LinkedIn Etiquette: No, I Don’t Want What You’re Selling

As I connect with marketers on LinkedIn, I’m reminded about what Gary Vaynerchuk once said about high school kids and relationships.

They’re always trying to close on the first date.

I’ve lost count of the number of people on LinkedIn who wanted to connect with me, only to turn around and immediately email me with whatever they’re selling.

It’s happened to me for nine years, and I can tell you exactly how many people I’ve responded to with any interest: zero.

I see most people who sell to me on LinkedIn as snake oil salesmen (and women)While I’m not an avid LinkedIn user, I do check it a few times a week, respond to non-sales messages, and will even reach out to a few people for connections.

But I hate it when people I’ve never met try to sell to me on something I never said I needed.

I mean, maybe if I expressed some interest in a particular service, or I publicly lamented about a problem I was having, then I might be interested in what these marketers and salespeople have to say. If I say I hate WordPress because it’s so hard to figure out, or if I gripe that managing my accounts takes too long, then I would expect to hear from WordPress designers or accountants.

(By the way, I’m good on WordPress and accounting. No problems there.)

But when they contact me about their web design, mobile app design, or SEO services, it’s clear they never even read my website, let alone my profile.

When they DM me on Twitter — “Hi, , thanks for connecting! Here’s a free ebook I wrote, which has nothing to do with anything you do for your job!” — I write a similarly-worded message, and invite them to visit my own humor website. I even told a few I would be willing to listen to their sales pitch if they did it. I rarely get a response, which makes me wonder if they read their DMs.

While some people over-connect on LinkedIn, trying to amass as many connections as they can, I take a more reserved approach. I’ll reach out to people I’ve met before, and connect with them. However, I’m less reserved when it comes to accepting connections, because I don’t know if any of them are readers or have bought one of my books. Rather than appear rude, I’ve accepted the connections, only to get a sales message less than 12 hours later.

The Facebook Problem

The problem is easy to identify on Facebook. I think we’ve all gotten these messages. Depending on your gender, a young woman or young man with only two photos on their profile will send a friend request. They’re not in your friend network, except for maybe one mutual friend. Their profile only has one or two photos, slightly sexy, but not overly provocative. And you have no idea how you would know this person.

You only have to accept a couple of these to realize this is some form of spam. The account either changes to porn, or you’re bombarded with private message communication requests. After a couple of these, you learn to ignore friend requests from anyone who does not know several of your friends of both genders.

(Helpful hint: Guys, it’s a telltale sign — and also a little creepy — when a 20-something woman’s only friends are men in their 40s and older.)

We have the same kind of problem on LinkedIn. So many people fail to change their “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” message that most people just accept it. I used to be more picky, and would only accept people who had updated their message. But I decided I was fighting a losing battle, and gave that up.

As a result, I fall prey to every salesperson who’s using LinkedIn to scope out their next cold call. Rather than trying to build a relationship or gauge my interest, they’re immediately pestering me for phone meetings and conference calls.

An accepted connection on LinkedIn does not mean I want to be sold to, especially when that’s the first communication I get from you. Not even a “hi, thanks for connecting.” Just a “Hi, we provide the identical service hundreds of other people have contacted you about.”

If you truly want to become a potential partner or vendor, take the time to gauge my interest and my needs. Provide me with useful information that will help me do my own job better and make my life easier. Share information, provide valuable content, and prove yourself to be someone who’s smart, knowledgeable, and capable of doing what you claim.

Don’t try to sell me in your very first communication. That’s a guaranteed “No.”

Photo credit: Carol Highsmith (Wikimedia Commons, Library of Congress, Public Domain)

5 Reasons B2B Sales Need Social Media

“We’re in B2B sales, we can’t use social media.”

I hear it many times. B2B salespeople who think they can’t use social media, because social media is just for fun. It’s just for kids. Their clients don’t use it. Blah blah blah.

I don’t know who keeps perpetuating the myth that social media is some kids’ playground that “real” businesspeople aren’t allowed to use, but it’s wrong. There is no one who can’t benefit from social media. Even spies can use social media — the CIA has one at ICouldTellYouButI’dHaveToKillYou.com.

But I was in B2B sales long enough, in a past life, that I can see exactly where and how B2B salespeople can use social media.

1. Solve problems.

The best way to find customers is not to call them up, one at a time, from a phone list, and hope for the best. The best way to find customers is to happen upon them when they have a problem, and fix it. Even if it’s just a small problem that’s easily managed in a single Twitter message or 500 word email, you will get a person’s attention when you help them.

You answer their question, show them how to fix the problem completely, and they’re grateful. They’re so grateful, they check out your profile, see who you work for, and visit your website.

They don’t buy anything from you right then, but they start paying attention to you on Twitter, on LinkedIn, or an industry discussion board. They see you helping others, and they realize you solve problems. You’re honest, you’re helpful, and you provide value to them.

And then one day, they realize they have a problem where they need your help — paying-you-money kind of help. You meet, show them how your product can fix their problems, and they buy it.

2. Become your industry’s expert.

Solve problems for a lot of people, not just a few. Start a blog and write important articles about industry trends. Write articles about how trends in other industries affect yours. Write articles that show people how to fix a common problem. Write articles about other articles other industry people have written.

But do it without pimping your product. Don’t write commercial after commercial about your products. Don’t write about “5 ways our rotary wankle engine beats the competition.” Don’t even write about problems where your product is the only solution. People hate that, and will ignore you.

Then, share those articles on your social networks — Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. As your customers and prospects read your articles, they’ll figure if you know enough to write about these issues over and over, you must know what you’re talking about.

Not only will they think you’re an expert, they’ll realize you know enough to fix their specific problem. They won’t want the help from the person who just called them up for the 8th time. They want the expert whose wisdom they’ve been reading for the last several months or years.

3. Deepen relationships.

Social media lets you connect with other people, in all industries, all career levels, all over the world.

You can be Twitter friends with your favorite customers. You can be LinkedIn colleagues with important decision makers. (And you can keep tabs on the competition.)

Social media lets you deepen important work relationships without constant face-to-face meetings. You can find out interesting things about people, things you would never learn in a real meeting. And things that show you care about them as a person.

“I saw on Twitter that you got a new puppy. How’s she doing?”

Now you’ve connected with them, gotten to know them better, and you can start deepening that relationship. Only it doesn’t stop growing when you’ve left them. You can continue to grow it when you’re back at your office.

People buy from people they like. By using social media to grow your relationships, you can get people to like — and buy from — you.

4. Avoid gatekeepers.

Anyone who is in sales has learned that gatekeepers are the bane of our existence. It seems their sole purpose in life, the reason they were put here on this earth, is to say no to salespeople.

Guess what.

Those people are not monitoring your customers’ social networks. They’re not on Twitter blocking your tweets. They’re not on LinkedIn intercepting your group discussions.

Your customers using it themselves. They’re paying attention to you. They’re reading what you have to say. And because you’ve done the previous three steps, they’re willing to talk with you on the phone or meet with you face-to-face.

Because the one phrase that trumps all gatekeepers, and is like sunlight to a vampire to them?

“He asked me to call.”

5. Keep up with client turnover.

People move on. They get promoted, they change jobs. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve called someone only to find they left that job. All that work, all those phone calls and meetings, wasted. I could catch up with that person in their new job, if the gatekeeper was willing to share it, but a good bit of the time, that wasn’t possible.

With social media, because I’m keeping up with the people in my industry, I know when someone is moving on. I see their announcement on Twitter, I get the profile change notice on LinkedIn. I can send them congratulatory messages, follow up after they get settled in, and help them in their new role.

Occasionally, I can connect them to other people who can help, or write a blog post that relates to their new role and ideas to consider in their new position. (Sort of like this one.)

Social media is a force majeure in the business world, even while old school sales and marketing pros are still questioning whether and how to use social media, not realizing it’s already being used to great effect. Especially by the competition.

If you want to stay up with current trends and be a valuable resource to your current and potential clients, start using social media tools like Twitter, LinkedIn, and even Facebook. (But that’s for another post.)

It sure beats playing Dialing for Dollars day after day.

Four Ways a Corporate Blog Can Help Your Company Increase Profits

A corporate blog is more than just a company diary where someone from marketing talks about the latest trade show. A corporate blog is a support tool that can lighten the load of several different departments within your company. Here are four ways a corporate blog can help your company.

1. Reduce Marketing Costs and Improve Reach

In the past, Marketing put a lot of time and money into developing, creating, and printing new sales literature and brochures. But once the specs changed on a particular product you got a new area code (it happened to my company in 2002), or you made an egregious error (guilty), the remaining 8,500 copies of the brochures were rendered obsolete, or you had to hand correct every single one of them with a black marker.

A blog can replace a lot of sales brochures and literature, introducing customers to the new product, letting them read the new specs, and finding out the latest features and prices. A blog will also let you show new photos and video demonstrations, tell people about the upcoming trade show or the show you just finished, or even post a video of the CEO talk about the product and what it means for the industry.

By turning to electronic publishing, you can reduce printing costs, reduce costs per lead, and ultimately, costs per sales.

2. Serve as a Newsroom

The PR department spends a lot of time chasing down the industry media or traditional media, trying to get them to talk about your latest product or service. The problem is, the media isn’t always willing to listen, or they can only publish on their own schedule, not yours. But by posting news articles to your website, you become the news source, not the traditional or industry media.

A blog will let you disseminate the latest news to your customers, helping your most loyal customers not only read what you’re up to, they can share it with their readers, which promotes your news as well. The media can use your blog as an information-gathering source as well. This lets them see what you’re doing, rather than waiting for a press release. They can find your press releases, product photos, and HD video clips, and get everything they need with ease. They can also get further information and details without calling your PR person while she’s on vacation and unavailable.

3. Sell to New Customers

Corporate blogging can greatly benefit the sales department, because salespeople can talk about the benefits of the new product, use blog posts to answer frequently asked sales questions, and preemptively overcome any objections potential customers may have.

While this won’t answer every question and objection for every customer, you’ll find that it cuts down on the time per sale. When I started selling on the Internet in the late-90s, I found I had cut my time per sales call down from 40 minutes to 10 minutes just because of the information I was putting on my website.

Again, this is where video demonstrations can be invaluable to potential customers. This also helps improve search engine rankings, so your site is more easily found during web searches, which means more customers could find you, which in turn means means more sales.

4. Provide 24/7 Customer Service

If you have a product or service that has frequent questions, don’t just rely on an FAQ section. Turn your blog into a knowledge center, and ask your customer service reps to write posts that answer those frequent questions. Make them as easy to find as possible (proper keyword tagging, links from the FAQ page, or even listing them in your “popular posts.”

Ask other customers to leave comments on individual posts about different fixes and solutions they’ve found as well. Incorporate their answers into the official blog posts to continue the discussion, and to make your customers feel like they’re contributing.

Finally, customers can search your website and find in-depth answers to questions they have. This saves phone calls about basic constantly-asked questions, which means you can help reduce customer service costs.

Four Ways to Use Twitter as a Lead Generation Tool

Have you gotten any sales leads from Twitter? Have you ever found any opportunities, whether personally or professionally, from the micro-blogging network?

While some of the social media purists might still gnash their teeth and pound their laptops from the safety of their moms’ basements, anyone who wants to see Twitter (and other social media tools) succeed needs to show their bosses that it can generate business. If you’re in sales or marketing, here are four ways you can use Twitter as a lead generation tool.

1) Connect With People in Your Industry.

Twitter is a great way to easily get connected with people in your industry. Use tools like Twellow (for Twitter Yellow Pages) to find people in your industry, and search.twitter.com to find people talking about your industry keywords. Also try Googling a title and/or company with the words “on Twitter” in the search. So, look for VP of Creative Services on Twitter or Professional Blog Service on Twitter, and see what pops up.

If you’re a TweetDeck user or use Twitter lists, save your industry contacts into their own list, and communicate with them. By keeping them in their own list, you’re more easily able to see what they’re talking about.

2) Build Relationships.

The newbie mistake that many new Twitter marketers use is to treat Twitter like an advertising channel. That is one thing you absolutely cannot do. People don’t want you to sell to them.

Instead, establish relationships. Have conversations with them, retweet them, introduce people, share articles, ask them questions. If they’re local people, or you have a chance to attend industry conferences, connect with them in person. Meet for lunch or coffee, and create that all-important offline relationship. Then, you’re a person, not a handle. You have a face, not an avatar. By creating those relationships, you become someone they’ll trust, especially if they ever need what it is that you do.

But never, ever try to sell anything. Do that in phone calls and meetings, when the time is right, not when they start following you.

3) Establish Your Expertise.

When people have a problem, make sure they know you’re the one to solve it. Answer questions, share information, refer useful articles to them. If you write a blog (you do write a blog, don’t you?), share the useful posts with them. Ask them to comment, and leave thoughtful comments on their blog.

If you’re trying to reach people in your industry, write about topics related to that industry, especially if you can make them useful to the problems your Twitter network is having. For example, if you own a Mac repair shop, and you know a bunch of Mac-owning public speakers, and you know a lot of them are having problems dealing with the new Keynote 09 (which, irritatingly, ruined a bunch of my past slide decks. Thank God for backups), you could write a couple blog posts about how to solve that problem.

Then, forward the article on to them via Twitter or DM. They’ll see that you know your stuff (as well as theirs), and they’re more likely to call you for that problem that can’t be fixed with a few keystrokes, or explosive cursing and an external hard drive.

4) Direct or Facilitate the Conversation.

If you create the subject people are talking about, or steer people to the place where they can find answers, you are helping people figure out they may need your product or service in the first place.

The best example I can give is Apple computers. Before 2001, no one knew they needed a portable MP3 player. No one knew they needed a way to play music on anything besides a portable CD player. No one knew they needed a way to create or listen to podcasts, or that they could even learn through radio shows of random length and scheduling. Once Apple introduced the iPod, people realized they needed this device, and the industry changed.

By directing or facilitating the conversation, you can help people see the pain point they never knew they had, and they will look to you for solutions.

How do you use Twitter as a lead generation tool? Do you even do that, or do you think it’s just wrong and that people shouldn’t do it? Leave a comment, and let us hear from you.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on Amazon.com, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

The Importance of Measuring Social Media’s Impact on Sales & Marketing

I’ve been beating the “measuring social media” drum for the last several weeks, talking to whomever I can about the importance of measuring the nebulous world of social media.tape_measure_small

(In some cases, I’ve actually had to argue that it can be measured at all, but that’s a different story. My suggestion is, if you don’t do social media, don’t say what it can or can’t do. Ask if it can, but don’t declare it can’t.)

A few months ago, social media guru Jeremiah Owyang wrote how online community managers need to prove the worth of social media if they’re going to survive cutbacks during a recession.

His three areas to measure

  • Improvement in marketing efficiency – Measure how quickly a new product launch goes from awareness to the close of a sale, or spreading word of mouth. Measure your clicks on Twitter and your blog, and see how many of them place an order. How long did it take to go from date of launch to profitability? Back when I was in the poultry business, we measured that in months and sometimes years. Now it takes — and can be measured in — days and weeks. And sometimes months and years.

 

  • Reduction in support costs – Owyang says to measure any decreases in whether a customer goes to physical stores, emails an account rep, or calls the tech support line. You want to see an increased reliance on the community itself, and measure the dollars saved through your community. Apple takes advantage of their raving fans and expert users who provide free tech support to their customers with simple and not-so-simple problems. The net result to Apple? Fewer phone calls to tech support, which means lower tech support costs.

 

  • Actual improvement to sales – I said it before, and I’ll say it again. You CAN measure sales from social media and your community. It’s a simple matter of having an analytics package — like StatCounter or Google Analytics — installed on your site. Count the number of people who enter the site, count the number of people who buy your product, divide the number of visitors by the number of buyers, and you have your conversion rate. Dell Computers was actually able to show they sold $1 million worth of products just through Twitter alone. If you can show this, shout it from the mountaintop, or at least from the desk in your cubicle.”

 

But what about the long sales cycle?” the naysayers grumble. “What about realtors and insurance agents who don’t sell anything online?”

Easy. Here’s how:
1) Keep track of how long they spend on customers, and how long a sale takes. (Many of them already do.)
2) Keep track of each channel that gets customers, whether it’s the Yellow Pages, email, WOM referral, networking, or social media. (There are software solutions that do nothing but measure social media.)
3) Add up the time AND money spent on each channel.
4) Total up sales gotten from each channel.
5) Divide a channel’s sales by time spent on the channel. That’s your value per hour.

Sales ÷ Time = VPH

6) Subtract the channel’s cost from the channel’s sales. That’s your ROI.

Sales – Cost = ROI

See? Easy as pie. But if you’re still stuck, give us a call. We’ll help you out.

Is Social Media Marketing Replacing Offline Sales People?

No, social media and online marketing is not going to replace salespeople.

Okay, you can breathe now, but that doesn’t mean your job or your revenue stream is automatically safe. However, it can make your sales life a whole lot easier, if you use it right.

Social media is a great way to connect with people and develop leads. It’s low-cost, free to implement on a low-scale, personal and it’s the preferred communication channel for a growing number of people.

You’re safe, right? Not so fast.

Problem is, most salespeople aren’t equipped to sell on social media platforms (like Twitter or Facebook). They’re stuck in their old-school, 8-step sales process, and they can’t get out. You know how it goes: call lots of people, develop a relationship with the client, take them out, and then listen to their needs just long enough to know what to propose.

These people are obsessed with stats, and will try to play social networking like a numbers game, thinking the number of contacts equates to a similar number of cold calls.

It doesn’t work like that.

Social Media ≠ Cold Calling, It’s Better

Better? Yes. Every call can be warm, if you take a few moments and make the connection the right way.

First, read up on your potential prospect. Read their LinkedIn profile and then read their status changes. Look for them on Twitter and Facebook. You will get a good indication of personal interests.

Second, break the ice. Don’t go in and do your best Daffy Duck impersonation. Since you know a lot about the prospect, start with a question that will start a conversation. Better yet, if you’re already connected online, build on the relationship you’ve already started.

Social media can replace cold calling. As you begin to find people in your target market who may be interested in what you’re selling, you’ll see the need to cold call dwindle. Better yet, as your new customers refer a few of their friends to you, you’ll begin to find you’re not making a single cold call at all.

If you are calling a social network referral, remember that’s even better than a cold call. You are further along in the cycle. You’ve got the prospect’s background and history in hand from their LinkedIn profile, you’ve read over some of their recent posts. It’s like making every call into a referral call – it’s hard to lose, but you have to change you game.

One of the best people I’ve met at connecting with prospects online is Vincent Wright.  You can learn from Vincent for free on MyLinkingPowerForum.com. You’ll quickly get to see what works, how to start a conversation and how to avoid looking like Daffy Duck.