LinkedIn Ain’t Selling

linkedin and social selling
I often get asked to give a talk on the power of social media and how that works with sales. There has been a lot of buzz around the topic of ‘Social Selling’ and it makes sense with more and more professionals utilizing tools like LinkedIn and Twitter for business. But I am here to tell you, social media does not replace sales skills and strong processes.

Social media is very powerful and has changed sales in some ways, but I think there’s a lot of overhype on social selling.

We’ll walk through a couple of examples, but let’s start here. A few months before I wrote this, Microsoft — one of the biggest companies in the world — purchased LinkedIn for $26 billion (see article here). That’s billion, with a “B”.

Clearly there is a lot of potential with social media, and LinkedIn in particular. But, some thought that was a little overpriced, and they may be right. I don’t think anyone is totally clear what Microsoft is going to do with LinkedIn, but one of the bigger rumors I’ve heard is that they’ll roll LinkedIn into Dynamics. That way, when you’re in your CRM (Dynamics), you’ll have access to the professional info of all these people in your industry.

We’re all becoming targets.

First Rule About Social Selling

This illustrates my first point about social selling:

We live in an era now where it’s easier than ever to identify our targets and who the decision-makers are, but harder than ever to get in touch with them.

There’s a ton of noise and people coming at you from all different angles. With every new ‘flashy object’, it gets harder and harder to keep up with it all. Just think, how often do you get a message in your inbox from a prospector or recruiter? How many of those do you respond to?

And here’s a dirty little secret about LinkedIn that Microsoft maybe should have thought about a little more: 400M users, sure, but only 25% of them use it monthly. While 100M is still a good base to work from, it doesn’t mean all of them are active. So if you’re trying to contact a guy who’s (a) busy or (b) doesn’t plan on job-hunting anytime soon, he’s probably not logging into his LinkedIn on the regular. Consequently, it’s not a good way to find him and connect with him about your solution. That’s one problem with social selling.

Let me stay on LinkedIn for a second, because that’s the platform most people associate with social selling. Again, $26B. That’s a lot of money. There’s a lot of smart people working on LinkedIn to get it to that valuation. If there was a way to turn a LinkedIn message into a sale, don’t you think someone would have figured it out? Wouldn’t that be a product? They’ve got an entire suite of sales products, but nothing guarantees you the sale.

LinkedIn Is a Tool, Not A Sales Strategy

From a personal perspective, a guy I’ve worked with named Jim works for an employee benefits company. He’s in sales and has reached out several times to ask if I can make a connection for him with someone in my network on LinkedIn. I feel I’m like every other decision maker on LinkedIn – I use it intermittently. Jim, in both instances when he’s needed a referral, has only communicated to me through my LinkedIn inbox. So, by the time I got to his message, it was too late to help him. Jim should have called me, emailed me, texted me or all of the above versus just putting a message in my LinkedIn mailbox.

And that’s where the rubber meets the road with social selling: It can’t exist on its own.

You have to pick up the phone, you have to take the person to lunch, or you have to get on Skype. Whatever the next step is, you’ve got to initiate the next step in the sales process.

I’ve done training with sports teams where younger sales reps will say, “Oh, I targeted him on LinkedIn and sent him a message.” That’s not selling! Sending isn’t selling! Sure, LinkedIn is a great tool for prospecting, but that’s all it is, a tool. One of many in your arsenal as a sales pro.

The Shortcomings of LinkedIn and Social Selling

Based on our research with our clients, our own call center venture, and the last 150 appointments set, it takes 6 to 8 mixed touches to targets to make contact or yield a response. Those touches include LinkedIn, voicemail, email and sometimes other social media.

Social selling works as a way to identify leads, target decision-makers, and put people in buckets. But it doesn’t work for the close. It’s not where you get the sale — or even where you make the ask.

Hopefully most people realize this by now, but … I run into a lot of reps who seem to think there’s some magic sauce behind social selling. There’s not. It’s a good first step, or even a first and second step. But it’s not the close.

Now let’s say you start using LinkedIn and are getting some momentum. Prospects are responding and they are taking meetings. This is great news; your pipeline is starting to fill up! But there are few things to keep in mind. There’s a big cancellation rate when you use social channels to set appointments. It’s not as definitive. And this can have a big impact on your time as a salesperson and the opportunities in your pipeline. A high cancellation rate could lead to you becoming a prisoner of hope.

While there is a huge opportunity for social selling in today’s marketplace, due to some of the holes and obstacles, ROI is still hard to measure.

5 Ideas for Using Linkedin In Your Sales Process

Now I’ve given you a bunch of problems. What do you do? Here are your Top 5 Ideas

  1. Don’t be a professional stalker

    Social media shouldn’t be used just to identify a target. We should be using it to figure out how to engage our prospect, but it can’t be the only source. It’s an option.

  2. Critical selling conversations are not for social

    Never use one way communication for resolving objections, dealing with issues of credibility or talking about critical solutions. Pick up the phone, and have a conversation.

  3. Try a mixed approach

    Social media can be great for prospecting and keeping in touch with decision makers in your pipeline. Just make sure it’s not the only way you are prospecting and communicating. Remember, sending isn’t selling. Pick up the phone, send an email, or drop by the office if you can. Whatever it takes to get their attention and to move the sale.

  4. Remember your sales skills

    Just because you are communicating via a virtual platform, doesn’t mean you lose the key skills it takes to be successful in sales. Ask good questions, build rapport, and overcome objections. Remember, you are communicating with other human beings, not a machine.

  5. Develop a process

    One of the key factors to success with social selling is your process. Develop a process for outreach. Test it, tweak it, and perfect it. Make it work for you. And remember, even a solid social selling process is only a small piece of your greater sales process.