LinkedIn is so much more than just a job platform. It is a growing news reading platform and it has become a key battleground for generating new sales leads. LinkedIn is now one of the go-to social network for sales prospecting. Why? Well, the numbers speak for themselves.
According to LinkedIn:
its 645 million users make it the largest network of business professionals in the world.
around 90 million users are classified as senior-level influencers.
50% of B2B buyers base their purchase decisions on LinkedIn information/contacts
76% of B2B buyers trust recommendations from their professional network.
This makes it a goldmine for sales prospecting and lead generation, as decision-makers are exactly who sales teams need to target.
Savvy salespeople selling in the connected world, are increasingly using LinkedIn as a primary source of new leads and tangible revenue, because you can't always wait on marketing to generate leads for you. And the best part is that LinkedIn sales prospecting works great regardless of the size or stage of your business. Small business owners and larger enterprises alike can benefit from LinkedIn, using it as a critical tool to make prospecting faster, smoother and, ultimately, more profitable.
We’re going to turn the rest of this article over to Anna Bratton, one of our top salespeople. Anna is focused on a selection of strategic accounts for Salesforce in the UK, where sales are typically influenced by several decision-makers.
LinkedIn is one of the core tools Anna uses to deliver against her sales targets, because, as she points out, “It’s the best tool we have for business development.” The skills of a modern salesperson have changed and LinkedIn allows you to connect with, and get more information on, companies, prospects and decision-makers.
Here are some top tips to help you turn LinkedIn into a lead generation machine:
The first thing I’d say to any salesperson who’s ready to get serious about LinkedIn is: take a long hard look at your contacts as that’s what your success with selling on LinkedIn will depend on. Contacts are the currency of LinkedIn. If your contacts are predominantly family, friends and old school pals, you’ve got some work to do.
Connections breed connections. Your first level contacts open up a route to a wide range of second and third-level connections. This is how you scale your network. Strike while the iron’s hot – whenever you meet anyone (online or offline), always follow up quickly with a connection request while you are still fresh in their mind.
One of the main things I use LinkedIn for is mapping out the decision-makers within my target prospects – this helps simplify the selling process. I deal with some very large multinational companies, so there can be numerous people involved in making and influencing a purchase. But even for smaller B2B sales, you’ll often need to influence several individuals.
You’d be surprised how much people put in their profiles – which team they’re in, which office they work out of, what projects they’re focusing on. With a little detective work, you can quickly build up a picture of who you should be talking to and assess your prospects needs.
You can also build up a map of who reports to whom and gain a clearer picture of the people you’ll need to influence to make it through the selling process. (For starters, take a look at the “Viewers of this profile also viewed...” box on their profile.)
Hardly anyone I know likes making cold calls. More often than not, they’re a waste of time and feel like you’re banging your head against a brick wall. Today, there is little or no excuse for going into any call cold.
With LinkedIn, you can almost always learn enough about someone to make your call or sales pitch (if you are further into the process), more relevant and useful to them. And it’s not simply a case of digital stalking. I’m always open with the people I call about the fact that I have looked at their LinkedIn profiles. I find it helps break the ice and it shows I’ve gone to more trouble than 90% of the other salespeople who call them every day.
I pay particular attention to changes in profile, status updates, connections we have in common and anything they’ve posted to a group (which can be reason enough to call them in the first place). Also, with a paid account, you can see expanded profiles of everyone on LinkedIn (not just those of your immediate contacts). This provides even more useful insights you can use to make a real-life connection.
Ask anyone in sales – senior decision-makers are a tough group to get through to. It’s not surprising when you think of it: they get besieged with calls and emails every single day. So to protect their time they screen calls, ignore most of their mail and have gatekeepers to prevent unwanted sales approaches from getting through.
While I’ll try everything I can think of to get through to senior execs using traditional channels, sometimes they are simply too well guarded. That’s where InMail comes in.
InMail is LinkedIn’s internal messaging system and allows you to send a message to any LinkedIn user without requiring an introduction. It ensures your message gets through to their inbox. LinkedIn claims that an InMail is 30 times more likely to get a response than a cold call (which, if anything, sounds conservative from my experience).
InMails are only available on premium accounts. The higher level the account you have, the more you get.
LinkedIn Sales Navigator is a paid feature that takes your sales prospecting to the next level. With advanced search, you can find people by title, company, location or keyword. By intelligently mixing the different filters you can get deep and identify key individuals quickly and easily. It is one of the best sales productivity tools, as it keeps your workflow nicely organised.
You can also save your search criteria and get a weekly report listing new matches for the customer type you’re looking for. So, for example, I could save a search for procurement managers in the pharmaceutical industry within 50 miles of Dublin. Each week, I’ll then get an email with anyone new who matches my search (and deserves a closer look). I can’t overstate what a powerful feature this is. I use it all the time.
As any salesperson will know, change creates opportunity. People join, people leave or climb the career ladder, companies make important announcements – any change can present a good reason to get in touch and offer help.
LinkedIn makes discovering these changes easy and you should make this a core part of your prospecting process. You can follow any company that has a LinkedIn page. That way you’ll see any changes directly in your updates. It’s an easy way to stay up to date and spot new opportunities.
By keeping up to date with company news you can leverage some effective networking sales techniques. For example, if you notice that one of your prospects is attending the same conference as you, why not reach out and see if they want to meet up at the conference.
At a prospect level, other great tactics include checking who gave skill endorsements or who commented on your prospect’s posts. You can also easily see who has entered a new role and congratulate them on their new job.
Groups are great for social selling on LinkedIn. I use them to learn more about the industries I focus on, but they can also be a great source of new sales prospects. Member questions are great for highlighting frustrations and unmet needs. They can also provide you with the perfect reason for making contact with a prospect.
But there are three other aspects that make groups incredibly useful:
While a lot of what I’ve said so far concerns outbound activity where you are going out to discover information and make contact, it’s important not to ignore inbound activities. If interested, your prospects will invariably look at your profile - and judge you by it. It pays to ensure it is 100% complete and delivers a professional impression of both you and your company.
Make sure you include current links to your company site, your Twitter account and other relevant social media channels or showcase pages (I find that a significant number of people who check out my LinkedIn profile go on to follow me on Twitter).
You should also get some high-quality recommendations – especially from existing happy customers (quality is better than quantity). This will give visitors a better idea of what you’re like as a person. After all, even in B2B, people still buy from people.
Finally, always add a photo. It makes the connection feel more real and creates a good impression. Make sure it’s a good quality shot (nothing wacky or from a recent party) and don’t forget to smile!
It always amazes me how few people know that you can see who’s looked at your profile. Unless visitors have set their profiles to anonymous, you can click on the “Who’s viewed your profile?” link and see a list of them. The free account limits how many you can see while paid accounts give you the whole list. Of course, once you know this, it can become quite a compulsive activity.
This can work for you in two ways:
Even when you get visitors described as “Procurement Professional from the Pharmaceutical Industry” you can still click on them. LinkedIn will then give you a list which will include the actual visitor. It then takes just minutes to quickly visit each profile to show you’ve looked back.
As you’d expect, I use Salesforce Sales Cloud to track and manage my sales pipeline. I can easily integrate my LinkedIn contacts with my Sales Cloud records and tag where they came from. It makes connecting and selling much easier because I can quickly see their work experience and education, as well as our shared connections. I can also add in their photo (which I find useful).
Of course, LinkedIn isn’t the only place I get information about my prospects. Sales Cloud also allows me to bring in what I learn on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Klout. It makes accurate contact management essential and means I can get a more rounded (and ultimately more valuable) view of my prospects – wherever I am.
So that’s it – how I use LinkedIn for sales prospecting on social media. I can honestly say that I’d be lost without it. While LinkedIn will not make the sale for you, by using it intelligently you can gain a tangible advantage over your competitors. It gives you a crucial edge that can translate into improved sales performance. It certainly has for me.
For more tips about using LinkedIn and other social networks for sales prospecting, download this free 7 steps to sales success guide.