I spent some time last month helping a friend get set up on LinkedIn so that he might start to leverage that platform in order to find a good B2B sales job. He’s a younger guy who has a fairly extensive background in B2C selling.
Once we got his profile set up to an acceptable starting level, we went on to discuss the importance of engaging with and connecting to, the right people on LinkedIn. This will often involve visiting profiles to learn more about that person. I have never had any qualms about any person finding out that I was on their page. In fact, I want them to know. Someone looking at my profile may be a buying sign.
One of the things that we discussed was the importance of him doing research on those people who would be evaluating his application. Particularly those who he might be interviewing with. Any salesperson knows how critical it is to get any edge and that includes gathering tidbits of info that could lead to establishing a rapport and advancing a conversation. Often these are referred to commonalities.
The next question was … “How do I introduce these discoveries in a conversation without appearing to be a creeper?” Valid question. I happen to be fortunate enough to have been blessed with a fairly high level of diplomacy, at least when I know that it will be required. I think about situations strategically, and how I might approach them, ahead of time and not during the heat of battle. Part of this is being aware of personal spaces or …
Since I can’t draw stick people and could not find a suitable graphic to borrow … my PowerPoint doodle is about as good as it is going to get and … pay attention to the colors (they get hotter … warning) and to the size of the circles (they get smaller representing the number of people who are allowed in).
One of the things that I am constantly harping about is that social engagements should be done progressively. Personal boundaries are the reason behind this admonishment. While these are typically discussed in terms of measurement (space) … there ain’t no rulers in social networking.
Anything goes on Twitter which it is why it is often referred to as a cocktail party and where just about everyone is welcome. LinkedIn is the board room (business conversation) while Facebook is the family barbecue and until you are family (or close friends) … you probably won’t be invited. If you are thinking about maybe crashing that cookout … don’t.
For this reason, I would keep Facebook in my back pocket for later on should you both feel comfortable in connecting. You will still need to continue to build that relationship and Facebook can play an important role in that. As for other networks (Google+, Instagram, etc.) … I don’t play there so I’ll have to leave it up to you to determine which boundary zone they fall into.
Now, let’s look at the wrong way and the right way. We will use LinkedIn but, you can substitute, and adjust for, any social network that you would like …
The Wrong Way
Since I’m already feeling a little bit dirty for having looked at your profile behind your back, I am going to be looking for sly ways to introduce these discoveries without revealing myself in the process. You are already doomed to failure since …
- You feel guilty about having committed some unwritten social crime.
- Your actions will reflect that you view this transgression as peeking where you shouldn’t.
- There is literally no way that you can pull this off without raising suspicions and you know that!
FYI … assuming that you are not some dirt bag hacker, if you can see it, it’s public. You might also consider this fact as it pertains to your own social networking activities. #justsayin’
The Right Way
The answer lies in one of my least favorite words … transparency. I happen to think that this word is overused and misused but, in this case … it is the right word. It is the right word, especially when combined with a bridge statement which is something that one would use to provide a reason for a particular question or statement. Let’s look at how you are going to do that …
Bridge statement – “I wanted to be as prepared as possible coming into this meeting so I took the time on LinkedIn to learn a little bit more about you and your company. Would it be ok for me to ask you a few questions?”
You have provided the necessary reasoning to justify your actions and, for good measure, you have requested their permission to act on those. Your disclosure is something that every good prospect, sales or employment, will have absolutely no issues with. In fact, they are going to love you for having done so!
Discussion – “I’d like to get a better feel for your company first. I noticed that you have been with the company for 20 years. What changes have you seen along the way?” Or … “I read an article on your company page about your new product offerings. How did those come about and how is your launch going?”
Information that has been gleaned from research is introduced to stimulate discussions based on open-ended vs. closed-ended questioning. Better yet, these two examples focus on everybody’s favorite topics … themselves and their companies. You proceed with confidence since not only has your approach been transparent, it has also been authentic.
One of the biggest complaints that prospects have about salespeople is that they have not taken the time to either understand them or their business let alone their needs. While this might have been forgivable 20 years ago when pre-call research was difficult to obtain, this excuse holds little water today.
Think about this for a minute. If companies want salespeople to be better prepared, and they do … then they want and they expect you to do this research. How deep you go, and how personal that becomes, is something that can certainly be discussed.
However … it’s never what you know but, it’s always how and when you choose to present it. It’s creepy when you hide it but, uncreepy when you don’t. Agreed?