With yesterday’s announcement that Microsoft will acquire LinkedIn for $26.2 billion, we considered ways this historic merger could affect the world that LinkedIn is so intimately a part of: social selling, buyer research and professional relationship management. I spent some time with Mike Kunkle, senior director of sales enablement for Brainshark, to discuss the roles that social channels should play in B2B sales.
Mike, like many experts in the field, you’ve written about the practice of “social selling” and encourage B2B salespeople and companies to have a solid online presence, especially on LinkedIn.
Now, Microsoft is suggesting that a person’s LinkedIn information will eventually be available in Outlook, Skype and other Microsoft tools. Sounds like research will be far more convenient for both buyers and sellers.
Mike Kunkle: Well, let’s step back just a bit first. Selling through digital channels, aka “social selling,” makes sense for most. But the degree to which it applies is still somewhat variable, based on your industry, target contacts and role.
Once you determine the degree that makes sense for your organization, getting the three Ps in place quickly is the next step: deciding where to have a Presence (LinkedIn is best if you’re not fully engaged), optimizing your Profiles (LinkedIn is the most complex and important to get right), and deciding the level of Participation that’s right for you.
So, back to your question about research, which is the first step in my six-step social selling methodology. Any place and way that reps can research accounts and contacts is helpful. As far as having multiple places, I’m not sure how helpful that is if they’re all fed from the same source (LinkedIn) and contain the same data – but at least companies will have more choices of tools to use.
How do you feel B2B social selling has progressed since you shared your pragmatic view in 2014?
MK: I’m relieved to see less hype around social selling, and hear more people recommending social platforms as a way to research, market, and nurture, in addition to “selling.” Just as there’s a trend in the learning field toward blended learning – mixing media based on what can be done best via elearning, virtual instructor-led training and classroom courses – I also see a trend toward using a variety of sales tools in the best way possible.
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For all of the attention paid to social platforms, email and phone are still phenomenal sales tools. So are the airplane and automobile (traveling to meet face-to-face). Virtual conferencing will continue growing in popularity and effectiveness. There’s value in this variety, with each option having strengths, and we should think of social tools and sites the same way.
I still think the time you invest in social selling depends on a variety of factors including your industry, target customers, and sales role. But it’s worth understanding how much you can do just on LinkedIn: research companies and people, share updates and content, participate in Group discussions and observe prospects in them, follow others’ activity, reach out to connect and create awareness, support others socially (creating “social debt”), build relationships, and more.
The good news is more buyers are becoming accustomed to sales approaches conducted through social channels, especially LinkedIn. The flip side is more are also becoming numb to it. Approaching prospects through social is only one part of the equation – effectiveness needs to increase, in general, by a large margin.
What do you think has been the biggest misconception about how sales and sales connections can take place on LinkedIn?
MK: It’s funny, most buyers I talk with hate when reps connect with them and then immediately send a sales or prospecting InMail message. Some buyers will disconnect with the rep just as immediately.
Some of that dislike is fueled by horrible sales approaches that are either product pitches, “all about me” (the rep or company), or generic approaches where the rep has not done any homework and can’t position properly in a compelling way.
Buyers didn’t join LinkedIn to be sold. For some, they feel it’s equivalent to having a bullseye painted on their back for horrible sales approaches. (Reminds me of the Gary Larson Far Side cartoon in which there are two deer talking. One, noticing the bullseye target on the other says, “Bummer of a birthmark, Hal.”)
I think selling through social channels needs to be far subtler. I prefer using social for research, content marketing, nurturing, sharing, supporting, creating awareness and developing a relationship, all while watching for a trigger event or an opening for a professional sales approach. When you see a reason to approach a prospect through social, then you have a foundation to do it.
Having said that, I am not a “cold calling is dead” advocate. A cold call can be warmed a lot by social and, when done well, a cold call can still work. If there is a trigger event, but you haven’t established enough of a social relationship yet – or you just want to outright prospect someone – don’t default to an InMail. Email or pick up the phone.
I’m sure the technological marriage between LinkedIn and Microsoft will result in more ways for sales reps to make connections and access information, or better – to integrate selling activities into their workflow. But we should always remember that life is a bell curve. Some buyers will be incredibly open to a social approach, even at an early stage. Many in the middle of the curve would do better with my blended approach. Some will never react well to being approached through social channels.
What’s important is that we need to improve our approach effectiveness, regardless of channel.
A fool with a social tool is just a better amplified fool. A great rep can sell well through any channel. Combine skill with using the right channel in the right way at the right time, and you’ll be on your way to far higher levels of effectiveness. And that’s what really matters.