As a Social Marketing thought leader, triathlete and Head of Sales Solutions at LinkedIn.com, Ralf VonSosen is passionate about Technology enabling more meaningful and productive relationships among professionals. His experience spans from industry giants such as Siebel (now Oracle) and SAP, to a series of smaller companies including MarketLive, and most recently InsideView. He is a pioneer in the area of social selling and continues to be not only an active evangelist for Social Selling, but instrumental in creating the next generation of Social Selling solutions.
MD> Ralf, thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. We would love to hear more about your thoughts on the future of Social Selling and insights regarding LinkedIn.
RVS> Having lived through the evolution of CRM, and seeing how social media is changing CRM and also how social media is effecting online collaboration, I find that there is enormous opportunity for improvement.
There are great collaboration tools (and everybody uses something different) such as WebEx, Go-To-Meeting, and Skype. My theory is that, there is enough human interaction in these kinds of collaboration software, that’s it’s time to throw all the processes out the window. People logging on and off, some use the phone, some use the computer, different screens/one screen, different channels etc. There is enormous need to unify the interactions and have a new CRM mindset.
My passion is for the technology being able to create more meaningful relationships. Now, we can have these meaningful interactions and conversations and this technology enables us to get a better picture of each other and follow the relationships. They provide a new level of trust and background with that person and that can change how we approach and do business. It adds humanity and integrity to the process.
We all move on and leave behind the people we worked with in the past, but now we can have meaningful conversations with them and grow our future contacts. Technology keeps us up-to-date and reminds us of the person and our previous interactions.
MD> So true. My first question to you: Are you a gamer? If so, which are your favorites?
RVS> (Laughs.) I’m not really a gamer, but the one thing that I do play with on an intermittent basis is the Game mechanics app FourSquare . When traveling, I can take pictures and keep track of where I am going and what I am doing. My brother-in-law updates his during his travels, too, and I try to beat other peoples’ high scores. A trip to the East Coast with my family gave me a great opportunity to beat my maximum points, and now my kids wait for me to check in on FourSquare.
MD> You are competitive! I am getting a better picture of you and have an idea of how you might answer this next question: How do you learn?
RVS> I learn through doing and interacting: very experiential. I empathize with people and kids in school who learn that way. I am starting to use sproutsocial to manage all the social feeds. I was recently on a one-hour webinar where they were presenting a demo of the product and I realized I just needed to start using it hands-on and playing around with it.
What I think is so exciting about LinkedIn is that you are trying to create a new experience within the sales process. On an individual basis, you are talking about something that people are already using and are familiar with. That’s one of the things, in trying to get user adoption, is that you get this concept of “this is intuitive and they are already using it”, rather than having someone learn the nuances of another software program or system. It certainly makes life a lot easier.
MD> As you know, we effectively use LinkedIn as our primary channel of doing sales. In fact, we were discussed in a case study in a recent edition of Harvard Business Review. Last time we chatted, you and I were discussing the drawbacks of cold-calling since we can now use social tools and learn more about our potential client and how to meet their needs. That led to a conversation about using CRM programs. Can you tell me more about the connectivity of LinkedIn and CRM programs?
RVS > We provide connectivity with Salesforce.com and Microsoft Dynamics. You can integrate the two, right within your CRM, as you are working with a contact or opportunity with the account. You see all the information we have available on LinkedIn about that individual within the context of the CRM record. It really brings the two together and gives you a more unified view and message.
MD> PAKRA uses salesforce.com in which InsideView is a great value-added feature. All of this innovation has made for a much neater sales process.
You recently were brought in to lead the Sales Solutions’ marketing initiative for LinkedIn, what information can you share about the Sales Solutions?RVS> Part of Social Selling is that
(1) it is a philosophy that you internalize and make part of your process, and then
(2) utilizing the relationships and connections that you have and create more meaningful interactions to create value for the buyer as well as the seller.
To me, that is a critical aspect of it; that is the more meaningful interaction; and that’s what creates value for both buyer and seller.
In Social Selling, we talk a lot about the how much better it is for the seller because they are not cold-calling, having higher conversation rates, etc., but we very much understate the concept of how much better we can make the buyer’s experience. Also we understate how much more targeted we can make the messages and how much more proactively we can reach out to them at the right time.
I am sure you’ve seen the slides where we talk about the Corporate Executive Board study where they find that 60% to 70% of the buying process happens before the sales person is ever engaged. Having been in a VP of Marketing position where I had to buy a lot of things in start-ups, I thought, “Well OK! That sucks, that’s not a good thing. As a buyer, I don’t want to have to do all that work to be able to engage with someone in a meaningful way.” But, I think there is a whole aspect of what we can do on the sales side.
With tools like LinkedIn, it makes better buying experience and allows the buyer to either proactively send a signal out to be contacted by certain people with a certain message, or for people to find that person and then have a more meaningful interaction because they know more about them. It becomes a win-win.
MD> A consistent win-and-“we-want-to-stay-with-you-win”.
RVS> You just triggered something there, when you said consistent. That’s a big piece of the message that I promote right now around LinkedIn. The message is that, we can create a way that is scalable, that is repeatable for an individual, a team or a whole company. Let us build a standardized process in how a member interacts with a buyer, with a prospect and then have everyone on member’s sales team can do this. It’s not a one-off that your top sales people are doing. This is something that your whole sales team can be doing – so those folks who are middle-of-the-road performers can be elevated to that level of doing business differently.
MD> That’s good to hear. PAKRA’s games are intended to do just that: to drive processes and procedures that are repeatable, with great analytics and management tools. For example, the UnBundle Me! sales game pushes critical thinking skills with the WannaBuy® meter. Different responses take the customer live-chat with a chat agent up a different decision tree. The chat may escalate, the customer may choose or not choose to buy.
RVS> That goes perfectly in line with the whole concept of how there could be explicit things as to how the customers reacts or what the prospect does and says that affects that “meter”, right? We provide you just that much more information with LinkedIn in getting to know that customer. I can interpret your signals better.
We do so much phone selling nowadays, but I can’t read your body language. Instead, what I can do is to learn is how to read your social body language: are you active on Twitter or not, currently traveling or can I see certain group or discussion updates that you find valuable and important enough to actively contribute to. I can then interpret your priorities and see the best ways to reach out to you and be in front of you: are you the type of person who will not respond to an email from but would respond to an InMail on LinkedIn, or a message in a different way you would respond to it?
MD> It is definitely making it easier for the buyer and for us to seal that relationship.
MD> What are the new LinkedIn products and revenue sources for LinkedIn?
RVS> The things I can talk about are:
(1) Ease of Use: we are continuing to focus on that across the solution.
(2) Functionality: can we take some of the things that our “Power Users” are using and how can we make that more accessible to all the other users?
MD> How do you receive feedback and input from your users?
RVS> We have an Inner Circle Group for just the Sales Solutions where we have some select members.
We also have a broader LinkedIn Sales Solutions Group on LinkedIn and a Services Group that works with our big customers such as the GE’s and IBM’s that are using us for sales solutions and help us find that feedback.
We also have the opportunity to work a lot with our partners like Marketo and Eloqua that are complementary on the marketing side and they give us the feedback of someone that has marketing and/or sales needs and we help that person.
The other thing I am really focused on that we are looking to make a better and stronger experience in, what I call, “Professional Branding”. This is the branding of you as a sales professional and make it easier and easier for you to create a more powerful presence for yourself that links together (no pun intended there) your personal profile, groups that you are active in, your company page, your SlideShare information so you can put together a very holistic professional presence that will build that credibility.
MD> By the way, LinkedIn buying SlideShare was great!
RVS> That’s one of things that is so exciting! When I think about the sales individual (from me being a marketing guy): they are really like, for lack of a better word, “mini-marketers”. They are very, very precise marketers that I can use and if they have this strong professional brand, if they have the right materials on SlideShare, they are the ones that can use it at the right time to get in front of the prospects and customers who are looking specifically for that information. It really empowers them and makes the marketing person’s job a lot “easier” – perhaps easier is not the best word … I’ll use “changes it”.
MD> Do you feel the current training practices are advanced and mature enough to meet the needs of Social Selling Reps in their positions?
RVS> I will say “No”.
First, I say this because we are still in this phase of people trying and experimenting with different things and we are just now getting to the point where, especially if I compared a conversation I had at DreamForce. Last year, people were saying, “I think I should be doing this."..."I have to be active on this blog." .. "We have to try that, etc.” Today the conversation is, “I can’t do all this stuff – it’s way too much I need to figure out to this in a scalable, repeatable way to standardize this across my team and my company.” I think that’s the focus that people are just getting their head around and they are developing how they train on this, what is the curriculum and what are the most standard processes.
MD> This is where our company fills a niche.
RVS> Absolutely. Second, it is also not like what some of the big sales training houses teaches: find-the-buyer, rate them A/B/C, then say this, and when it goes to this stage, then do this. It is not linear selling any more.
It’s Social Selling.
It’s human beings.
It’s having etiquette.
It’s having appropriate things to say and do at the approproate time in a quasi-public or public forum.
You need to figure out where your private LinkedIn ends and then your company LinkedIn profile begins. There are a lot of things that we are still wrestling with and discovering.
Some things are going to be unique depending on who your target buyer is and who you are doing business with. The etiquette might be very different if you are doing business with me at LinkedIn vs. if you are doing business with my counterpart at Goldman Sachs.
MD> We have a lot of learning that still needs to be done there. Ralf, thank you so much for being so gracious and sharing your insights. It was great to talk with you today.
RVS> Great talking with you as well.
To learn more about LinkedIn’s Sales Solutions, join the LinkedIn sponsored webinar.
LinkedIn Sales Solutions
Measure & Improve Your Team’s Social Selling ROI: Create Lasting Change in Your Sales Team
Tuesday, October 16, 2012, 9:00 AM Pacific Standard Time
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