10 Keys for Starting a B2B LinkedIn Group to Generate Leads

b2b-LinkedIn-LogoMy friend Tom Skotidas and I recently talked about the keys to starting a LinkedIn Group as a means to generate leads for B2B companies. He is the founder of Skotidas, Asia Pacific’s leader in B2B Social Media Lead Generation. This is part of an ongoing series of conversations about the intersection of sales and marketing, well as social selling.

1. Start with your Product or Service in Mind

The first thing you need to do is create a group that is connected to your product or service. This may be related to the product category or your specific industry, but general enough that the right people will find the group relevant and interesting. Choose a group name that reflects the topic and will be meaningful to your prospects.

2. Determine the Most Likely Buyer

Since we are looking at this group through the lens of lead generation, make sure you take into account your most likely buyers. The group should be targeted to them. As you are planning the group make sure to develop a targeted persona so you know who should be in the group.

3. Never Mention the Product

Even though you have the product in mind, the point of the group is not to sell the product. Market trends and solutions related to the product and services are what is important to the group.

4. Create a Closed Group

You can create a closed group or an open group on LinkedIn. Start out with a closed group as you are building it up. This way only people you invite can join the group. As it grows and develops some traction, you may want to make it an open group to take advantage of search and sharing benefits of things posted in the group. While an open group is visible to all, you can still moderate members and comments.

5. Manage it like a Community

The LinkedIn group you build is a community and it needs community management. That means you, or someone on your team, must be a manager of the group. This person must have the personality to interact with group members on a regular basis, reach out to them publicly or privately to ask questions or elicit comments, and generally keep the conversation interesting and flowing. A number of different people can serve in this role.

6. Build it like a 3-Layer Cake

Start the first layer by getting your staff to join the group so it has a bit of a head start. The second layer includes your closest business partners and some existing customers. Let them know the purpose of the group and that their interaction is encouraged. Once the group has that lived in feeling, invite some targeted prospects to join the group. This is the top of the cake. They are the ones to focus on, and it helps that they are joining an active, growing group.

7. Know What Content to Share

The purpose of this group is to provide value to the community, and especially the prospects, so they begin to build a relationship with you. You can do that through content. You can use third-party content related to the theme of the group or even conversation starters, which are just what they sound like. Comments and questions that get people talking.

8. Engage the Group

The community managers need to continuous engage the group members to keep the conversation going. That may include messaging someone with a specific and relevant post and asking them to provide their thoughts in the group.

9. Practice Both Inbound and Outbound Lead Generation

You can use this group to manage both inbound and outbound leads. Sharing content in the group that provides links back to your blog, website and landing pages encourages clicks and shares to drive more people to those pages. As you build relationships with your targeted prospects in the group, you can coordinate with the sales team to reach out to them. And this is no longer a cold call.

10. Remember Marketing Led, Sales Fed

Finally, keep in mind that social selling initiatives like this are run by the marketing team, but ultimately they support sales. You are generating leads for sales.

Are there other best practices you have developed in using LinkedIn groups to generate leads?

5 Ways to Use Your LinkedIn Profile to Attract Inbound B2B Leads

b2b-LinkedIn-LogoMy friend Tom Skotidas and I are at it again and this time we talked about how anyone, but especially B2B sales pros, can use their LinkedIn profile to attract inbound leads. Tom calls this inbound social selling. He is the founder of Skotidas, Asia Pacific’s leader in B2B Social Media Lead Generation. We have been talking about the intersection of sales and content marketing for B2B companies. A lot of people call this social selling, but there is more to it than just that.

1. Re-Think the Purpose of Your Profile

Rather than just create a profile that shows your job history and qualifications, create a profile that shows how you can solve your target audience’s problems and serve their needs. Think of your profile as a piece content that reflects your company’s capabilities, rather than your resume.

2. Use the Right Keywords

Throughout your LinkedIn profile you should use keywords that are related to your products and services. Not just any keywords, but ones that your prospects commonly use. One way to determine those keywords is by using Google’s Keyword Ad Planner Tool. It is designed to help determine keywords for Google ads, so you need an AdWords account (connected to a regular Google account), but you don’t need to place any ads to use the tool.

3. View Your LinkedIn Profile as a Web Page to be Indexed

As you are re-thinking about your LinkedIn profile and using the appropriate keywords, remember that this is a web page that is indexed by Google and other search engines. LinkedIn is a high-ranking domain and can show up as a top result in searches for your keywords.

4. Don’t Forget About LinkedIn Search

Active LinkedIn users use the search functions within LinkedIn to find what they are looking for, beyond people’s names and companies.

5. Optimize These 9 Fields in Your LinkedIn Profile

Once you have your keywords to attract your prospects, what do you do with them? There are several fields in your LinkedIn profile that Tom identified as the most relevant.

  • Headline: The default is your current job at your current company. This is the most important thing to change to appeal to prospects.
  • Contact Information: This should include the best ways to contact you, plus a website or landing page that includes information to your target prospects
  • Summary: This is where you can really speak to the prospect about how you and your company can solve their business problems, using a good selection of keywords.
  • Experience: What you do in your job is another opportunity to tell the story of your success helping customers solve problems.
  • Marketing Assets: Work with your marketing team to get Powerpoints and PDFs to add to your LinkedIn profile and use your keywords in the title of the pieces.
  • Skills & Endorsements: Have others endorse you for skills that are most relevant to your target prospects. You have the ability to edit your list of skils.
  • Publications: Relevant blog posts, ebooks or articles quoting you can be listed here. If you don’t have any, this is a good time see if you can collaborate with someone to create some things to list.
  • Recommendations: Ask your customers for recommendations. They will use the terms that others in your industry use, and they will also validate your position as someone who is helpful.
  • Groups Joined: The Groups you join show on your profile, so make sure you join relevant Groups with names that look and sound good.

What have you done on your LinkedIn profile to attract B2B prospects?

B2B Sales Pros Need to Create Demand with Content Marketing

b2b-demand-generationI recorded another video conversation with my friend Tom Skotidas. He is the founder of Skotidas, Asia Pacific’s leader in B2B Social Media Lead Generation. We have been talking about the intersection of sales and content marketing for B2B companies. A lot of people call this social selling, but that really oversimplifies the process.

Today’s conversation is about demand generation. Tom smartly points out that no matter how much content you create or share, if you are not creating demand for your product or service, nobody will want to buy it.

Highlights of the Conversation:

  • Without demand, there are no buyers.
  • Use authoritative third-party content to create demand for your products or services.
  • Create hybrid content that “wraps” your own content in someone else’s authority.
  • Speak the language of your prospects and customers.

How are your sales teams using content to drive demand for your B2B products or services?

Photo credit: Flickr

Marketing Team Drives B2B Social Selling Success

My friend Tom Skotidas and I recorded a video conversation defining social selling. He is the founder of Skotidas, Asia Pacific’s leader in B2B Social Media Lead Generation.

Social selling, or #socialselling, is a term that is used by lots of people to mean lots of different things. It is more than my definition of sales people using the tools and approach of social media. Watch the video to hear Tom’s definition.

Some highlights of the conversation:

  • Social selling is really a social marketing program for sales enablement.
  • It is a hybrid approach between marketing and sales.
  • Conversations about social selling should always start with marketing. Not only because they bring the strategy, the skills and the process to move the market, but they also bring the budget.
  • A well-executed program lets sales people connect more effectively, get more meetings and build more pipeline.

How do you define social selling?

Photo credit: Flickr

How B2B Professionals Can Use Content for Personal Branding

b2b-personal-brandingI recently recorded a video conversation with my friend Tom Skotidas. He is the founder of Skotidas, Asia Pacific’s leader in B2B Social Media Lead Generation. This is the first of several conversations that we recorded on the topic of social selling, but the topic really is broader than that.

The video below is about personal branding. If you are a B2B sales person, the conversation is perfect for you and gives you some things to start thinking about as you begin to incorporate social selling into your approach. But if you are a marketer, the concepts of personal branding that we talk about are appropriate for you too.

The big ideas we talked about are:

  • Building trust through awareness and familiarity
  • Modeling your personal branding consistency and positioning after known corporate brands
  • Understanding what success looks like in a personal brand

How do you approach your personal brand and are you consistent about it?

Photo credit: Flickr

7 Ways Your Sales Team Can Get Results with B2B Social Media

b2b-social-sellingAre your salespeople actively engaged in social media as part of their lead generation efforts? If not, they (and your business) are missing out on great opportunities for researching potential B2B clients, building new networks and uncovering prospects by investigating their social media profiles.

Here are ways to encourage your sales team to embrace social media:

1. Direct your salespeople to refine their profiles

Start by making sure they have social media profiles on the appropriate channels. The marketing team can help determine where your customers and prospects those platforms. Their profile pages need to attract potential customers. While including the basics on an individual salesperson, the profile should mostly focus on your business and the solutions you offer to prospects. Also include videos, PDFs and links to your business website in these profiles.

2. Schedule time for focused social media activity

It takes discipline to use social media properly (and avoid wasting time watching cat videos!). Work with your sales team to plot out a schedule of focused activity on various social media networks, whether it’s a half-hour a day or 2-3 times a week.

3. Generate content your sales team can use

Back in the day, salespeople handed out brochures or fliers to interest prospects. Today, it’s all about customized content marketing. So it’s up to you to ensure your salespeople can refer prospects to first-rate, problem-solving content on your business website. Not only will this draw more traffic to your site, it also supports the sales team’s efforts to position your business as an industry and thought leader.

4. Promote sales blogging

It’s no longer enough to feature a blog post from your CEO or CMO. Members of your sales team should also be blogging and steadily building a rich network of followers. Encourage team members to think about new ways to focus on prospects’ needs and business challenges by answering common questions that prospects ask in their buyer journey. They should also think and blog more broadly about general industry issues, rather than shilling for your business. Again, focus on solutions your sales team can provide and that will draw more interest from prospects.

5. Keep an active LinkedIn presence

For sales of B2B products and services, LinkedIn is probably the most significant platform for your sales team’s activities. Your individual salespeople’s LinkedIn profiles are the first place a prospect will check out, so as noted above, be sure these are up-to-date and contain the right messaging.

Also, each salesperson should be gathering new LinkedIn connections as frequently as possible. Have them build their network by reaching out to past customers, colleagues in the industry, friends and family members. It’s important to have a robust network of connections as part of your LinkedIn profile.

By joining and participating in LinkedIn discussion groups, salespeople will come in contact with a wide range of potential customers — though it’s important to remember these discussion groups are about specific issues, not a venue for blatant self-promotion. Encourage your sales team to answer questions that demonstrate their problem-solving knowledge. An interested prospect will often follow up on his own.

6. Use Twitter to make connections and follow trends

The businesses and prospects you want to connect with may be tweeting. Shouldn’t you and your sales team be listening? Twitter offers a wealth of opportunities for staying abreast of industry trends, which can in turn help your team anticipate future sales opportunities. Once your salesperson has become comfortable on the platform, he or she can reply individually to a prospect’s tweet, thus initiating a one-on-one exchange which turns a cold lead into a warm one.

7. Have a vibrant Facebook presence

Your business should already have a Facebook page. From there, encourage members of your sales team to create a Facebook group that relates to your business offerings and invite people to join. Once the group starts talking, there’s always an opportunity to send targeted messages to individuals within the group and get the sales process moving forward.

Being active in social media isn’t a substitute for picking up the phone or firing off an email to prospects, but it represents a dramatically different way of cultivating leads and enriching your sales pipeline.

Photo: Flickr

Ways to Improve a B2B Cold Sales Call and Make it Social

b2b-sales-call-appointmentYesterday my cell phone rang and it was a Raleigh NC number that I didn’t recognize. I often get calls from numbers that I don’t recognize, but since I live in the Raleigh area, I answered this call.

“Hello, this is Linda from [company name]. I like to tee up a 10-15 minute call with [name], our CEO.”

“Can you say all that again? I didn’t understand any of that.”

“I calling from [company name] and I want to tee up a call with our CEO. It will only take about 10-15 minutes of your time.”

Since my number is out in the world from business cards, email signatures and contact databases, I was not surprised to get this random call on my cell phone. I also get calls from PR people pitching me on irrelevant stories for this blog. It was not clear to me which this call was, so I asked her.

“Is this a PR call or a sales call? What is the point of this call?”

She then proceeded to the next line of the script and briefly described what the call would entail. It had something to do with targeted leads and prospects. She did a terrible job explaining the product and phone call demo she was trying to schedule.

I still didn’t know the name of the company. I still didn’t know if this was a sales pitch or a PR pitch. Since neither of them were relevant to me, I told her thank you, but I was not interested. I hung up before she could respond. This is how I have always dealt with cold calling sales people that do not quickly demonstrate their relevance to me.

What was Wrong with this Call?

1. Linda was so unenthusiastic that I did not even understand her when she told me what company she was representing.

2. Her do-over was no better than the first time, and I still did not catch the company name or the CEO’s name. Because I didn’t recognize either name after two attempts, this was clearly a cold call.

3. She provided no context for the call. Not for how they got my name or what company they thought I represented. Did I sign up for something on a website? Did I meet them at a trade show? Did I drop my business card in a fishbowl at a restaurant? Did they buy my name from a list where I expressed an interest?

4. She was trying to schedule a call with no statement of benefit for me.

5. When I asked is this was a sales call or a PR call, she couldn’t answer me. All she could do was resort to phase two of the script, which apparently is where she provides some context for the call if I don’t automatically agree to talk to the CEO.

6. It is not common to arrange sales calls for the CEO. That’s more common with PR pitches.

Ways to Improve this Call

1. Linda needs to stop acting like she is reading from a script and get excited about her calls.

2. The script needs to change to incorporate a description of the company in the opening. Since this is a cold call, and I probably haven’t heard of the company, I can remain engaged in the conversation is I know what they do.

3. Add a mention of my company or position so we can determine if I am the right person to talk to.

4. Add a benefit to me. If this is a lead prospecting tool, let me know that companies similar to mine have increased their pipeline by 50% using their product, tool, service.

5. If they want me to talk to the CEO, which automatically makes me think the company is small, sell me on the experience and influence of the CEO so that I want to talk to him.

6. Unless they bought a list, or just mined some data from a list, let me know why they are calling me. Again, this is a way to engage me in the conversation. If the call is because I downloaded a content resource or registered for something at a trade show, share that context with me and I am more likely to accept the appointment.

Ways to Make this Call Social

1. Search for me on Google, Twitter and LinkedIn before calling me. My name on my business cards is the same as all my social profiles, so I am pretty easy to find. Learn a little bit about me so you can add context to the conversation that is relevant to me.

2. If you have one job, setting appointments, you need to come prepared to engage me in conversation. There are lots of things that I can talk about that you can learn from my social profiles. This makes me more receptive to your message.

3. Confirm that I fit your target personas by looking at my latest position. This did not seem like a product for marketers, but if she could make a connection with me as a way into my company, that is a step in the right direction. Very often you are selling to wrong people at the right company.

4. It is called social selling for a reason. Yes, it is about using social media, but it is also about being social. If you are engaging and friendly on this interruptive call, I will respond the same way. An attitude of “I can’t be bothered” presents that as the attitude of the company. And my response is that I can’t be bothered.

Have you responded to a cold call to set an appointment? What made you engage with the company, and what there any use of social media to help that engagement?

Photo: Flickr

Generate More Leads with B2B Social Media [Infographic]

Our friends at Inside View created this awesome infographic that gathers together many statistics, ideas and examples about using social media to help drive leads and sales for B2B companies. You can look through the stats yourself, but here are some to consider:

  • 61% of US marketers use social media to increase lead gen
  • 67% more leads per month are generated by companies who blog
  • IBM saw an increase of 400% in sales in a social selling pilot program
  • 55% of buyers search for information on social media
  • 75% of buyers likely to use social media in the purchase process

Selling Through Social Media to Close More Leads
Selling Through Social Media to Close More Leads
InsideView

What information in the above graphic is new to you, or do you think will resonate most with others in your B2B company? Oh, and how do you think that guy gets his hair to do that every day?

Drive B2B Channel Sales With Social Media Content

Social media works best for B2B companies when people connect directly around topics they are passionate about. Connections work even better when no one in the group is pushing a particular agenda. This allows the focus of the communications to be around joint learning, which draws crowds, versus thinly disguised sales pitches, which drives everyone toward the metaphorical door.

There is no group better to foster these learning discussions than a company’s channel partners, especially for those companies lucky enough to have built out strong channel partner programs. Channel partners know the niche and know the clients. They also have an independence that provides both authority and authenticity. These partners looked at all the solutions they could sell, and with their reputation on the line, chose to include your offering. When they enter a discussion, and a prospect checks out the channel partner’s background, the fact that they didn’t create a particular product makes it easier for them to be established as providers of valued advice.

While this is still a relatively new idea, some of the most innovative channel marketing managers are starting to support these efforts. For example, Lisa Caratozzolo at VMware has put together a visionary offering to support channel partner’s social media efforts, being launched February 14, 2012 at the VMware Partner Exchange show in Las Vegas (disclosure: VMware is a client). When describing why she put together this program, she said, “VMware sees a huge opportunity to help mobilize their channel partners on social networks. After all, our partners know better than anyone the substantial savings end-users get from leveraging VMware’s offerings, so the more they are out talking about the success they’ve had and answering people’s questions, the better it is for everyone.”

That’s not to say that there aren’t some challenges to getting channel partners involved in social media. As anyone who’s been following this blog knows, the key to engagement is to provide value to a community, and that usually starts with quality content. The challenge here is how to have the budget available to produce something of quality. Most channel partners don’t have the resources to produce videos, white papers and articles that will draw in and retain the audiences around a particular topic. This is where a supplier like VMware can make a huge difference.

Part of VMware’s social media program is to provide content to their channel partners on an ongoing basis. Partners provide filters and appropriate content is automatically pushed out to their social networks, as if they had written it themselves. This allows larger B2B companies with the resources to produce engaging content and for their channel partners to share it and follow up on the discussions that ensue.

The key is to know the channel partner community and build the infrastructure so they can establish themselves as topic experts in the relevant social networks. Your channel partners are part of your core team of social participants and you need provide them with the tools they need to succeed.

Is your B2B company providing your channel partners with social media content to support engaging with their prospects?

Social Media Supports Changing B2B Buying Landscape

B2B marketers understand that they are operating in a different environment for a variety of reasons. These include a tighter economy, more rigor around business decision-making and the growing importance of social media in all B2B industries.

Two recent charts with survey data from Marketing Sherpa show a changing landscape of B2B transactions. The first shows the change in average deal size from 2010 to 2011. More than half of the deals closed by B2B companies are under $10,000, with the largest number of them (32%) between $1,001 and $10,000. This indicates that many of the larger deals, sometimes thought of as the hallmark of B2B sales, are not happening in the same numbers as before. It is easy to speculate that this is partially the result of the economy, and companies are just not spending the way they have in the past.
B2B-sales-deal-size

The second chart shows that the length of the buying cycle is shorter. This is defined from first lead inquiry to purchase. While the most common cycle is 1-3 months in both 2010 and 2011, the number increased in 2011. The number of responses of less than a month also increased. There were fewer in the ranges of 4-6 months and 7-12 months in 2011, and only cycles of more than a year held steady. This follows the first chart pretty naturally. If sales are down then the time to complete those sales is shorter.
B2B-sales-cycle

B2B Social Media Marketing Takeaways:
1. If you sell an expensive, complex product, it is more important than ever to embrace social media. With fewer sales in 2011, does 2012 look any different? This means that every customer and prospect is more important to your sales conversion. You need to work harder to discover new leads and work harder to retain customers. Social media can assist with both discovery and retention.

2. Consider expanding service offerings or other smaller sales to support larger customers. If buyers are not upgrading products or systems, they will require more support in the near term. Look for ways that social media influenced content (ebooks, custom videos) can support those relationships in the absence of enhanced paid support models.

3. One of things that we have learned about the buying cycle in the social media era is that prospects contact a sales rep after 60% of the cycle is complete. This means that a company no longer contacts you for general information, but they seek it out themselves from the web, including social media platforms. This makes a social media presence an important part of reaching prospects. Your B2B company needs to demonstrate expertise by sharing valuable information to be included in the consideration phase of the buying cycle. This is no longer a linear process and there are many stops along the way.

How have your B2B buying cycles changed and are you able to use social media to address these changes?