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Building Business Relationships in Today’s Digital World

Business is about relationships. It always was and always will be, even if it wavers from time to time. One hundred years ago, people purchased goods from their local owner-operated stores. The proprietor knew each customer and their preferences and would often let the customer know if their favorite item had just come in. Customers often took the suggestion and purchased the item because of the degree of trust between buyer and seller. Those genuine relationships started to erode as chain stores and mass-market advertising emerged in the mid-20th century. Advertising “Mad Men,” like the character Don Draper promoted soap and cosmetics via persuasive ads and consumers bought products without much involvement of a personal relationship. Things stay this way for almost fifty years until the Internet emerged. The Internet brought e-commerce catalogs and shopping carts that put the power in the buyer’s hands. Some experts even predicted that online retailers like Amazon would put brick and mortar stores out of business. In the Business-to-Business (B2B) market, a leading analyst caused quite a sensation last year when he predicted that professional B2B sellers would be extinct in ten years. The argument was that the customer’s access to information via the Internet made the professional salesperson obsolete. However, just as smart retailers like Walmart adjusted to the Internet threat by selling products online as a complement to their retail store channels, smart B2B sellers have realized that today’s social networks can reinforce and even amplify their value. This is because relationships are the foundation of social networks, as the name implies. These networks provide two fundamental benefits for business development:

  1. A Rolodex on Steroids - A primary attraction of Chambers of Commerce, business mixers, and conferences/trade shows is the chance to meet new people and grow your network. Social networks support this practice on a much larger scale.

  2. Your Own Audience – Don Draper’s clients had to buy advertisements in TV/radio/newspapers to reach their prospects. Now, every individual can publish information to their own network oreven the entire world for free. It’s a great way to showcase your expertise and attract people to you because they value the content you create or share.

The “big three” social networks are Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter. Of these, LinkedIn is the undisputed leader for business. It just turned 13-years old and boasts over 400M+ members with over – including over 1M at the VP or C-level in the United States. In fact, C-level membership is the fastest growing segment as more executive comes to realize the power of LinkedIn for business networking. Following are two examples of executives benefiting from LinkedIn Fast Response The CEO of a consulting company talking with one of his sales reps who was trying to get an appointment with a new prospect. The CEO, a big LinkedIn advocate, asked, “Have you checked LinkedIn to research your contact and the company?” When the sales reps said “Not yet”, the CEO said “let’s look at the company on LinkedIn”. Upon viewing the LinkedIn profile of the President at the prospect company, the CEO discovered they shared a common connection. The CEO then sent the common connection a message via LinkedIn asking how well she knew the President at the prospect company. Five minutes later the CEO’s phone rang. It was the common connection saying, “not only do I know the President very well, I am sitting in his office right now!” She went on to say the President had stepped out and she would be sure to put in a good word about the consulting company and even help orchestrate an introductory meeting. Talk about a quick response time! This shows how LinkedIn supports the practice of “like rank” selling. “Like rank” selling is the process wherein executives within a selling organization engage with executives of similar levels in the prospect organization. In this case; [seller] CEO to [prospect] President. It makes sense. Top executives typically have the best Rolodex in a company through years in the business and leadership involvement with trade associations and community organizations like United Way, school boards, or similar. LinkedIn is the “Rolodex of the 211st century” and the easiest way to for front-line sellers to leverage their leaders’ connections. Look What I Found The CEO of an insurance agency had opened a LinkedIn account years ago, but he had not been very active. One of the CEO’s colleagues had been encouraging him to get more involved. When the colleague came by to give the CEO some tips, they discovered 290 Invitations in the CEO’s LinkedIn Inbox. As the CEO began to think about which ones to accept, his colleague grabbed the computer mouse and clicked “ACCEPT All” Boom! The CEO instantly had 290 new connections. The next day, the CEO was contacted by one of those new Connections. It turned out to be an experienced insurance producer with a big book of business. He said he was interested in speaking to the CEO about bringing his business to the CEO’s company. The successful producer had assumed there was no interest because the CEO had not accepted his invitation sent over three months ago. They recently met to discuss partnering plans.

Kurt Shaver speaks and trains sales teams on advanced Social Selling skills. He has appeared at conferences like Sales 2.0, AA-ISP Social Selling, and LinkedIn's Sales Connect. Clients include leading companies in the technology, telecom, and business services industries. Connect with Kurt on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.

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