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Bilafer’s BHAG: My Twitter Journey From Terror to Top of the Heap

Over the past three years, Twitter has become an indispensible selling tool for me. So, when I recently took on a new global sales role, I looked around to see what my new team was up to on Twitter. Not much. In fact, when we did a quick inventory of everyone’s Twitter presence, I landed at the top of the heap.

That surprised me. I only have about 2,900 followers, which seems like a small following to me relative to some of the people I admire and follow on Twitter. But, that’s enough of a following to make an impact on my effectiveness as a salesperson. And, it’s apparently enough to intimidate anyone who’s just starting out.

Since I’m asking my team to step up their game on Twitter, I thought telling the story of my own journey with Twitter might take away some of the intimidation factor for them, and for anyone else who’s been thinking they should be on Twitter but hasn’t taken the plunge. There’s a lot of value to be had, and you can get there just like I did, putting your pants on one leg at a time.

A mandate from on high

I started tweeting because my boss at SAP asked me to, so if anyone’s to blame for it, it’s Steve Lucas, who was SVP, SAP Business Objects, North America at the time.  We were in an executive meeting room at a Business Objects user conference in Orlando. We had just concluded the meeting and it was just me and him left sitting around this big table and he said, point blank, “You need to get on Twitter.”

I was like a deer in the headlights. My mind was racing with all the same thoughts and fears I hear from other people when I say the same thing to them now: What does this mean? How do I get started? I don’t have time! I don’t know what to say! Nobody I want to talk to is on Twitter!

Steve said, I’m going to have someone come in and help you, and he set up a 45-minute meeting for me with Drew from marketing.

Baby steps

Drew came in and said, “I know this is supposed to be 45 minutes but this will only take 15. First let’s pick your Twitter handle.”

This was probably the most terrifying part because I wanted to be sure to pick the perfect name. By some stroke of genius, we came up with @bilafer.  Note: if you’re not on Twitter yet, go and register your name while you still can.

Setting @bilafer up on Twitter took about three seconds. Too fast, because the next thing I knew there was this empty box on the screen. It seemed like it was throbbing as if to say f”eed me, feed me. “

I froze. “I don’t know what to say,” I confessed to Drew. “There are all these abbreviations and hashtags.” It looked complicated. Drew gave me a short primer and then disappeared, leaving me alone in the Twittersphere.

I took it slow at first. I mostly consumed and retweeted things I thought were interesting, without really adding my own thoughts. I wasn’t sure how to be creative and unique, but I knew enough to stay away from silly posts such as,  “I just landed here or there and ate this or that.” Slowly I built a following of a few hundred people.

A world-wide, cross cultural platform

I got more serious about Twitter when I took a new post as Regional Vice President of Analytics for Asia Pacific Japan. I uprooted my family—my wife Michele, my 5-year old son and 12–year old daughter—and moved to Singapore for the role, thrusting us all into a world of unknown and uncertainty.

The mission was to move a market, and create a unified voice for SAP and the changes that we were trying to bring to the region. I saw Twitter and other social media channels as critical to that effort. These are global gathering places, the only platforms I know of that cut across all regions and cultures and I decided to up the ante on social.

The way that I see it is, I do a lot of presentations. I usually present to somewhere between 50 to 500 people. I put a lot of time and effort into not just giving the presentation but putting it together and rehearsing it, so why not share it with a broader audience on social media? In fact, it would be a waste not to, especially because you already have the content

We ushered in a new hashtag, #SAPAPJ, as a way to get people unified and engaged in one conversation. This is a region doesn’t see itself as a region but as all these unique pockets, so there was a lot of internal selling to get people to use that one hashtag and slowly but surely we got there.

We did it by consistently connecting the hashtag to interesting, relevant posts not just about what SAP was doing in the region but also about major business trends in order to help people see the bigger picture and how they might leverage analytics.

That’s really when I started coming into my own. I wasn’t just pushing the SAP message; I was also sharing information about how all kinds of organizations are overcoming challenges with big data. I was able to convey that we were going to help people and not just be there to schlep software.

I started to get more engagement, both in person and on Twitter. After presentations when I would leave the stage, people would come up to me and say they saw something I tweeted, or read a blog post I wrote. They felt comfortable to approach me and start a conversation.

Yes, you can get leads from Twitter

Conversation is great, but what every sales person wants to know is, can you get leads from social media? You can.

I blogged about this really cool demo we have, called Jones Hypermarket. It uses mobile analytics so it knows where everybody is in the store, and it has predictive analytics capabilities built in so you can try out different offers and see what the results might be based on who’s in the store. I tweeted a link to my blog and a guy I’d never heard of or met responded back and said, “Can you tell me all the SAP components that make this real?” To me that was just tremendous.

There’ve been lots of those instances. When we first announced the Analytics Plus program, a major SAP upgrade offer for APJ, I made a video and I tweeted about it. Somebody in the United States sent me an email saying, “I’d like to talk to my AE about this.”  It wasn’t even in my territory but because I was the person that was out there he reached out to me.

Towards the end of my time in APJ, I was named one of the top 50 SAP people to follow on Twitter, and also named one of Analytics World’s top 200 influencers on big data. That meant a lot to me, because I have invested a lot of time on Twitter, and also because it validates the promise of social media—anyone can have a voice.  You don’t have to be the world’s foremost expert or sit on the executive board. We all have something to share, and putting it in your own words and sharing your genuine enthusiasm about it is all you need to attract a following.

I owe a lot to Steve, not just for pushing me to get on Twitter, but also for informing my approach to the medium. Steve used to tell us, always be relevant. He advised us to read constantly so that regardless of who you are talking to, you’ll have some statistic or information or point of view that you can use to make a connection. It works in person, and Twitter is really just a way to amplify that.

When I look at salespeople who aren’t on Twitter now, it’s easy for me to look at that missed opportunity, shake my head and ask, what are they waiting for? Then I remember my own journey and I know what they’re waiting for: a hard push from someone who knows that it works.

You’re welcome.

This article previously appeared on LinkedIn and

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