Advantages

How to Leverage LinkedIn for Sales

A straightforward guide to success that can become your foundation for social selling.

If you’re not actively using LinkedIn, you’re missing out on significant sales-generating opportunities. Why? Studies now show that 50% of LinkedIn users are likely to buy from a company they connect with on the social platform. That sure beats random email blasting, doesn’t it?

Consider that, on average, businesspeople receive 200 emails a day. That means your customers are getting bombarded with cold digital messages. You probably receive a similar amount. How many of these I-have-no-idea-who-this-is-from emails do you actually open?

LinkedIn, meanwhile, is a much warmer place – a digital meeting ground, a town square of sorts, designed for you to make contacts and cultivate relationships that can ultimately lead to sales. After all, people are there to make connections. That said, you still need a plan to navigate the scene. Here are nine simple strategies for using LinkedIn to increase your sales, no matter your level of social selling expertise.

1. Look Sharp & Be Active
Your LinkedIn profile needs to convey that you’re a professional – not a part guy or gal, not a robot, not a spammer. LinkedIn’s official business statistics show that people with a profile photo have 40% higher InMail response rates. But any old photo won’t do. Upload a clean, high-resolution, up-to-date headshot from the past two years. Don’t use a blurry picture and don’t use a photo with other people in it.

Of course, the content of your LinkedIn profile matters, too. You can’t expect a sparkling headshot to be your only asset. Christie C. Newman, a sales and marketing manager at SERVPRO, emphasizes that you must complete your profile to have the most success; don’t be lazy and don’t put it off until later. “Your profile is what will open doors,” she says. Changes to LinkedIn rules make it easier than ever to complete your profile without waiting on other people.

Consultant Alice Heiman stresses that your LinkedIn profile also should be clearly active. If there are no signs of life, you probably won’t get any signs of sales. “An engaged LinkedIn profile is as important as a business card and a website,” she says. “It’s a tool for building and maintaining relationships, not selling. Use LinkedIn to network the same way you would network in person at a professional organization, conference or trade show.”

2. Rely on Introductions
According to LinkedIn stats, a recent survey of B2B buyers and influencers showed only 4% had a favorable impression of a salesperson who reached out to them with a cold call or visit. Compare that to the 87% who had a favorable impression of a salesperson who was introduced to them through someone in their professional network.

“The best way to leverage LinkedIn for sales is to look for people you know who are already connected to potential clients,” says Newman. “Ask for an introduction. Personal relationships and your business reputation are the easy way to get in the door.”

Wes Edwards, senior VP of business development for marketing firm 310 Ltd., agrees that spending time mining for the right contacts makes all the difference. “Make sure they’re real connections,” he says. “If there’s a prospect you’d like to get in front of, see if they are connected to someone you have a solid relationship with. They may be able to make an introduction, or at least give you some insight. As always, a satisfied client referral is worth its weight in gold.”

Scott Kelly, CEO of Black Dog Venture Partners, makes 100 LinkedIn connections a day. He does it mainly through introductions. “I’ll go to existing LinkedIn sources I have and begin to look at the friends and connections they have,” he says. “I use introductions to develop new prospects. LinkedIn is the easiest way to get highly targeted, very specific leads I can follow up with.”

3. Dig Deep
Whether you grew up with library card catalogs or the internet, you learned basic research skills in school at some point. Well, the reports you wrote as a sprout may have felt like a purely academic exercise, but the same basic principles of research apply to your daily life as a salesperson: Ask questions. Read, watch and listen. Critically evaluate your sources. Synthesize information. So what does this have to do with LinkedIn? Think of LinkedIn as a library. It may not be filled with books, but it’s definitely a research hub.

“You should use LinkedIn to find a client before a meeting to warm up your sales call, find out who the key players are at an organization to limit prospecting time, and also to increase your network for future leads,” says Nic Shaw, a sales specialist at KI, a furnishing solutions company. “LinkedIn invites are like digital handshakes before you get the chance to shine in person.”

And who are the key players for any salesperson? The ones who have the power to say yes or no to a deal. Atalie Senty, a business consultant for Zillow Group, says that LinkedIn helps you easily navigate a company to identify who the decision-makers in an organization are. This gives you a launching point. “Find the company or prospect and send a professional message asking for time to connect,” she says.

But don’t end it there. Senty stresses the importance of looking behind what’s immediately available on the screen. LinkedIn is a goldmine for articles, blog posts, press releases and other reading material from industry and mainstream media alike. “Follow trends and news articles in that industry to reference during calls,” she says.

Senty also believes that paying for LinkedIn’s premium Sales Navigator is worth the cost because it allows you extra access to information. “It grants you access to other premium users, who are usually decision-makers,” she says. “Do your homework on the company and the background of who you’re speaking with so you have talking points. If they worked at X company or went to X college, remember that those are conversation starters.”

4. Be Strategic With Approaches
After you’ve done ample research, you may find making a cold approach necessary. That’s fine, but proceed with caution. You can’t just pop up out of nowhere and think people will give you their time without a mutual connection to vouch for you.

“If you decide to approach someone you don’t know, write a personal connection message letting them know who you are and why you want to connect,” says Heiman. “Once they connect with you, don’t sell. Build the relationship. Mention something you have in common. Share industry news or some helpful content. Inquire about their business – just like you would if you met them in person.”

She adds, “You can build lists of people you want to meet. You can find people to introduce you or you can follow them and interact by clicking ‘like,’ commenting or sharing their posts, and then send them a personalized connection request.”

Here’s a “cold” message example from Heiman. You might write: “Hi Tim, I’ve been reading your posts and appreciate the great information you share. I’d like to connect so we can share resources.”

Heiman doesn’t think LinkedIn is the place to push sales, but it’s unmatched for building relationships. “Strong relationships can be leveraged,” she says. “People who get to know you, like you and trust you, buy from you when they have a need.” Just like you shouldn’t immediately sell something to someone you just met in person, you shouldn’t sell stuff to someone you just met online. LinkedIn certainly is no exception to this rule.

5. Stay in Touch
Most customers have the potential to be repeat clients, but people have to feel valued to do business with you over and over again. Do your best to maintain your LinkedIn relationships the same way you would an in-person one. “Increasing sales comes from many places: repeat business, referrals from loyal customers, networking at events and trade shows, referral sources, people you approach cold and people who approach you,” says Heiman. “LinkedIn can help with all of those.”

With loyal customers, she says, “It can help you stay in touch with them. If they’re using LinkedIn avidly, then you can like, comment on or share one of their posts. You can send them interesting articles. You can introduce them to people. You can ask them for introductions. You can schedule meetings.”

6. Be Responsive
Ghosting potential customers is bad business. If someone sends you a question on LinkedIn, answer it. Frankly, it could mean the difference between making a sale and not making one. “Every salesperson needs to know that their LinkedIn is not for them, it is for their customers,” says Shaw. “You have to be easily accessible to clients so they feel that they can reach you whenever they need you. Take pride in your connections because they can turn into customers.”

You need to make yourself available for long-time customers, too. A loyal customer may reach out to you by phone or email, but it’s possible they’ll send you a LinkedIn message instead – especially if LinkedIn is where you first met. Check your LinkedIn inbox regularly so you don’t miss important messages.

7. Use it Often
LinkedIn won’t serve you well if you only log onto the website once a month and spend five minutes there. “You have to get into a ritual of using LinkedIn on a daily basis,” says Kelly. Cabell Edmunds, a marketing analyst at CapTech Ventures, Inc., agrees that it’s critical to maintain an active presence and nourish those online relationships. “LinkedIn isn’t really beneficial unless you really devote regular time to engaging with your network,” she says. “You really start seeing the return on investment when you take advantage of all the site offers.”

Edmunds recommends joining LinkedIn groups. It’s a simple process that lets you filter through thousands of forums. The secret, though, isn’t to join a group and sound like a salesperson. Instead, provide information and trends so you’re valuable to others. In turn, others will become valuable to you. “Engaging with them is the best way to make new connections using LinkedIn,” Edmunds says. “Groups can also help you find more information about a company and its employees in order to gain the information you need to make a sale.”

Whether you join groups or share articles, it doesn’t take much to keep those online relationships going. “You can maintain many relationships in a very small amount of time using LinkedIn,” says Heiman. “In one hour, you can touch 10 to 20 people in a meaningful way. You can’t do that in person.”

8. Take Rejection in Stride
Let’s face it, as a salesperson, you’re familiar with people saying no. Rejection happens on LinkedIn, too. Sometimes, people will not accept your request to connect. People will ignore your messages. People may even post rude comments on the articles, photos and other links and files you share. But if you get rejected enough, at some point you will get accepted. You have to keep trying.

“You have to talk to 100 people and you might get 90 to 95 no’s,” says Kelly. “You’re not going to get the yes you need until you’ve put in the numbers. I have somewhere around 14,000 LinkedIn connections, but they’re all targeted and strategic – not just anybody.” He says that in training 1,000 salespeople, “the last thing you want is not enough people to contact.”

9. Keep Your Activity Discreet
Edwards offers up one key caution as you look to mine LinkedIn for opportunities. “Be careful about what you put out there,” he says. “Information shared a little too freely can give your competitors valuable intelligence about what moves you are making and maybe even tell them there is a potential deal somewhere they didn’t know about.”

You should use LinkedIn every day, but filter your activity so your connections aren’t privy to every little change or post you make on the site. Also be highly selective about what you choose to post. Carefully read the articles you share and be sure that they’re coming from credible sources. Refrain from posting angry rants. Finally, don’t post silly videos or cute animal pictures. Simply put, they’re better left for your Facebook feed.

Christine Stoddard is a contributing writer for Advantages.