Best Principles for Using Linkedin for Social Selling

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Online social selling tools are human communications tools. People forget that E-mail, chat, Facebook, Linkedin, MySpace, Twitter, and the continuously evolving field of “human communication tools are just that,” HUMAN to HUMAN communications tools. There are people on the other side of the message. The humans on the other side will receive the message and respond. They can respond with a delete. They can respond with a FLAME. The can respond with a first impression of who you are. They can respond with empathy. The critical part is who you who are a human would like the other party to “respond” to your message.

Some will say, ignore the humanity. It is just a numbers game. Send X message to Y number of people, and you will get a % who respond positively to your message. Yep, that is the essence of SPAM, unsolicited sales calls, and people thinking that the key to building a human network is “numbers.” Effective human to human network not about the numbers. It is about a community of people who have intersecting interest.

This guide is for all the people who are using Linkedin as a tool to build community. The principles evolve and iterate through the experiences of multiple people. These same principles work with all social selling. Apply them to your favorite social media tool.

Don’t be Fooled by Social Media Marketing Gurus!

Some people will try to snicker you into a “special package” to learn the “secrets” of social marketing and Linkedin success. Don’t be fooled. What they are teaching is not a shortcut. Human connections and human network which can be leveraged into results, action, relationships, and sales take energy – time – integrity. There are no shortcuts.

Redefine your view of Social Selling

Several of my peers are on a call working on a new IoT solution. As we consult, we have questions. Questions that can only be answered by people who have deployed IoT in a certain way. While we’re on the call, we each get into our Linkedin, do some searches, mining our “Linkedin connections” for people who might have or know people with that social skill. Between us, we have six people we can reach out and ask questions.

Leveraging multiple “contacts” from multiple people focused on a single objective is a new way of “social selling.” Those six people at six different companies became beta customers for a new service. Notice the sequence. Everyone cultivated their connections on Linkedin over time. That “cultivation” means that you were not alienating your connections. Then when there was a unique topic, you were able to reach out and ask. That ask turned into a response because a professional social media relationship was cultivated.

Today’s “social selling” is not about “cold calling.” The people who are leveraging tools like Linkedin are doing it based on professional respect that is earned through your social activities. If you abuse that action, you will get push back or ignored. If you cultivate and invest, then you gain professional respect.

This guide list out principles to help people cultivate and invest via Linkedin so that your community reads what you post, tracks your evolution, and interacts when needed.

Principle: Make it Personal!

You are communicating with another human. Good social media tools will allow you enough characters and space to reach out to people with personal message expressed in text, images, or other media. Personal does not mean a tool which grabs the first name and insert it into a canned message. Personal means you do your homework on someone. When they receive your “connection” invitation, they get a context of why you wish to connect or where you have met.

Rizvan Ullah expresses the same point in 15 Examples of How NOT to Use LinkedIn for Social Selling. Customers want to be treated just like that: a customer. So when a member of the sales team contacts them, informing the business or potential lead of their high sales records and conversion rates, it doesn’t connect with the consumer.

Principle: Homework First! Read the Profile!

The customer support escalation engineer on a cloud NOC gets a Linkedin invitation, “I’ve got this great tool to increase your sales leads. Can we set up a call?” The 30-year security guru gets a recruiter saying “you would be a fantastic fit for our security operations shift.” These are two of many messages received by people who HAVE NOT DONE THEIR HOMEWORK. Linkedin makes homework on the person they are trying to connect EASY. The entire work history is available to the vast majority of people using Linkedin. Please read the profile before sending a “cold call” message.

Please use that power of the full profile to see what the person does, what role they might have, then craft personal messages related to their role.

Let’s use an example. I would read about a peer in the industry in the press. They would be interviewed and quoted. I have never met the person, but what they said is interesting. I want to connect up and keep an eye on future work. Linkedin is a good tool for that. The future news items and article would become part of my feed. What do I do next? HOMEWORK! I find their profile, read their profile, then craft a connection invitation that is related to their press article. The person gets an invitation from me with acknowledgment of what they said in the press, framed in their current role (I read their profile) and wish to connect to watch/learn as they do more post. If we ever have a chance to meet at a conference, great! The key here is the homework to learn more about the human on the other side of the ‘connection.’

Principle: NO Competitive FUD!

Linkedin turns a global population into a small town. Backbiting, FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Disinformation), ‘fake news,’ and bad mouthing the competition will get around everywhere. It is a branding boomerang of ugliness that will slap back on you, your current organization, and every organization you work in the future? Why? Because once it is “out there” on the Net, it will never go away.

Rizvan Ullah points out that “posting negative comments about your competitors it comes across as disingenuous. People will lose respect for you, making the negative comment reflect poorly on your organization rather than the company you commented on.” In other words, there is now win.

An example of this is the temptation to draft “alternatives” to a competitors announcement of a new product. It is really easy to put in a Linkedin comment that says “try this link for a better solution.’ This is a form of bad mouthing and FUD where you are “drafting” in your competitors or peer’s flow and inserting yourself into a conversation. Imaging two people had a face to face conversation. You decide to step in between them and start talking to the prospective customer. That sort of action would be unacceptable, be rejected by the prospective customer, and demean your personal and company brand. Injecting your message into a competitor’s Linkedin post/article/share is no different.

Principle: Respect your Community – Treat them as a Community

Many of the “how to” for social sales and social media guidelines will warn you about content that might alienate your audience. The obvious “hot topics” would be content around politics, religion, and other areas which might be controversial. A better way to view this guideline is human to human interaction within a community. There will be times where wilting professional communities, it is A-OK to push the envelope, ruffle feathers, and present content that evokes a reaction. When you do this, there will be consequences within your online community, just like there are consequences in a small town community, a family community, or a work community.

Let’s look at a current example; I’m on a long-term quest to do my part to have humanities two wings – women and men – thrive equally in the workplace. Some call this the He for She movement. I know when I point out injustices and other nonsense that some of my “Linkedin Community” will not agree. They come from all background, cultures, and geographies. Yes, they might get offended by an article that shows how women CEOs statistically deliver greater shareholder value and that the “all-male” boards are part of the problem which the impact shareholder value. Yes, they might react to my data point. Yes, they might disconnect from my community. All of that is OK. It is a normal part of human community interaction. But that action is based on my “thinking ahead” to how your community will interact with your message. Think about the interaction before posting. You are communicating with other humans in your community. It is OK to “alienate,” but do it mindfully.

Principle: Linkedin is NOT for Sales Cold Calls

This is a hard reality to push back against when there are social media “gurus” who are advocating Linkedin as a “powerful tool to build your pipeline.” What they are saying is “build your pipeline with SPAM like sales messages. The hard reality is Linkedin is set up to push back against this sort of “sales SPAM” abuse. “Disconnecting” and “reporting” is easy on Linkedin.

Linkedin is built for professional interaction, professional community, professional knowledge sharing, and other human-human interactions to help professionals empower each other. Linkedin’s own Analytics teams say the most “shared” context is a list (of information), followed by “why post,” “what post,” and “how to” articles. Add to that invitation to webinars, white papers, and other information. Notice the key – Share. Is the information that someone shares with you worth sharing with your community? Are you willing to “thumbs up” or “comment” on someone else post (which is then shared in your community)?

Rizvan Ullah shared in 15 Examples of How NOT to Use LinkedIn for Social SellingAttempting to go with an overt sales pitch doesn’t bode well for sharing, which in turn doesn’t help a company expand its outreach. Shared content attracts more eyes and brings in more lead opportunities without making readers feel as if they are receiving a cold call.”

One the key motivations for this article is to be a tool for those people who “ask for a connection,” I connect out of professional courtesy, then the send me an “I want to sell you something” message. I use this article to throw back at them how they are disrupting their personal and company brand. Personal because I disconnect with cause (Linkedin tracks you profile and complaints) and company (you are linked to your company – which LinkedIn’s team also can track).

The irony to this is that “build a relationship before you sell” is old school human sales. I remembered back in 1983 I bought a computer game that would teach you how to sell like “Arnold Palmer.” It was an interactive role-playing game that would walk you through when it is appropriate to “make your pitch.” Too soon and you get dinged and lose the game. Too late and the contact disappears without getting their business card. The people who immediately try to “pitch me” on Linkedin or “ask for my help to find the right person to help them pitch” is missing basic “Sales 101 skills.”

Principle: Commentary and Participation will Build Community

What happens to a community of people who site in a circle and don’t talk to each other. A community is built through interactive participation. Every day I make it a habit to read through my Linkedin, look for people in my community who post, and craft a supportive comment to their post. The comment is designed to get others within the community to respond (open-ended questions). The goal is twofold:

  1. “I See” my peer who post. They know I see them and respond to them. Granted this is impossible to do this with all my connections. But the daily habit help where others are also seeing my acknowledgment and interaction.
  2. Expand the “Ven Reach.” If you remember Venn Diagrams from school, they are the intersection of two different areas. Your Linkedin Community and your Peer’s Linkedin Community have a Ven intersection. You can expand your “Ven Reach” by participating with their materials. When you do this, respect your peer’s community. Don’t try to “poach.” Great value added participation would attract new people who would want to connect and interact with you.

How do you expand this principle? Have you tried “following” your customer’s on Linkedin? We all have customers on Linkedin. Their success is our success. When they post on Linkedin, help them, share their post, like their post, and see if there is a productive “value add” comment to their post. Your customers will take notice. Other potential leads will also take notice.

In essence, “connecting to people” does not build “community.” It is just a database. “Posting to people” it does not build community. It is just a “news feed.” What builds human communities is human interaction. On Linkedin that is cultivated through commentary and “interaction” (LinkedIn’s new messaging system).

Challenge: Everyday read through your Linkedin feed. Find one interesting post from someone in your network. Think of a value-add you can share in the commentary with an open-ended “what do others think?” Do that for a month and watch the changes in your community.

Principle: LinkedIn’s is Not Facebook

Yes, there are people (and Facebook) who keep saying that Facebook is a business tool. The reality is that Facebook’s evolution was founded in personal human interaction. Linkedin evolution was founded in professional interaction. Please don’t use Linkedin like Facebook. As Rizvan Ullah shared:

“Far too many businesses and individuals alike confuse social and personal. They see the need to be social, so they share personal information. Small amounts of personalization can reflect well on a company page, especially if there is a direct connection with the business itself (such as an employee picnic with families and writing about the importance of making personal time in a professional world). However, over the top personalization may completely remove any sense of professionalism.”

The same goes for showing “pictures” at the conference via Linkedin. “Wow,” another picture of someone on stage giving a presentation. What is the point? What would be more valuable to your Linkedin community is a picture person who gave a keynote, shared the picture, share the linked to the program, and shared a link to the video. You do all of this by using the “@“ to link to the person in your comments and “#” to take the company, conference, and topic. With this approach, we have a Linkedin post at an event that is useful to the Linkedin community.

Another example would be the post of “look at me presenting.” OK. Good, you presented. That is OK for Facebook. On Linkedin, you would put “I presented” (picture), my core topic was XYZ at this conference (hashtagged), and you can get a copy of my slides here (link). Now you are adding value. You are taking an event you worked hard on crafting materials, promoting the event (use those @ and # in Linkedin), developing your message, and providing tools to others can learn more.

Don’t forget LinkedIn’s value added. You can post your slides on Slideshare. You can then see who might be interested in your message. You can use a Linkedin Article as a mini-white paper, explaining your presented concepts, then linking to the presentation. In essence, Linkedin is set up to help you take your message and open a book to others to see if they are interested. If there is an interest, they will “check it out.” If they are not, they will move on. Through all of this, you will have the data to illustrate the interest in your message. Impressions, likes, shares, and follows all give you direct feedback on resonance. Resonance feedback allows you to tune, change, and rethink your community message (and personal/company brand).

Principle: Connect Broadly on Linkedin

Yes, LinkedIn’s official advice is to only connect to people you know. The problem with that is the limiting factors. “Connected to only people you know” restricts you to your geography, your realm, your area, your current profession. Frankly, LinkedIn’s advise to “only connect to people you know” is STUPID.

Let’s give an example I used with my team in Indonesia. We were tasked to design a 3G to 4G network in one month. It was insane. The team was going “Pak Barry, how are we going to do this?” “We’re going to ask for help from all your peers around the world who will be more than willing to help a fellow geek.” “Huh?”

The technique I taught during our 4G design off-site leveraged the LinkedIn’s professional strength. I took a design question on the APN-DNS function, did a keyword search for “APN-DNS” found four engineers who had this in their skills and asked them a question via an invitation to connect. I taught the team to set up your question in two phases:

First Question: The Invitation to Connect is a short question on the topic they have the knowledge and see if they are willing to help.

Second Question (and more): Are in the follow-up conversations after the Linkedin connection. Once the Linkedin connection is accepted, new messaging opportunities are opened. More detailed information can be exchanged, and conversations can evolve.

What I explained to my team is that the person on the receiving end is going do the following:

  1. Check out who you are by looking at your Linkedin Profile.
  2. Use that profile to see if you are a legit geek like them.
  3. See if there is a conflict of interest (i.e., are you a competitor).
  4. Respond with a “connection – no response” or a “connection – let’s talk.”

What I found is the vast majority of the people I outreach with this “please help me with clue” approach make the connection. I’m acknowledging their value and contributions. That is essential for human empowerment. In essence, I’m getting a clue through empowering others by asking for help.

That first example during the 4G design off-site shocked my team. Within an hour one of the people from a US carrier said: “sure let’s talk – do you have Skype?” Within two hours I was on a Skype call with a fellow geek who had deployed the specific APN-DNS function and gave a bunch of gotchas to watch out for in the vendor proposals. That 4G design happened in a month because the team found out that they were part of a vast community of fellow engineers all connected via Linkedin who are more than willing to help each other.

This community is built on the unexpected connection. You never know when you will need a clue from someone who is a simple outreach connection. That is why my experience leads to the advice “connect broadly on Linkedin – connect only with your friends on Facebook.”

But do watch out.

Principle: Validate before Connecting

Don’t just “connect” to anyone. Check them out. Look at their profile. When in doubt, send them a message to see if they are a “live” person. Human communities will attack the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’ve had people try to connect to me with complete profiles of companies that will full fronts to European criminal gangs looking for “mules” who will launder money through their “personal” bank accounts. How can you figure this out? Linkedin makes it easy:

  1. Look at their profile. Explore the company’s, history and accomplishments.
  2. When in doubt, Message them using the “managed invitations.” LinkedIn’s web interface and some of the other apps allow you to message people who are trying to connect. That “free message” function is there for you to see if the person responds.
  3. When in doubt, don’t connect.
  4. When you suspect, report! In that example with the “fount” for a mule operation, was clued in when I “LinkedIn messaged” to the person and they ask for me to respond with my “personal Email” so they can share “special information.” That is not normal. Normal conversation on Linkedin would be via the message app on Linkedin.

If you have a lot of people knocking on your door, build a canned message that you can use to “validate” the connection. For example, here is one I use for myself:

Hello (enter name),

Thanks for the invitation. Apologies, but I’ve never recalled meeting or interacting with you.

I hope you read my blog on Linkedin and at www.senki.org while following me on Linkedin.

Q1 – Can you respond so that I know that you are real.
Q2 – Can you explain why you would wish to connect to me via just ‘following’ me on Linkedin (or Twitter)?
Q3 – What have you read that would interest you to connect?

Please use an IMessage to reply (I will reply, and so you get the credit back).

Thanks,

Barry

This approach clears out the scammers, criminals, and other people trying to connect and abuse your Linkedin network (or trying to victimize you).

What about those recruiters who are asking for a resume? Why would I want to send them my resume when I have my complete employment history online – via Linkedin – for everyone to see? Sending my resume is gifting a recruiter to enhance their database without adding any value to yours. Yes, there are people who say “I cannot start a job search unless you send me your resume.” The reality is this is old practice from a time before the Internet. It is not needed anymore. Watch, recruiters who ask “I got this great opportunity, can you send me your resume” will not get back to you. My response is:

“My profile is online; if the employer is interested, they can go through you to contact me directly. That way you get your commission, and I don’t waste my time.”

Principle: Don’t Poach your “New Contacts” Contacts

How many people have experienced this:

Some you never heard of ask for a connection. You practice your habit of checking their profile to make sure they are legit. You notice there is only one connection between the two of you. That “shared connection” is someone you just accepted a connection. Do you connect to this “Linkedin cold call?”

It is very common to find people who browse Linkedin trying to connect to as many people as possible. Linkedin encourages this and discourages this behavior. If you try to connect to too many people at one (pending connections), your profile will get marked as possible abuse. At the same time, Linkedin has tools that show “new possible connections after connecting to someone new.” To make it worse, Linkedin’s “let me send an invitation to every person in your mailbox” feature is notorious.

Warning for Linkedin Community Builders! Stay away from the tools/techniques! They project an image of someone only out for connections for themselves vs. someone who will invest & cultivate a professional social media relationship.

Principle: Use SSI as a Guide

Too many people get freaked out over Linkedin’s Social Selling Index (SSI). Others have no clue that SSI exist. When you explore SSI, don’t focus on the SSI score – focus on the habits SSI encourages. You can break them down into:

  • SSI Habit 1 – Cultivate your Personal Brand. This starts with your profile. Always craft, tune, add and polish your profile. ALL the principles we review assumes someone is going to check you out via your Linkedin personal profile. It is the foundation of your personal brand.
  • SSI Habit 2 – Use Linkedin to Seek Out People, Ask Questions, and Use it as a Business Tool. We’ve talked about creative ways of using Linkedin. The SSI algorithms measure your usage on Linkedin. The core habit is to use Linkedin to find people, ask them questions, start conversations, and leverage Linkedin for your professional gain.
  • SSI Habit 3 – Post, Engage, Comment, Publish, & Interact on Linkedin. A common theme with all these principles revolves around professional interactions with a Linkedin Community. This is a daily habit to contribute, share, and interact. Human communities require active investment. Using a Steven Covey illustration, daily Linkedin community engagement is the same as your emotional bank account. You can only withdraw from your community based on the value you invest. Your Linkedin constituting investment depends on your actions and habits.
  • SSI Habit 4 – New Connections every day. Several of the principles highlighted techniques which allow you to build your community. Connecting to people broadly, focusing that you are connecting to people (not a profile), and then engaging with those people build relationships. The SSI algorithms measure these “new connection” activities. But, connect with professionalism. Sending people a personal connection invitation has a different weight to someone who just “connects.”

Principle: Don’t Sell – Challenge!

All the data shows people on Linkedin do not want sales pitches. They want to learn about new opportunities, learn new things, and stay tuned into the industry. In other words, people on Linkedin want to be challenged, they want to find new challenges, and want to learn from other people’s challenges. People who are looking for sales leverage on Linked are best consulted by the Challenger Sales Model. A Linkedin “Challenger” create constructive tension by Teaching their Constituents, Tailoring the Message for their Constituents, and Taking Control by investing in dialog and interaction with the Constituents. The Linkedin Challenger approach takes longer but builds communities that welcome what is being shared.

We’ll expand on the Linkedin Challenger approach in later articles. If you do not want to wait, get the book The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation.  Think about Social Selling on Linkedin  ss you read and learn about the approach

Principle: Be Mindful of the People “Not in the Room”

Howard Schultz, Chairman & former CEO of Starbucks, used a principle where he always visualized two empty seats in the room. One was for his customer. The second was from the Starbucks Partner (the regular employee). His goal was to always think about that these two constituents would think, even though they were not in the room. This principle “being mindful of the people who are not in the room” is a powerful inclusion tool that invests in the community. The same principle applies to Linkedin.

Your Linkedin Community is not the 1st level connections. Your Linkedin Community includes all the 2nd and 3rd level communities. Your Linkedin Constitutents includes all the people in the Groups you participate. When your post, share, like, publish, and interact, think of the people beyond your immediate 1st level community. “Challenging” them will get their attention (who might then become a future connection).

Principle: Timing is Important, but Don’t Fixate to a Time Zone

One of the most common “Linkedin” tips is the timing of your post, activities, articles, and interactions. Timing is important. But, remember in today’s world, we are ONE WORLD with a global market and a global Linkedin Community.  Your Linkedin community and constituents will quickly span the entire planet. That means there is no perfect time to post. For example, in one Marketo blog post, B2B Social Media Marketing Statistics to Ponder, the point out:

  • Facebook: 800 million users. More than 75% of users are from outside of the United States. Three spikes in Facebook activity tend to occur on weekdays at 11:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. (all times in EST), however, posts published in the morning seem to do the best. Which morning is the best? It EST the best when you live in Singapore and a large number of your constituents are in that timezone?
  • Twitter: 300 million users. A majority of Twitter users are between the ages of 18 and 29. More than 50% of users are female and about 15% of users identify themselves as marketers. Minority internet users are more than twice as likely to use Twitter as are Caucasian internet users. Peak usage seems to occur between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.  Does that mean your Asian, African, and Latin American audience does not use Twitter? 
  • LinkedIn: 116 million users. Many of the people at LinkedIn are professionals, business owners or other talented individuals. More than half are international users. Peak activity occurs between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Notice the ‘half are international users.’ The 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. equates to work time in whichever timezone they reside. 
  • Google+: 60 million users. Its user base tends to skew male, with most prominent occupations being in software engineering and development. They also tend to be between the ages of 25 to 34. Notice the slant to a specific technology area.

What you learn from data like this is that timing needs think broadly and demographics on Social Media will make a difference. Some people will say “ignore other social media platforms.” The reality is that Linkedin is one tool with one type of demographics, with many other human communities in others social media tools.  

How do you “optimize” your timing? Simple, multiple periods of activity. Do something in the morning. Do something mid-day. Do something before you leave work. Do something when you are doing your nightly check (yes, we all do our nightly check). Gary Vaynerchuk would express it by saying “6 articles a day” to really leverage social media. I would rephrase that to be 6 activities a day spread through your waking hours to invest in your Global Community. “Activities” would be shares, post, comments, articles, and interactions (Linkedin chat/messaging). 

 

References for Linkedin Social Selling Best Common Practices

The following are some excellent references I’m collecting to help people with craft their professional Linkedin Social Selling Skills.