LinkedIn has come a long way since being a CV portal, with the platform claiming its own importance as a business-to-business sales avenue.
This even comes from the horse's mouth, as the platform pushes through its content marketing agenda.
However, for Nicholas Kontopoulos, global vice president of fast growth markets marketing, SAP Hybris, the platform serves as an avenue to have conversations with like-minded peers.
“For me LinkedIn is more about a content platform to create and share with like-minded peers, who I happened to be connected with. It has the benefit to be able to connect with individuals across the globe and have conversations with them,” said Kontopoulos, who was LinkedIn’s most engaged marketer in Singapore in 2015.
The platform thus serves as a knowledge broking platform and is a great barometer for whether an idea will fly or sink like a lead zeppelin, according to Kontopoulos.
“The idea for me is I will create and share content and hope that I am adding the body of content around that topic. The community will decide if that’s good or not, whether they like it and share it, or tell you the idea is one that is too early or not great,” he said.
As such, selling on the platform via connections will require a focus on the social aspect rather than just selling Kontopoulos cautions.
“If you are adding to that body of content and knowledge, people will start to show an interest in what you say, they’ll connect with you, and I have seen as a result of that, my ability to then to go on present to customers. I have been invited by global brands to present in their internal kick-off sessions on the topic of customer experience,” said Kontopoulos.
“That started through me sharing a slide share presentation on one of the talks I delivered, which then led to a conversation on LinkedIn, which then led to me presenting to something like 200 technology professionals. That’s fantastic and that’s gold dust if you think about it from a marketing and sales perspective, that ability to secure those engagements,” he added.
Approaching this is the correct way will see the sales come, claims Kontopoulos, rather than having sales as the key element, which is the biggest problem with social selling.
“People making money off of it [social selling], they are focusing on it as a quick way to make money. In some respects sellers, sale professionals and leaders are making the same mistakes that marketers made when Facebook and Twitter first burst on the scene,” said Kontopoulos.
“Marketers when LinkedIn and Twitter first came around, thought, ‘wow, now I can talk about myself, at scale!’ The content was pretty much around the brand and not about the individual, and that took some time, marketers took four to five years to figure out that actually it is about listening,” he added.
LinkedIn thus presents marketers with a listening platform, and enables SAP to listen intently to what people are saying, according to Kontopoulos.
“To me it’s about listening versus spamming those executives straightaway, in some cases what’s happening when they [sales] access these tools and are told to sell socially, so they start emailing and linking with all these executives requests to have a conversation, without any clear benefit or outcome that’s beneficial to the brand, which is a big mistake,’ said Kontopoulos.
“As a marketing leader I spend money through vendors, and I have a lot of vendors reaching out to me through LinkedIn, but often they basically connect with me, they almost want to ‘go straight from dating to getting married’ type of things. Hang on, let’s get to know each other first, how about before I have that conversation, how about you find out more about me through my LinkedIn profile,” he added.
For Kontopoulos, who is a heavy user, he claims that people will be able to get a sense of him, something which he rarely sees.
“What’s happening is a lot of sales guys are being told, ‘here’s a tool, you got to social sell, that’s the new thing so go for it.’ Then they start spamming, this is the challenge, there is more focus on the selling than the social element of it,” he said.
Connecting and building along brand values
For Kontopoulos then, social selling requires connecting with people with a social context and creating value for them. This leads to the point about creating and sharing content over time rather than spamming people with it.
“I want to be mindful with how often I’m sharing, so I’m not filing their feeds with Nicholas Kontopoulos. Sometimes that content shared leads to me actually having an exchange of conversation with someone that leads to a blog, which is a great way of generating new ideas for new content,” said Kontopoulos.
“There’s a lot of people who are just sharing for sharing’s sake, that’s a problem, if you haven’t really read the article and someone does, you can damage your own brand. You should really read the article you share, because it may outline an opinion that you or your company doesn’t share, and you got to be mindful on LinkedIn you’re representing your brand.
“That’s why I say to sales guys on LinkedIn, don’t have in your profile, ‘looking for new opportunities.’ That’s really bad, because you want me to buy from you, but you’re happy to go to a competitor tomorrow. There is still a lot of learning to be had,” he added.
While these sales reps are out there on LinkedIn looking for sales, each of them represents the brand in their interactions, which can be risky. That’s where education comes into play according to Kontopoulos.
“You have to have a clear strategy on how you educate, and this is where SAP has invested heavily into, to position itself and SAP in the right way, in a way that creates value for both. As I said before if someone is sharing something on LinkedIn, if it is negative, it not only has a negative impact on the person but on the brand,” he said.
“One of the challenges is how social selling has been approached by lots of people out there, [to them] it’s a quick fix to get your quota up, get yourself plugged into LinkedIn, no real training provided to the sales rep, beyond maybe a 40 minute webinar with no real resources for them to tap in to. That to me is destined to fail, because you get people running off executing without any coherent strategy,” he added.
B2B brands thus need to invest in understanding the positives and negatives of social selling, Kontopoulos cautions.
“Very much about the old adage, ‘people, process, technology,’ LinkedIn is a technology platform, but unless you invest upfront with the people and process element, they’ll probably not deliver the returns of investment on that tool, or see the negative impact from bad experiences,” said Kontopoulos.
“A bad sales rep before, he or she impacted maybe 10 to 50 customers out of a 1,000. With LinkedIn, the bad behaviour of a sales rep is amplified on a global scale, that’s the risk element. Doesn’t mean you should avoid it, just got to be mindful of it, without risk there will be no innovation, no ability to get a step ahead of your competitors. You need to look at how you are moving beyond the status quo, they [brands] shouldn’t be fearful of it, just mindful of what the challenges are,” he added.