The Invisible Sales Rep

Why would any sales rep make the decision to be invisible to customers and prospects?  To intentionally block a company from learning of you and your capabilities?   Are you waiting for your company to provide training for you? Have you adapted the “see no evil, hear no evil,  speak no evil” approach depicted above toward your online presence and your use of social tools?

I was asking myself these questions after completing a review of a technology sales company and their current competitive positioning.  They wanted my opinion as to which areas of their sales strategy and tactics need to have a new focus.  The organization is made of up nearly 100 outbound technology sales reps and their management team.  Collectively, they are responsible for approximately 500 million in annual sales across North America.

Having weathered the turmoil over the past two years in reasonable shape, they are expecting 2011 to begin the uptick that we have all been hoping for. They are hoping that there is enough pent-up demand for their products that sales revenue will start coming in more quickly than in the past, and their sales cycle will shorten from that experienced in the past.

What I realized after digging into this project was that they were likely to fall short of their goal of shortening their sales cycle and increasing sales through new client acquisition, primarily for one glaring reason – The reps have virtually no presence online.

Here are some of the statistics from 66 of the sales reps in the study:

  • Average # of LinkedIn connections per Sales Rep: 92.6
  • Average #  of LinkedIn connections per Sales Manager/leader: 307
  • Average # of LinkedIn recommendations per Sales Rep: .86 (less than 1 per rep)
  • Average # of Groups on LinkedIn: .6 (less than 1 per rep)
  • Largest # of LinkedIn connections: 832
  • Total # of Employees from this Company on LinkedIn: 165
  • # of Twitter users: 11
  • # of Blogs (suitable for business audience): 0

This is a seasoned sales team with several years of experience individually.  They have been around the block and the industry.  How do you compare?

My observation: They are invisible to a majority of their prospects.

The social web is not a fad.  It is not going away, but rather has fundamentally changed, and will continue to change the way business is done.  That includes Business to Business direct selling.  By not acknowledging these changes, and continuing to use excuses for not actively participating in this social web, you are becoming less relevant and less visible to your prospects and customers.

These were some of the “reasons” offered for the lack of involvement by this team:

“I don’t want my competition to know what I am doing.”

“I am too busy to spend time on this stuff.”

” I value my privacy and don’t want to expose it online.”

” I don’t have anything to offer.”

” I have established customers, so it doesn’t matter.”

” I don’t know how to do it.”

Any of these sound familiar to you?  Hopefully not, but the odds are that many of you reading this are using the same reasoning.  You are making a big mistake.

Your customers are online, and they are active on the social sites.  They are asking questions, sharing experiences and making recommendations.  They are seeking help and knowledge.  They are seeking providers for their needs.  And they are not going to find you.

Your competition is visible, they are engaged and they are benefiting from your lack of involvement.  They are answering questions that your customers are asking on Twitter or LinkedIn Groups.  They are reading blogs that are providing the latest solutions and changes in their industry.  They are following and interacting with each other on Q&A sites like Quora.com and Focus.com.  They are garnering recommendations and sharing openly for others to see.  They are building relationships and booking revenue while you are on the sideline. They are building their reputation as an expert in their field. They are building relationships.  Why is that not driving you crazy?

If you want to shorten your sales cycle and improve your sales results, you need to put your excuses aside and get in the game.  Your current success will be short-lived as your relationships run their course.  Your current buyer will eventually go away and their replacement will not have any idea who you are.

Buyers are searching and reviewing your LinkedIn Profile every day.  Look at your statistics on your LinkedIn home page-right hand side.  It will tell you how many people have visited your profile.  What are they seeing when they stop by?  Based on the results referenced above, they will see someone with few connections, no recommendations, no interest or activity in their industry or yours, no photo and no real reason to buy from you.  Especially if they are connected to others who are using these tools for what they are capable of – to help them buy what they need and not listen to a dozen sales pitches every day.

Example: If you are selling to healthcare, why are you not a member of the HIMSS Group on LinkedIn? This group enjoys a membership of almost 38,000 members, all interested in healthcare.  (Hint: there is a group of almost 300 that belong to a sub-group titled HIMSS Senior IT Executives.) Here is a question that has been posed within this group in the last week:

“At HIMSS Orlando, I’m curious if HC providers are trending more toward accepting cloud storage for medical imaging?”

If you are a provider of this solution to healthcare, wouldn’t you want to weigh in with your thoughts on this?

If you want to take off your invisibility cloak, now is the time to engage.  Invest in your future earning power now, before you become permanently erased from your industry.

David Brock wrote a thought provoking piece a few days ago about Sales People blogging ( he thinks it is a bad idea) and Koka Sexton, from The InsideView Blog responded with his own thoughts and a different perspective.  It is worth the time to read both posts.

Am I off base?  Am I blinded by my involvement in these services and in using these tools myself?  Would you want to be competing against some of these sales reps?  What do you think?

  • Excellent post and great addition with results from your study. I believe that sales people really want to be in the social sales game but most dont have a starting point or the right training available. Also having a sales process that doesn’t support it or complete disregards it hurts future business for companies. We are seeing more examples of social media being used in the sales process all the time. Fusing the lines between sales and marketing takes time and it requires a new process of communication between the groups. Thanks for writing this and I’ll be happy to spread this around.

  • I am really surprised there are only 165 employees at linked in

    • Petr, According to LinkedIn’s Company profile on LinkedIn they have 1,620 employees at this point, and to my surprise, 579 in my personal LinkedIn network.

  • I’ll admit I don’t use LinkedIn like I should to promote my own services and business. Thanks for the motivation to get going and start showing myself.

  • I have worked with quite a few high powered tech sales people and what I found was the perceived cloak of secrecy was very important to them. They hated seeing prospects and customers tweet about or talk about their meetings or products in social media. Instead of viewing social media as a prospecting tool. They viewed it as something to be avoided. By the way these sales people were selling social solutions. This type of misguided, secretive and hyper competitive behavior is deeply rooted in the sales industry. It presents a massive opportunity for any sales staff that understands the power of the medium.

    • Sean, Your last two sentences position both the challenge and the opportunity perfectly. Which path will sales people and sales leaders choose.

      Thanks for bringing the post down to the core questions.

  • Miles – what a great quote – and what shocking statistics. I still can’t believe that in this day and age there are people who still believe they CAN be invisible – social media are no. Burying your head in the sand doesn’t mean that people aren’t researching you, or talking about you. I’ll be recommending this article to all my business clients (and prospective business clients!!!)

    Viv

    • Thanks for your enthusiastic response Viveka. I know you are known as the @LinkedInExpert, so coming from you has special meaning. It is frustrating to see successful people in many ways fight against something that can and impact them in such positive ways.

      For other readers that do not know Viveka and her great work with LinkedIn, I encourate you to join in to her #LinkedInChat every Tuesday at 8:00 pm EST/ 5:00 pm PST as I do.

      Always great to have you visit Viveka!

  • Miles, this cuts right to the heart of the generational gap. I am the business development manager at an accounting firm and they are just starting to understand the effect social networking can have on the ability to create value and differentiate one’s self. But the thought of investing time on LinkedIn is tough for them. No matter what type of sales you are in, investing in social media in the right way is still considered good activity. Cheers.

    • Marlene, How I wish you were coming with me later this week when I present “Social Media-Fad or Fundamental Change” to the Washington State Chapter of Financial Executives (FEI). You would be a big encouragement to motivate them to embrace LinkedIn and other key social platforms.

      You summed it up well with your statement: “investing in social media in the right way is still considered good activity.”

      Have you gotten your message through to the financial experts on your team?

  • Miles, interesting data. I, too still find sales people not engaging in social media and if they have a presence, its delegated to creating profiles and not engaging prospects. With 0 blog presence, it even makes it more difficult to engage prospects.

    • Steve, the competitor in me is glad to see your observations. If competitors are not engaged and I am, it tilts the table in my direction. The speaker/trainer in me sees how big the need is, and what the positive impact can be.

      How are you getting the message across to small business owners?

  • Excellent information. It made me take action. I also like the audio option on this site. Thank you.

    • Ken, You took action-my job is done. Would you care to share what you have done?

      Also, thanks for the note on Odiogo audio option. I have several “readers” who are blind or almost so, and they are able to keep current by listening to the posts.

  • As a solopreneur I’m a bit surprised to see these numbers. I’m over 50 but crank big numbers on many platforms without much trouble. Thanks for sharing this. I’m feeling really cool and powerful right now.

    • Randy, over 50, solopreneur…and you get it! You should be feeling cool and powerful. Hope to hear more from you in the future with your perspective as a solo act.

  • There is another aspect of social media that is of value to sales people…using it as a source for identifying trigger events. Dow Jones sales reps are uniquely adept at this. I have seen them key off a news release and call a CEO/CMO with a laser-guided message about how they could help. It has generated results. The rules for on-line communities apply for sales reps – listen first and over time begin to contribute. That’s a good way to put the toe in the water and see some results which spurs more commitment.

    At our firm, we just launched our blog and everyone one of us is contributing posts. We made a company-wide commitment to drive our brand and build our individual credibility by posting our project insights.

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