By John Smibert - adapted from my recent article on LinkedIn
It saddens me when I view some of the thoughtless and damaging content that some teenagers are posting about themselves on Facebook - many will regret it for the rest of their life.
And yet I see mature salespeople, consultants and business leaders unwittingly doing a similar thing via LinkedIn every day.
Even worse - already today I have read three articles by so called 'experts' on how to sell business to business (B2B) using LinkedIn - and all three ignore strategy and go straight into tactics - the 'how to'.
If we follow this advice without a strategy there is a high chance we will fail, waste time and risk our reputation - i.e. our personal brand - for the long term.
If you haven't already, I implore you to think through your personal branding and social media strategy and only then implement your social selling tactics. If not, you could possibly do more damage than good. If we launch into activities without a strategic plan - activities like updating our profile, connecting with prospective clients, commenting on groups and forums, and sharing content - then we are likely to aim off the mark and confuse our target clients - if we get to them at all.
"Strategy without tactics is the slowest road to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat" - Sun Tzu - The Art of War
So how do you go about developing a strategy - and then your tactics - for your social selling plan?
I recommend you carefully consider the following questions in preparation for your strategy - and before deciding on your tactics. Each of these I will address in more detail further below:
- What are your overall goals and related objectives? How are you going to measure your progress to your short and long term goals?
- Are you clear as to your authentic self - your values and principles, your domain expertise? How should this be communicated?
- Do you have clarity around your 'unique promise of value' to your 'target audiences'.
- And for that matter have you clearly defined your 'target audiences'?
- What is your strategy to grow well targeted connections and followers, to create value and trust with those connections and to engage with them on social media in a positive and constructive way?
- And is LinkedIn the right social media platform for you? If you are selling B2B then it is likely to be - but are there other platforms you should be using and how will you cross leverage your chosen platforms?
I would suggest this last question should not even be contemplated until you have thought through your strategy. And yet most of the pundits publishing advice for LinkedIn ignore many or all of these questions and launch straight into the 'doing'.
Let's address each of those questions.
Firstly, your goals and objectives: I am not just talking about this year's sales objective. I am talking about your longer term goals.
If you use LinkedIn purely to prospect towards this years target you may generate some leads. However you could portray a confusing image or brand. And if you are off the mark then the confusing brand you put out there may not easily be corrected for 5 years or more.
Tom's Dilemma: As an example I was approached by Tom who was until recently selling telecommunication services to small to medium companies.
As part of his long term goals he had decided on a career change to sell cloud based security software (software as a service) to the financial industry. In his telecommunications role he had done a great job of projecting himself as a small business telecommunications advisor on social media. He had published many articles and had been very active on forums and groups and had built a strong following.
He was now finding that the Internet was widely littered with his old brand and he was having difficulty repositioning it. His new prospective clients were looking for security solutions and not telecommunications. Many were discounting Tom as soon as they looked him up. If he had thought through his long term strategy in the first place he could possibly have positioned himself as something like a domain specialist leveraging services to solve business problems. This could have served the purpose in his old job while at the same time he would have positioned to more easily move from one service type to another as his career progressed.
There is a good ending to Tom's story: As it turned out I was able to help him transition his brand and he is now well positioned, but it was a little painful.
We often forget that our social media based personal brand is not easily changed - it is out there in the ether for a long time. To address this we need clear and well visualized long term goals. We should break them down into 1, 3 and 5 year SMART objectives. This will ensure when you decide on your short term tactics they will be validly moving you towards your long term goals while delivering what you need in the immediate future. It also helps to generate and focus your energy.
Secondly, your authentic self: You are who you are. If you try to pretend you're somebody different you will be found out - the whole world can see it on social media. I am not suggesting that you don't strive to change - that is vital - but let your audience see where you are now and to where you are striving to move.
There is nothing more refreshingly honest than a person portraying their true self. Your target audience will warm to the real you - the foundation for trust will be laid. This is in fact how Tom eventually addressed his branding issue.
If you want to test what I say, check out the LinkedIn profile summaries of a few people you know well - you will quickly identify those who are not being authentic. their prospective customers will see it too.
Thirdly your target audiences: Why have I used the plural 'audiences'? Your primary target will be individuals in your target client businesses who can make decisions - often CxO's but not always. We also need to include those people in your client organisations who can influence decision makers.
Unfortunately this is where many stop thinking. In doing so they miss the opportunity to achieve significant leverage via those who influence their clients.
Think of those people in other organisations who have influence over your target clients. These could be professional people like accountants, financial advisors, lawyers, business consultants, media personalities and other non-competitive providers. It can also include people who publish content of value for your clients. You need to include all these in your target audiences.
And you need to think about where the people in your target audiences are active - where they have discussions with advisors - where they learn - where they get their content. It will not always be LinkedIn. Wherever it is you need to be there.
Next your 'unique promise of value': We are all unique and we all have something of value to provide for others. I am not talking about your product or service. I am talking about you. What is it that you personally bring to the table with your clients? What is your unique domain expertise? How do you help people? How do you personally create value for them?
Defining our 'unique promise of value' to our 'target audiences' can be a challenge. Most people have not put a lot of thought into this. And yet it is the essential component of any salesperson's or consultant's personal brand. It is the essence of what you should communicate in your LinkedIn profile for example. It is the essence of how you sell - and in the modern era 'how you sell' is more important than 'what you sell'.
The extraordinary salesperson Sue - from the Sue and Barry story - did a great job of defining and projecting her unique promise of value - see it here.
Conclusion - Your strategy:
I am aware all the above questions will take you time to get clarity in the answers. And I recommend you collaborate with trusted mentors, peers, clients and friends to ensure it is authentic and hits the mark. And if you want advice from me connect with me (John Smibert via LinkedIn) - I would be happy to take your questions.
Take the time to do it - the return can be significant and your risks minimised.
When you have thought through the questions you will be ready to develop your social media strategy - of which I agree LinkedIn is most likely to be part assuming you are selling B2B.
Your strategy is likely to address questions like these:
- How will I establish a strong presence on Social Media to perpetuate my brand in line with my long term goal
- How will I connect and engage with my target audiences?
- What social media platforms are they active on? Where and how do I need to be active? Are there non-social media channels should I pursue? How will I leverage across platforms
- How will I project myself as a person of value and trust?
- How will I create value for my target audience? Will I curate other people's content or will I create my own - or maybe both?
- What forums or groups do I need to be active in?
- What processes will I follow?
- What are my time-frames and how will I measure progress?
- How much time will I invest and how will I manage that?
Once you have your strategy you have the framework to specifically decide on the LinkedIn tactics that will help you deploy your wider strategy. You can now move towards your greater goals without risking your brand.
It's only now that you are safe and ready to deploy your tactics - such as leveraging LinkedIn to generate prospects and leads. Now is the time to start reading the 'how to' LinkedIn articles and attend LinkedIn prospecting training programs.
Take the time to plan - it will be worth it. And please let me know how you do.
John Smibert is a personal branding and social selling coach. For advice connect with John on LinkedIn and send a note. See more content by John on personal branding here:
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