Why It’s Now or Never for Social Selling with LinkedIn’s Mike Derezin


As in most professions, sales leaders reach the top through a variety of paths. For Mike Derezin, it’s a nontraditional background that brought him to the world’s largest professional network LinkedIn five years ago. Mike currently serves as the leader of the global sales organization within LinkedIn’s Sales Solutions business unit. During his tenure as vice president, the company launched Sales Navigator, a truly unique data-driven product that enhances the buyer-seller relationship and makes it more efficient. We sat down with Derezin to chat about how he’s built his sales team, why it’s now or never with social selling, and the part predictive analytics will play.

Where and when did you get your start in sales?

I have a much more varied background as an entrepreneur, where you’re constantly selling to potential employees, current employees, customers, and investors. Where I really got into what you would call classic sales was at my first startup back in the mid-90s. I was running a research team around emerging market financial information. We were gathering tough-to-find content on places such as Latin America. And as with many startups, we were going to run out of money, so I started to pick up the phone.

How has your background informed who you hire?

With heads of sales, most people follow a natural sales leader trajectory and then over time become a business leader. I came the other way, where I grew up as a general manager and then had to learn the specific art of sales leadership. Both work, and what I find valuable in building teams is a combo of both. At LinkedIn I make sure I’m surrounded by people who have a lot of great sales experience. I would hope that I’ve helped lift their game, as they’ve helped lift mine.

What else have you prioritized with building your team?

At LinkedIn our culture and values are more than talk. One of my team’s values is “Selling is a Team Sport.” Wouldn’t it be ironic if we were selling a product that has something called TeamLink about how to leverage your company’s network, and we didn’t do it ourselves? Another one of my team’s values is “We Live What We Sell.” We screen for people who have high social selling index scores, a metric that shows you if your social selling efforts are paying off.

Would you say that your sales team is your product’s best customer?

Yes. When we hire people who’ve been using LinkedIn — social selling through it and leveraging Sales Navigator — they are so much more successful. The second they get objections, instead of trying to find something intellectual to respond with, they can have a visceral reaction, such as “I understand your objection and let me walk you through my last seven deals of how it worked for me before I joined LinkedIn.” It's pretty compelling.

Speaking of social selling, you’ve been at it since before it was really a thing.

It’s been going as long as social networks have been around, it just didn’t have an official name. People were saying, wow, there’s amazing information out there and we can leverage it along with traditional ways of selling. It wasn’t until 2011 or so that companies started recognizing social selling officially as something worthy of investing in.

And that’s what inspired the product and team you now lead?

We recognized at LinkedIn that we had a big opportunity to help salespeople in a much deeper way. In 2011, we decided to lean into it and build a product dedicated specifically to social selling. We whipped out a sheet of paper and said if you can dream, how would you envision LinkedIn being a powerful platform for sales organizations? And that was the birth of Sales Navigator. One of the beauties of my job and my team is that we’re selling a sales product that changes the way sales organizations sell.

Can you give us a prediction of where social selling is headed?

We’re now in the early majority phase, where we have companies that have done this at scale and are finding it works. In the last year, we’ve seen many blue chip companies come on board because they believe social selling is the biggest disruption in the sales space in the last decade. I think the main lesson is you’ve got to jump in and take advantage of it, because in a few years, everyone’s going to be doing it, and you won’t be able to get the same competitive advantage.

Do you have advice for individuals or companies who want to jump in?

Social selling is really four key activities. Number one is creating a professional profile. Number two is finding the right people. Number three is engaging with insights. And number four is building relationships. And all of this is done over social media. A big mistake a lot of novices will make is they’ll over invest in number one (building a professional profile when you can get 80% of the way there in two hours), when they should be focusing on the other three. For example, you can get started right away with building relationships through ensuring your team is leveraging warm introductions over the cold call. These are now my team’s #1 source of opportunities, beating out all other demand-gen efforts.

What’s your take on the whole idea of salespeople as trusted advisors?

I like what it stands for: You’re either in blast mode and just barging in on prospects and customers about what you want, or you have a different mindset of how you add value. For example, engaging with insights is a great one. Sharing interesting, relevant content, and also reading and learning about your customers. It’s also hard to be a trusted advisor when you’ve left seven voicemails and played games trying to get through on the phone. It’s a lot easier to be a trusted advisor by reaching out to someone who you know in common, and who tees you up and makes the introduction.

Another hot topic: Any thoughts on the use of predictive analytics in sales?

We’re just starting to see predictive analytics get embedded as a course of how we do business. Some of the implications of that are that we’re going to start seeing a lot more analytical data-driven organizations that are very sophisticated. Ways to meet prospects are increasingly going to be more scientific. I think it’s an exciting development that’s going to make the profession better and buyers better, because there’s going to be less noise in the system.

We’ve talked about the value of sharing interesting, relevant content. What are you reading these days?

I tend to read a lot of biographies and a lot of history. In terms of sales books, I think Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore is a good one. I also like The End of Competitive Advantage by Rita McGrath. The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation by Matthew Dixon and Brett Adamson is a classic, and I like Jill Konrath’s book Agile Selling. I recommend to my team that they read The Wall Street Journal as much as they can so they develop deeper business acumen.

Similar to a walk-up song, do you have a closing song?

I think my music tastes are still largely rooted in the '80s with new wave. When I do conferences or keynotes, usually I’ll have on my new wave. And I’ll do a little quiz with the audience to see how well they know it. That genre is increasingly less known, unfortunately.

You’ve got to jump in and take advantage of [social selling], because in a few years, everyone’s going to be doing it.”

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