Audience Development & Using Social as an SDR
Jake is a veteran sales leader with 2+ decades of experience across various industries. As a trailblazer, he’s helped pioneer making social a powerhouse for sellers.
Jake is the CEO of Skaled Consulting, which is one of the highest-rated management & sales consulting firms in the space.
Sales development has always been a challenging function, but the role was much scrappier before the advent of social networks.
In the past, SDRs had less visibility into markets, fewer sources of reliable information, and limited options for how to engage buyers.
Outbound outreach was often truly cold simply because there was no better choice. SDRs called or emailed complete strangers to build momentum right then and there.
However, the rise of social networks changed everything.
For the first time ever, sellers and buyers can connect instantly on mainstream digital platforms en masse without the usual pressure of a one-to-one sales conversation.
Instead, social focuses on the community as a whole and one-to-many interactions.
Social networks enable brands to find new buyers, gather intelligence, build rapport, and influence buying decisions before ever directly reaching out.
So much opportunity exists for SDRs using social. However like all sales channels, it’s critical to understand the best practices around how to use it for business development.
Before You Start
Not only is social a relatively new channel for sellers, it’s also a uniquely different environment from the other channels salespeople use to connect with buyers:
- Public one-to-many vs private one-to-one format
- Perpetual vs touch-by-touch visibility
- Buyer-driven vs seller-driven access to information
- Learning/networking vs buying/selling focus
With outbound prospecting on a channel like phone, email, or direct mail, sellers have to build a list and find contact information before reaching out.
On social, the lists are already there and filterable by anyone. Contact information isn’t needed to reach out if they have a profile, so there’s a lower barrier-to-entry for connecting with people on social.
This accessibility to instant lists and easily-automated outreach gave rise to the concept of social selling: using social as a channel for direct sales.
In addition to the potential as an outbound sales channel, social unlocked powerful new ways to develop a personal brand and grow an audience.
Endless options exist for how SDRs can leverage social to get noticed, find qualified buyers, and generate new sales conversations.
How should a rep spend their time on a social channel like LinkedIn?
Before a rep can successfully use social within their role, it’s important to step back and understand how social fits into their sales development process.
Your Purpose on Social
The amount of freedom on social networks is both a blessing and a curse for SDRs.
While social provides access to more relationships, information, and selling opportunities than ever before, it also offers easy ways for reps to waste time.
SDRs already have to manage large volumes of activities across multiple channels with very limited time. To use social effectively within their workflow, reps must understand how to best spend their time on social channels.
Is a rep using social to grow their personal brand? To grow a targeted audience? To help educate other sellers? To perform better at their job?
The goals that a rep sets for social ultimately determine the value of using the channel and define how success is measured.
Take actions with an end goal in mind. Without this focus, it’s easy for SDRs to lose sales productivity or spend too much time on social.
For example, a rep that wants to use social to crush their quota would use channels like LinkedIn in a very specific way: focus on audience development while integrating social within their existing prospecting workflow.
However, an SDR that wants to land a better job with social would target people, create content, and interact with people differently.
Decide the purpose for using social as an SDR and set clear goals before getting started. Clarity is essential to making the most out of social platforms.
The same amount of time spent on the same social activities will generate wildly different results depending on the type of people that see it.
Every post, connection, and interaction feeds into a rep’s personal brand. For example, constantly talking about fishing or interacting with fishers will likely optimize that SDR’s social for building an audience in the fishing space.
Like everything in sales, targeting is critical on social. With billions of users out there, SDRs need to be laser-focused on the types of people they want in their audience.
However, just because an SDR knows who they want to target doesn’t mean that they know what to talk about or how to be relevant to that audience.
Beyond finding the right people to reach, a targeting strategy also helps reps align their content & messaging around the specific personas they’re targeting.
Audience Growth: Quantity vs Quality
There’s a big debate in the LinkedIn community about connection requests: is it acceptable to simply click connect without creating a personalized message?
LinkedIn provides the ability to send around 80 connection requests every 4 hours, which takes approximately 12 minutes without personalized notes.
However, some users have strict rules for their network and refuse to accept requests from people who don’t include a message. Some sales organizations even advocate for personalized connection requests as a best practice.
What is the best practice for SDRs growing an audience?
The answer depends entirely on the rep’s selling environment, but there’s an argument for doing both.
Personalized connections might be more effective, but the volume a rep can send is much lower. It takes much longer to build an audience with tens of connections per day compared to 100+ per day.
Instead, SDRs can send unpersonalized connection requests initially because a majority of people will accept without issues.
Meanwhile, reps can follow-up with a personalized message for the select few who don’t accept their blind connection request.
Ultimately, a larger audience provides more opportunities for SDRs. With the right targeting strategy, reps can maintain audience quality (even at scale).
Process & System-Building
Social provides an environment with virtually limitless options for SDRs, which is why it’s so important to clearly define a purpose and target audience.
However, platforms like LinkedIn host thousands of sales professionals competing for the same audiences and often with similar purposes.
How does a rep stand out from the crowd in such a noisy, competitive world?
Ad hoc, unplanned activities are easy to start, but difficult to maintain. Without clarity around process, it’s easy to lose control over the results social delivers.
Instead, SDRs need a clear playbook for social that can be repeated to consistently add value to their audience.
Getting Started on Social
Sales development is designed to be a repeatable, trainable process: reps block out their time for daily activities like research, prospecting, and follow-ups.
While social is different from other sales development channels, it’s still essential to create a routine that reps can use within their day-to-day workflow.
At the core, social consists of a few main ways to engage buyers:
- Posting/Sharing Content
- Interacting in Comments/Groups
- Sending Direct Messages
A simple formula for using social as an SDR boils down into these processes. First, add new contacts to grow the audience. Second, publish content through social posts. Finally, engage with other people, social posts, and conversations.
However, a rep starting from scratch on social has an uphill battle to face.
Rather than the usual one-to-one format, social networks are one-to-many. Visibility and engagement is highly-competitive on platforms like LinkedIn.
To break through the noise, SDRs must consistently invest the time in social over the long-term and understand that value is given before it’s extracted.
Don’t expect results after 90 days of activity, especially if there isn’t a clear plan and process in place for generating those outcomes.
Instead, focus on mastering a repeatable routine for social that can integrate into a rep’s existing sales development process.
Using LinkedIn Sales Navigator
Out of all the major social networks out there, LinkedIn is the only platform that provides a suite of tools for sales teams.
While LinkedIn has a variety of products that range from education to advertising, one of the most powerful for SDRs is LinkedIn Sales Navigator.
With an extensive network comprising hundreds of millions of users, sellers can target and gain in-depth intelligence on specific markets from within the platform.
Here are just a few of the many targeting capabilities within Sales Navigator:
- Industries/Niche Keywords
- Years in Current Position, at Company, or Total
- Company/Department Size & Growth
- Revenue/Job Opportunities/Technologies Used
- Recently Changed Jobs, In The News, & Posted on LinkedIn
Sales Nav allows SDRs to get very granular and build audiences of people that are the best fit for their situation.
Beyond targeting capabilities, Sales Nav makes it easy to search, save, organize,, manage, and stay in touch with multiple markets.
In the past, organizations required multiple systems to find markets, build lists, and gather intelligence on accounts and people.
With LinkedIn Sales Navigator, reps can unify much of the sales prospecting process into one tool.
Another benefit of SalesNav is its ability to give you leading indicators like job changes and LinkedIn activity.
Content & Interaction
The formula for social is simple: target ideal people, post content, and interact.
However, one of the biggest topics surrounding social is about how to actually produce great content and create engaging interactions with others.
SDRs often fall into the trap of regurgitating the same content they see elsewhere for the purpose of posting. Without unique substance, content is just noise and can easily come off to an audience as inauthentic.
Why does this trap exist?
Because sales development often sees people early in their sales career, which means they have fewer experiences and learnings to bring to the table.
This creates a lot of anxiety for SDRs trying to put themselves out there. Do they have enough knowledge, clout, or experience in their role to actually add value?
Regardless of knowledge or experience, compelling content can be created by anyone willing to document and curate the tons of insights already out there.
Eventually, reps can develop their own unique thoughts and opinions. However, comprehensive expertise is not a prerequisite to adding value on social.
Whether it be through marketing team support, online research, or aggregating the opinions of thought leaders, reps can organize this information to create value for their audience and start conversations with prospects.
Sales Engagement Tactics on Social
Ideally, SDRs should be consistently connecting with the right people, regularly posting the right content, and actively interacting with their target audience.
However, the primary purpose behind the sales development role is to create sales conversations and generate opportunities for their organization.
How does a rep make this transition from social to sales?
Given the right targeting, a rep’s content should resonate with buyers and open many doors of opportunity to spark a productive discussion.
Meanwhile, every interaction that doesn’t create an immediate sales angle will still build rapport and create context that SDRs can leverage in the future.
At the right time, reps can then use the many communication methods on LinkedIn and other channels to engage in a sales-focused conversation.
Here are a few examples of sales engagement plays that are being used by top-performing sales professionals:
Personalized Buyer Testimonials: Connect with current customers, ask them a question, and record or screenshot their response to send to prospects. Not only is this powerful social proof, but it also provides a personalized way to start conversations about what is relevant for a buyer’s peers.
LinkedIn Voicemail: Add personality to the profile picture by sending a direct voice message to buyers on LinkedIn. Voice is a very powerful way to build rapport because it’s a personalized, real-time message instead of simple text.
LinkedIn Video Message: Stand out from the crowd with a personalized video message. One of the relatively newer outreach features on LinkedIn, video messages give sellers a powerful way to build digital relationships.
When done correctly, pivoting into a sales conversation is much easier on any sales channel with a pre-existing relationship on social.
However, remember that timing is still at play here. Focus on the long-term success of the deal and let social generate natural windows of opportunity.
Social Best Practices & Actionable Tips
Social is still a relatively new channel for the sales world, which means best practices, community behaviors, and user expectations are still evolving.
On the same dime, a lot of bad practices on social have been formed by sellers & marketers that dilute the overall value of social for everyone.
In order to use social effectively, SDRs need to understand how to stay relevant and adapt as social environments change for salespeople.
Here are a few best practices and tips to keep in mind for the near future of social and sales development.
Not Every Buyer Uses Social
Everything in sales revolves around the buyer, including where they spend time and how they prefer to interact with sellers.
While social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook are popular platforms for buyers, this doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a company’s target buyers will use them.
The data sales organizations have on buyers is what drives the activities behind a sales development team.
SDRs need to be cognizant of how to best generate opportunities in their specific market. If buyers can’t be found on LinkedIn, skip to the channels where they can be found (no matter where that might be).
Gaining Leadership Buy-In for Social
Not every organization agrees with the use of social in B2B sales.
Because social is uniquely different from more traditional direct sales channels, it can often be hard to truly quantify results and justify the value to leadership.
At organizations where social channels aren’t fully accepted, SDRs have to invest their own money and time into making social a successful investment.
To integrate social into their process internally, reps need to gain buy-in from their leadership team on the potential value created by adopting the channel.
For example, setup a test to show the value created with the social compared to the organization’s usual process.
It’s also important to remember that a belief in social selling doesn’t mean that reps should stop executing on the processes already defined within their company. Stick with what’s been proven to work, but actively push to be an evangelist for social.
Social Results: Short-Term vs Long-Term
Every connection, social post, and comment is a seed planted to generate future value for either a rep’s career or their organization.
However, seeds of opportunity take time to grow.
SDRs often focus too much on the here and now, rather than investing in the foundations needed to accelerate success in the future. A short-term outlook is the cause of many of the bad practices found on social:
- Automated InMail Messages
- Regurgitated/Unoriginal Content
The reality of social is that the value it generates depends completely on how it’s perceived: short-term quick wins or a investment in a long-term strategy?
Influencers and industry leaders on social didn’t just appear: they started before they ever had an online presence and put the work in to reap the rewards.
While there are definitely short-term benefits to using social networks like LinkedIn, be careful not to neglect the long-term vision behind using it.
Social networks are a true societal phenomenon: instant digital access to targeted audiences, data, news, and community conversations.
With mass adoption by the professional community, social channels will only grow as a bigger part of modern sales processes.
For now, platforms like LinkedIn produce immense value for the community while providing sellers with a great way to generate sales opportunities.
However, will it last?
As social becomes more popular for sellers, it will become increasingly more competitive. Buyers are already raising the bar for salespeople on social.
With the right strategy behind social, SDRs can empower their performance while accelerating the growth of their career and personal brand.