Should your sales people spend time on LinkedIn ?

If you run a business or manage a B2B sales team, then you’ve asked the question of yourself.  Maybe you have one or two sales people that like to spend time on various social media sites and tell you they’re “prospecting”.
If you’ve managed sales people for any length of time, then your instincts will tell you this is just the latest way to avoid logging on to the online CRM and starting your calling.


And it certainly can be.


However, I can say from personal experience marketing our crm system that it can be productive.


I think most people make some incorrect assumptions that can make time you spend on social sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. unproductive.  So, I’ve put together a few points to direct B2B marketers and sellers to successful use of LinkedIn and other sites.


1) Time spent on social sites like LinkdedIn should be considered an addition to, not a replacement for, any current and more proven prospecting methods.  Sales people should not decide that since they spent an hour “working” on LinkedIn or some other social site specific to their industry they don’t  have to enter those contacts into your online crm or make the require outbound prospecting calls, etc.


2) Searching for leads only works in certain industries.  My experience is that LinkedIn is great for finding sales managers interested in email marketing software and online crm.  This is because virtually every medium sized or large company has a sales manager.  So, there are thousands of sales managers on LinkedIn.  However, when I’ve tried to help some of our customers, users of our business crm, looking for more specific types of people such as “facilities managers” or even “exploration geologists”, etc. just doesn’t work.


3) Groups and discussions are the key.  In LinkedIn in particular, you can perform a quick search for groups or discussions related to your industry or target profile.  If there are lots of meaningful matches, then its probably going to be a useful tool for you.  Example – just this morning I received a weekly update from a group of Sales VPs I’m a member of on LinkedIn and I noticed someone had started a discussion asking for recommendations for email marketing software and crm systems.  I posted a response suggesting they give our online crm a look.  Literally minutes later, we received a call from a very good lead that saw my response.


So, how can you tell if your sales person’s time on LinkedIn is spent productively?


Except in cases where your target prospect is a very broad category, measuring the # of prospects or leads identified is probably not going to lead to enough volume to make sense.  Of course, you should measure this as well as the close rate of these prospects.  Make sure they get put in your crm system and track it.


The number of connections your sales person is able to establish can be completely irrelevant.  It only matters if they’re connected to people of influence in your industry.


My suggestion is to find groups that are closely relevant to your industry and who’s membership is comprised of a large number of people that matter to your business.  If you can’t find them, then the site is not a fit.  If you can, then join as many of these groups as you can.  You’ll start getting their update emails.


Your sales team should spend time responding to discussions and questions related to your companies products or services.  In this area, be careful to identify how many people are participating in the discussion.  LinkedIn makes this easy.  If you post a comment to a discussion, by default you’ll receive an email anytime anyone adds a comment in the future.  So, when you find a discussion that has had a lot of comments already and post something valuable, all those folks will get that in an email instantly.  That has some power!


You should create your own discussions.  If you’re in the ad specialty business, you might want to start discussions (in the groups with lots of relevant members) asking questions like “What type of give away item creates the most interest at a trade show?”.  This will create a lot of discussion amongst people that exhibit at trade shows a lot – your target prospect.


As a manager of sales people, your going to have to measure and manage this like everything else your sales team does.  Keep track of which groups they’re members of, the # of members in those groups, the discussions they comment on and the number of comments in those discussions.  You’ll quickly be able to separate the useful activity from the time killers.


Of course, you want to see the return.  Make sure that your crm system, or how ever you track leads, tracks which of these folks turns into customers.