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Rather than going to salespeople for information about markets, products, or pricing, buyers are increasingly going to the Internet first. In fact, the average B2B buyer is already 50-70 percent of the way through the buying process before they ever engage a salesperson.

Empowered by unlimited access to information, your prospects and returning customers are having a party without you. To succeed in this world, you must have – and continue to build – a personal digital brand.

Evolution, Not Revolution.

Using social media to develop a personal brand doesn’t change the way you sell. It’s always going to be about building relationships founded on trust.

But to generate new business in the digital economy, it’s important to understand the evolution that’s taken place. You’re not dealing with customers in the same way. Today, they’re digitally driven, socially connected, and always mobile.

So, how do you reach them? By meeting them where they are.

When a customer needs guidance about how to make a purchase, you need to make sure they find you. This is where your personal brand becomes so important. Social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter help you develop a reputation and establish credibility as a trustworthy authority.

But you should be careful about your approach. Just as in life, you don’t join a cocktail party conversation by shouting your way into the group. Initially, you should listen to the conversation, then join, later, when you have valuable insight to add to the conversation.

According to Phil Lurie, Senior Director for SAP Global Customer Operations, Tools, and Technology, “social engagement is the “tip of the spear” for our new economy.” You must wield this spear wisely. Tweeting ten times a day for the sake of saying you “participated” is the modern equivalent of knocking on every door and saying, “I’m the fuller brush man. Mind if I come in?”

And although 73 percent of B2B sales reps say they see value in social selling, only 26 percent say they know how to do it.

Start with LinkedIn

Naturally, you’ll want to be in channels where your customers (and their customers are). LinkedIn is the most professional of all the networks, so it’s a good place to start.

With 467 million users, it’s not hard to get connections. Start by connecting with people within your own company and work your way out. Branch out to alumni friends, school mates, and other interesting contacts who aren’t in your industry. But remember, quality matters more than quantity. (Once you have more than 500 connections, your profile will show “500+” earning you the title of “influencer.” Good to have goals, right?).

Once you connect with a few of “the right people,” you’ll begin to see more content based on people you know – and vice versa. LinkedIn automatically reminds you of work anniversaries, birthdays or job promotions, making it easy to stay in touch, even on the simplest terms. The more connected you become, the more relevant, interesting, and timely your updates will be, providing greater opportunities for outreach and relationship building.

One common pitfall, though is treating LinkedIn like a resume. Unless you’re looking for a new job, use it as a professional profile, not a resume. Here are a few rules of thumb:

  • Don’t list accomplishments, list volunteer work and interests. People don’t want to see that you hit your sales goals, but they do want to see how you support local organizations.
  • Talk about your customers’ problems and what you provide to solve them.
  • Talk about professional problems, failures, and issues you’ve encountered. Someone who’s about to go down a similar path may get guidance from your story.
  • Talk about what’s in customers’ mind than what you’re trying to sell. Listen twice, talk once.

In short, don’t just be a spokesperson for the company you work for. Find ways to create a blend of professional and personal mix that highlights who you are and who you can help.

Avoiding Random Acts of Social

Too many sales managers fail to have a strategy or coordinated approach to social selling and personal branding, so they’re unable to offer guidance to others in the organization. Even though every sales manager knows the key to successful sales – especially in enterprise –  is consistency, repeatability, and measurability, few go beyond assuming their salespeople have social media accounts.

But, building a personal brand to succeed at social selling needs the same consistency, repeatability, and measurability. You need a plan (with an understanding that people will need time to experiment).

Some general advice would be to set aside 30-60 minutes every day, just like you would to cold call in the old days. Spend 50 percent of that time on LinkedIn, 25 percent on Twitter, and 25 percent elsewhere. If you’re not comfortable with this structure, as least provide broad guidelines that guide attention to valuable activities. Set an expectation for how many contacts are expected in the first month.

When you clear up doubt and uncertainty, people are more likely to do what you’re asking of them. But at the end of the day, you must also be clear that social media is part of the standard sales process every rep needs to know.

Social Selling is No Longer Optional

People get 10-15 calls a day from auto dialers. If you’re producing anything less than personalized messaging, you’re dying a slow death.

You’re asking many people to make a philosophical change, so do it gradually. Provide formalized trainings, not just to provide tools, but to say to people, “this is how you build your personal brand,” then later, “this is how to participate in social media appropriately.” Systematic programs get people up to speed, helping to get quicker results, which will lead to greater buy-in.

Email and phone aren’t dead yet, but they have been mortally wounded. When used correctly, email, phone, and social media can work together to create a virtuous cycle. It’s essential that you will be found when customers are ready. Social selling makes sure that happens! Pick up additional tips by listening to this podcast on the ABCs of Social Selling and Building Your Global Brand – Part 2.

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