As sales professionals know, the key to closing more deals is not necessarily generating more leads but generating the right leads. These days, the best way to build a robust sales pipeline is to generate those leads using LinkedIn.
Although many people think LinkedIn is just a place to post your resume or hunt for a job, it actually represents a way to strategically build pipeline and nurture relationships. Koka Sexton, senior social marketing manager at LinkedIn, says there are two basic steps to leveraging either LinkedIn's free platform or LinkedIn's Sales Navigator
for better pipeline results.
Step 1: Search LinkedIn's 300 million members and see what information is available about prospects on their profile pages. This alone can tell you a lot, and when your network is big enough, you can often request that one of your first-degree connections introduce you to a third-degree connection.
Step 2: Use LinkedIn as an engagement platform. Via status updates or comments in groups, start sharing content or responding to content posted by others. As Sexton says, these interactions add up to stronger relationships, which can help build pipeline and reduce churn.
"The more engaged you are with [buyers], the harder it is for them to break with you," Sexton says. "If you engage through social media throughout the year, at year-end they know you."
Sexton predicts social selling will be the norm in five years. "We are about a year away from the tipping point, when we get to critical mass."
Don't forget that a sales professional who has lots of connections and can build pipeline quickly is a hot commodity. Sexton predicts that soon salespeople will be hired based on their social footprint. For example, a company selling medical devices in Michigan will look for a rep with that or a closely related social identity. "They won't hire a nonmedical sales rep from California, because he or she will not have the connections."
The line between sales and marketing will blur even further as salespeople do their own micromarketing. Reps are already good at one-to-one and one-to-few communication. "What happens when, instead of calling ten people on the phone, they can do four social-media updates a day, reaching 15,000 people?" Sexton asks.
He says that salespeople, who are already responsible for about 70 percent of their leads and revenue, may increase that share by becoming their own marketers. They may find leads by setting up "listening posts on Twitter" to hear today's topic in their industry.
That might be faster than any marketing campaign designed to kick-start a robust pipeline, and success in sales often goes to the swift. "If you want to know the most important paper on a subject, Google will tell you," Sexton observes, "but if you want to know the hottest paper today, Twitter will tell you in real time before it bubbles up a week later on Google."