Last week, I was embroiled in a rather lively debate on LinkedIn, regarding the validity of LinkedIn as a sales tool, with some suggesting that the professional social media site will not help generate sales - utter nonsense (as I said, it was a lively debate)!
To qualify my comment, let me first explain that LinkedIn is simply a tool, it will not create new sales for you. In fact, let's examine another 'sales tool', the telephone for example. Picture this scenario:
'Why won't my telephone work?!'
You have decided that telephone sales will form part of your sales and marketing strategy, so you contact your local supplier and select a suitable rental package. The following day a box arrives from the phone company and you unpack the new shiny new device and plug it into the wall socket and sit back and wait......and wait......and wait. The phone doesn't ring that morning or at any point during the afternoon and eventually you leave your office, at the end of day, questioning why you bought the phone in the first place.
'LinkedIn doesn't work for me'
During my almost 6 years of training others how to use LinkedIn, I have, on more than one occasion, come across people who tell me that they signed up to LinkedIn some time ago but it's never brought them any business.
Signing up to LinkedIn and then sitting back, with the exception of the occasional response to an invitation to connect, taking a quick peek at who has viewed your profile or possibly sharing the occasional post, is, I'm afraid, not going to make the slightest difference to your sales results.
You see, LinkedIn, as I stated before, is simply a tool - a tool, which, with the right level of application, will enable you to locate, establish a connection and build trust, with your ideal customer but if you're not prepared to put the time and effort in - if you're not prepared to pick up the phone, dial in the number of your prospect and make the call, time and time again, then why would you be surprised that you're not generating any sales?
'But it takes a lot of time'
Often, when I'm speaking to audiences about using LinkedIn and social media, generally, for business, I will be asked; 'how much time will I need to put in?' OK, back to the telephone analogy - to generate the sales you need to achieve for your business this month, how much time will you need to spend on the phone - an hour a week, 2, 3, 10, 20, more? Clearly the answer is going to be; the more time you spend on the phone (with the right contacts of course) the more success you're likely to have.
How to apply LinkedIn to your sales process
LinkedIn can add value to your sales process in several ways and I have listed, below just one 7 point process that we coach, when working with our clients:
1. Use Advanced search - Why buy a list of target prospects from a database company, when you can use LinkedIn's Advanced search to find your ideal customer, by industry sector, company, job title, geographic location and other specific demographics?
2. Save your searches - When you have found a list of your ideal target audience, via Advanced search, you can then save this search and return to the list as often as required. LinkedIn will even allow you set up a weekly or monthly alert, which will email you when anyone, who meets the search criteria, joins LinkedIn or makes a significant update to their profile.
3. Find areas of common interest - Review the list and view the profile of anyone you feel would be a perfect client for your business. Look for any areas where you share common interests i.e. sharing the same group, connections you have in common, maybe you both attended the same university or perhaps you share similar hobbies and interests? Consider using references to these in your invitation to connect message.
4. Personalise your invitation to connect - Always, always invite your target contact to connect with a personalised or (customised invitation as LinkedIn would say) message. Explain why you feel there would be mutual benefit in connecting. Remember, it's relatively easy to have someone connect with you but this is not a game of how many connections can you accrue, it's about building relationships. Your invitation message is your first and your only chance to create a great first impression.
5. Build trust - When your personalised invitation to connect has been accepted, now the relationship building starts and this is where you need a relationship building, content marketing strategy. Put yourself in your customer's shoes - what are the challenges they face in business or in their lives? Do you have a case study, a video, an article or white paper you have written that demonstrates how you have helped others, in similar industries or circumstances to overcome these challenges? Send relevant, useful content that makes a difference to your new LinkedIn connection's lives or business and which will help you build know, like and trust with them.
6. Keep on building know, like & trust - Continue to send useful content to your new prospect (don't overdo it or become a nuisance) and where you receive a response, make sure you, in turn, engage with them further - what do you say? Just imagine you were having a conversation with this person, face-to-face, what would you say then?
7. Pick up the phone - Yes the telephone, I referred to earlier, is finally going to be used in action. Just imagine receiving this call:
"Hi John, this is Steve calling from LinkedIn. We connected recently and I've sent you a couple of articles on (solving x,y,z problems in your business), which I thought might be useful to your particular job role..."
Now whatever response I receive to this introduction doesn't really matter. If John says, he found the information helpful or doesn't recall receiving it - even if he says 'who are you?' it doesn't matter at all because I can take this conversation in whichever direction I want. I can reply to each of John's comments by asking what he found most useful about the articles or by explaining what the article was about, if he doesn't recall receiving it and then offer to re-send it. If John can't remember who I am, I can simply remind him that he agreed to connect with me recently and explain why I sent the information and what it was about.
Here's my logic in approaching unknown LinkedIn connections by using this 7 point approach:
- I build know, like and trust with my connections so no phone call is ever a cold call.
- I use my content as the reason for my call - in effect this becomes more of customer satisfaction call, rather than a sales call.
- I know so much more about my prospects before I make contact than I would ever know if I used any other form of 'sales tool'.
There are many ways in which LinkedIn can be applied by your business as a sales tool but in the end, it's always going to be down to how you use LinkedIn that will determine whether you generate new sales opportunities.