How Social Sellers Succeed with LinkedIn

A few weeks ago I had dinner with my friend, Jim.  He’s a sales rep at Oracle. He described the widespread misuse of LinkedIn like this: “Reps use their profile like a resume.  They simply repackage a dead document with new technology.  They’re missing the real value of the platform: it’s a sales tool. It’s THE way to make connections.”


Cold calling is ineffective because no one answers their phone. Your customers are too smart to respond to SPAM or generic emails.   Instead, today’s successful Sales Reps excel with LinkedIn on several fronts:


  • They position themselves to win the deal they’re working on now.
  • They understand the individuals who compete for their business.
  • They expand their personal network to fill their sales pipeline through customer referrals.


Why LinkedIn is Ideal for Referrals


Large scale targeting. LinkedIn currently has 200 million members worldwide.  65.1% have held director-level or above positions (source: LinkedIn Ad Platform, 2012). These are the decision-makers you need to access. Here is where you can connect with almost anyone.


Referral-based connecting.  “Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are.” Successful people tend to work together. So a referral from a successful customer legitimizes you.  For reference, our sales efforts average a 63% win rate on referrals. LinkedIn is the ideal platform to aid referral-based interactions.


Social Debt economics. LinkedIn provides tools that facilitate social gifting. Endorsements, recommendations, mentions, and idea sharing are the currency in social debt economics.  When you give, others are more inclined to give back. Asking for and getting referrals and connections is a natural part of the process.


3 Steps to Use LinkedIn to Build your Referral Pipeline

This approach starts with an anchor account.  A customer that stands by you and your product is ideal. After that, it’s your effective use of LinkedIn that will build your pipeline.


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1. Position yourself as a thought leader.  Your LinkedIn profile represents your personal brand. This is where Content Marketing meets Social Selling.  You cannot afford to simply digitize your resume. Demonstrate thought leadership through your connections and your profile content. My posts on Social Selling here and here provide more detail on this topic.


2. Connect to your customer.  Customer connections are an absolute must. This is where the social debt economics can pay dividends.  If you are good at your job, your customer will facilitate introductions. This entire strategy hinges on these customer relationships and virtual connections.


3. Expand your personal network.  Build your customer-centric pipeline around the referrals from your customer. Use their profile as your window into their connected world. Research your customer’s entire network to find the decision-makers. 


  • The Customer decision-makers. Identify all the decision-makers within the account. Look at their LinkedIn profiles to understand how influential they are. Are they connected to potential prospects?  Are they respected thought leaders?
  • Your customer’s competitors. Chances are someone within your customer’s organization has worked for their competitor. Find the link.
  • Supplier, vendors, channel partners.  Explore the partners of your customer.  A good partner may be willing to collaborate with you. As mentioned earlier, a referral from a successful partner will legitimize you. Look at partner profiles to find common connections. (see Figure 1)
  • Associations (both national and local).  These are the industry watering holes. To find future customers like the one you have, look at association memberships. Then find the contacts within the organizations that can help you most. (see Figure 2)


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Execute the Plan

To be successful, you must execute.  Successful Sales Reps master the art of Social Selling over cold calling.  When these Reps deliver success to their customers, they create their sales pipeline.  Below are several tips to help you build your pipeline using LinkedIn.


  • Download the Account Networking Tool Centralize and categorize your referrals in one place.
  • Adopt a pay if forward attitude.  Social debt is the currency of building your referral-based pipeline.
  • Always ask, sometimes get.  Sometimes ask, never get.  Don’t hesitate to ask your customer for introductions.
  • Make this effort a part of your daily habit. Building a quality database takes time and commitment.
  • Success does not happen overnight.  You won’t immediately know if what you did resulted in a referral. This process requires patience.
  • Integrate your effort with your current sales tools. Export your referrals into (or whatever tool your company uses).



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Dan Bernoske

Develops innovative revenue growth solutions and designs the SBI client experience.

Prior to SBI, Dan held business development, sales, and product management leadership positions at several start-up companies, developing Apple iOS platforms and E-Commerce-based social networks. Most notably, Dan was co-founder of Video Lantern, an online video advertising sales and operations firm. He is Six Sigma certified from GE.

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