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The path to greater sales

Over the past few years, LinkedIn has turned into this big sprawling mess of options and different types of content. It can be really confusing and frustrating trying to figure out the best way to use it.

So today I thought I could step back and help you figure out where LinkedIn can help you.

First of all, let’s talk about a generic sales cycle to see where LinkedIn fits – and especially where it doesn’t. The way I think of the sales cycle – or pipeline or funnel or whatever you want to call it – there are five parts to it. I will use the sales funnel idea here.

This is the world of people and companies where your product or service may be a fit. Say you sell medical equipment. Hospitals and medical clinics may be your logical suspects. When I first got into high tech sales I read the Miller Heiman sales books and they had a good way of representing suspects. This was the world of possible customers floating around above and outside the top of the sales funnel. They were possible prospects, but we knew little about them, or whether they were a good fit for us at all.

Prospects, on the other hand, are people we have contacted or have contacted us, and from our initial conversation(s) look like they could be a good fit for us. There are still huge holes in our knowledge – such as do they have funding, what is their timing like, who are our competitors – but there is nothing to disqualify them so far. The potential is there.

This is the phase where we get the answers to our questions, and the prospects get the answers to theirs. We find out what their problems are, what they’re trying to accomplish, who is involved, the funding, the timing and so on. They find out whether our solution looks like it will solve their problems.

Working Together
This is the part of the sales process where all the sticking points are discovered, discussed and overcome…or they aren’t.

Proposal Issued and Sale Made
Or lost.

If you think of the sales process as having these five parts, it is easy to recognize that LinkedIn fits at the top in the early stages and is not really a factor in the latter stages. Let’s talk here about where and how it can be used.

Using LinkedIn To Identify Suspects
This is the obvious use for LinkedIn. If we return to my medical equipment sales example, using LinkedIn to find hospitals and clinics, and especially the key people likely to be the stakeholders in any sale is the most obvious use. I recognize that for some sales organizations, they know who their possible clients are. An example of this was a colleague back in the 90’s who sold switches to phone companies. As there were six phone companies in his territory, he did not exactly need a LinkedIn in order to find out who his suspects were.

Using LinkedIn For Prospecting
This is the place where most people make mistakes in using LinkedIn. In general, LinkedIn is not a good tool for prospect outreach. This has to do with the idea that most LinkedIn users don’t come around that often…maybe fifteen percent of LinkedIn users will log in over the next week. Unless your market is composed of LinkedIn power users like sales and marketing people, consultants, and human resources, the fact remains that your suspects likely won’t see your message for months, if at all.
LinkedIn can be a very powerful tool for outreach, but you need to pick your spots.

If LinkedIn is over used for Prospecting, it is under used for Discovery. This is because there are more clues about your prospects on LinkedIn than you may have realized. Between LinkedIn profiles and LinkedIn company pages there can be a lot of useful information that can inform your sales approach. For example, in reading a key executive’s profile, you may be able to see what their focus is and what they see as the most important goals to achieve at their company. You can then tailor your approach to address how your solution has helped others achieve these goals. Here’s another example: there was a company I had been asked to put together a proposal for training their team if they got Sales Navigator. When I researched them on LinkedIn I found that they appeared to be having a tough time financially (headcount was way down over the past couple years). This info caused me to completely change the way I approached this account. Instead of a “you can sell more” approach, I moved to a “this will save you money and reduce your costs” approach.
Sometimes the unspoken things you can find on LinkedIn are just as important.

As far as the last two parts of the sales process are concerned, working together and closing the deal, I certainly hope no one is using LinkedIn for those!

One further aspect I have used with respect to LinkedIn is tracking the numbers of each of the first three parts of my funnel. In my case I tracked how many suspects I needed to contact to gain a prospect, and then how many prospects I needed to gain a customer. I will leave this for a future column as I have some ideas here that may be useful, but as a mentor of mine used to say, this analysis can be a worthwhile exercise.



At Practical SMM, we pride ourselves on delivering highly effective LinkedIn strategies.