How to Use LinkedIn for Sales Development & Social Selling

Dana has nearly a decade of experience in sales, lead generation, and social selling. He founded Legendary Leadgen in 2014 and helps teams connect with buyers and consistently grow revenue. Dana is a social expert and the author of LinkedIn Sales Success: B2B Lead Generation and Sales on the World’s Largest Professional Network.

Social selling, and really LinkedIn selling, is quickly becoming a major outreach channel for SDRs, and managers are struggling to keep up with the latest social selling and LinkedIn best practices.

What is contributing to this rise in popularity?

It starts with the evolution of today’s buyer, and how they research potential solutions. Buyers are connecting with sellers further down the funnel and are armed with more information than ever before.

Sales development teams need to adapt and cater to these new-age buyers on a channel that they feel comfortable with, and LinkedIn selling fits the bill. The ability to build rapport and authority in a non-intrusive channel matches the modern buyer’s ethos in a way that direct selling does not. 

Connecting with potential customers on social has many benefits, but it also has its drawbacks. This surge in social selling adoption has led to a lot of misuses, and the slew of bad practices, outdated approaches, and corner-cutting makes good social outreach hard to spot.

Effective education, proper set-up, and continuous training are needed to elevate the practice of social selling for all SDRs and establish its place in the modern sales rep’s toolset.

Before You Start

This meteoric rise in social selling has contributed to the creation of recognizable habits – both good and bad.

It will take time and discipline to separate those habits for good, and for social selling to establish itself as a legitimate outreach channel.

Its unique positioning gives it advantages that can’t be ignored and makes the effort to get it up and running worth the wait.

Social Selling is Still Evolving

Social selling is still relatively new in the sales world. Teams are working on not only adopting the practice but figuring out what it is at the same time.

As the practice grows and gets adopted by more teams, the barrier to entry will continue to drop. New tools and tactics can help anybody ramp up on social selling.

This low barrier to entry has allowed a lot of bad practices to develop in the social selling ecosystem. Low-quality automation tools, direct selling tactics, and mass-marketing efforts are diluting the value of social selling for those who do it right.

For managers trying to rise above the noise and do it correctly, it can be really difficult to draw clear lines around what SDRs should or should not be doing on social.

Social is a Unique Context for Buyers

Using LinkedIn in the context of sales gives companies the inclination to get a bit “sales-y” with their outreach. It gets treated as a direct sales channel instead of a social one.

At its core, LinkedIn is a social network. Prospects are accustomed to using LinkedIn to research, network, and learn – not purchase software solutions.

A common mistake on social is for an SDR to approach it like they would a phone call or email. The pattern is (often) is to send a connection request and then immediately follow it up with a product pitch. 

Reaching out to prospects and selling right out of the gate isn’t going to work, because that’s not what the platform was built for. Social selling and traditional selling can’t be approached in the same way, they have to be viewed as uniquely separate channels.

LinkedIn Selling for SDRs

On LinkedIn, SDRs need to slow down a bit and focus on forming a relationship, building rapport, and establishing trust with prospects before diving into the sale.

Instead of jumping into a sales conversation, focus on warming up prospects and priming them for the eventual realization that your company can help with their problems. This self-identification as a resource is a major tenet of the social selling strategy.

Conveniently, LinkedIn has established a metric known as your SSI (Social Selling Index). Following LinkedIn best practices will boost this number and help build you build the required skills to establish that much-needed authority.

The Advantage of the Social Channel

With email and the phone, you can run re-engagement campaigns in the hopes of connecting, but you won’t be in front of prospects or capturing their attention the same way you can on social.

The biggest benefit between social selling and traditional channels like email or phone is that through your online activity you’re building out a network of prospects over time instead of letting them go cold.

It gives SDRs a lot of great opportunities to share relevant content, engage with posts, and stay top-of-mind as prospects move through their buying journey.

Social Selling Automation

Everything is automated these days. Selling tools and LinkedIn automation tools are increasing in popularity, and their ease of use combined with a bevy of options has led to a skyrocketing in automation adoption.

The job is certainly less manual today than it ever has been, for better and for worse.

Automation Supports Social Selling Success

LinkedIn makes it difficult to automate the personalization of messages and posts, so SDRs still need to be on the front lines of researching prospects and personalizing outreach on social.

For an SDR to effectively use social selling in their outreach, it’s best to leverage automation and tools to help support at least parts of the process that don’t require manual effort. 

Think of all the manual tasks associated with LinkedIn selling – connecting with prospects, posting updates, doing research…all of that can be automated to a certain extent with the right tools.

If SDRs have to manage the end-to-end process manually themselves, it’ll be too time-consuming and their main focus, talking to prospects, will take a back seat. It’s easy to lose track of the end goal when building out a social selling program.

By combining automation with a well-designed outreach strategy, organizations can get in touch with their best prospects in a natural way while doing it at scale.

Automation Still Needs Relevant Messaging

When automating things, you still need to be wary of your messaging and how you’re connecting with prospects in the context of a social channel.

People (and LinkedIn) are growing tired of sellers just blasting out automated messages to everybody in their network, so SDRs need to create messaging that sticks out and is relevant to their prospects. With great power comes great responsibility.

Messaging needs to be relevant to resonate. If SDRs use basic, general information like the prospect’s location or university, it doesn’t come off as well-researched or authentic. Similarly, using terminology like “I work with people in your industry” comes off as low-effort. It doesn’t bring any uniqueness or authority to your outreach.

To maximize results with social selling, SDRs need to balance the personalized outreach with the benefit of automation and strive to be as relevant as possible to every prospect.

Personalized Automation

What is that balance? How do you find the middle ground between only sending out personalized messages and bombarding your network with InMails?

Top social sellers are putting value in their messaging and focusing on the specific pain points, situations, and topics-of-interest that their target prospects might be experiencing.

If you can show that you have knowledge in their niche, then people will be more interested to hear from you and see you as an authority on the subject.

When you can show that you understand them and their situation, they’ll view your company as an authoritative resource that can help with their problems.

For example, personalizing the message based on the industry of your prospect allows you to touch on common pain points that companies normally face and use those as talking points in your outreach.

Another example is using emojis in your messaging when you see emojis used on the prospect’s or company’s LinkedIn profile. Tailoring your messages to a particular culture is just as impactful as tailoring it to their industry.

Using LinkedIn for Outbound Sales

This is all well and good, building authority and credibility, but the end goal of all of this is to sell. It is called social selling after all. 

So how do you take that newly built authority and credibility to the next level? What would you say if you were asked how to connect with people on Linkedin in a meaningful way?

Social Selling Process for SDRs

You want to make a good first impression and build rapport before moving a prospect to a direct sales channel, so SDRs need a repeatable process to grow their relationships on social.

Here’s an example of a high-performing workflow:

  1. Look at someone’s profile (but don’t connect yet)
  2. Post an update relevant to their industry
  3. If they look at your profile, connect with them. Otherwise, wait a day to connect.
  4. In that connection request, give a personalized reason as to why you’re connecting.
  5. Follow that up with some kind of value – industry or persona-based
  6. Send a follow-up message on that topic and prove how it’s relevant to their company

A lot of reps try to use case studies in their messaging, but this could still be perceived as focusing on yourself and not the problems and situation of your prospects. 

Putting the focus on them helps you build authority and rapport with your prospect without focusing on your product/solution. It comes across as less “sales-y” and more authentic, and will more effectively resonate with prospects.

Alternatively, you can use relevant articles or posts to add value and context to your messaging (if you need examples to support your point).

Optimize SDR Profiles for Social Selling

Compared to email or phone, prospects can very easily learn more about you & your company on social. 

One of the great things about social selling is that your online profile is a piece of social marketing about you

Inbound visits to an SDR’s LinkedIn profile are the chance to put your best foot forward and introduce what your company does, how it can help, and what you’ve been able to do for others.

Creating a profile that gets these inbound visits is crucial to having more conversations with interested prospects.

One of the easiest ways to display value to your network and increase profile traffic is to update your tagline to summarize how you and your company add value to your customers. 

Adding a tagline summarizing how your solution adds value to your customers makes that value proposition visible on messages, comments, posts, and other interactions on LinkedIn.

Transitioning to Non-Social Channels

All the work you put into process creation and profile optimization entice prospects who want to learn more about you and your company.

You should aim to transition these interested prospects off your social channels and into a more traditional channel (like email or phone) as quickly as possible.

LinkedIn is a great channel to start a conversation, but it’s not a great channel to continue one.

People just aren’t as responsive on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc. as they are on the phone or in their inbox.

At the first sign of a prospect showing real interest, it’s best to move the conversation towards email or phone.

Social Selling Throughout the Sales Process

Once you’ve engaged with someone and you’re communicating through more traditional channels it doesn’t mean you stop interacting with them on social.

It can be beneficial to continue to interact with their activities to build rapport and show that your interest goes beyond just selling into the account.

If you do continue to interact, don’t do it for interacting’s sake. It has to be real, genuine interest or prospects will see it as fake or unauthentic. You want to add value and/or give prospects more chances to learn about you.

Social Selling in Different Sales Environments

Not every industry, vertical, market, or company is the same. The success of a strategy doesn’t always translate across these different environments.

It’s important to know that social selling might not be the best channel for your particular company or market size, and for expectations to be set before diving into the practice head first.

Social Selling Doesn’t Always Work

Certain target markets just aren’t a good fit for social selling.

For example, smaller eCommerce companies aren’t the greatest of fits for a LinkedIn selling or social selling strategy.

If you’re targeting a specific solution, like Shopify or Magento users, it’s much easier to buy a list of all of those stores and filter through the accounts that way. Email is also a much easier way of getting in touch with these prospects, as they tend to be less active on social channels.

That’s just one example of a situation where maybe social selling doesn’t add too much of an advantage to your prospecting efforts. It’s important to examine that when crafting a social selling strategy.

Social Selling for Small or Mid-Market Deals

Traditionally, social selling tends to work best for target companies that have under 1000 employees.

Targeting smaller, non-enterprise companies means you have fewer people involved in the decision-making process. SDRs can focus their efforts on influencing just one (or a few) key stakeholders through social selling.

While it’s good to remain multi-threaded and connect with anyone involved in the process, social selling tends to work best when an SDR can identify one key point of contact at the account to work with. Moving a conversation forward with one individual is a much easier task than juggling two or three conversations, value props, and end-user requests (like you would find at larger organizations).

Social Selling for Larger, Enterprise Deals

Selling to companies with 1000+ employees will uncover a new set of challenges around multiple stakeholders, longer sales cycles, and more rigid buying processes.

With larger organizations, it doesn’t make sense to try and sell your product/solution to the first person you connect with. You need to connect with the right person internally to affect change within the company. 

Targeting larger companies means SDRs have to generate awareness and buy-in with multiple stakeholders. Understanding who’s involved and how each of them impacts the deal will greatly increase your chances of selling them your product.

SDRs have to remain multi-threaded and multi-channel within these enterprise accounts. Combining social selling efforts with phone and email communication will help influence the right stakeholders to make a deal happen. 

Creating champions is just as important as getting in touch with the ultimate decision-maker, as the support they provide will help speed the deal up and provide leverage throughout the process.

Best Practices for Social Selling on LinkedIn

Social selling is a process – you can’t just “turn it on” and expect to get results. 

There’s a lot of little details that go into making it successful, and these best practices are often a “make or break” situation for a lot of teams.

Don’t Get Complacent with Social Selling

Complacency is one of the biggest factors in a failing social selling strategy. Don’t let your SDRs lose focus and get complacent with their social selling activities. Every campaign you run is a work in progress that will change and adapt alongside buyers and markets.

Social constantly needs to evolve, and that means constant vigilance when running campaigns and testing is efficacy.

Remember, performance results in the now aren’t indicative of performance results in the future. Be aware of patterns, but regular testing is required to see what the long-term impact social selling will have on your overall sales development process.

Stop Making Social Touches About You

One of the biggest mistakes that companies and SDRs often make with social selling is spending too much time talking about themselves.

In any type of outreach scenario, you’re reaching out to somebody who, in theory, doesn’t have any idea who you are. Yes, you have a profile built out, but that’s more for attracting attention versus full-blown education.

When you reach out and start droning on and on about yourself, it doesn’t capture the prospect’s interest because they don’t have any reference for why you’re relevant. 

Removing you-focused words like “I”, “we” and “our” will help keep your messaging relevant to the prospect and more easily resonate with their situation.

Build Messaging From the Prospect’s Perspective

What does resonate with prospects is messaging that takes their perspective into account.

A lot of companies and SDRs have a tough time explaining things from the other side of the coin. Putting themselves into the shoes of a prospect is a tough task.

SDRs spend so much of their day-to-day in the trenches as a service provider that they often forget how to understand the context and pains behind a prospect’s situation.

Clients don’t pay you for a service, they pay you for a result. Think about how you can write messages from that perspective and relate it to the prospect. 

Empower SDRs to Be Creative

A lot of companies are very strict when it comes to how SDRs can approach messaging, and it makes them come across as stiff and impersonal. 

The last place you want your SDRs to sound like robots spewing unnecessary jargon is on social channels.

Following the book or using the same templates over and over again won’t suit your SDRs well. Social messaging needs to be tailored to the prospect they’re reaching out to and their specific situation.

Your brand needs to make and leave a positive impression on prospects when SDRs use social, so focus their social selling efforts on being authentic, personalized, and relevant.

Foster an environment for your SDRs to be creative, constantly evolve and don’t put too many restraints that prevent them from influencing buyers in the sales process.

Review & Get Feedback on Your Messaging

To help SDRs improve clarity, maintain relevance and get to the point, they should write and review their outreach regularly so they understand how it’s perceived.

One training tip is to have SDRs read the messaging out loud to themselves or others on the team so they can evaluate how clear, focused, and relevant it is for a prospect. You often catch things while reading out loud that you miss while reading to yourself.

While it might seem uncomfortable, another great method to improving their messaging on social is to send their outreach to someone in their personal network who’s in a similar market as your prospects.

If an SDR is afraid to send a message to somebody in their personal network because they think that it’s gonna seem to spammy, it’s probably too spammy and needs adjustments.

Conclusion

Social selling is still a work in progress, and its constant evolution alongside the buyers and market means that new tactics and tools will be created regularly.

Evaluating your situation before jumping into a social selling strategy is key to ensuring success, and focusing on the process build will help keep the strategy sustainable.

Once it’s up and running it’s important to test, test, and test again to see what kind of results it’s driving for your bottom line. 

Integrating social selling into your SDR’s workflow is no easy task, but if done right it can help give your company the edge it needs over competitors in the space.

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