There are not-so-subtle signs that social selling in general and LinkedIn specifically need to be incorporated into your sales team’s sales process. Like when your reps are missing targets, can’t generate enough leads, can’t get in front of high level buyers and rumor has it your competitors are crushing it online.
But how do you introduce social selling into a conventional sales process when there are few time-tested best practices to follow? I suggest LinkedIn has helped define a path to social selling success with its Social Selling Index (SSI).
The Social Selling Index looks at what LinkedIn calls the four pillars of social selling: creating a professional brand, finding the right people, engaging with insights, and building strong relationships. LinkedIn’s own vast database shows that sales reps who adopt these activities actually do perform substantially better than their counterparts who don’t.
What the SSI measures
Within each of the four “pillars” of social selling, LinkedIn has identified certain measurable actions that seem to contribute to more successful engagement with buyers. In our work with sales people – both with and without Sales Navigator – we’ve found most of these to be true.
1. Creating a professional brand
While marketing teams should be focused on creating a strong company or product brand, sales people need to build their own positions of authority in order to attract and engage decision makers. The can’t-live-without-it step for doing this is a complete and well-written profile.
LinkedIn measures how well a sales rep is doing in this area by the following:
- Use of a photo on the profile
- Number of articles the rep posts to the LinkedIn publishing platform (See my opinion on this below.)
- Number of page views those articles are getting
- Number of followers the sales rep is gaining
2. Finding the right people
LinkedIn is, of course, all about networking; and, with complex B2B purchases involving anywhere from five to 20+ decision makers and influencers, simply identifying those participants is a major accomplishment.
Most sales people today are already using LinkedIn’s search capabilities to locate and gather background information about these people; it’s what you do with those found buyers that contributes to good social selling. LinkedIn looks at:
- How much the rep is using the Lead Builder functionality in Sales Navigator.
- How many leads the rep is saving in Sales Navigator so the prospect’s LinkedIn activity can be monitored
3. Engage with insights
This is a critical aspect of social selling, and the one that – according to LinkedIn data – sales reps tend to be the worst at doing. Engaging with insights means discovering and sharing valuable ideas with prospects and influencers. This helps position the rep as a subject authority, and research from Corporate Visions has indicated that 74% of buyers select the sales rep who was first to provide valuable information.
To measure engagement, LinkedIn looks at:
- Number of shares, likes and comments the rep’s posts are receiving
- Whether or not the rep is saving accounts (companies) in Sales Navigator in order to be kept up-to-date on company news.
- Whether or not the rep is using account pages to conduct in-depth research
- Percentage of InMails that receive a response.
4. Building strong relationships
While some LinkedIn members maintain that personal networks should be tightly controlled and include only people you know personally and know well, this is not the case for sales people. Sales people should be constantly growing their networks with relevant connections, but not blasting out connection invitations without some planning.
LinkedIn’s method of assessing network expansion is simple:
- Acceptance rate on connection requests
For the most part, the actions LinkedIn has included in its SSI scoring make perfect sense. Do these things and you will be better at social selling, which will make you more successful overall. Our work with technology sales teams bears this out.
The one area where I disagree with LinkedIn is on the use of the publishing platform, which weighs heavily in both “creating a professional brand” and “engaging with insights”. The LinkedIn publishing platform is meant for posting original long form articles, and it is not clear to me that individual sales reps actually need to be writing and publishing articles. There is no doubt that in the instances where they do, they will gain more followers; but is article writing really what you want your best sales reps spending their time on? There are other ways to build a network.
While the more cynical among us might see the Social Selling Index (SSI) as a marketing ploy to get more people hooked on activities that require paid versions of LinkedIn, it’s actually a very helpful tool to understand and guide the adoption of social selling activities.
Does a strong social selling index number necessarily lead to results? No. I’ve seen bottom tier sales people with SSI scores in the range of 75 (out of 100) while the overall LinkedIn average is somewhere around 26. At client requests, I’ve taken deep looks at profiles and LinkedIn activity, then compared that to SSI scores and wondered what in the heck LinkedIn is counting. But sometimes – maybe even increasingly, I can look at SSI scores and pick out the company’s top performers.
If nothing else, SSI scores might be considered gamification of social media activities. Highly competitive sales teams may find it a good way to get the team on the right track.
How do you get your SSI numbers?
LinkedIn provides SSI scores only to companies with more than 100 employees and ten or more sales people – and to attendees at the occasional conference. It claims this is to protect the privacy of its members. Some measurements would be difficult – if not impossible to come by – without access to a Sales Navigator account.
If you have 10 or more sales people and you’re interested in SSI scores, just contact LinkedIn. Smaller companies and teams can set up their own Social Selling Index by measuring the activities listed in this article. You might even find yours is more accurate.
UPDATE: LinkedIn has now opened its Social Selling Index to all members. You can get your score here: https://www.linkedin.com/sales/ssi.
Sources of information in this article: various LinkedIn publications