How to sweat LinkedIn for social selling success

5th Nov 2015

LinkedIn started life in 2003 with the mission statement of becoming the leading social network for business users. Twelve years on, it has undeniably achieved this objective, evolving from its primary use as a recruitment site to a platform for professionals across the globe to buy, sell, hire and share.

The network has reached such meteoric levels of popularity that it now boasts nearly 400 million users, or as LinkedIn’s content marketing manager, Jason Miller states, “one in three of all professionals on the planet”. With such a huge net to cast and an arguably more targeted and attentive audience than other social networks, it’s no surprise that LinkedIn is seen by many as the prime location for social selling.

While this is an easy thing to say, the reality is that being social selling on LinkedIn is no duck soup. With more attrition involved than most people might hope, the key to success on the platform is, as renowned expert and head of social media at Cognizant, Gerry Moran says, ensuring that you’re “fishing where the fish are” and know what to do “when you get a nibble on the line”.

However, to lean on the angling theme a short while longer, perhaps the biggest trap that many salespeople fall into is thinking that LinkedIn is a place you only go to fish in the first place. Many experts argue it isn’t, and indeed, LinkedIn has a number of pitfalls as well as opportunities, and entails a certain approach that combines conventional and modern-age thinking.

Better option than Twitter or Facebook?

The first question to ask of LinkedIn, is why. Why use LinkedIn for social selling over any other network?

“If you take social selling in the context of business-to-consumer, then clearly Facebook is going to be more effective than LinkedIn,” says Rob Thomas, a social selling expert and chief digital officer for WSI-eMarketing. “Yet, there are different approaches on Facebook to LinkedIn: Facebook doesn’t have the advanced search function like LinkedIn, but you can get at appropriate target markets. When it comes to Facebook, you’re probably going to need to advertise in order to drive the right people to the top of your sales funnel.

“Twitter on the other hand is useful across B2B and B2C, but is more effective as a broadcast tool – it doesn’t allow you to drill down into understanding exactly what it is your prospects are working on and whether they’re truly an opportunity.

“Therefore, more often than not, you’ll be using LinkedIn in some form to shape your social selling strategy. A good example is, if I was trying to get into a company and the marketing director is the decision-maker I really want to speak to, if I’d already spoken to them and they’d said they had their suppliers and weren’t going to budge, I’m going to want to know if they move jobs and a new person arrives. LinkedIn searches can be set up to tell you this and it’s a great opportunity. The best approach is to think of LinkedIn as the Google of business buying.”

And it is this element that makes LinkedIn such a piecemeal platform, as success is gleaned from relationship building over time. LinkedIn expert & author, Viveka von Rosen, says the network is “all about engagement, and if a prospect is willing to engage with you, you never know if it will result in a one-time purchase, or even a life-long corporate client.”

Not a selling platform?

While engagement may be the driver, direct selling isn’t. Matt Baxter-Reynolds, co-founder of the Social Selling Lounge, says the key is to imagine LinkedIn as just another location for networking: “Don’t use it as an interruption sales platform. Don’t do the classic thing of sending messages to new connections stating ‘we provide this, this and that service’ – that just doesn’t work. You shouldn’t take each connection as an immediate opportunity.

“It isn’t like telemarketing. Social selling is like networking – you would never walk into a room full of people doing networking and shout ‘HI I’M MATT, this is what I do’; conversely, this isn’t the approach you should take on LinkedIn. It’s about how you take the networking dynamics online – you effectively go out and find people that seem approachable, then you listen and understand their needs and then take that and start contributing to a conversation. Connections are not an invite to sell.”

Instead, David Tovey, author of 'Principled selling - how to win more business without selling your soul’ suggests LinkedIn users should treat the platform as a content and advice sharing tool, first and foremost:   

LinkedIn is really about making sure you get your online presence set up so you’re able to stake a claim as an industry expert; you want people who look at your profile to recognise you as someone that can add value. This means thinking about the content you share, how you position your profile, the groups you join.” 

And having the ‘right’ kind of profile and content strategy means following these basic rules:

  • Treating your profile as an advertisement of your expertise, rather than a CV.
  • Considering your ideal customer in any communications you deliver.
  • Sharing content that positions you as an expert in your field.
  • Joining LinkedIn groups that relate to your product and service, and involving yourself in the debate in each.  

“What most people don’t realise is that your LinkedIn profile is a 24/7 advert,” adds Baxter-Reynolds. “It’s where all of your customers are, and so your profile should be designed in a way that actually encourages inbound enquiries. That’s the holy grail.

“LinkedIn has to be individual. It’s no use getting a marketing team to create one profile for all employees or something overly-corporate like that. If you want your marketing team involved, they have to treat each person individually and work out what makes employees unique and get the messaging right.”

And such is the pull of cultivating a strong personal profile, LinkedIn actively encourages users to pitch theirs against fellow professionals, through its LinkedIn Social Selling Index (SSI). However, this comes with some caveats, as Rob Thomas states:

“A lot of the measures LinkedIn uses to calculate the SSI score are based on quantity of interactions rather than the quality of those interactions. If you get too focussed on simply making your SSI score as high as possible then it certainly could actually harm your effectiveness when it comes to making sales and closing leads.

“Instead you should view your SSI as a measure to show you what you are already doing well and where you can improve. The quality of your interactions and general social selling should always be your first priority. Working with that mindset you can properly interpret the SSI and apply it.”

Social triggers

Once you’ve established your position on LinkedIn, Gerry Moran states that the ‘selling’ aspect of the platform comes in the form of social triggers. “There are customers willing to engage, or bite on an intelligent insight, but many sales professionals do not understand the social selling signals. Their missed quotas, management excuses and intrusive and brand-centric emails are partly related to connecting with the customer at the wrong time with the wrong message!”

Moran states there are around 30 key triggers on LinkedIn, with each offering an opportunity for salespeople to reach out to a potential prospect:

Each trigger should lead a salesperson into another engagement, building a rapport with prospects over time. The trick throughout these engagements, however, is to guide the prospect towards a position of inbound enquiry as opposed to sales pitch. 

And with the importance of keeping on top of social triggers playing such a huge part in building connections, Rob Thomas argues that social sellers need to think more like the buyer in an interaction, sometimes not thinking about the selling side of things at all.

“There are so many facets to LinkedIn – whilst we talk about social selling as a sales tool, it’s also a great place to pinpoint social buying as well. The way the database can be indexed, this buy-sell relationship is only going to be played on further in the future.

“If you think about the flipside – if I’m hiring people via LinkedIn, well that’s social buying and really that is going to help lead generation for salespeople further down the road. You could see a time in two to three years when there’s no such title as salesperson because it’s just seen as too ‘in your face’. We’re already seeing the rise to prominence of account managers and onboarding leads because it’s symptomatic of the fact that people just find the right companies and organisations based on their expertise and reputation and they just buy. Hotels don’t ‘sell’ their rooms anymore, what they do is ensure people can find them.”

It is this element that makes certain, sometimes seemingly trivial, parts of LinkedIn more crucial to get right than people think. Even endorsements, once seen as a scourge on the LinkedIn user’s profile, are due to take on added significance in the coming years, as buyers increasingly look at endorsements as a differentiator in determining the integrity of a potential seller.

“Endorsements may not have been indexable originally and may have been open to a bit of fun originally, but that happy-clicking behaviour is slowly going away,” Thomas adds. “Once they’ve got several billion endorsements, it’s very likely that LinkedIn will present league tables of the best skilled people based on a person’s search for certain skills. When that happens, it’ll be the people that spent time asking connections to endorsement them for genuine skills that will profit most, when it comes to buyers assessing their capabilities.”

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