“Social selling” may be one of the biggest buzzwords of the past few years, but I hear from a lot of sales execs who are having a hard time making it work. They’re frustrated to the point of writing LinkedIn off, and that can be a big mistake.

I look at the folks who are trying to use LinkedIn but not having success, and I see they’re doing one of two things — they’re running pep rallies or they’re spamming.

Here’s what I mean.

The LinkedIn pep rally

 

Pep rallies are all about status updates. You’re posting them. You’re liking and sharing and commenting on them. You’re waving pom-poms and everyone’s all excited.

But at the end of the month, all you’ve got to show is likes and shares and comments. And maybe some new connections.

Pep rallies are important. They bring the fans together. They help get the word out. And they can even help prospects get to know you a little. But they don’t produce much in the way of sales calls.

That’s because pep rally programs treat LinkedIn like a broadcast channel — blasting out content one-to-many. They assume your ideal prospects will happen to check their news feeds at exactly the time your status update appears. Or they’re so interested in what you’re doing that they actively seek out everything you post. And that’s just not true for most of us.

Pep rallies are great for branding, but to put sales calls on the calendar, you have to be more assertive.

 

LinkedIn spammers

 

Spammers understand that one-to-one outreach is important, but they’re lazy – or misguided. They start with a loose definition of a target audience. They run a search in Sales Navigator and send a generic – usually self-centered – message to everyone on that list.

And they wonder why this doesn’t work any better on LinkedIn than it does with email.

So what does work?

 

LinkedIn works best when sellers use a focused, strategic approach

In nearly ten years of developing LinkedIn lead generation and prospecting programs, I’ve consistently found that taking the time to match the right target audience with the right messages is the “secret” to a massively successful LinkedIn effort.

The more time we focus on this step, the more qualified sales calls go on the calendar.

Instead of spreading a generic message to the masses, this approach requires a deeper understanding of each prospect, which means a smaller number of prospects in the system at any given time. The good news is each of them is far more likely to eventually turn into business.

Here are four steps that will put you on the direct path to booking sales calls using LinkedIn.

1. Do your homework first

Just like any successful prospecting or lead generation campaign, the first step toward LinkedIn success is to gather some essential info and use it to outline a plan.

I start strategy development engagements by digging into these critical questions with clients:

  • Specifically who are you targeting?
    • What does the ideal account look like?
    • Who is the primary buyer(s) you need to reach?
  • What pains, problems or issues do they have that you can help them solve?
  • What are the value propositions for this audience?

You need good answers to these questions. Go beyond just industry/company size/location and title. Not only is it critical for developing messages that click with your prospects, it lets you target the right people and keeps you from wasting time – yours and everyone else’s.  

I have a well-worn copy of MaryLou Tyler’s book Predictable Prospecting that I use repeatedly to ensure I dig deeply enough for these answers. I highly recommend it.

2. Make LinkedIn’s search a starting point – not the final list

LinkedIn’s search engine is not bad, but it isn’t perfect. Nearly every search I run seems to include some companies and people who don’t meet the search criteria. Removing those is Prospecting 101.

More importantly, to identify those accounts and prospects that are truly ideal, there are critical factors that LinkedIn – or any search engine, for that matter – isn’t capable of determining. For example, let’s say your best chance of making a large and profitable sale is with a technology company that has invested in content marketing, uses XYZ marketing automation software and has a CMO who knows what they’re doing. That takes a personal review of LinkedIn profiles as well as a look at the company website to be sure you’ve identified a relevant prospect.

Top performing social sellers do not to spam other LinkedIn members, and we’re all happier for it – sellers included.

3. Craft messages individually for your ideal prospects

When you do the work I’ve suggest above, you’ll know your prospects far better than the average seller. You can tailor your messages to appeal to the individual.

Let’s go back to the CMO example.

You might think all CMOs of technology companies of a certain size pretty much respond the same to messages. But they don’t. Take a look at their profiles and you’ll see some CMOs have a marketing background while some are engineers and others come from the creative side — former writers or designers. Getting their attention and engagement requires different approaches.  

You don’t need to start from scratch with every message – templates are useful, especially in the early outreach phase. Make a few minor-but-thoughtful tweaks and your prospects will feel the message is written for them.

4. Work on your personal brand

To view LinkedIn as a channel just for sending InMails and messages is to miss the actual networking part of the network. Here’s a quick look at what you can do to enhance your LinkedIn results.

  • Start with your profile. Does it read like you’re looking for a job? Sales and business development people often inadvertently turn off prospects with profiles that promote their quota-crushing capabilities.
  • Build your personal network. There are two important reasons to have a well-designed network. First, LinkedIn gives you access to other members based on who you are connected to. The more connections you have among your target audience, the more of them you’ll be able to see. Second, being connected to the “right” people gives you credibility among your prospects.
  • Put some thought into your status updates.  It’s great to support your company’s social media efforts by sharing company content. But simply re-posting blog articles is boring and doesn’t help your position. If the content is relevant, take the opportunity to add your point of view. Tell potential viewers why you think the article is important enough for them to read. Look for 3rd party content you can use to support your claims.
  • Engage. When prospects are active on LinkedIn – ie, they are posting, sharing and commenting – jump into the pep rally. Share their posts. Comment on them. Like what they’re doing. LinkedIn will let them know you’ve done that – and you get on their radar.
  • Connect with influencers. In most industries there are individuals who your target audience already listens to. These may be analysts, journalists, bloggers and respected consultants. Forming a relationship with these folks can quickly increase both your credibility and your visibility.
  • Analyze your results and refine your approach. This may not be the most exciting activity for a sales team, but it’s the way you get better.

 

LinkedIn is a great tool for booking sales calls, but you have to do it right.

I’m aware this approach won’t be followed by everyone. On one hand, some deal sizes and customer values are too low to allow such a time-heavy investment in individual prospects. On the other hand, some sellers are too lazy or uniformed to do the work. If you fall into either of these groups, LinkedIn may not be the best way to reach your prospects.

Thanks for reading.