In a previous post I talk about how today’s socially-savvy sellers find ways to warm up leads and avoid the dreaded cold call. Not surprisingly, many of these smart people use LinkedIn as their primary source of intelligence gathering. With over 160 Million users in over 200 countries, LinkedIn is the defacto social network for business. And while it’s great for finding new clients, it’s equally valuable as a way to learn about customers you already serve.
What follows are five ways smart sales people use LinkedIn to build their personal brand, manage their time more effectively, and prospect for new clients. In case you were wondering, none of these tips require a paid LinkedIn account.
And a gentle reminder: your audience on LinkedIn is not recruiters – it’s customers. If you do a great job, recruiters will find you. That’s their job.
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1. Consider the basics – from cover to cover
Start thinking about your LinkedIn profile as a book you want someone to buy. The first part (your summary) is the cover. And just like a flashy, splashy title makes someone notice the book, the better your summary, the more likely someone will consider buying what you’re selling. But most folks don’t buy a book on looks alone, so they flip it over to read what the critics have to say. The same applies with a LinkedIn profile. People generally skip to the bottom to see what people have to say about you. So think of the last part of your profile – where your recommendations live – like the back cover. With a great summary and a couple of solid reviews, you’ll stand a much better chance of someone reading your whole story.
Once you’ve completed your profile (get it to the 100% LinkedIn recommends) start thinking about how your profile differentiates you from the million other sales people out there- especially if you have a common name like Michael Bolton. This is especially important in LinkedIn search results. Don’t believe me? Try it.
Here’s one solution: get creative with what LinkedIn calls your professional “headline.” Located in the summary section, this is where you can put laser-focus on the value you provide for clients.
With this feature, you display a title that better describes what you do than say, Account Executive. Some folks opt for something more prudent like “Strategic Business Advisor” or “Client Relationship Manager.” Others opt to stick with their existing title. Still others opt for a combination – “Strategic Advisor | Account Executive”. Choose the approach that’s right for you. Just make it crystal clear what you do for clients.
2. Don’t be lazy with connection requests
As you probably know, LinkedIn provides a default message – “I’d like to add you to my professional network” for connection requests. Do yourself (and your clients) a favour. Take the 30 seconds it takes to create a personal, professional invitation that clearly explains why you want to connect with someone – especially a new client or referral. Otherwise you’re just being lazy. This is your opportunity to make a great first impression, create some goodwill, and offer the person specific reasons they should connect with you. Smart sales people at minimum use one of these variations:
- I really enjoyed our conversation this morning. Thanks for your time.
- My colleague thought I can help you at with the challenges you’ve been having. Let’s connect.
- Thank you for your time on the phone today. I look forward to our follow up call next week.
- It was great meeting you at! I enjoyed our chat, and hope we can continue it sometime.
Many sales folks have also started using the iOS LinkedIn app. It’s very useful on the go, and I particularly like the integrated calendar feature. The problem with the app right now is that when you send a connection request through the app, it automatically uses the default LinkedIn message. It doesn’t give you a choice.
My advice? Until the app gives you the option to customize a connection request, save your invitations for a big browser, and take the time to do it right.
3. Recommendations open doors
A few great recommendations can be the difference between you landing an appointment over your competition. Here’s the trick – forget about what your peers and former employers have to say. Smart sales people know to feature recommendations customers care about most – what your other customers have to say about you.
Quality versus quantity is key here. Aim for 2-3 really effective recommendations per role that highlights the value you provided during the relationship. Its unlikely anyone will read more than that anyhow.
Be selective with whom you ask, and seek a range of role-types. While it’s great to have senior folks writing recommendations for you, it’s just as important to include some from day-to-day contacts as well. This gives you a chance to highlight both strategic and executional value you’ve provided.
In your request, ask for recommendations on specific projects you worked on together, or skills you’d like to feature that were used.
Remember – writing recommendations for some people is difficult – so the more specific your request, the easier it will be for your client to write the recommendation. Aim for 4-6 lines at most. If you feel it would help, you can even pre-write the recommendation. Send it to your clients, and offer it in lieu of writing something themselves. If they choose to write their own, great. Otherwise they can add their own comments to the one you’ve provided and copy/paste it. Whatever it takes to save them time, and get you the story you need.
4. The best offense is a good defense
One IT sales rep recently shared a really smart idea with me. He regularly checks to see which roles his customers are hiring for, and the certifications they demand, to learn about their technology infrastructure and standards. So start perusing your customer’s job openings as a novel way to learn about their environment, culture and employee base.
Here’s another practical reason to keep an eye on your customer’s linkedIn profiles – monitor to see if your competition connects with them. If that happens, find a good reason to connect with them. Share relevant content with them. @ reply them on Twitter. Anything that makes sure you stay top of mind for them.
Lastly, become a master (or mistress) of Advanced Search for prospecting. This is probably LinkedIn’s killer feature. This tool uncovers information buried deep in the social network for you in a matter of clicks. For example, if you serve a specific geographic area in a specific industry (say IT Solutions), the advanced search tool helps you find everyone in that region with the title of CIO, IT Director, IT Manager, etc. You can save up to 3 searches (with the paid product you can save more) to refer back to later. LinkedIn will even email you weekly when there are new results for you to review.
Advanced search lets you get pretty sophisticated. The smartest sales reps use search operators. This post from LinkedIn explains the differences between simple and complex searches, and this post offers a good overview with specific examples you can use.
Six degrees of separation is alive and well on LinkedIn. Once you identify your prospects, explore mutual connections and see who you know that can make a warm introduction for you. Smart sales people know a personal introduction makes a world of difference when breaking into new accounts.
5. Give value before you get value.
Having a LinkedIn profile these days is table stakes. Everybody’s got one. What sets great sales people apart from the average ones is how frequently they share great and relevant content via their profile. The real skill they exhibit is avoiding the urge to sell anything. They regularly provide valuable information that people – their clients – actually care about.
So what do smart sales folks share? Many work for organizations that offer thought leadership via blogs. And that’s content that’s instantly relevant to their constituents. So if your company has a blog, make sure you subscribe to it, and share the posts via LinkedIn. And always include personal commentary that explains why you think it’s relevant to them.
LinkedIn also offers you the option of adding application widgets to your profile. If you have a blog yourself, you can include and share your recent posts from your profile.Smart sales people that read a lot use the Reading List by Amazon. This application lets you share the books you’re reading with your connections. It also helps you discover books you should be reading by following updates from your connections, people in your field, or other LinkedIn members of professional interest to you.
Another great way to build credibility and prospect – become a regular contributor to LinkedIn Answers. This tool within the social network allows members to demonstrate business acumen by answering questions posted by other LinkedIn members. If your answer gets chosen as the best one, you earn points of expertise. If you earn enough points, you can get listed on the Answers leaderboard, called “This Week’s Top Experts.”
Update: LinkedIn shuttered LinkedIn Answers in January 2013. So while that site isn’t available, Quora is. It’s a fantastic Q&A resource that operates on the principle that the best answers get voted to the top. While their guidelines are pretty clear (ie. no selling) it’s very possible to use your soft-selling skills to demonstrate your expertise. For a good example, look at a question I posted a couple of years ago. It’s still getting traction, and (sales) folks are offering really helpful advice.
Remember that when you offer something other than your ideas or opinions, you do more harm than good to your reputation. People want real help to their problems – not a sales pitch. Over time, you’ll earn the right to a sales opportunity – through good ole’ fashioned relationship building.