Social selling and marketing has taken center stage over the past year for good reason. It’is estimated that the premier professional networking site LinkedIn signs up two new members every second. So in the world of B2B selling, it’s highly likely that your target buyer is not only a member, but likely participating in one of the many networking groups it hosts. These groups provide easy access for reaching out and providing valuable insights and information to that target buyer.
Now, note that I deliberately said valuable insights and information; this is a key differentiator that is all too often being overlooked in the Wild West of professional networking, where an unfortunately high number of people think that quantity and frequency of contribution is all that matters. There’s an old punk song from the late seventies called “Noise Annoys” and I don’t think I could put it any more succinctly.
If you want to be successful with social selling and marketing, you need to take a more thoughtful and discriminating approach to what you contribute and communicate through any of the social media venues, be they LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. It has become all too easy using utilities like HootSuite or TweetDeck to schedule tweets that go out multiple times a day, and this can be a surefire way of getting unfollowed and tagged as a noisemaker.
So, what’s the answer? Well, I encourage you to approach online professional networking in the way that you would (hopefully) approach in-person networking events. Picture this for a moment: If you walked in the door of a networking event and began randomly shouting headlines from the newspaper or disparate facts and figures that you had recently read, how do you think people would react? They would think that you’re a crank and give you a wide berth. Yet there are many people who think this behavior is acceptable online. Well, guess what, if you post random news stories or share the business equivalent of fortune cookie pearls of wisdom constantly and without any regard to whether they’re providing value to the recipients, well then you are that person! Eventually, just like the person walking around the networking event shouting headlines, the gap around you will begin to widen and you’ll be left talking to yourself.
Begin by identifying the networking groups that are most relevant to your target buyer and then check the profiles of the participants to see if indeed this is where they congregate. Then, just as you would at a physical networking event, spend a little time observing and listening. Don’t charge into the middle of a discussion and start trying to sell or market (remember, you don’t want to be that person). Instead, consider whether you have anything of value to add. If you do, politely offer your insight; if you don’t, then say nothing. Once you’ve become more familiar with the issues, opportunities, or challenges being discussed, you can start to establish yourself as someone with value-added information and insights by freely providing whitepapers, case studies, and referrals to other information sources. If you don’t look for anything in return, then you start to credential yourself as someone who is genuinely interested in helping solve the business challenges of the group participants. Ultimately, this will lead to direct conversations with individual group members where you can deepen the discussion and develop a better understanding of their needs, at which point they may allow you to move them into a sales cycle.
All of the above may sound time consuming and quite difficult. That’s because it is, just like good solution selling is. There’s a need to stop looking at online networking as a shortcut and instead look at it as just the latest venue where skilled sales and marketing professionals will excel if they’re disciplined, patient, and discerning.
My advice to you is to take a step back and consider both your personal online strategy and that of your organization. Like a good editor, scale back and pare down your contributions to ensure that they’re targeted, value-creating, and are actually helpful to your target buyer. If you do, you’ll be seen as someone whose online posts are worth paying attention to.
Ask yourself, would you rather contribute something of quality once a week or every two weeks and have it provoke a positive reaction, or post daily and have the opposite effect?
To quote that seventies punk song: “Pretty girls, pretty boys, have you ever heard your mommy say, ‘Noise annoys?!’”
|John Golden is president and CEO of sales performance improvement organization Huthwaite where he is responsible for the company’s global financial and operational performance and long-term strategy for success.|