Note: Upon her indictment on federal money laundering charges and her arrest February 8, 2022, Inc. dismissed Heather Morgan as a contributing columnist. As is our practice, we do not unpublish editorial content, and rather have added this note for full transparency.
Social media's presence in the sales world is an old story by now, but the latest figures suggest its power in the space is stronger than you might think.
LinkedIn recently gave me an early look at the findings from their second annual State of Sales Report for 2017. (You can download the PDF of the report directly here.) The study surveyed 2,000 business-to-business professionals based in the U.S. about how they perceive technology is impacting sales. Some of it's to be expected: Investment in sales tools is up, cold phone calls are less effective, and the majority of people consider technology important to closing deals.
What did surprise me, though, was how much social is changing sales--especially our expectations around how salespeople should conduct relationships with customers.
It makes sense when you think about how drastically social has changed other areas of work and life. The question is, how can we use our social tools to better meet those expectations in our client relationships?
Here are some of the most interesting figures from the LinkedIn study, along with some steps you can take to incorporate these new ideas into your daily sales work.
1. Social media should be your go-to destination for learning about potential customers.
The study noted that 94 percent of the respondents said they get "valuable insights" about customers from social networks. So if you're not immediately hitting the social networks to research potential customers, you're doing your sales relationships a disservice. Seventy-seven percent of study respondents said they won't engage with people who don't know their business. That doesn't leave much room for forgiveness if you send a cold email or go to a meeting not knowing the basics of your potential customer's business.
LinkedIn vice president of products and marketing Justin Shriber had an even more surprising stat when we spoke over the phone. "When people send out an InMail [LinkedIn's version of email], if there's a personalized note associated with it, where [the salesperson] pulled something from the profile of the buyer or introduced another kind of information that makes email unique, the respondents are five times more likely to respond."
How do you find and choose that kind of compelling information? In my experience, that's where "e-stalking" comes in handy. Look closely at the other person's "About" section on LinkedIn to see how they describe themselves. Note how they talk about their roles, past and present. Comb through their skills and endorsements to see what technologies they regularly use. Elsewhere, note what they tweet about, who they follow, and if they share information on smaller, industry-specific social networks.
2. Buyers prefer to work with salespeople that already have a social-media presence.
You've heard stories about recruiters scanning candidates' social-media profiles before interviews. Turns out, potential buyers use that practice, too. Over half (62 percent) of the study's respondents said they look for "an informative LinkedIn profile" when they consider talking with a specific salesperson. Meanwhile, 69 percent of Millennial buyers are more likely to connect with salespeople who have a professional online presence.
Those figures boil down to a simple conclusion: Your professional social networking is hugely important to your job.
There are always opportunities to improve that presence. Pack your LinkedIn job history with interesting details and accomplishments, and consider writing something in your summary to help people get to know you.
You probably shouldn't share photos from that crazy Halloween party on LinkedIn, but appropriate personal details can make you seem human. I have a friend who posted about his love of baseball only to discover several of his clients feel the same way. He now regularly uses ballgames to close deals.
3. Buyers care more about trust than price.
One of the most surprising things in this study was that today's buyers appear to value trust over price, strategic counsel, or even return on investment (ROI).
Thirty-nine percent of respondents answered that "trust in our relationship" was the most important factor for closing a deal, while only 33 percent answered "return on investment," and only 13 percent answered "price." While any good salesperson understands that it's important to win a customer's trust in order to win new business, most people might not expect 3x more buyers would care about trust than price. This is an important finding, as any business can theoretically lower their price to win new customers, while trust takes much greater effort to build and can easily be destroyed, making the salesperson's job more critical than ever.
4. Social media builds transparency, and transparency builds trust.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that the study found 43 percent of respondents view salespeople as "trustworthy," 31 percent say they have "high integrity," and buyers increasingly consider salespeople to be "trusted advisers."
Those facts mark a positive shift in our perception of salespeople, who too often get stereotyped as aggressive frat boys willing to sacrifice morals and integrity for a dollar.
But if you want to be seen as a trusted adviser, your behavior has to live up to the label. That's especially true on social media, where potential customers can view every click, Like, and post you make.
To that end, use common sense. If you post about "the dying publishing industry" but back that claim up with bad data, people will call you out on the error. Ranting will not make you look passionate about a topic, just arrogant and possibly stupid. And never, ever talk about your clients on social media. A friend of mine once tried to skirt this rule by anonymizing the client in the post. She ended up losing money and trust with that client and others.
The moral of the story is, transparency is great when it comes to learning about one another in a sales relationship, but use it wisely. Whatever you say online should be something you would stand behind later on.
A word of caution: Social-media activity like this should never replace a cold email or in-person meeting altogether. There's no guarantee someone will care about knowing you just because they accepted an "invitation to connect." Using social media for sales doesn't mean doing less work in your client relationships. And in fact, spending extra time each week with these tools will likely give you more relevant contacts, higher open rates, and, ultimately, a stronger presence in your customers' lives.
What tactics do you have for using social media in your sales relationships? I'd love to hear about them.