Sales Prospecting Using LinkedIn
When it comes to sales prospecting, the use of the social selling channel to acquire customers is now a major activity. Sales people are using LinkedIn, Twitter and other social networks for lead generation activity and to engage buyers. When it comes to sales prospecting, the new buzzword is “Smarketing” meaning sales and marketing departments working together to ensure they maximize sales funnel growth, while reducing the customer acquisition costs. So let us assume your content marketing team is publishing quality articles to share, however, the sales process is proving quite challenging and you want to know HOW to successfully use social networks in the sales prospecting process?
So ask any sales person on the obvious place to start hunting for B2B sales leads and they will probably answer — LinkedIn. But would they know how to engage in conversations on LinkedIn groups for the benefit of the business, while not damaging the company’s image.
What LinkedIn groups are and are not
LinkedIn groups are great when it comes to following or engaging with industry thought leaders, to share knowledge and ideas. Buyers also use the groups to make themselves aware of trends or brands, while sales people use them as a means to identify prospects. The good news is that there is a LinkedIn group for just about any topic, interest or business insight. But let me explain what LinkedIn groups are NOT, before a sales person jumps in to connect with prospects. They are not to be used as blatant promotional channels or just to sell your product. They are also not places to make endless connections with the single purpose of trying to nab a potential customer.
However, LinkedIn groups if used correctly with practiced skills, can provide a channel where sales and marketing teams can engage in thought provoking discussions with prospective buyers. Let me repeat, LinkedIn Groups are not a place for the traditional approach to selling. Posting comments, promoting your products or appearing as an online sales person will quickly lower your credibility within the group and will deter many people from connecting or engaging with your profile. LinkedIn groups are not to be used for spamming. In fact the social network has taken action to prevent spam, poor content and job-postings appearing in conversations, by the means of filtering its content.
Pitfalls on LinkedIn to be aware of
LinkedIn constantly introduces new policies to their social network, which can lead to hidden difficulties for sales people. It is important that you are aware of all these pitfalls around the social network, before I can properly go on to explain how LinkedIn groups can be used for sales prospecting.
Here are the pitfalls to avoid:
1. Posting low quality content
Recently, groups have been purposely made private so as to enhance the quality of conversations being discussed within them. It was once the case where sales people used to be able to bombard open chats with constant messages promoting their products, leading to poor quality and disengaging conversations. However, this new enhanced privacy feature limits this from occurring. Industry leaders and group members will now boycott poor content that does manage to be published within groups. This means you need to avoid posting weak content, because once trust and credibility have been lost, they are hard to regain.
To facilitate high quality discussions occurring, people now have the option of adding images to conversations. Such images may include info-graphics, which are essentially attractive e-poster displays of data. Info-graphics are fast becoming so important to the digital marketing realm, as they are essential tools when it comes to engaging prospective leads. Having said that though, you need to make sure you don’t become predictable. It often happens that once sales people experience a good reaction from a certain image that they have posted, they will continue to post similar content because sales people think that’s what will generate the most likes. However, this way of thinking is medieval and sales people will soon appear very boring to prospects. Don’t be afraid to mix it up by alternating between different images and blog articles. Always make sure you are providing your audience with new insightful material. Avoid posting the same predictable content all the time.
3. Lack of consistency
Consistency is key with any social network, not just LinkedIn. You need to post on a regular basis or you will loose your following. Not only that, but it will also drastically decrease the awareness of your product or service online. No point in commenting sporadically, in other words commenting in irregular intervals or whenever it suits you, like for example once a week. By doing that, it would be hard to establish promising leads and your social media account would be deemed useless in the sales prospecting process. The same goes for the converse. Over-commenting can be just as damaging as under-commenting. By being over-active on social media, it could be interpreted as your business having nothing else to do, or you could appear very irritating which will ultimately discourage people from engaging with your profile.
4. Inaccurate Assumptions
Unfortunately or fortunately, whatever side of the argument you support, LinkedIn notifies you once someone has viewed your profile. This however can often be misleading and dangerous to sales people in particular, because innocent profile views are often mistaken for actual prospects. Sales people need to disassociate likes with people wanting to link with them. Or profile views with people automatically wanting to buy from them. This might not even be the case at all. Instead of making hasty assumptions and jumping straight into the selling process, you instead need to research these leads by analyzing their social media profiles. Once suspect’s interests and buying intentions have been established, they can then be treated as prospects.
My LinkedIn Sales Prospecting Process
So now that you are aware of the pitfalls, I can go on to explain HOW I use LinkedIn for sales prospecting. Why many people fail, when it comes to online sales prospecting, is because they don’t understand the model or skip the stages that are involved. Online sales prospecting is a series of steps that needs to be followed in a chronological order. It is like learning to drive a car. You must know the rules of the road and understand the components of the vehicle before you can be allowed to sit behind the wheel. It’s the exact same with online sales prospecting, you must understand the process before you can jump straight in joining LinkedIn groups.
Below I have included an image of a generic sales prospecting model that can be applied to any social network, not just LinkedIn.
Step 1. It is so important that you know where your buyers are. By identifying your target audience, you can then determine what social media site you are going to use to attract leads. For B2B selling, LinkedIn is by far the best social network to use. Through this site you can gain valuable information about potential buyers. Back to the car analogy, when driving in icy conditions, you will need to decide how you will tackle the dangerous road ahead, so as that you can safely arrive at your destination. So for example you might decide to approach the roads with extreme caution by driving slow. It is the same with leads, you will have to decide how you are going to approach different prospects. You need to come up with an angle that other unsuccessful sales people may have failed to think of. This is where researching social profiles will help. The key is to know your customer, know what they are interested in and what is going to persuade them to buy from you.
Step 2. Once you have determined where you are going to attract leads, you then need to engage with them. For this you will need an arsenal of content at your disposal. Info-graphics and blog articles can be great tools for sales prospecting. Again, as I mentioned earlier, make sure you mix up the types of content you use. The last thing you want is to appear predictable. Your aim is to portray an interesting online persona, using insights and valuable content, that will attract people to your profile.
Step 3. Lead nurturing is the next stage of the process. Once prospects have been identified you will then need to start developing relationships with them by adding value to places where they post comments, by understanding what catches their interest and ultimately by understanding the tone and nature of their online existence. Remember, buyers are way more informed than they once used to be, so you must listen to the needs of prospects and publish material that will provide them with the information to answer their questions.
Step 4. Once you have successfully completed the first 3 steps, you can now connect with prospects directly. InMail and email are important communication methods used to invite the buyer to consider your product or service. It is important that you act quickly and don’t delay, when contacting prospects directly. There is an optimum time frame that sales people must act within, in order to secure a sale. The last thing you want is for another sales person to ruin all your hard work and nab a potential customer from you. That is why it is so important that the second a prospect is established, action is taken immediately to engage deeper with them.
Step 5. This is the only part of the model that relates to the traditional selling process. This is the stage where you want to close the deal and convert the prospect into a customer. Sales people will do everything they can here to promote and convince the prospect that they need this product. This stage is normally carried out over the phone.
Cheat sheet to maximizing LinkedIn Leads
Request to Join Group Pages
Now that you understand the process, it is time to put the theory into practice and join some groups. There are over 412,322 groups on LinkedIn that people can join, however sales people must be aware of the 100 group only limit.
I would recommend sales people firstly start off by joining groups that bear relevance to the product that they wish to sell. So for example, if you want to sell Lead Generation software, you will want to target LinkedIn groups containing keywords such as ‘Lead Generation’, ‘Marketing Automation’, ‘Marketing Leaders’ or ‘Sales & Marketing Directors’. Because what benefit would it be joining a general marketing group if you were selling a specific product such as Lead Generation Software? This would be a complete waste of time. Yes, it cannot be denied that more general groups tend to cater for far more interesting and broader discussions. However, it will be far easier to identify prospects and connect with them in more specific groups. At the end of the day, your job is to generate potential leads that will lead to sales, not to appear active online and join as many groups as you can.
Engage and be Active in Discussions
When you have been accepted into a certain group, it is time to start proving your credibility by showing that you are an expert in that specific field. Constantly engaging in conversations and sharing useful insights in the group can accomplish this. However members must be careful that they obey the group rules, when sharing content or engaging in discussions. Most groups ban the publication of promotional content within them; so sales people need to make sure that they comply with these codes of practice.
Do not be vague when contributing to discussions. Always be specific and provide valuable insights to the group. The more genuine and interesting you appear, the more you will get noticed and the more potential prospects will want to connect with you. Communication is a 2-way channel. It’s the same with LinkedIn groups. It is essential that you initiate conversations, respond and react to activity occurring in the group. By being proactive, you will increase your sales funnel quite rapidly, as people will become curious as to whom you are and will therefore want to connect with you.
Forget your Traditional Sales Approach
It is so important that you don’t come across as a traditional sales person in LinkedIn groups. People will not want to engage with you, if you are seen to be completely self-orientated. Forcefully promoting yourself or products, in these groups, wont resonate well with other users. The whole point of a group is to be a cohesive unit, where ideas and knowledge can be shared. A group is essentially a community. There is no mention of “I” or “Me” at all. They are completely self-less entities. The minute you act in a ‘salesy’ manner, you will lose your reputation and goodwill, and will not be taken seriously in the group.
It is all about social selling these days. Instead of going into these groups with the aim of promoting a product by posting blatantly obvious promotional material, go in with the aim of creating subtle awareness through engagement. The key to generating sales via LinkedIn is by being subtle. By posting abstract content that doesn’t directly apply to your product, you are subtly creating awareness about your sector, which will in turn benefit your business.Then once you have identified interest in your product through likes and shares, you can then take these ‘warm leads’ into the private-sphere and contact prospects directly. Because they have already displayed signs of interest online, they wont mind you reaching out to them.
Utilize InMail or Automated Social Selling Tools.
So now you want to convert the goodwill and connections into customers. The last step is to take the conversation from the consideration to the active buyer engagement phase. When a prospect has been identified and online engagement has been carried out with them, you can then decide to take the conversation offline. By sending them helpful insights and relevant articles, you can then start to build trustworthy relationships with prospects, which is referred to as the lead nurturing process. Once you have established the buying intention of your prospect, you can then finally make the move and start selling your product and pitching to them directly.
A great way to do this is through InMail or by using automated selling tools. You can try message them on LinkedIn, but a far more effective way, is by reaching out to them over email or phone. But that’s easier said than done. Where are you supposed to get hold of prospects’ contact details without having to conduct hours of online research? The answer is by using automated social selling software. This handy piece of software compiles all possible contact information about your prospect that you will need into one database, which can be accessed in seconds. This drastically cuts down on time spent tediously researching a prospect’s email or telephone number. This extra time saved can then instead be put back into actually selling, the sole focus of a sales person’s job.
It is so essential that you take 30 minutes everyday to engage in LinkedIn Group discussions. Make sales prospecting on social media a part of your daily routine. Be consistent by posting regularly, in order to maintain high awareness and consideration rates among prospects. This will prove very beneficial to you in the long run, as it will drastically cut down your time spent cold calling. By using LinkedIn Groups properly to sales prospect, you will dramatically increase the success of your sales efforts.
Originally published at blog.connectorsmarketplace.com on February 22, 2016.