Prior to working for LinkedIn, I spent some time in brand marketing and also owned a start-up where I leveraged LinkedIn itself to build relationships in order to generate revenue. Over the last three years, in brand marketing roles leading social media for enterprise brands, I would be approached daily by sales professionals through LinkedIn InMail – and other social networks too – who would pitch me their products or services without ever once trying to get to know me, my business objectives, or needs. I refer to this as a “blind message,” the online equivalent of a cold call.
True story, over the years I have been both on the sending and receiving side of the “blind message.” The reality is that sending a cold introduction without context or taking the time to build a relationship with meaningful dialogue is like shooting darts in the dark – it’s highly ineffective and much harder to close a sale even if a prospective buyer is genuinely interested in buying a product or service you have to offer.
I can’t even begin to tell you how many sales pitches I have personally ignored because of one simple, yet crucial, detail – the pitch.
Prospects don’t want to be sold to; instead, they want to be engaged.
As professionals, regardless of industry or title, we’re all busy. We use social media to either disconnect from the daily realities and stresses that our professions bring us or we use social media – such as LinkedIn – to grow our professional brands and networks.
So who goes onto social media, from a buyer’s perspective, to look forward to a cold call or blind message waiting for them in their InMail?
Not me – and from what I hear – not many others either.
The key to social selling is being social vs. simply being on social media.
LinkedIn gives sales professionals an opportunity to identify, connect, and engage with target buyers, however, it also gives them a greater opportunity to develop a relationship and create dialogue before they ever go in for the pitch. Think of this step as the missing link between keeping your pipeline full or half empty.
Below are 3 recent examples of how NOT to engage prospective buyers through LinkedIn. Take into account that these messages were sent/received after I had left my former employer in January meaning that the sales rep didn’t take the time to fully vet me as a potential customer before reaching out:
Hey, Carlos. Wanted to ask if we could connect for 15 minutes next week to discuss how you’re driving Club sign ups and using digital marketing to get people in your stores. How’s Tues or Wed @ 9:30 a.m.?
Hey Carlos, Thanks for connecting! I see you’re pretty well connected with my peeps here at XXX so maybe you’ve talked with us before? I connected with your colleague XXX earlier in the month who was gathering some more intel on how to set up an advocacy program. Are you currently doing anything on the advocacy front? Let me know if you ever want to have a quick chat – I’d be happy to set you up with someone on my enterprise solutions team. Have a great weekend!
But wait, there’s more…
Hi Carlos, I just saw you left Save A Lot. That’s unfortunate we won’t have the chance to work together. I hate asking this but would you mind letting me know who took over your role. I would like to continue the conversation where we left off. Best of luck on your next gig. I am sure it won’t take long.
You have to engage buyers. Simply connecting with them on LinkedIn and following up to ask for 15 minutes of their time isn’t going to cut it.
Real talk, people are never “too busy” for you as long as you provide them with a compelling reason for them to engage back.
If you want to be successful in social selling, you need to focus on the following 4 core competencies:
Create a Professional Brand
Your own brand is what makes you stand out from hundreds of thousands of other sales professionals. I recently wrote a LinkedIn post on “Tips for LinkedIn Profile Optimization,” that urged readers to leverage the capabilities within their own profile to publish content related to their industry, share valuable insights with others, and be viewed as a subject matter thought leader. Anytime you connect with a Director or VP-level executive at an organization, your professional brand will go a long way in determining whether they want to engage with you. At the same time, your delivery (or pitch) cannot be to “post and pray” – this is a bad representation of your brand. Take the time to focus on developing quality relationships. If the person you are trying to sell to isn’t interested, they may know 3 – 5 others in their network that are.
Find the Right People
Are you identifying the right prospects or are you spinning your wheels knocking on multiple doors at the same company hoping that some decision maker will give you the time of day? In my last role, although I had “Head of Digital and Social Media” as my job title on LinkedIn, most sales representatives would start by trying to engage our VP of Marketing on LinkedIn, which would then trickle down to me and let me know that the sales representative bypassed me altogether or didn’t do their research. Using LinkedIn Sales Navigator, sales professionals can easily identify who they want to engage with at prospective companies.
Start at the mid-level and work your way upward. Connect, and engage, with mid-level managers or Directors who’re likely to use your product or services. Create internal evangelists who will do the hard selling for you up the line.
Engage with Insights
What’s worse than receiving a cold call or a blind InMail message from a sales representative is when they don’t know anything about my business. Whatever you’re selling, it’s about the customer and connecting their needs with a solution or product. Using LinkedIn Sales Navigator, take the time to learn about their industry, read company news and updates, and who the players are within the organization. A complimentary InMail message talking about their recent promotion or acknowledging a positive highlight in the news can go a lot further – and help break the ice – than the traditional sales pitch. It’s also a good way to bridge the gap over the phone between talking about your product exclusively and listening to their potential needs.
Build Strong Relationships
Over the last 7 years, both as an entrepreneur and a corporate employee, some of my best business relationships have been as a result of a LinkedIn connection that eventually led to doing business together. The by-product of months, or sometimes a year, of getting to know each other: engaging in-person at conferences, staying in touch across other social networks, and occasionally chatting by phone about life outside of work. Again, it all started with LinkedIn – the core of the relationship.
In closing, relationships are what sell. Relationships are the essence of everything that we do in life and business. People do business with who they like and trust.
Build relationships first, and then sell.