“I recently signed up on LinkedIn. …because our company is now doing that social selling thing that everybody’s talking about.”

For the last few years, B2B social selling has been quite the hot topic. A large portion of B2B companies, even from conservative industries such as the construction sector, are trying to gain a foothold in social business networks like LinkedIn and Xing. The main objective; opening up new sales channels and generating additional revenue.

This objective leaves B2B companies asking themselves; how do we successfully manage our sales activities on platforms like LinkedIn? In other words: How does Social Selling work?

LinkedIn is not Facebook: Social but in a Business Environment

The LinkedIn network in particular has developed over the last few years into a central hub for B2B business development. In the German-speaking region alone, the network has over 15 million users. In my opinion, this is due to the fact that LinkedIn is very similar to the most successful social media platform of all time, both in design and usability. Of course, we are talking about Facebook.

However, transferring one’s personal user behavior from Facebook one-to-one to LinkedIn wouldn´t be target-oriented, and could also lead to a loss of trust in the B2B context. Because LinkedIn is a social network just like Facebook but in a business sense.

What may be appropriate for Facebook is often not appropriate for LinkedIn. For example, leisure or holiday videos are very popular on Facebook, but less so on LinkedIn. Why? People who use LinkedIn want to exchange information with other users in a professional way. Otherwise, they would be on Facebook right now. So as long as you don’t offer professional leisure experiences (e.g. Jochen Schweizer), you should choose representative content from your business area to be noticed on LinkedIn. The same applies to profile pictures. Although these may be casual on LinkedIn, they should be clearly distinguished from leisure snapshots. If you take the business premise further, it’s only logical that making contact for private purposes on LinkedIn is not conducive to success, and is not desired by the majority of users. The rule is: networking, yes. Flirting, no. After all, you want to exchange ideas with experts on the platform and be perceived as one yourself. So how do you position yourself correctly as an expert?

Being an expert and showing it: Who is the person behind the profile?

Before some people hide and say “I’m not an expert”, I can give you a heads up: Everyone’s an expert. Take the company you are currently working for, for example. Your employment there alone makes you a greater expert in the company’s specific area of expertise. Building Radar, for example, uses artificial intelligence (AI) to find construction projects worldwide at a very early stage. As an employee of this company, I know exactly how this works. For example, I have more expertise in AI than many others, especially in the construction industry. On one hand, there are many people in LinkedIn who have worked with AI much more than I have. On the other hand, they lack the knowledge of the building industry. So all my previous (professional) experiences contribute to my expertise. But how do I show this?

  1. The LinkedIn Header:

This should not just indicate your current position, but also show directly how you can help other members on the network.

Example:

LinkedIn Ben Bauer

For example, if this header were to say “Account Executive at Building Radar”, members would know my job title, but not what I can help them with. That’s why I prefer this way of presentation.

  1. The Info Area:

Many LinkedIn members prefer to just give information about their company in the info area. I think that you should tell a little bit more about yourself there. Who is Ben Bauer? What type of person am I dealing with?

It could look like this, for example:

This way the network learns more about who I am and what is important to me as a person. Where I position myself as an employee of a company can be found in the “Experiences” section.

  1. Experience:

In this section, it is important for me not only to explain what my particular company does but also to give the LinkedIn member an understanding of how I work or have worked there. Together with the info section, everyone can then use the experience section to get a relatively accurate picture of how I work.

Here is the example for Building Radar:

So far so good. Every LinkedIn member can now get an overview of me and my expertise through my profile within minutes and then decide whether I fit into his or her network. After all, I still want to network with other experts and may even make business contacts in the end. Contacts to whom I might even be able to sell my product or service. But how do I make the contacts listen to me and not make them feel annoyed by another crude sales message?

First get to know them – then sell: Am I in the right place?

The way you first get to know each other will largely determine whether or not you can be successful on LinkedIn. My experience: As soon as it feels like selling to the other person, they block you. Often, even when my product might fit perfectly. It’s the way I ask for it that counts.

How often have you avoided salespeople on the street without even listening to what they have to say. Why? Because, for example, they have acted inappropriately and got in your way. Similarly, if I write to a person on LinkedIn “Hi Mrs Markwart, I have a great product and I think it might suit you”, it is similarly abusive. Why doesn’t she write back? She feels annoyed or even harassed.

I may have written it personally because I honestly felt it was a good fit. But to her it sounds like a mass email and immediately like selling. It doesn’t have to be. If I find the right contact person, there’s nothing to stop us exchanging ideas about the potential added value of a partnership. That is exactly the point! Often, we only suspect that a person could fit our profile. However, we simply never know for sure until speaking to them. So if I am wrong with my assumption, I will not sell anything and on top of that I will potentially lose this expert from my network.

To make sure that this doesn’t happen, I recommend the following contact request:

Hello Mr Wällisch,

Based on the information in your profile, I assume that you are involved in the operations at DreiZweiEins GmbH. Specifically with the management of the commercial team and its strategy.

Am I correct in assuming so?

Many greetings

Ben Bauer

Why did I ask that? Because I want to know if I’m spending my time with the right person. Moreover, it is a soft speech for the person opposite, because at first I only gave the impression that our interests could match. Not that I want to sell anything. With the closed question at the end, I give Mr Wällisch the opportunity to simply turn me down. That creates a feeling of security. But if my suspicion was correct, they won’t do that. Typically they will briefly check my profile and expertise and then answer me.

Maybe they will also write “No, you are wrong about me, but I can connect you with Mrs. Djordjevic. She takes care of our sales strategy”. In any case, a real conversation between experts will take place. An exchange at eye level. In the end, possibly also a sales talk with conclusion. 

Now you have made it with your social selling. Because you have sought and found a discussion among experts. Because you were simply not pushy, you managed to sell without selling.

Ben Bauer

Author Ben Bauer

Ben Bauer works as Account Executive at Building Radar. He helps companies to support their sales organisation on the way to digitalisation and to implement digital project acquisition. In his spare time he blogs about communication topics on Mylifeinstories.blog and talks in the podcast Klares Vielleicht about interpersonal situations from job and everyday life.

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