TheState of Digital Selling with LinkedIn
Imagine your sales team gets invited to attend an exclusive networking event filled with senior decision-makers at companies that fit your ideal customer profile. Would you expect them to do their homework before they arrive at the event? How would you expect them to behave at the event?
Would they grab a cocktail and stand against the wall for the entire event, quietly making comments to people as they pass?
Or would they work the room, confidently striking up conversations with people they’ve researched online, connected with and began developing authentic relationships proving they have the experience these buyers are seeking from a seller?
As a sales leader, you’d never hire a rep who couldn’t represent your brand at an important event without proven experience and know-how to conduct meaningful conversations with qualified buyers.
This is precisely how high-performing and experienced sales professionals approach digital selling with LinkedIn®.
While there’s proof digital selling works, we discovered that few sales professionals are leveraging social selling platforms—notably LinkedIn®—to their full potential.
“In this report, we’re sharing a summary of our survey data and findings, as well as several tips to help sales leaders guide their team to strengthen digital selling behaviors most likely to increase their skills resulting in more sales conversations with qualified buyers, which ultimately leads to higher win rates.”
Bernie Borges, Co-founder, Chief Marketing Officer
Digital Selling vs. Social Selling
While these two terms sound similar and are often used interchangeably by well-meaning sales and marketing pros, they mean two different things. Just in case you’re a little fuzzy, here’s a quick refresher:
Digital selling, in the context of B2B, is the process of leveraging digital assets and communicating one-to-one with targeted buyers through digital channels to build trust and credibility. Digital selling is an Omnichannel method that may include social media as well as other digital channels such as email, text, instant messaging and personal video to ultimately generate leads and referrals.
Social selling is an essential component of digital selling and refers to sales professionals using social networks to find, engage and connect with prospects to start conversations and build relationships.
Both terms include the word “selling,” but in reality, B2B sales professionals do not sell on digital. Buyers respond negatively to sales pitches through digital channels. Both terms refer to a process of connecting and engaging to start more sales conversations with qualified buyers.
“The modern seller engages the modern buyer through an Omnichannel digital selling strategy. Using the Vengreso PVC™ method whereby sellers Personalize, Add Value and engage with a Call-to-Action, they create more conversations with qualified buyers and increase their win rates.”
Mario Martinez, Jr., Founder, CEO, Vengreso
LinkedIn® is the most prominent B2B social selling network in North America.
LinkedIn® provides sales professionals the greatest potential in social selling thanks to the following attributes when executed properly:
- A profile that allows salespeople to communicate their value to the buyer.
- A search feature to help find the right people and build an extensive network.
- Access to critical insights about their networks (and their contacts’ networks).
- The ability to consistently share relevant content that builds credibility.
- An opportunity to develop trust with buyers through value-based networking behavior.
- A messaging feature that bypasses overcrowded email inboxes.
The single biggest obstacle sales leaders need to overcome is recognizing that LinkedIn® is more than an online resume. It’s a salesperson’s individual website and it needs to be written through the lens of the buyer.
Once salespeople recognize LinkedIn®’s power in helping them build trust with customers and prospects, their mindset will shift and they’ll begin developing the behaviors necessary for proficient digital selling.
Of course, making sure each member of your sales team establishes a presence on LinkedIn® isn’t enough.
To unlock all of the business social network’s potential, sales professionals need to boost their SSI scores.
Demystifying the Social Selling Index
To help us determine whether there are links between a salesperson’s SSI and their sales activities, we reached out to Joël Le Bon, Ph.D. After reviewing our survey data, Dr. Le Bon identified five activities common among survey respondents with the highest SSI scores:
Joël Le Bon, Ph.D.
Marketing & Sales Professor at Johns Hopkins University and Faculty Director for Leadership in Digital Marketing & Sales Transformation “LinkedIn® SSI Score helps assess your digital reputation, presence, and reach. It also helps focus on specific social engagement behaviors that matter, such as engaging with valuable insights so you can become a subject matter expert within your network. In today’s world of digital information overload, sales professionals should leverage LinkedIn® and social engagement strategies to provide value to their customers and differentiate themselves from the competition. Indeed, in social selling, getting ahead starts with getting social!“
In Volume 11 of The Social Business Journal3 released in 2018, SAP shared results from its social selling program, with more than 14,000 sales reps trained in social selling techniques.
After training its sales team on social selling best practices, the SAP sales team enjoys a 46% growth in individual SSI scores and a 56% growth year-over-year in profile views among LinkedIn® Sales Navigator users since January 2016.
They discovered the reps with the highest SSI score were…
- 3.4x more likely to hit their quota
- Achieve an average 55% boost in sales performance
- Complete 3.6x more closed deals
Head of Digital Enablement Services – Marketing Cloud, Digital Marketing, Digital Selling, SAP “Digital Selling has been a game-changer for SAP. Delivering this program has made such a difference in the lives of so many at SAP and how they perform their daily activities. Marketing and sales people can connect with their customers where, when and how the customer wants, and really build relationships that drive results for everyone.”
But how exactly are sales professionals using LinkedIn? And how does your team stack up?
1. Most sales professionals are still using the free version of LinkedIn®.
The survey found 3 in 5 sales professionals use the free version of LinkedIn®. Of those using a paid version of LinkedIn®, the majority use a company-paid Sales Navigator account.
Survey Question 1: Which version of LinkedIn® are you using?
Should Your Company Pay for LinkedIn®?
LinkedIn® is available as a free business networking platform with optional premium versions that offer additional features such as advanced search to help salespeople when they are prospecting. The ultimate premium version is LinkedIn® Sales Navigator. Sales Navigator includes robust lead-building tools, a lead recommendation engine, the ability to share saved prospect lists, real-time insights about your target accounts as well as suggestions to improve your sales pipeline.
Other valuable features in Sales Navigator include the ability to send messages to non-connections, view profiles of individuals outside your network and PointDrive, a content distribution and tracking application.
Additionally, Sales Leaders can view reporting that tracks digital selling activities across the team.
Every sales leader wants their sales reps to get measurable outcomes from LinkedIn®. After all, LinkedIn® is the world’s largest social networking platform for business.
Regardless of which LinkedIn® version your sales team uses, if you want to attribute sales pipeline and increased win rates, reps must be trained. As a foundational baseline, reps should have an optimized profile that uses the language of the buyer and offers value, i.e., it’s not a resume.
Kurt Shaver, Co-founder, Chief Sales Officer
With proper training, reps can find, engage and connect with buyers to build their network and pipeline with any version of LinkedIn®.
Truly sustained pipeline results, however, are proven to be achieved when reps have adopted proper digital selling behavior. The advanced features of Sales Navigator alone DO NOT equip a rep with the behavior skills they need to succeed any more than an Indy race car equips a 16-year old to win the Indianapolis 500. Success requires the Tools AND the Training.
Sales leaders should ensure that reps have been properly trained on the fundamentals of selling with LinkedIn®. Ideally, reps should be properly trained across these six disciplines:
Mindset, Brand, Find & Engage, Connect, Feed and Cadence.
These six disciplines provide the foundation reps need to get maximum return from selling with LinkedIn® regardless of whether they’re using the free version or Sales Navigator.”
2. Most users say their LinkedIn® headshot is “professional” or “acceptable.”
What does your headshot say about you?
It nearly goes without saying: Anyone working in sales should display a professional headshot. But what qualities can elevate your image from acceptable to memorable?
Be sure to use a headshot that projects the right look and feel for your industry and area of expertise. Those in the financial sector, for example, may select a more buttoned-up, traditional photo while those in more creative fields might opt for an image that expresses more character. The best shots capture your personality as well as the context in which you work.
“A salesperson’s profile headshot is VERY important. It’s the first thing a visitor notices. It should represent your professional brand. It should be a headshot in attire that is appropriate for your company. Don’t underestimate the importance of your sales rep’s profile photo!”
Viveka von Rosen, Co-founder, Chief Visibility Officer, Vengreso
3. Most not adding media to their LinkedIn® profile.
Nearly 3 in 5 respondents said they don’t share any media on their LinkedIn profile. Of those who do share media, images are the most common (i.e., a snapshot from a conference booth), while others share documents, such as reports or whitepapers. Very few share video (17%).
This is surprising given how well video performs. A whopping 97% of marketers claimed video helped increase user understanding of their product or service, and 76% claimed video helped them increase sales, according to a study from HubSpot.4
Survey Question 3: What types of media have you added to your LinkedIn® profile? (Select all that apply)
Why sales reps should add media to their LinkedIn® profile?
With B2B buyers increasingly moving along their journey on their own, sales reps who share relevant media on their profile can offer buyers the ability to learn about your offerings and your expertise in the industry. 82% of buyers are consuming 5 or more piece of content from the vendor they ultimately select.5
Sellers who are empowered by their sales enablement colleagues to add rich media to their LinkedIn® profile will increase the odds of engaging with buyers in sales conversations.
Vice President of Marketing for Strategic Enterprise & Public Sector at CenturyLink
“After the acquisition of Level 3 Communications, CenturyLink recognized the need for its salespeople to project a consistent and professional online brand. That’s why we upgraded the LinkedIn® profiles of 1,100 salespeople with the right images, messaging, and media.”
4. Most salespeople are not “Super Connectors.”
A numbers game? Well, …sort of
Digital selling is a numbers game with the caveat that sellers need a large number (quantity) of the right kind of people (quality). For example, if a seller sells to IT professionals, then just having thousands of connections who are chefs is of no value. However, having more IT connections will help because it increases the chances the seller will have more common connections to ask for introductions to an IT prospect.
CEO, Levitin Group, Bestselling Author, Keynote Speaker
“Salespeople are inherently inclined to operate with a ‘numbers game’ mindset. To some extent that’s a healthy attitude as long as it’s channeled properly. Having a high quantity of the wrong type of connections on LinkedIn® has no value. Sales leaders must coach their reps to connect with people who are relevant to their industry and the solutions they represent.”
5. Most sellers are not asking for referrals from their LinkedIn® network.
55% of those surveyed responded that they have not asked someone in their LinkedIn® network for an introduction or referral in the past three months or they didn’t know if they had. While 37% responded that they had asked for 1-10 introductions or referrals in that time period, only 7% responded that they asked for 11 or more.
Why Ask for LinkedIn® Referrals?
According to research, 84% of B2B buyers start the purchasing process with a referral and 90% of all B2B buying decisions are influenced by peer recommendations.6 Leverage your LinkedIn® network to connect with prospects by analyzing your target buyer and assessing mutual connections. Reach out to these mutual connections to see if they have a strong enough relationship with your prospect to make an introduction. If yes, your prospect is more likely to engage with you once introduced
Founder and CEO at InsideSales.com
“Every great salesperson knows that a referral is always the best access to new opportunities. However, they are difficult to generate at any level of volume. LinkedIn® has completely changed this game. Now, salespeople can ask for referrals at scale using the built-in tools inside of LinkedIn®. The pre-requisite hasn’t changed. Your network must trust you enough to make the referral. The most effective modern sellers have a strong LinkedIn® network and know when and how to ask for a referral through LinkedIn®.”
6. Only a small portion of sales professionals leverage LinkedIn®’s Advanced Search feature.
40% of those surveyed said they don’t use the platform’s Advanced Search feature monthly, and 73% of those surveyed said they use the Advanced Search feature fewer than 11 times per month.
Why use Advanced Search?LinkedIn®’s wealth of data is accessible to those who know how to use the platform’s advanced search features. In the free version of LinkedIn®, users can access filters to refine their search (e.g., filter by title, locations, companies or industries). Sales Navigator gives users even more search functions such as screening searches by years of experience, company headcount, previous companies worked, seniority, tags, and more. Understanding Advanced Search is critical to leveraging Saved Searches and Search Alerts that result in LinkedIn® automatically emailing users new contacts that match their ideal prospect criteria, making prospecting more efficient.
David Meerman Scott
Marketing and sales strategist and bestselling author of ten books including The New Rules of Marketing and PR
“The most effective modern sellers think like marketers! The advanced search function in LinkedIn® is an ideal way to do in depth research on buyers and their needs. Successful marketers research buyer personas to form an ideal customer profile and modern digital selling practitioners should be doing similar work to find the most appropriate individual buyers.”
7. How often do you share content with your LinkedIn® network?
Survey Question 7: How often do you share content with your LinkedIn® network?
Research Director CSO Insights, The Research Division of Miller Heiman Group
“Engaging buyers successfully via social media requires valuable, relevant and differentiating content and a skilled seller that knows social selling. To get there, you need a) a content strategy that ensures tailored content throughout the customer’s path and b) an integrated social selling approach. Only 33% of organizations have a content strategy in place, and only 32% have implemented an integrated social selling strategy across marketing and sales. In both cases, win rates can be improved significantly, by 12% with a content strategy, and by 9% with integrated social selling, compared to the study’s average. The cost of doing nothing is significant in both cases, leading to results way below average performance.”
8. Most sales professionals are doing their homework before their first call with prospects.
Most sales professionals perform online research before their first call. Generally, they review the prospect’s company website, and many also turn to Google. Only 55% of survey respondents said they research an individual’s background on social media.
Researching your prospect on LinkedIn® can be especially helpful prior to making a first call. When reviewing a potential new contact’s profile, consider the following:
Knowing this information can help a seller foster a deeper relationship, but LinkedIn® isn’t the only platform your sales team should leverage to learn more about your prospects.
Tools such as Seamless.AI8 can help a seller locate a person’s work email or phone number. Crystal9 can help a seller know the communication style of someone. Nudge.AI10 can help sellers know their current relationship with a prospect. Datanyze11, provides insight into what technology a company is using. Crunchbase12 offers other unique business insights, such as whether a company has recently received capital infusions or new leadership. Additionally, you can use Glassdoor13 to learn behind-the-scenes stories about an organization from current and former employees.
Founder & Chairman – AA-ISP
“Personalizing a call or email is a must in today’s digitally crowded world. The modern seller researches the person they’re calling on by leveraging information from all digital channels at their disposal… and it can be effectively done in a matter of minutes.”
9. Video messaging is rarely used.
Applications for Video Messaging
Social sellers use video at many different parts of a buyer’s journey, but some of the most effective types of videos are:
Short videos that highlight one particular feature of your product/service.
Record a quick video to recap key takeaways from an important meeting.
Warming Up Cold Relationships
Break the silence and win back a former customer or prospect with a one-to-one video.
Stand out from your competition by delivering proposals through video.
Eric S. Yuan
Founder, CEO at Zoom
“Video is the most powerful communication tool available to the modern seller. Any salesperson not leveraging video is missing an opportunity to communicate effectively with their prospects and customers.”
10. Sellers aren’t taking advantage of the many benefits of LinkedIn®, which is reflected in low Social Selling Index scores.
Invest in the Right Tools and Training
If you’re a sales leader interested in boosting your team’s performance through digital selling, consider investing in LinkedIn® Sales Navigator AND a comprehensive digital sales training program. It takes both to achieve results. Don’t invest in the technology without investing in proper digital selling training from a company with a proven track record.
Chief Strategy Officer, Corporate Visions, Inc.
“Achieving behavior change with sales professionals requires investment in both tools and training. The most effective way to empower sales professionals is to combine productivity tools such as LinkedIn® with training to provide the skills they need to engage the modern buyer the way the buyer expects to be engaged.”
Data-Driven Actions to Boost Your LinkedIn® SSI Score
Given these ten findings, our assessment of those with the highest SSI scores, SAP’s results and accounts from high-performing sales leaders, we recommend taking the following steps to boost your sales team’s SSI score:
- Upgrade to a paid version of LinkedIn®. If you’re a sales leader interested in boosting your team’s performance through digital selling on LinkedIn®, you should seriously consider investing in LinkedIn® Sales Navigator for increased visibility across your team’s prospecting and networking.
- Upload a professional and memorable headshot. Sales reps should select a high quality, appropriate and recent headshot that captures their personality. If they don’t have one, find an interesting backdrop and ask a colleague to snap a clear portrait as soon as possible.
- Add engaging media to a rep’s LinkedIn® profile. From useful videos to informative podcasts to helpful whitepapers, adding media to a rep’s profile is a great way to demonstrate their expertise on their profile.
- When adding new connections, consider quality and quantity. It’s crucial for sales reps to continually grow their network and connect with industry professionals. Be sure they’re focused on adding people who are relevant and likely to engage with them, and people they’re interested in building a relationship with at target accounts.
- Ask for referrals. From former colleagues to college alumni to long-time customers, asking for an introduction or referral to specific people in their network should be a common activity for sales reps. This is a proven way to build sales pipeline.
- Use Advanced Search and use it often. Advanced Search is a powerful tool and can help sales reps find new prospects. To maximize results, your sales team should leverage this feature multiple times per week.
- Regularly share relevant and engaging content. Whether it’s a relevant article, report, presentation or a video, it’s crucial that your sales team consistently publishes updates and shares content to their network to earn trust and attract qualified buyers.
- Use LinkedIn® to research prospects before your first conversation. While a company website is a great place to start, LinkedIn® provides a wealth of information about a primary decisionmaker. Having these details top of mind can accelerate relationship-building efforts.
- Send personal video messages. Videos are a great way to connect with prospects, illustrate expertise and capture attention. And because they’re so under-utilized, leveraging video can help sales reps stand out from competitors.
- Keep an eye on your sales team’s SSI score. This score can change daily, depending on how much effort your team puts into social selling on LinkedIn®. Become familiar with your sales team’s score and monitor how it changes as they perform various activities. Work to improve the categories where their score is low.
CEO at VantagePoint Performance
“The modern seller is proficient at digital selling and a practitioner of these 10 actions.”
The findings from surveying 862 sales professionals through our Digital Selling Benchmark Assessment leave little doubt that the modern buyer needs a modern seller. Digital selling with LinkedIn® using best practices empowers salespeople to find, engage and connect with qualified buyers. Sales leaders should equip their team with proper training and tools to adopt a modern selling mindset and skillset using the PVC method to engage buyers the way they want to engage with sellers.
The modern sales leader should recognize the need to hone their sales team’s digital selling skills to connect with qualified buyers so they can have more conversations and increase their win rates.