Never forget that selling is social.
The magic number is 21. No, I’m not playing blackjack. That’s the number of people I’m meeting for the first time at the Sales Innovation Expo in London this month. I’ve never spoken with any of them. I met them all on LinkedIn and Twitter.
So, why do they want to meet me?
Because we began a conversation on social media. Yes, a conversation. We didn’t just connect online; we made a personal connection. That’s the power of social selling.
I always write a personal invitation to connect, and I respond to invitations (even when people send me the standard invitation). That personal outreach—even if it’s only a few sentences—solicits a wonderful response. People tell me they’ve read my blog, commented on posts, and want to learn how referral selling really works. That’s how we begin a relationship. Sure, it’s a digital relationship at first, but then watch where it goes.
How I Packed My Calendar
I publicized the Sales Innovation Expo on all of my social channels, then sent personal messages to each of my LinkedIn connections in the U.K. and surrounding countries, letting them know when I’d be there. I will meet with 21 of them … and the number is growing. Some of my connections can’t attend, but they wrote back and told me why. And so, we began new conversations.
I’ll also be meeting with four social selling influencers, all of whom reached out to me and requested personal meetings. Again, I’ve never actually spoken to any of them. Our relationships have been digital … until now. We’re meeting outside of the conference—for coffee, breakfast, drinks. My goal is to get to know them, learn their social selling strategies, and find out how I can support them.
If you’ve done the math, you know I plan to meet 25 people. And these are just the beginning. I’ll also meet everyone who attends my presentation, my fellow speakers and presenters, event sponsors, and many other new people throughout the two-day conference. I’m excited to learn from everyone and to start new conversations.
Are You “Social” Enough?
Social media is a place to begin conversations, which leads to building relationships. It is a place for engaging audiences, not for pitching prospects.
When crafting a social selling approach, sales team should keep in mind that:
- Posting without a personal message isn’t being social; it’s just clicking buttons.
- Inviting people to connect on LinkedIn and then immediately promoting your company breaks the rules of social selling.
- When you ask for referrals on LinkedIn, you miss the chance to explain the business reason for the introduction and get the inside track on the person you want to meet.
- A social media connection is not a relationship.
How can sales reps use social media effectively?
- Share your insights with your network. Provide information or links that would interest them.
- Share other people’s content—once you’ve read it and evaluated how important the post is to your connections.
- Blog consistently and build your brand.
- Continue to stay in touch with your connections. Ask how you can help them.
Ultimately, social selling success is not about the number of contacts we accumulate; it’s about the real connections we make. And that doesn’t happen overnight. I’m meeting with people in London I’ve “known” on social media for several years.
Manners Matter … Even Online
Sales reps know the value of relationships—with prospects, clients, and referral sources. But far too many of us waste opportunities to build real connections with people, because we think the rules for relationship-building are different online. And that’s just not true.
We understand in-person codes of conduct. We smile and shake hands before beginning a conversation with someone. We say “hello” on the phone before diving into an exchange of ideas. Our voicemails are welcoming and friendly.
But our communication skills and manners go out the window when we’re online. We click buttons to invite people to connect with us on LinkedIn. (Where’s the “hello?” Where’s the conversation?) We don’t even use salutations in emails to sales leads. We just begin with truncated sentences. (OK, maybe that’s the English major in me surfacing.)
Here’s a hint for sales reps: Your online persona should be just as professional, engaging, and polite as your real-world self.
Showing Up Counts
Woody Allen said that 80 percent of success is showing up. We show up a lot differently today than when he made that quip. We show up in person and online. But the goals are still the same—to develop connections and build relationships.
Social selling isn’t a new concept. Sales has always been social. It’s just that some of the tools have changed in the digital age. While technology tools can certainly drive business development, nothing beats sitting down with someone and talking face to face.
Too many sales reps forget it’s the quality of relationships, and not the quantity of your connections, that really counts. You can collect LinkedIn connections like baseball cards and get nowhere. Or you can make the connections you already have stronger—a strategy that’s much more likely to grow your referral network and fill your pipeline with hot sales leads.
Join the conversation: What are your strategies for turning online connections into real-world relationships?
Want to learn more about how to build your referral network? Check out my referral selling training programs.