Conferences, summits and general networking events have gone digital at the cost of traditional networking opportunities. Sales professionals used to use these in-person events to meet, interact and demonstrate products and services with prospects and current clients.
Now, sales must find alternative ways to network, make new connections and foster existing relationships.
Any type of networking is important for sales teams to build and maintain relationships, but virtual networking has a few added benefits.
- You can access a larger group of potential customers because you no longer have geographic barriers to overcome.
- You can connect with multiple people simultaneously instead of being limited to one spoken conversation at a time.
- You have the ability to look up information about the people you’re connecting with in real-time instead of having to do research on them and their organization before or after the conversation.
- Depending on the site you use to connect with people, you may even have a record of your past interactions to reference at a later point.
These are only a few benefits of virtual networking, but there are many other ways to make it worthwhile for your specific situation and business goals. Virtual networking will likely be a valuable skill even as in-person events resume.
As you’re deciding on your virtual networking plan, know that building connections and engaging with audiences depends on a few elements and requires a little bit of homework.
Who to connect with
The first step is to determine who you want to connect with. As a salesperson, you should keep buying personas in mind and identify the types of people and organizations to focus on. Every person or group may not be of equal value in terms of how likely they are to convert to customers, so it may be worth prioritizing some over others.
Where to start making connections
Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are powerful channels and great places to start. But be careful of which channels you choose to connect with a prospect on.
While Facebook alone has almost three billion active users around the world, trying to connect with a prospective customer on what’s considered to be a personal webpage may cross a line with some. Instead, reach out first and ask if it’s okay to connect on a site like LinkedIn or, if they feel it’s okay, Twitter.
Nearly every major social network has groups to join or threads you to follow that are relevant to a specific industry or interest. Follow these as nearly everyone in that group is looking for insights to share with like-minded people.
If you want to get more specific or focus on a certain industry, look for niche social channels or forums. These channels can include sites like SpiceWorks for the Information Technology field or Behance for creative and visual artists.
There are themed social networks for just about every topic, interest and hobby you can think of. Similar to marketing practices, you need to network where your prospects and current clients spend time online so you can find others who are similar. Think beyond the well-known channels.
What to know before you reach out
Once you’ve found a few places to network, do some quick research before jumping in. Here’s what you should consider:
Research, prospect and connect
You need to know what’s going on in the market you’re targeting. Do some general research on the overall field, but also look into the people and organizations you plan to connect with.
Know what prospects and clients expect from you and your product or service. There is usually a minimum threshold they expect you to meet. Know what that is so you can show how your product or service is above it.
Also try to learn about the specific person you’re going to connect with. Do your best to learn how long they’ve been with their company, what role they’re in, any responsibilities they may have and their viewpoints on any relevant topics.
Know that social research is not a once and done activity. Stay in the loop by regularly reviewing industry news and consuming media intelligence reports. Also keep tabs on the people and organizations you’re connecting with. Whether positive or negative, if something happens or changes you want to know so you can reach out with an appropriate message.
Discover relevant content and influencers
Every industry has its heroes and often those heroes are on social media. These heroes are the field’s well-known bloggers, influencers and thought leaders. Connect with these high-value personas on channels like Twitter and LinkedIn. They’re usually in-the-know about the latest industry trends and happenings, so connecting with them allows you to stay up to date with the latest news and expert perspectives in your field.
Because these thought leaders are well tapped into industry events, they’re often producing and sharing the best, most relevant content in your industry. Share this content with your social networks and ask their perspective on the article. This is a great way for you to casually reach out and helps you get a better understanding of their viewpoints so you know what content and themes are important to them going forward.
Don’t limit your content sphere to only these influencers, though. If you find interesting or relevant content on your own, share that too. Be active on social media by engaging with your company’s posts and like, share and comment on posts regularly.
If you’re looking to add a bit of visual appeal or give your posts a uniform look, reach out to your marketing team for tips and suggestions. They may even have some creative elements you can use.
Get speedy research with content discovery engines
Like marketers, sales professionals often have an abundance of fast-paced, time-sensitive responsibilities. Often, there’s a limited amount of time available to search for the right type of content to share with social networks. Avoid going down the social media rabbit hole by knowing where to look for interesting and relevant content.
Content discovery engines can help you cut down your search time by identifying new and relevant content for you. RSS feeds like Feedly are great resources for collecting the most interesting content on the web. Tech platforms like Taboola and BuzzSumo can also help refine your searches, should you have access to them.
Discovery engines can also help you identify industry-related questions your prospects and customers may have. You can use sites like Quora, Reddit, SpiceWorks and TechTarget or you could start with Google.
Principles of social selling
As you’re thinking about expanding your social networking, remind yourself that this is about social connections. It’s not about selling. That will come later.
Your goal with social selling is to target the right people at the right companies and build a relationship with them. Listen more than you speak and use the information they share to figure out how you can provide a solution to their problems. Find ways to help them without inserting your product or service into the conversation.
As you work to build connections, focus on being consistent and personable. Be a positive resource for your connections or a friendly ear they can reach out to. Building relationships requires a level of trust and that takes time to nurture. Expect to work on a relationship with someone over the course of months.
Don’t forget to follow up
If you want to be detailed and analytic about how you nurture your relationships, keep records of your connections and the conversations you have. Since you’re networking online, you’ll most likely have a conversation you can go back and read through.
To make this record-keeping easy, jot down any notes about a contact that are relevant to you or your organization in a notebook or file. Details should include things like who they are, what they do, what organization they’re with, what buying persona they fit, what their pain points are and so on.
Make it a habit to look through your connections regularly to keep tabs on how long it’s been since you were in touch with each connection. Some people like profiles in a notebook or Word doc that they can look through. You can even keep your networking notes as a repeating event in your calendar, so you don’t forget or lose track of time.
Just make sure you remember to update the notes every time you’re in contact with the person. Use whatever system works best for you. You’ve worked hard to build these relationships so don’t let them fall through the cracks.
There are many parts of virtual networking so start small by picking a few key targets. Picking too many people at once can feel daunting to keep up with. Just like your pipeline, quality matters more than quantity.