You can scroll the shelf using ← and → keys
You can scroll the shelf using ← and → keys
If you’ve been struggling with using LinkedIn for sales, this new standalone solution may help.
LinkedIn has always been considered the serious, professional social network. With its emphasis on work histories and easy networking, it’s the go-to site for learning about a potential employee or employer, scoping out a competitor, or tracking down key contacts at a prospective buyer’s company.
Individuals’ updates tend to focus on business issues and news of the day. There’s a dearth of Look where I went on vacation and Isn’t this cat falling off a ledge funny? kinds of posts.
But how does a salesperson find leads on LinkedIn? Inviting people to join your network, asking connections for introductions to other connections, and building relationships on the site can all be effective activities, but they only go so far.
Built for You
So now when you log into LinkedIn and click on the Business Services link, then Sales Solutions, you’re introduced to a new, enhanced version of the site designed for sales professionals: the LinkedIn Sales Navigator. LinkedIn says its mission is to help sales professionals “…focus on the right people and companies, stay informed of key updates, and build trust with prospects and customers.”
I haven’t spent a whole lot of time with this tool yet so I can’t give it a thumbs up or down. But I wanted to tell you a bit about it so you can determine whether it’s a good fit for you.
LinkedIn shares some interesting numbers that came out of a couple of recent studies.
If these numbers are representative of the business community as a whole, you can see the necessity for not only having a presence on social media, but also for being as connected as possible to the key people and companies in your industry.
The Nuts and Bolts
How does LinkedIn Navigator help you focus, stay informed, and build trust? By offering a set of sales-centric tools that include:
Customized lead management. Imports and syncs accounts and leads from Salesforce. Suggests potential leads and supports custom searches to help find prospects.
Networking and communications. Feeds you real-time insight on your accounts and leads. Provides full access to contact profiles and activity for your 1st, 2nd, and 3rd levels. Out-of-network access to profiles of 300 million+ LinkedIn members. Allows InMail messages to contacts outside your network, and shows you who’s viewed your profile in the last 90 days.
Some of these tools have data limitations, and not all are available at every price level. You’ll pay $59.99/month for Sales Navigator Basic, $79.99/month for Sales Navigator Professional, and $129.99/month for Sales Navigator Team.
Considering that there’s a 30-day free trial available (credit card required), I think it’s worth checking out.
Let’s back up a little and explore the innards of CRM solutions.
A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog post titled “7 Questions to Ask When You’re Looking at CRM Solutions.” It occurs to me that some of you may be new to our profession, and you haven’t been properly introduced to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software and websites. Others might be experienced salespeople, but you’re still using paper and pen, or a hybrid of computer software and Rolodex, file folders, paper calendars, etc.
All, though – at least the best of them – have similar characteristics. I’ll outline those most commonly found today.
A contact database. There’s a class of software called “contact managers,” like ACT!, GoldMine, and Maximizer. Many of these products are still available as desktop software. CRM software and websites still have this core attribute, a series of pre-defined screens with specialized fields for storing information about your business contacts. If you already have a computer-based file containing contact data, you can often import it.
A history log. Your contact database has another element that is critical in the sales process: a record of your past interaction with every individual and company. CRM software and websites have built-in fields – or entire screens – for logging phone calls, meeting notes, on-site-visits, emails, etc.
A mechanism for tracking opportunities and leads. This means more than a list of dates and meetings and other activities. Many CRM applications offer tools for visualizing the sales pipeline.
Integration with other related applications. State-of-the-art CRM solutions can be integrated with dozens of other applications, ranging from word processing to email marketing to accounting, as well as general productivity tools.
Searching and reporting capabilities. The busier you are, the more critical it is that you can find information quickly and get customized overviews of your sales status.
Today’s best CRM applications provide an easy way for you to create a much more comprehensive profile of your customers and prospects. They help you find their activity and connections, their likes and dislikes, their challenges and their needs, by seeing how they interact on social networking sites. You can actually view those “streams” of updates within your CRM application, right in the individual person or company’s profile.
Social CRM solutions fill in some of the blanks, providing insight into who your contacts are, not just how they prefer to be contacted and what they purchased from you most recently. A good social CRM application can help you know your customers and prospects to a degree never before possible.
Knowing how to use a word processor doesn’t make you a good writer. Some tips on getting the most out of your social CRM application.
I’ve been watching the AMC show, Halt and Catch Fire. Set in the offices of a fictional, very ambitious computer manufacturer in 1983, it chronicles the chaotic early days of PC clone development.
It’s hard to believe in these days of the web, smartphones, tablets, and even wearable computers, but it was only 30 years ago when companies were scrambling to just get those big clunky boxes to respond to input quickly enough that users wouldn’t turn away and do something else.
I’ve read many definitions of the actual phrase “Halt and Catch Fire” (HCF) because I find the concept so intriguing. It’s a decades-old computer command that, according to one definition, “…sent the machine into a race condition, forcing all instructions to compete for superiority at once.” The “catch fire” part wasn’t literal; it simply meant that the computer wore itself out. No instruction won, and the system eventually just up and quit.
Taming the Terabytes
Using a social CRM system can have a similar effect. You can pull your contacts’ social streams into many of them, which can be a very good thing if used wisely. But there’s a temptation to keep following threads and venturing into new social networks. You’re taking in an enormous amount of information and trying to process it in a meaningful way, but eventually you hit a wall, and your prospecting/relationship-building/learning session was for naught.
I was guilty of this kind of energy-sapping exercise in the early days of the CRM-social media marriage. I’m still excited about the possibilities it offers, but I remind myself that social CRM is just one element of my comprehensive business strategy. I’m getting smarter about using my social CRM system, and have established rules for myself for the time I spend on social networking to minimize time and maximize effectiveness. Here are some of them:
I set goals for each online session. What am I trying to accomplish? Am I scoping out the competition? Looking for leads? Finding references to my company?
I create lists of related people and companies. Or Groups, or whatever a particular social network calls them. I can draw on some of these when I do a targeted campaign.
I respond quickly to the comments that I can. Or I make sure that the right person sees them. Where possible, I include links to problem-solving pages on my website, not product-ordering screens.
My tone and content match my brand. This is always in the back of my mind, wherever I go online.
I don’t particularly like the word “influencers,” but I do take note of prominent people who write frequently, intelligently, and fairly about my field.
I set time limits. It’s easy to get caught up on conversations and interesting threads. I schedule my social networking time like I would an appointment.
Turning the Tables
Before social CRM applications became available, I spent a lot of time scribbling notes and sending faxes and emailing other departments. And manually updating my traditional CRM system.
Once I settled on a solution, I spent whatever time I could free up really learning it. And I use every feature that makes sense for me, including:
Without a social CRM solution, the rules that I set for myself would occasionally produce leads. But by using all of the tools this application offers, I can blend what I discover in the wild world of the web with my existing customer and sales data.
The internet, with all of the information and opinions it publishes to the world about my company’s products, has given more control to prospects and customers in the sales relationship. Social CRM can help salespeople even out that new balance of power.
The word “habit” often conjures up thoughts of bad ones. Here are seven good habits that I’ve found to be effective.
Habits. We all have ‘em, both good and bad.
I wrote about turning New Year’s Resolutions into habits last January, and I’ve been thinking about them more since then. As salespeople, our lives tend to be somewhat fragmented as we rush back and forth to meet with prospects and customers, while trying to keep up with the organizational and planning elements of our work. So it’s especially important for us to develop the habits that not only help keep us on track, but which can ultimately lead to a better sales performance overall.
I’ve also realized that the positive habits that I work on at home also translate well to my professional activities. Start them at home or start them at work, but the same good habits can improve our lives and our successes in both settings.
Here are some habits that I’ve worked on incorporating. They have as much to do with your attitude as they do any particular sales “techniques.”
Practice Makes Perfect
Act as if. You’ve probably encountered this concept. It simply means going through the motions even if an activity or thought process feels foreign to you. Do it enough times, and it becomes a confidence-builder – and a good habit.
A Customer Relationship Management system may solve problems that you didn’t even know you had.
“Workaround” is a word often used by companies and individuals that develop and support software and websites. When they use it, they generally mean that the features you’re looking for aren’t available, but there are alternate routes to accomplishing – at least in part – what you’re trying to do.
Do you find yourself applying the same concept to your sales-related customer relationship management tasks? You’ve cobbled together an elaborate system of email folders and extensions and add-ons, used Outlook’s tools to the max, and you maintain your contact database in an Excel spreadsheet.
Most of your competition, on the other hand, is using at least a basic Customer Relationship Management solution. Why? Because they saw the same signs that you have and found a more elegant, centralized, collaborative way to deal with it.
Here are some of those signs that you may recognize in your own professional life:
There are numerous other signs, but you get the idea. CRM software and websites help you conquer the three Cs: communication, collaboration, and clarity. They save time and help you avoid duplicate data entry. They can travel with you wherever you go, and you can graduate to more sophisticated functionality when you need it. They’re designed for the sales profession.
So there’s a good reason for that nagging feeling you have that says There has to be a better way. There is. CRM solutions are as necessary for salespeople as a phone, a firm handshake and a friendly smile.
CRM solutions can be tremendous sales tools, but the old rules about customer relationships still apply – and still contribute to successful sales.
Although I survived – and often thrived – as a salesperson before I started using CRM software, I can’t imagine going back to a bulging Rolodex and file folders and paper scheduler. I still spend my days chasing leads and talking to people and continuing to school myself about the myriad ways that people can benefit from using my company’s products and services.
My CRM solution does a lot of the heavy lifting now. I’m not as mired in tedious administrative details, and my workflow is much more economical. I’m more productive both in the office and on the road, thanks to mobile technology. And I’m able to make more – and better targeted – connections through email and social media.
Choose your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution carefully.
What’s the most popular Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application in use today? If you said “email,” you’d be right. Many businesspeople live in Outlook or Gmail or whatever their preferred email client is. By taking advantage of their integrated apps, extensions, portability and customizability, you can cobble together a reasonably effective CRM solution for your team.
The operative word there is “cobble.” It makes more sense to me to implement an application that was built from the ground up to accommodate very specific customer service and sales needs.
Has social media redefined the concepts of sales and marketing? Not in the all-encompassing way that some will tell you, I don’t believe.
You can spend an enormous amount of money these days flying off to conferences, reading books and hiring consultants all focused on how social networks have fundamentally changed the role of salespeople and marketing professionals.
I only know of four ways that things have really changed for me:
That’s just me, and I’d love to hear if your experience has been different.
But on to B.J. Mendelson’s Social Media is Bull***, a book you can pick up for the Kindle and in hardback at Amazon for a few bucks. It’s a good read, and like I said earlier, I agreed with much of it, though I believe that there’s more gray area – more exceptions and possibilities — than he does.
Here are Mendelson’s main points:
You’ve probably been in the sales profession for years, and you know what’s worked and what hasn’t. I continue to explore how social media might help me build relationships and make sales, but I listen to my gut and only do what I think makes sense for my unique situation, products, target market, resources, etc. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to social media, and you should be wary of anyone who preaches otherwise.
Last week, I introduced some cautionary thinking about the use of social media in sales. Here are some specifics.
“Too many brands today see the ‘bright and shiny’ object called social media and jump right in whenever a new network launches.”
That’s a quote from Michael Brito, one of the contributors quoted in Hazardous to Your Social Media Health: 50 Previously Condoned Behaviors We No Longer Recommend, a free e-book compiled by David Sparks of Sparks Media Solutions, available here.
I have to reiterate what I said in last week’s post before I go on. I am not trashing the concept of using social media as a sales tool. But now that we have a few years under our collective belts using these sites, it’s a good time to step back and evaluate our approach. And listen to some of the voices that aren’t just trying to sell a book or a subscription or attendance at a conference.
That said, here’s more of the advice tendered in the e-book:
Stop “getting your feet wet.” “Stop doing social for the sake of doing social. If you’re pinning to Pinterest just because you’re supposed to, but aren’t getting any traction, stop it right now.”
Stop focusing on your non-existent “community.” “The only thing that matters, and arguably ever mattered, was generating good material and then using the media to get it in front of the right people. At that point, it’ll either fly or die on its own merits.”
Stop endorsing people on LinkedIn. It’s become meaningless.
Stop talking about social media. “What you’re looking to uncover is the story social media is trying to tell. For example, can conversations on Twitter predict future sales?”
Stop following everyone who follows you. Another meaningless gesture when done automatically.
Stop spreading yourself too thin. “Stop thinking your message needs to be everywhere — you can’t engage everywhere so invest in spaces where your clients/customers are, instead of spraying and praying.”
Stop collecting friends. “This giant land grab of users was actually valuable when we weren’t so overwhelmed by social messaging. Now the influx is so overwhelming that we’re reliant on filters to manage the noise.”
Stop engaging in “conversation.” “We need to be focusing on things that are more about action than conversation. Social technology has evolved in a way that enables people to do more, not just talk more.”
Stop responding to everyone. This used to be good advice. But in 2014? “That would be true if everyone deserved a response.”
Stop relying on other social media channels to build your brand. If they pull the plug on a feature, like LinkedIn Answers, there goes part of your online reputation. “Brands should now focus their efforts and resources on driving traffic to owned digital platforms, like self-hosted communities and opt-in email lists. The strategy must be to draw engaged customers and prospects from those third-party outposts back to owned digital assets.”
This post is getting long, and I don’t want to cut short the excerpts from Social Media is Bull**** that I wanted to include. Looks like this will be a three-part post.
Let me say, though, that reading this e-book filled with advice from professionals who have been in social media from the beginning – and practice what they preach — gave me permission to follow that nagging little voice in my head that questioned whether all of the gee-whiz advice online was a little overblown.
It’s time to work smarter on our social selling skills. We’ll call it Social Selling 2.0.
Still skeptical about the effectiveness of social media in sales? You’re not alone. Here’s a look at some contrarian thinking on the issue.
I’ve talked a lot about “social selling” in this blog. And I do believe that social media can play a role in your overall sales and marketing strategy.
But I hope I haven’t – and I don’t think I have – encouraged you to plunge an excessive amount of time and other resources into it. I think it’s a useful tool. Online communications, done well, can clearly help you generate leads, nurture relationships with customers,publish useful information about products and services, and process sales transactions.
But my title is not VP Social Selling. I’ve been a sales manager for over two decades, and in that time, I’ve used a wide variety of tools. Social media is the latest one, and it’s become a highly-visible part of our society.
Not a Panacea
But it’s not the answer to all of our professional challenges. To see it as even a significant part of your sales strategy means that you’re not using your other skills and resources diligently enough. You still need to work your CRM software religiously. Get out and meet prospects and customers in person. Use email in a smart, focused fashion. Make phone calls, send handwritten notes, search for leads using any of numerous methods – you know the drill.
I started thinking about all of this for two reasons. First, I always get a little uneasy when I hear intelligent people promoting the view that a massive network of computer servers connected to desktop PCs and mobile devices has changed anything about the nature of human relationships and the core philosophies that we embrace as salespeople.
Over 15 million copies of How to Win Friends and Influence People have been sold since it was published in 1937. Go to a sales seminar or read a sales how-to book in 2014 and you’ll often see echoes of Dale Carnegie presented as some kind of revolutionary new theory.
The Other Side
Second, two books I read recently both affirmed some things I’ve always thought and made me re-think other elements of my own social selling strategy. I wanted to share some of the thinking from both of them with you to balance the posts I’ve written promoting the use of social media in your sales and marketing efforts.
I still think that you should use social media. We can’t ignore the potential of blogs and Twitter and LinkedIn. But if you’ve hesitated to invest a lot of time and resources in social media, or if you feel like you’re doing too much with too little return, I want to introduce some of the other, just-as-credible voices that are providing commentary on the effectiveness of social media in business.
Here they are. One is an e-book called Hazardous to Your Social Media Health: 50 Previously Condoned Behaviors We No Longer Recommend that you can download free of charge here. It was written by David Sparks of Spark Media Solutions; it’s based on the wisdom of 56 industry “influencers” (more on that word in my next column).
The other is available for a few dollars on Amazon. Its title is Social Media is Bu****it, and its content isn’t as one-sided as it sounds. I agreed with some points and felt that others were not as black-and-white as the author contended.
I’ll highlight some of the thinking in these two books next week. And I’ll be very interested to hear what you think.