the financial sector was shifting to social media.

For example, an IDC study found that 75 percent of buyers were using social media tools like LinkedIn, Twitter and blogs to vet service needs. It was a no-brainer to shift our lead generation and sales efforts to where our prospects were already seeking out information, in order to provide them as much immediate value as possible. That’s a noble mission, but there’s a significant amount of work that goes into preparing to roll out successive phases and platforms. 

A closer look at instituting LinkedIn Sales Navigator

In our highly regulated and complex industry, we have to be particularly strategic about the timing and rollout of our social media initiatives. Our broader social media program was established back in July 2011, so we have a sound understanding of rolling out new platforms.

As we chose to take our social client prospecting to the next level by instituting a three-month pilot program with LinkedIn Sales Navigator, we knew from experience that we were going to fight an uphill battle with adoption by our own financial professionals if we didn’t make onboarding and training a simple, orderly process. Our internal message had to convince our financial professionals that LinkedIn Sales Navigator offered a wealth of untapped leads ripe for the picking – when employing the right tools, principles and practices. Externally, we hoped to land and ultimately ended up being quite pleased with LinkedIn as a partner to scale and conduct our training process.  

LinkedIn as a platform was an obvious choice for us to expand to, given its affluent, professional user base and high level of user trust and engagement. The bonus for us was that most of our financial professionals were already familiar with it, even if they had yet to understand the full relationship-building potential and ways they could provide value to customers.

In mapping out Guardian’s LinkedIn Sales Navigator pilot program, we set three primary goals:

  1. Enhance the value proposition for agent candidates looking to potentially become financial professionals and build their own financial services practice. 

  2. Enable financial professionals to differentiate their personal brand while accelerating prospecting efforts.

  3. Highlight the expertise and unique approach to holistic planning offered by Guardian financial professionals.

To keep things manageable, we kept it to enlisting two experts that we felt would help us reach our goals and get our financial professionals excited to use the program — LinkedIn Sales Navigator in conjunction with Socialware, our social management and compliance partner.

The complexities of compliance

One of the biggest roadblocks any financial services provider faces when considering social media is compliance. We knew our success depended on striking a balance between access control and financial professional enablement.

Our compliance partner Socialware understands our situation and industry, and helped us create a program that allows our financial professionals to communicate their unique brand value through effective custom social media profiles that are also compliant with key regulations. Socialware’s Profile Manager allows our financial professionals to manage their social media profiles easily and ensure that their unique profiles will always be compliant. Meanwhile, being part of a social network means our financial professionals can share relevant content with their contacts and watch for triggers and events in the online lives of potential customers.

Our compliance partner enables us to review every financial professional’s profile before being posted to a social network, and we maintain controls prior to changes being made to any given profile. Socialware’s Profile Manager also notifies us when unapproved changes have been made and, with a click of a button, the financial professional can easily revert their social media profile back to the approved profile. Content being shared by financial professionals is also carefully vetted by our compliance office and pre-approved before we upload it into the content library available on the platform.

Even with necessary compliance limitations, our financial professionals started seeing an average of 11 new leads in the first month alone. Of the potential customers that see the pre-approved content that financial professionals share, 35 percent share it with their networks, expanding the reach of individual financial professionals and the company as a whole, in essence extending the gross value of that content.

It all begins with training 

As previously mentioned, training was also an important part of our pilot program. Our long-term plan was to make LinkedIn Sales Navigator available to our full fleet of 3,600 financial professionals, so it was critical that we get the training program well-tuned early on. We limited our initial LinkedIn Sales Navigator pilot phase to 250 financial professionals in order to keep the program manageable and nimble. 

Financial professionals participated in three coaching sessions with LinkedIn, which occurred on a weekly basis and provided actionable tutorials that demonstrate how to optimize their LinkedIn profiles, identify prospects, make introductions, naturally and properly build relationships, and use LinkedIn Sales Navigator to build their networks.

Rejuvenating the sales funnel 

All tools, strategies and parties involved played a crucial role in reenergizing our sales funnel. At the end of the LinkedIn Sales Navigator pilot program, financial professionals reported powerful gains: 

  • 56 percent growth in connections.

  • 62 percent saw an increase in warm introductions.

  • 35 percent reduced cold calls. 

Throughout the training process and in getting out into the social “playing field,” our financial professionals learned to develop systematic practices that are immensely helpful in deeply mining their own established networks. Those include exploring the value of strategic prospecting with advanced filters, making connections through collaborative introductions and understanding relevant sharing metrics to refine future content and conversations. 

Financial professionals reported the following additional benefits in using LinkedIn Sales Navigator for target prospecting, lead generation and sales efforts: 

  • 93 percent reported finding additional information and insights on leads, prospects or accounts that they would not have otherwise been able to access.

  • 60 percent reported being able to more easily identify key influencers and/or purchase decision-makers.

  • Niche market development increased at a greater rate than other practices.

  • More efficient use of time overall, including via the practice of sharing content with prospects.

We always approach social media by providing relationship-building tools, training and support to a small subset of our financial professionals in the hopes of showing them how to mine for potential customers and provide value to current and future customers in a way that maintains compliance. Today, 81 percent of our financial representatives are actively engaging customers, business partners and prospects with LinkedIn Sales Navigator. They continue to grow their network and professional brand every day, proving that, when guided by the right principles and partners, social media relationships can have a positive impact on their sales and Guardian’s bottom line.

For more information on the results we’ve seen and the program we continue to build and grow, please feel free to reach out via email.