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How social sellers make it to the top: Insights from LinkedIn Sales Connect

April 29, 2013

Earlier this month, we at Hearsay Social had the opportunity to be a part of LinkedIn Sales Solutions’ inaugural summit, hosted by Mike Derezin (Global Head of Sales, Sales Solutions, LinkedIn) at the W Hotel in San Francisco. It was an incredibly inspiring event about how the selling discipline has evolved in the social era. I myself learned a tremendous amount and wanted to share the top takeaways.

Selling experts panel, from left to right: Jill Konrath, Kurt Shaver, Miles Austin, Koka Sexton.

 Most of your customers are on social networks–that’s a given. But did you know that 75% of them are influenced by what they read there? In the social media era, buyers are more educated than ever before. (The Corporate Executive Board recently reported that the average B2B buyer is already 57% of the way through the purchase decision before even engaging with your sales rep.)

Traditional cold outreach today is essentially ineffective. Mass emails and brute force phone calls are annoying to your prospects, not helping to close deals. On the contrary, social selling tactics are helping businesses today increase sales through relationships and social data that help them find the right people, make introductions, and refine their messaging.

Typically, the path of a social salesperson follows four stages. First, a salesperson must establish and enhance their profile on the appropriate social network, typically LinkedIn or Facebook. Then there’s the initial wave of connecting with present and former colleagues, friends, and even family. You never know what connections will come in handy.

Once the social salesperson has set up their profile and connections, they must consistently work toward building their brand and establishing themselves as an authority in their particular area of expertise. This is done through status updates and sharing of original and third-party content. In the final stage of this path, the social salesperson reaches 2nd- and 3rd-degree contacts, and the process repeats.

Jill Konrath speaking at the Summit.

Many of these topics and others were discussed at LinkedIn SalesConnect earlier this month. One panel, dedicated entirely to “Social Selling,” included panelists Koka Sexton, Sr. Social Marketing Manager LinkedIn; Kurt Shaver, Founder, The Sales Foundry; Miles Austin, The Web Tools Guy; and Jill Konrath, author of SNAP Selling. Jill conducted a large-scale research study looking at top-performing sales reps versus their average peers and found four major differences in whether and how they used social networking sites in the selling process.

Here are four ways social sellers make it to the top, based on Jill’s study:

1. Top sellers do their homework.

Top sellers have mastered use of LinkedIn as a research tool. They always research prospects before reaching out, compared to their regular sellers who often cold call without context. By the time top sellers reach out via phone, email, or InMail, they are able to speak knowledgeably and credibly regarding their prospect’s role, company, and industry, and to reference past job experiences as well as mutual connections.

2. Top sellers invest in growing their networks.

On average, top sellers have much bigger networks and invest in continuing to grow those networks compared to their peers. Top-performing reps make a habit of connecting to existing customers, who can provide valuable references or introductions for future deals. Jill says that “social networks make it so that reps don’t have to fight the delete button” because they can go in warm.

In addition, top B2B sellers connect with not just one or two contacts at a prospect organization but many contacts. They hedge their bets, refusing to put all their eggs in one basket lest a particular contact become unresponsive, act as a gatekeeper, or leave the company. To continually update their knowledge on accounts, sellers can create targeted prospect lists with saved searches on LinkedIn.

3. Top sellers invest in a professional presence on social networks.

They take the time to always include a photo and to ensure that it is professional yet personable. Top reps articulate relevant skills and experience, and share content to showcase their subject matter expertise. Importantly, top sellers write their profiles as they would want the customer, not a recruiter, to read it. Instead of bragging that they are “the #1 rep” or “a hard closer,” they view their profiles from the customer’s eyes and ask “do I appear like someone a customer would want to work with?”

4. Top sellers invest in content (status updates and groups)

Top sellers understand LinkedIn has evolved from just a place to post your resume to a full-fledged content sharing network with streams and groups. They set aside a few minutes every week, if not every day, to share timely status updates and relevant articles they find across the Web. In addition, the best performers also make a point of joining highly targeted groups on LinkedIn to find what their customers and/or peers are talking/asking about. These are triggers that help top sellers stay top-of-mind in a low touch way and keep in contact with their customers.

Congratulations to Mike and the entire LinkedIn Sales Solutions team on a great event!

Clara Shih

CEO, Founder

A pioneer in the social media industry, Clara developed the first social business application in 2007. Her latest book, The Social Business Imperative, is a Wall Street Journal-featured bestseller. She is a member of the Starbucks board of directors.

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