Connect with customers on LinkedIn before you meet them

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Connecting with customers on LinkedIn before you meet in person might feel a bit odd at first. Especially if you are a digital immigrant.  One who started to use LinkedIn as a great register of existing customer contacts. But it is never too late become a social sales professional. And LinkedIn is a great place to focus on early.

Start building connections in the digital domain

As a sales professional you need to be able to leverage the full potential of LinkedIn. Customers start doing their research in the digital domain earlier than in the past. The number of stakeholders in customer decisions are going up. Eco-system aspects are more into play than before. And customer expansion is a common business strategy for growth. These four trends are all reasons driving the needs for digital connection skills.

With a need to extend your reach earlier and further than in the past, starting with face-to-face connections is not an option. Your own time is often a limited resource. And your company’s resources situation looks the same. Both resulting in limitations, where it is attractive to pursue a “digital first” game-plan. As an innovative complement in your relationship building.

Starting a relationship in the digital domain is different. It is less about who you know and more about who knows you and what you know. And you need to put in more work than just sending the default LinkedIn request and hope for the best.

Research the person you want to connect with

Connecting in the digital domain starts by researching the digital footprint the ones you want to connect with. LinkedIn profiles and twitter accounts is a good starting points. Which topics do they follow? Do you have any connections in common?

Inform yourself about the digital facts that are available. And don’t be shy of leveraging a personal interest as a connection point to start with. You want to find something you both would feel excited about. A scenario you rarely start with as a relationship trigger when meeting someone face to face.

Advanced companies have adopted artificial intelligence in this process. Our digital footprints today tell a lot about you and your customers personality. Play around with Watson to see what it tells about you and your colleagues personalities. This type of artificial intelligence supported work take your research to the next level.

Aspire to find at least 1 thing you can pick up on in your request to connect.

Reach out with an idea to come across as interesting

You have 2-3 sentences to trigger interest in why your customer target should accept your invitation. Some only accept people they know. Most expect something interesting in return for connecting. A respectable LinkedIn profile is table stakes. A necessary but not sufficient ingredience for a successful connection.

Expect a reality where your digital charm will be in play.  Helping works better than selling in the digital world. Blend an interest in your target with how you might help them. Suggesting something they could be interested in here and now. Build from something they have posted or written.

An understanding of your target and a specific idea on why they should be interested increase your odds to succeed. Expect this exercise to take a little bit of time. The activity to connect with you should be effortless. Not the preparation work on your side.

Establish the connection with a virtual coffee

A cup of coffee is a great way to start a relation. And it works in the digital world to. A virtual coffee refers to a brief voice or video call, as if you were taking a cup of coffee together. A social context like a meeting over a cup of coffee in real life.

When someone connect with you on LinkedIn first, offer them a virtual coffee. When a target accepts your invitation to connect, offer a virtual coffee.

A virtual coffee suggestion signals you are serious about the relation. You are offer to invest time, if your new connection has the same feeling. And your digital connection become a normal relationship straight out of the gate.

Questions to ask yourself

  1. How would you like to be approached on LinkedIn by a sales professional – your own preferences are a good reference to start from.
  2. Which customer representatives can I connect with in advance – look for customer representatives who look active on LinkedIn.
  3. What is your plan for connecting with this particular customer representative – distinguish between first contact and a pursuit of expanding touchpoints.
  4. Which instant benefits will your customer get by connecting with you – make it easy for him/her to connect.
  5. How do you want to follow up the digital contact with a two-way communication – Aspire to turn digital into classic contacts as soon as possible.

Additional reading suggestions

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