LinkedIn: Listen First, Sell Last
I thought for this tip it would be nice to add another voice to the mix. Writer and marketing professional Tara DeMarco pieced together this outstanding summary of a social selling webinar I did as an advisory board member for Bazaarvoice (NASDAQ: BV). Here is a transcript of her summary with a few action items adjusted and infused for clarity and brevity:
“Our advisor Erik Qualman, the author of Socialnomics, compares social media to a party. If you go to a party and see a group of people talking, he explains, you wouldn’t walk up and say, “Excuse me, you look like you’re having a pleasant conversation. Can we talk about why I’m great for the next five minutes?”
For some reason, however, we often forget these basic social skills in the digital world.
Too many businesses and salespeople jump into LinkedIn and immediately begin selling—pushing messages about their products and brand into an already ongoing conversation. Through what I call the “social selling circle,” the steps to effectively sell on LinkedIn or any digital gathering place.
1) Engage in active listening as opposed to simply waiting your turn to speak. What’s being said about your brand, your products and your industry? See what people are saying before jumping in. Look at what your prospects are posting to see what is top of mind, personally and professionally. Some post more than others but you can usually get a good feel for a person before even reaching out.
“Social media is the ultimate equalizer. It gives a voice and a platform to anyone willing to engage.” ~ Amy Jo Martin
2) Join the conversation in a way that adds value. You can’t just talk about how wonderful you or your company are and expect people to engage—you have to contribute to a flow that makes sense and isn’t awkward. Think of the offline world where you are having lunch and two potential prospects are enthralled about the controversial NFL game over the weekend—would you say “Excuse me, I didn’t see the game, but did you hear about the sushi chef that has been stealing money from the proprietor—we have an enterprise-grade software solution that would have caught this.” Of course, you wouldn’t. That would be awkward—yet many of us do similar things like this when selling online.
3) React. Respond to what is being said about you, your brand, or your company, ensuring your reply is succinct and timely. Once you have established interest, refrain from replying with the “kitchen sink” of everything you can do. Sending too much information is detrimental and will…
- Delay your response time, since you will be spending valuable time trying to craft an all-encompassing message.
- Overwhelm your prospect who will put off reading your reply until they have “enough” time to read the lengthy content.
- Diminish your opportunity to sprinkle new ideas and materials over the coming days because you have already sent everything. Specifically, if you have three points the prospect might be interested in, it’s better to save two of them for later messages. Hence if she/he responds, you can send them additional nuggets of interest or if they don’t respond, you have another excuse or reason to send them a note.
Nobody likes to receive email. The one universal question that elicits the same response across the 45 countries where I have spoken is—“Who wants to receive more email?” No one has ever raised his or her hand. If you despise receiving long emails, why would you expect your prospect or client to welcome a long response?!
It’s also important to understand the responsibility associated with the “React” step. Beyond the sales team, this is where many brands and companies “drop the ball” when it comes to social selling. If 70% of people are saying they like something about your product, how quickly are you changing your product to deliver more of what they like? Insights without action are worthless.
The same holds true for negative feedback. If people are talking about what they dislike about your products or brand, how quickly are you working to fix it? For all the companies jumping into social media, most don’t have a plan for acting on what they learn—their social efforts are placed into silos for a specific department. “Social” isn’t a department—your entire company must be listening and reacting to online conversations to drive any real value and to increase sales.
4) If you’re reacting to customer and prospect feedback to add value and solutions, it will feel more like collaboration and less like selling. While LinkedIn is the world’s most powerful sales tool, at this point in the conversation, for many of you, this “sell” part is where you should try and setup an offline meeting. You still can’t replace face-to-face interaction and attention. LinkedIn is a tool to help augment offline interactions when time and distance are an issue. When you can get an in-person meeting, you need to make it happen. LinkedIn is just a way to communicate before and between these real world meetings.
Below are two great questions that can be asked early on in the sales process. These starting questions are good for LinkedIn messaging, as well as helpful for interacting and reacting. They are also short to type!
- What are you most excited about in the next 12 months?
- What are the challenges that might prevent you from achieving the above?
When they respond to question #1 and #2, here are two items that correlate:
When you receive a response to question #1, ask if they have quantified dollar value or monetary opportunity related to what they are most excited about. Ex: I too would be excited about launching vegetable-based gummy bears for kids in the top U.S. markets. Have you identified what type of revenue opportunity is associated with this?
When they respond to the estimated dollar value—the vegetable-based gummy bear market is $250 million—ask what type of investment they would be willing to put toward it, ensuring they remove challenges to capitalizing on this opportunity. Give them bands:
- $10,000 – $20,000
- $20,001 – $40,000
- $40,001 – $60,000
- $60,001 – $80,000
When receiving a response to question #2, provide a short answer on how you might be able to resolve the challenges and ask to set up an offline meeting to discuss—list three specific dates and time windows to help simplify the scheduling process. Always give the time in their time zone, not your time zone.
By asking the two questions above, you have already provided value since most people don’t give these questions enough thought. Most prospects are mired in the day-to-day fire drills to truly reflect on what has them most excited. You have positioned yourself as a strategist ally with short and pointed questions rather than paragraphs of text.
As you sell, your customers will follow this same model—hence why it’s a Social Selling CIRCLE:
- Customers/clients hear what your product or service has to offer, both by listening to what you’re selling and by listening to each other on social media and in conversations offline.
- They’ll interact with your product or service by using them.
- They’ll react to your product, developing their own opinion of what’s working and what isn’t, what they like and what they dislike.
- Based on their reaction, they’ll sell for or against you via word of mouth. If you’ve done your job right by listening, interacting and reacting to feedback in order to consistently deliver better experiences and solutions—customers and clients will do the selling for you, by sharing their love of your products or service with their networks, both online and off. At this point, the Social Selling Circle continues in a positive reinforcing circle and the sales will continue to increase without additional effort on the sales side.
For more tips from Erik, check out his new book How to Sell on LinkedIn.