Tom Skotidas is one of the world’s leading authorities on generating B2B sales leads using social networks. This week he spoke with Andrew Shaw at Article Writers Australia about what it takes to create an effective presence on LinkedIn, and how to avoid mistakes that make your potential business connections hit the spam button.
Tom, what was your introduction to the world of LinkedIn social selling?
“I realised the power of social media platforms in about 2008. I was head of sales and marketing at an agency that specialised in search engine marketing. I’d used LinkedIn since 2005 the way most people do – as a CV and rolodex.
Then in May 2008, I sent my first InMail and realised how powerful LinkedIn could be in helping me generate qualified leads. Between May 2008 and March 2011, I grew that agency from about half a million dollars in annual billings to $7 million a year. Of that amount, half of it was directly attributable to my usage of LinkedIn and Twitter. I resigned from that agency in March 2011 to form Skotidas Consulting Group.
Do people need to create content before they begin using LinkedIn?
Yes – they must create their personal profile. Your LinkedIn profile is your first– and most important – piece of content. Your profile must have the right picture, the right headline, and the right sales copy. You must also add marketing assets such as videos, presentations, and publications. A professional and impressive LinkedIn profile is your single greatest piece of content on the platform.
After building their profile, do people need to share content to generate leads?
“The answer is an overwhelming ‘no’ if you need to generate leads in the short term. For example, if you were desperate to generate five meetings over the next week, then the time it would take you to find the content, read it, come up with an insight, and share it, would be a waste of time. Instead, you should use your profile as your sole piece of content and start sending InMails to prospects and asking trusted third parties for introductions to prospects.”
This morning on my LinkedIn page someone posted a quote from Sir Richard Branson. Is that effective content?
“If Branson’s content is not relevant to what I want to be positioned against, then I would never share it. I would only share content that credentialises me and positions me in the product category I want to be known for. Otherwise, the content does nothing for my audience and it does nothing for me. If I’m a social selling expert, my audience wants insights into social selling and B2B media. They don’t want to hear my thoughts on Branson.”
“Yes, that’s critical. I find that people often lack a compass when they’re sharing content. They don’t understand that everything you like, everything you comment on, and everything you share actually positions you against everything you shared. So if you share, like, and comment on everything, then people associate you with everything – which is actually nothing.
“If you want people to start perceiving you as an industry leader, you must follow proven principles of branding, which require brand awareness and brand positioning – focused positioning The goal of any social seller is to stand out from the crowd, and branding via the content you share ensures you will achieve that.”
Could you outline some effective beginner strategies?
“Number one – build a profile that is credible, relevant to your target audience, and uses customer-centric language. Before you publish your profile, get your peers to review it and rate you. Do you look like a lightweight, a middleweight, or a heavyweight in your industry? You’re aiming for a profile that makes you look as if you are a heavyweight.
“Number two – know who you’re targeting. Use the advanced search function on LinkedIn, which is free, and start running searches for people you’d like to meet for business purposes.
“Number three – have two or three articles ready to be shared. Just two or three. Or even just one. Read the article, develop a two-line or three-line insight addressed to – and for the benefit of – your target audience, then share it.”
How important is it to be contextual and relevant?
“Very important. Usually, people press the ‘connect’ button and assume by sending the default script that people will accept. But most people don’t approve of receiving these cookie-cutter messages from strangers.
“Our recommended approach is to first build a large network of first degree connections of people you know and who know you, Then, by using that network as a contextualising tool, reach out to prospects whom you have never met but with whom you are just one-degree removed. For example, if I worked with Andrew Shaw at company ABC, and Andrew works with Linda at company ABC but I’ve never met her, then it makes sense for me to reach out to Linda and say, ‘Hi Linda, we haven’t met, but I am working with Andrew Shaw in your company on this project. Andrew mentioned you are his colleague, so I thought I’d reach out and invite you to connect.’
“When Linda receives this, she won’t think of this approach as spam. Instead, she’ll think: ‘Well, this guy works with my colleague and his profile looks quite reasonable, I’m happy to accept.’ This is key to social selling – being gentle, respectful, and contextual – never aggressive, spammy, irrelevant, or assumptive.”
Do our inhibitions stop us from making the most of LinkedIn
“Absolutely. People build so many psychological walls that prevent them from being successful at Social Selling. I say, build a good personal profile, just reach out, and be contextual. It amazes me that people will not invite relevant business prospects whom they’ve never met to connect on LinkedIn, but they are happy to cold call these same prospects or tap them on their shoulder at a conference and introduce themselves.”
Are people reticent about connecting with you?
“Yes! I rarely get LinkedIn invitations from people I speak to at training seminars, even though I tell them in my speech: “Please connect with me!” When I later meet people who were part of my audience and ask them why they didn’t connect, they say, “After what you taught me in your speech, I was too embarrassed!” As a business person, I need connections. If only they could break down their psychological wall which prevents them from building their network.”
“When you connect with someone, always mention it’s for networking purposes. If you plan to connect with them on Monday and ask them for a meeting on Tuesday, forget about it. It’s terrible form. That kind of behaviour is becoming epidemic – people will connect at 1.00pm and then at 1.05pm smash the prospect with a message asking for a meeting. The key to connections is to connect for networking purposes. Relationships need time to mature. Social Selling should be a long game. If you are under pressure to generate leads in the next week, don’t try to connect in the first degree – just send an Inmail instead or ask a trusted third party for an introduction.”
Do some people have a problem with the time it takes to use LinkedIn effectively?
“One of the paradoxes of social selling is that social media platforms require habit formation, and that takes time. Unfortunately, time often doesn’t exist in some high-pressure roles, e.g. sales.
“There’s what I call the Social Seller’s Paradox – do I take time to learn these techniques…but what if it negatively impacts my short-term KPIs? Or do I wait until the day when I have time to learn these skills – but what if that day never comes?”
So managers need to understand how staff can use LinkedIn?
“Absolutely. Managers must go through training and they have to be willing to modify KPIs. That doesn’t mean soften KPIs, but modify KPIs to allow their team to form these habits. The good news is that as your network grows and your reputation grows, you can do less – but achieve more.”