I met George online. A tech-savvy entrepreneur, he runs a successful social media company. He even launched a contest to get traction for his new business, and it quickly went viral. So he reached out to me, asking for my perspective about the links between social media conversations, referral introductions, and closed deals.
Before George and I spoke, I read his LinkedIn profile. Not only did he have a fascinating business background, but two things he mentioned hit close to home for me. He was on the crew team in college and he got his master’s degree from DePaul University.
Bingo! We already had something in common. My daughter rowed crew in high school, and my other daughter got her master’s degree from DePaul. So when I invited George to connect with me on LinkedIn, I mentioned both of these commonalities.
I had no idea how impactful my invitation was until George brought it up during our phone conversation. He said he was saving it as the best LinkedIn invitation he’d ever received. He couldn’t believe I’d taken the time to make those connections.
While I appreciated the praise, I didn’t feel as though I’d done anything special. In my opinion (and LinkedIn agrees with me), the whole point of social media is to begin a conversation—to begin a relationship.
Salespeople today are wise enough to know the value of relationships—with prospects, clients, and referral sources. But far too many of us foolishly waste opportunities to build real connections with people, because we think the rules for relationship-building are different online. And that’s just not true.
Social media has cast us all in a tale of two personas. We now have dual identities—one for the real world and another for the virtual world. It’s just too bad our online personas are so rude.
Most people, especially those of us in sales, understand in-person codes of conduct. We smile and shake hands before beginning a conversation with someone. We say “hello” on the phone before diving into an exchange of ideas. We engage in friendly chit-chat about mutual interests. Our voicemails are welcoming and friendly.
However, both our communication skills and our manners seem to go out the window when we’re online. We click buttons to invite people to connect with us on LinkedIn. (Where’s the “hello?” Where’s the conversation?) We don’t even use salutations in emails. We just begin with truncated sentences. We forget to say thank you for referrals, or we do so in quick, impersonal emails. (How about a handwritten note?)
Ultimately, we forget that relationships don’t start with the click of a button. They start with conversations, common interests, and real human connections.
Always personalize your LinkedIn invitations, especially when connecting with prospects and referral sources. When you use the standard invite, you’re just hitting buttons, and the recipient is just another number, not a true connection. That’s fine if you’re trying to have the most friends on LinkedIn. But if you want to expand your referral network and increase your sales pipeline, you need connections that count.
Bring Your Best Self—Online or Off
Remember, relationships power sales, especially when you prospect through referrals. You already know everything you need to know about connecting with other people, or you probably wouldn’t be in sales. Just remember to bring your best self to your online interactions—and to eventually take your relationships offline and have real, live conversations.