handshakeIf you’re in sales, I bet you’ve heard of ABC: “always be closing.” Except that’s not what it stands for anymore in the #SocialSelling era.

To me, ABC means “always be connecting,” and it’s my second pillar of social selling. In today’s sales environment, your network is your net worth. Coffee isn’t for closers -- it’s for connectors.

Friends, family, and coworkers are obvious connections, but I think salespeople should expand their networks way beyond these relationships. Potential buyers, customers, thought leaders, influencers, speakers, bloggers, journalists, the lady you met on the train this morning -- these people (and more!) should all be part of your network.

Your strategy should be to socially surround yourself with smart, interesting, influential people. The reason? The more unicorns, gurus, and ninjas you’re connected with, the higher your social capital skyrockets. It’s psychology 101, just in the social sphere. Figure out who your buyers like and trust already, and connect with them to gain likeability and trust by extension.

But that said, there are some ground rules in this game of constant connection. Don’t be #SocialStupid -- follow these guidelines.

Go for quality over quantity.

Everyone wants to get to 500+ connections on LinkedIn, and that’s a good goal to have. But the number of connections is secondary to the quality of connections. Don’t embark on a connection rampage for the sake of juicing your number.

I quite like LinkedIn’s Find Alumni tool as a way to boost quantity without sacrificing quality. Users can search by location, company, and job function. This can help you quickly identify a potential resource with whom you already have something important in common.

No generic invites allowed.

You should never send a generic invite. First impressions matter, and that’s just plain lazy. Figure out the commonalities you have with the person you’d like to connect with. Did you go to the same college? Mention that. Do you have connections in common? Ask how they know them. Research to be relevant to build a relationship to drive revenue.

I often spend a few minutes Googling someone I want in my network. For instance, before I connected with Lee Cooper, chief commercial officer at GE, I searched his name and found a video of him being interviewed on what makes a great commercial officer. I watched it, wrote down the attributes he mentioned, and used the knowledge to tailor my invitation.   

Lee_Cooper_invite

Here’s another example, this time with Cowboy Ventures’ Aileen Lee. After reading an article that interviewed Aileen on the lack of female founders and CEOs at billion dollar tech companies, I sent her this request. 

Aileen_Lee_invite

Keep in mind that when you send a LinkedIn request via a mobile device, it is generic by default. Avoid this as much as possible.

In general, the art of the LinkedIn invite is making it about them, not about you and what you want. It’s about connecting, congratulating, and relating to that individual. And just like making friends or dating, the relationship develops over time.

#SociallySurround yourself, both internally and externally.

Now that you know the art of the invite, use it! Connect with interesting and influential people on LinkedIn, follow them on Twitter, and share their posts. It’s also wise to look at who your new contact follows, and follow some of those people. Smarty pants of a feather flock together.

And this doesn’t just go for external contacts. Find the internal influencers at your company, and connect with them as well.

Attend and “attend” events.

Opportunities to meet people face-to-face are fantastic, whether at a major conference, or a quick trip to Starbucks. Don’t disparage live meetings, even in the digital era. Coffee is for connectors.

That said, also be present at online events. Follow the event hashtag on the Twitter stream to get real-time takeaways from attendees (for example, #INBOUND14 in the case of HubSpot’s upcoming INBOUND conference). Retweet and respond to these tweets to “be there” without actually being there.

No pitching allowed.

Note that I didn’t try to pitch or set up a demo in either of my LinkedIn invite examples. Get them in your network, build a relationship, and then you can address other ends -- but that’s much farther down the line.

Think “jab, jab, jab, right hook” as “give, give, give, ask.” Establish credibility and build trust before anything else.

Don’t use social as another channel to spam.

This is self-explanatory. You should only connect with people who you’re genuinely interested in building a relationship with. A new LinkedIn connection or Twitter follower should be treated with respect, not as a target for interruptive and obnoxious messaging. You wouldn’t go up to a new person at a cocktail party and start shouting about yourself and your company, so don’t do it online. 

It’s okay to connect with people you’ve never met in person …

In fact, I encourage it! But just make sure you personalize your request and clearly explain why you’d like to be a part of their network. Remember to make it about them, not you.

For instance, I’m speaking at INBOUND in September, and I would welcome an invitation from an attendee like the following:

“Hi Jill, I’m X. I see you’re speaking about social selling at INBOUND this year, and I’m so excited to be in the audience. I know you’re going to be busy at the event, so I thought I’d reach out now to connect with you. I’d be delighted to be a part of your network.”

I’d accept that request in a heartbeat, especially if it was followed up with a Twitter follow.

… but accept and respect people’s unique social media boundaries.

I have a unique philosophy on letting people into my network because of what I do. I let just about anybody into my network if they’re genuinely interested in connecting with me.

But not everybody has that philosophy, and that’s okay. Some people won’t accept an invitation from someone they’ve never met in person. That’s their decision and you have to respect that. But it never hurts to ask.

Do you have any other #SocialSelling connecting tips?

Originally published Sep 9, 2014 6:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017

Topics:

Social Selling