As more sales organizations are realizing that their customers spend a significant amount of time of their buyer’s journey using social media and digital channels, sales organizations are also starting to spend more time and effort on how to activate their salespeople in channels like LinkedIn.
In this article, I'll share some of my ideas on things that you need to consider if you are planning to integrate social selling into your sales efforts and some things that you need to avoid in order to become successful.
Forrester Research states that almost 8 out of 10 B2B-customers spend more than 50 percent of their research using digital channels before they buy and when Quartz surveyed 1,357 executives around the world, they found that 72 percent of them are using LinkedIn.
In other words - there's a good chance that you can reach your next customer on LinkedIn, but it requires strategy, long-term thinking and customer focused communication if you plan to succeed.
Don't Pitch Your Products or Services
A common mistake I see a lot of people do is to connect with their target audience and as soon as the potential customer accepts the invitation, they get the sales pitch in their inbox, pushing the customer to tell then which times would be most convenient for them for setting up a meeting.
Even if you might find success somewhere along the road, the tactic will most probably hurt your company brand and ultimately your professional reputation as well.
The reason is simple; people don’t want to connect with someone on LinkedIn to expand their professional network only to find a sales pitch in their inbox right away. Most of the sales pitches are usually completely un-personalized, which means that what you are really telling your customer is "Hey, you're so unimportant to me, that I will send you this message that I also send to hundreds of other people with a similar title to yours".
Don't Become the Observer
Let's face it - most people who use social media are passive observers, the people who log in to read about what's going on but don't participate or share anything themselves.
If you're looking to succeed with social selling, this is not the tactic for you.
A fundamental part of social selling is to leverage the visibility that you can create by using status updates. When sharing your expertise and inspiring and educating your customers on a regular basis, you will gradually start to build your professional brand and expertise in your niche. This visibility will ultimately turn into possibilities to interact with potential customers, or even better, result in incoming inquiries.
Everyone can spend some time on working on their profile and learning some of the LinkedIn functionalities, but a lot of salespeople fail to spend a significant time on crafting customer-focused status updates that provide insight and value on a regular basis.
You will simply need to prioritize among your tasks and block out time to gradually become more active on LinkedIn to the point when it comes naturally.
Don't Go in for the Short-Term Benefits
Sometimes it feels like there's almost some kind of general belief that if you get more attention, more likes and comments, this will automatically turn into profit.
Some people will do everything they can to create attention by manipulating the algorithm, jumping into the next comment section with people "who want to connect with others" or asking open-ended questions that might get a lot of people engaging but which is totally unrelated to the person's profession.
Don't get me wrong - likes, comments and attention is vital to get your message through the noise, but if it does not provide any value to your customers and showcase your expertise in your niche, it won't bring you any businesses.
Salespeople who succeed with social selling focus on providing value to their network and customers in the long run. They don't go for the short-term benefits of focusing on a post to go viral, no matter the content, but rather make sure that the posts they publish are customer-focused, provide value and help the customer in any way possible.
Do Your Strategy Homework
I know - just the word strategy implies that some work needs to be done before we can get to the fun part of actually using LinkedIn itself. But as boring as it may seem, if you are ambitious about succeeding with your social selling efforts, it is important that you begin with having a good strategy.
To help you understand what I mean, consider two types of salespeople. The first one is a salesperson who makes some touch ups to their profile and then randomly starts connecting with people and pitching the company product. The second one is a salesperson who puts in that extra effort and planning and knows how to connect with people and knows what type of content will deliver the best value to the customer. Now, out of these two, who do you think is more likely to succeed?
Here's a couple of questions that you need to consider, which will give you a better chance of succeeding with social selling:
- Why am I using LinkedIn? What am I looking to accomplish? How does LinkedIn fit into the marketing/sales strategy and goals for my organization?
- Who is my target group? Who are the people that I need to influence or connect with? What titles do they have and in which industries do they work in? How do I find them and connect with them without being pushy?
- How do I open the dialogue with a potential customer? What are the triggers I look for to start a conversation? (This could be an interaction, a profile visit or something that they've posted).
- How can I provide value to my network and potential customers through my communication? I've made this underlined and bolded for a reason - this is where most people fail as it's far more easy and comfortable to talk about ourselves, our own company, products and services. I strongly advise you to read anything on the subject of content marketing to understand how the sales and marketing industry changing and how to think about your digital communication in general.
Do provide value to your customers
I want to point out that in order to succeed with social selling, it's absolutely crucial that you focus the majority of your efforts to provide value to your network and potential customers.
This is done through the way you communicate via status updates or private messages:
- Focus on content that helps your customers with challenges they face - these could be challenges that the customers face during different stages of the buying journey when the buy your products or services, or they can be challenges they face which are not related to your business.
- The idea is that you become the trusted advisor, resource and expert that provides insights, value and knowledge about your niche, in your own unique LinkedIn network.
- Think about it - based on my professional experience, I see companies communicate about themselves and their product around 80 percent of the time, and only around 20 percent of the time communicating about something that actually provides value to the customer (if we’re lucky!). You have to adopt a mindset which turns these numbers around.
- Value can also be communicated through educating your potential customers - to inspire them and give new insights which can ultimately help them in their businesses.
- Figuring out how you can create value comes first - the type of media comes second. This means that you first need to understand your customers’ challenges and then share your expertise around these subjects and deliver it through status updates, articles, videos, infographics or whatever media that works best for you.
To get a better understanding on how this fits into a successful digital communication strategy, I recommend you to read Joe Pulizzi's "Epic Content Marketing", which gives a good presentation of the changing sales/marketing landscape and how you need to adapt your sales and marketing efforts accordingly.
Do engage your employees
In order to create maximum value for your network and customers through your communication and to gain maximum reach, you'll need to engage not only your marketing department but also people who are not directly responsible for marketing and sales.
Start with creating an understanding of why social media and digital channels are important, focusing on the shift in consumer behavior as we have more information available than ever before and spend more time of the buyer’s journey doing research online.
Continue by focusing on how you can create value, using the knowledge found within the organization. This is because the knowledge (how things are done, what happens in the organization, what the customers talk about, their challenges etc.) is usually found within your organization and it may not necessarily be the marketing department. Get your employees involved by discussing how you can communicate things that are going on within the organization, with a strong focus on always providing value.
A survey conducted by MSLGroup in 2012 showed that employee shares reached 6 times further than shares from companies and brands. As organic reach for companies decline by changing algorithms in social media (Facebook recently announced that they will prioritize posts from family and friends) you will need to start engaging your employees to get through the clutter.
Use tools like Smarp to encourage employees to share content or propose ideas around subjects that are going on around them.
Johan Åberg is the CEO of Nivide AB, a digital agency specializing in social selling, inbound marketing and digital advertising located in Malmö, South of Sweden.