For years sales professionals have worked tirelessly to write the best emails for their prospects that result in some form of meaningful engagement. Some people believe the best way to drive that engagement is by having a great subject line, incorporating hyper-personalized text, or that emails should include memes and .gifs. People split test, A/B test, they even use software to determine the perfect tone and text to use in each email for each prospect. There are thousands of strategies that claim to be the best.
But if you have enough connections with marketers on LinkedIn, you’ll quickly discover that just about any world-beating email strategy ultimately makes it’s way into a post or update derided by marketers or the prospects themselves as “terrible”, “a joke”, or “insulting”.
Well, let me tell you something—there is a better way! While you’ve been banging your head against your keyboard, there’s been a quiet, but growing population of sales folks that have figured out a new and exciting methodology for engaging with prospects. Is it a silver bullet? Unfortunately not. Will it work for everyone? Sorry, it won’t. Wait… so why the heck should I try it? Because if done properly, it will increase your connection rates by 2X! Did I get your attention now? I thought so…
Social Selling as You Know It
Years ago social selling was hailed as the next generation of prospecting. Does it work? Heck yes, it works—but maybe not in the way you’re familiar with.
Originally, social-selling was about using information that you gleaned about a person through social channels to craft a unique email. Sales folks spent their time scouring through prospects’ Twitter and LinkedIn feeds with hopes they’d find some great nugget of information that they could utilize in their outbound messaging. “I swung by your Twitter feed and I noticed …” Or using that information in a subject line : “Steven, Here’s Your Slam-dunk Marketing Plan”.
If you didn’t have a prospect’s email address, then you attempted to engage via LinkedIn’s InMail service or Twitter’s direct messaging. Unfortunately, in order to utilize these messaging services, you need to be connected to the prospect. Often times this need manifests itself into the connection-request-to-sales-pitch practice that has so many people on LinkedIn rushing to post this meme.
While you can use LinkedIn premium services to send direct messages without being a connection, this has not been super effective. InMail boxes are starting to look as full as Outlook or Gmail inboxes. So what’s the big social strategy you’re missing out on? Ok, let’s talk about it.
The Equation for Social Success and Where You Should be Using It
For the past year, my Sales Development Team at EverString has become very savvy at engaging key prospects through LinkedIn, but we’re moving to other platforms as well. Our methodology is quite different from the one that has elicited the oh-so-painful meme above. Our goal is really less around engaging through InMail, and more about engagement within a comment section of a post. Our SDRs have figured out the winning combination for engagement within a LinkedIn comment section and it goes a little something like this:
Content+Context+Challenge = Engagement
OK, so if you thought you were done with complex math equations when you decided to start a career in sales you may have to break out your old 7th grade math book.
- Content: this is what the prospect has either written or shared in LinkedIn/Twitter. It could come in the form of an article, a video, an infographic, or an image. People who post their own content in social channels are just dying for people to engage with that content (this coming from someone who posts a lot in social). And people who share or comment on content in social are just waiting for people to say, “I agree” or better yet, “I disagree”.
- Context: This is where you really earn your stripes in a social interaction. Providing context proves that you actually read and thought about the content the prospect posted. For example— “This is a great post, Mary. I especially liked the part where you discussed …”. Boom—actual proof you have an interest that goes beyond starting a sales cycle with your prospect.
- Challenge: Now, the most difficult and most effective part of this kind of social selling is what we call ‘the challenge’. It goes something like this—“Based on your post, have you ever considered …”. Some people will argue this kills the whole interaction, but I disagree. Being baited and switched never feels good. I’m not recommending that. If your prospect chooses to engage with you because she thinks she is going to have a spirited discussion about a specific subject matter and you start talking about a demo, that’s no good. However, if your prospect finds your challenge interesting, you’ve just created a relationship and most importantly, a sales cycle. The ITSMA, found that 75% of executives were willing to respond to unsolicited outreach if that outreach contained ideas that helped them progress their business—so try it.
Moving Beyond LinkedIn and Twitter
There are now a ton of social channels that are now fair game for professional use that were traditionally reserved for personal use. So you thought SnapChat was just a tool for teens? I’m sorry to tell you, but some of your favorite sales and marketing professionals are using Snap Chat as a way to broadcast their brand message. Facebook Messenger also falls in this category. Facebook is an awesome way to start a one to one communication in a channel that is almost entirely devoid of interaction—as long as the prospect has a public profile.
The savvy sales folks will learn to read the tea leaves and clues to figure out which channel makes the most sense to communicate with each prospect. A prospect hasn’t tweeted in the last few months? Then Twitter probably is not the right channel to reach out through. If a prospect constantly writes updates and comments on business-related content on LinkedIn, you’ve got a winner. But don’t ignore places like SnapChat. Is the prospect’s story full of videos of him and his family? Then that’s probably not the best place to reach out. Is her story full of videos of her explaining the complexities of creating a multi-channel marketing strategy? Bingo, time to engage!
It’s Not Just What You Say, It’s Where You Say It
In conclusion, if you’re spending all of your time trying to write the perfect email, consider the fact that it’s highly possible that your hard work will be buried in the abyss that is your prospect’s email inbox. Think about the other communications channels available to your prospect and figure out where she spends the majority of her time and attempt to start up a conversation there. Even with InMail boxes getting overcrowded, they’re still not as bad as the traditional email inbox. And what about a Direct Message on Twitter? Have you ever tried? SnapChat will probably take some creativity, so be prepared to get shut down the first few times you attempt to engage here. Most importantly, don’t be creepy. Keep your communication brief and professional, and only reach out if the context makes sense.
I will continue to monitor these channels over the next few years and promise to update our results.