I use the term “sales agent” a lot throughout the article. This doesn’t mean an actual salesperson or business development job title. At the end of the day, we are all representatives of a business as well as “sales agents” of that business, and we can all find tips and tricks from this article that will help get what you want when in a two-way conversation with another person.
You get the outcome you want and not the other way around.
Other terminologies I use in this article are, “consumers” and “products”. Again, these are umbrella terms to refer to a whole host of industries and to allow me to keep consistent throughout the article. For example, if you are a service-led business, the service you provide is your “product”.
Having been actively using LinkedIn for the past 10 years to generate leads from it, I’ve certainly noticed a change in consumer behaviour and attitudes. While how we sell hasn’t changed all that much, the channels and platforms that certainly have.
One thing we need to understand as “sales agents” is that from the past to the present and future, humans don’t change that much, the systems do. If you can understand the underlying commonality in behaviour, you can quickly adapt your process to the future systems that will eventually unfold.
There will probably be something disruptive and new in the next 10, 20 or 30 years, but the information in this article is unlikely to change a huge amount. If anything, you might find yourself using Edward Bernays’ techniques from the 1920s (ever wondered why Andrex uses a puppy on their marketing?).
What is Conversational Marketing?
According to Drift,
“Conversational marketing is the fastest way to move buyers through your marketing and sales funnels through the power of real-time conversations. It builds relationships and creates authentic experiences with customers and buyers.”
I particularly like this quote because there’s no mention of technology. Conversational marketing is a series of techniques aimed at generating more sales through relationships. We mention more about relationship marketing in our social media guide here.
People love to communicate with dialogue because it’s fast, easy and convenient, which are the three components you need in order for most things to work well. For example, many of us are suckers for the snack counter next to the checkouts in supermarkets because they’re fast, easy and convenient (this checkout trick is actually a well-known sales technique that encourages the customer to partake in impulse buying).
You pick up the phone, message on live chat or WhatsApp because they’re fast, easy and convenient to use, and the same goes for the technology we use for conversational marketing. The traditional example of conversational marketing that I love to use is networking. Before platforms like LinkedIn (and the internet), face-to-face networking really was the only way that a B2B business might have increased its brand awareness, and at a physical networking event, you would have used conversational marketing, too.
After piquing a conversation with another business in the room, you would have eventually discussed what each other does and what projects you’re working on. You will have been building a relationship and creating authentic experiences with customers and buyers.
The fastest way we can do this now is by using the available tools and resources at our disposal. That resource just happens to be LinkedIn for the majority of businesses.
Our goal is not only to use conversational marketing, but also to enhance the customer experience and refine the efficiency of the process.
“Businesses should strive to deliver the right message, at the right time, to the right person, with the right information, on the right channel, every single time.” HubSpot.
How has Consumer Behaviour Changed Over the Last 10 Years?
While we’ve briefly touched on this, there is a larger shift at play than just consumers moving from physical networking events to the internet, which sparked the start of conversational marketing- which arguably started to happen in the 1990s.
To fully understand how consumers have changed in the last 10 years, we need to look at the Sales Funnel, which is as follows:
In order for a consumer to purchase a “product”, they will need to go through the funnel at every step. We discuss this and omnichannel in more detail here.
Using the networking example we’ve previously used, we can see how you might get from the start of the marketing funnel to the end of it:
At the first networking event that you attend, you may meet another business (awareness) and instantly hit it off and engage in a conversation (engagement), seeing that they have a service that could be of use. Subsequently, you’ll meet for a coffee and discuss their service and how it might help you (interest). Following a receiving and deliberating over a quote (decision), you will confirm that you will like to proceed (conversion). Whether or not you remain with them depends on the level of service you receive and how much the product fits in with your needs (retention).
What’s marketing’s role in this funnel?
In the past, marketing would equate to just the “awareness” stage of the funnel, but now, this is far from the truth. Marketing is so powerful in influencing consumers into purchasing using a number of techniques, including conversational marketing, that it works in every stage of the funnel.
So, what’s changed? Technology.
One of my favourite examples of how technology has changed so rapidly and how consumers have also changed with it is the mobile phone.
Students in the UK attend high school for five years. We all know this. When I first started, I had a Nokia 3310 (you’ll no doubt have the ring tone stuck in your head), but by the time I finished, I have the iPhone4. This is relevant because it has changed the way we learn entirely. Like all students, we did our homework last minute at some point, but how we did that homework last minute changed when we had access to our phones.
At the start of high school, you prayed that your friend would let you peek at their work and copy it; by the end of high school, we would jump onto the internet in the morning and copy all the information from various web pages.
Having a phone alone wasn’t enough for us to speed up our ability to do our homework last minute but the introduction of 3G and a “good enough” phone to quickly jump from one page to other meant it was much more convenient than borrowing someone else’s work.
Back then, schools were on unfamiliar territory and saw personal technology as the enemy, distracting us from learning. However, now more than ever, schools are realising technology solutions are the future of education when used right.
LinkedIn has a similar story. Whilst it was successful during its early years, it really came into its own because of the following:
- The introduction of mobile apps
- The millennial generation coming into purchasing power positions
- Better phones and internet technology
It’s impossible to talk about consumer change without mentioning the Millennial generation. The Millennial generation is anyone born between 1981 and 1996 because they are the last generation to remember a time without technology, while also being brought up with it. The relevance to this is their attitude towards technology and connectivity.
Millennials are much more open to engaging and socialising on social media platforms. Just take Twitter, for example, a completely public forum to express opinions and ideas in 280 (or 140, when it started) characters. Because technology was a part of millennial’s learning development, they’ve been brought up as native to the user interfaces and the “social norms” associated with it.
With the change in attitudes to how “business is done”, a window of opportunity for LinkedIn and global services is opened.
People become more willing to accept invitations and engagements from strangers as well as using the internet to research information as opposed to calling up an associate and asking recommendations to overcome business challenges.
To give you an example, it’s comparable to the stereotype of northerners being more friendly and forthcoming compared to the south of the UK. In this case, millennials are the northerners, where interacting with strangers is seen to be more socially acceptable, as opposed to the more nervous older generation (representing the southerners), who would rather keep their LinkedIn tight to people they actually know in person.
Finally, what caused the biggest shift in consumer behaviour, was the paradox of choice.
I begin with another story.
You go into Starbucks, you look at the array of drinks you can order and I would bet that you would choose the same drink or with a slight variation on that drink, almost every single time.
There are 87,000 possible variants of drinks you can have at Starbucks, so why would you have the same drink every single time?
With more choice, the level of uncertainty increases the level of perceived risk. When a consumer is deciding to purchase a product, the majority will always go with the “safe” option. It’s a known option, one they are certain about.
According to Herbert Simon, a specialist psychologist on psychological stress, when you present the consumer with a number of options, you create a psychologically daunting task where they are trying to establish what would be the best option to give them the most satisfaction.
The anxiety then debilitates them because what if they make the wrong choice and they could have had something better?
In short, you only ever want to present people with a minimum amount of options. However, the negative impact of the proliferation of technology is the increase in the supply of business products.
The abundance of choice means that the sales funnel process is 25% longer because consumers are taking more time to make a decision when purchasing a new product. Put simply, there are more businesses offering similar services which can become overwhelming to the customer, particularly if they’re unsure of what they even need.
For example, I’m the director of a digital marketing agency in the centre of Manchester. In the heart of a digital hub, there are many just like me who are bringing on new clients, which means we’re constantly up against many competitors. We have to work harder and be smarter if we’re looking to grow. You may want to read more about how to disrupt an industry here.
Consumers are finding, engaging and informing themselves more than ever before about the products that are available to them using the power of the internet. That’s why your proposition is taking longer to move customers through the sales funnel and why consumers are less willing to talk to your sales agents until the decision stage of the funnel.
According to HubSpot, towards the bottom of the funnel (BOFU) is where calls become the most appropriate conversion path. This doesn’t always translate to the sales agents at the end of the phone. The majority of sales (65%) want to discuss ‘what my company is trying to achieve with the purchase’, while the majority of customers (58%) want to discuss pricing, showing that they’re further down the funnel than sales presume they are.
The more successful companies are the ones that recognise this and change their whole business infrastructure in order to fit the needs of the customer. For example, the consumer experience will allow the customer to see a number of marketing assets such as social media content, articles and video before making contact on LinkedIn, chat, email or phone.
It boils down to this: “Always make a product that your customers want and not what you think they need.” Value Proposition Design
Why is LinkedIn Set up for Conversational Marketing?
LinkedIn’s goals are to make you spend money with them (they are a business after all) and for you to spend as much time on the platform as possible. As a result, they will continually change and improve the features in order for you to keep doing both.
This makes it the ideal choice for conversational marketing.
I always joke that they are five years behind the likes of Facebook and Instagram, as well as not completely understanding how their audience use their own platform, but on the whole, they’re doing alright.
Businesses are still able to generate leads from it which is the important facet. How(?) you ask? Why, conversational marketing.
According to Hubspot, the key elements of conversational marketing are:
- Conversations happen in the customers’ own time
- Conversations are scalable and repeatable
- Conversations have context and a focus
- Conversations happen where they are
The one area that LinkedIn nailed was the ability to connect and contact other people in business alongside a business profile through direct messenger. With this one feature, we’re able to hit all of the key elements to conversational marketing using LinkedIn.
In juxtaposition with the changes in consumer behaviour, LinkedIn has only now just come into its own.
Now you understand the background to why we need to market ourselves in a certain way, we need to build the practical assets that will help you to grow your business.
Why Do Consumers Really Buy From You?
According to Simon Sinek, Start With Why, there’s a difference between a business owner and an entrepreneur. Fundamentally, you can drill it down to their purpose, their “why”.
A business owner will work to make money whilst an entrepreneur will work in order to fulfil a purpose.
The entrepreneur will incidentally make more money. That’s because their “why” is incorporated into their marketing message from the start, and the consumer can understand how it helps them.
To find your “why”, answer the following questions:
- When have you felt a sense of meaning?
- Who were you serving?
- What’s the impact you had on their lives?
Then put it all together:
“I/We exist to __________ (desired impact) in order to serve __________ (intended audience).”
Here’s an example of how that might look from my previous food business:
- When have you felt a sense of meaning?
- Who were you serving?
PEOPLE WITH MULTIPLE FOOD ALLERGIES
- What’s the impact you had on their lives?
ABLE TO GIVE THEM ‘FREE FROM’ DESSERTS ON THE GO
As a result, my why was to help people with multiple food allergies to have on the go dessert.
It motivated me every day because there was a real need for it and nobody was doing it at the time. I was also solving a problem that the consumer wanted. I was also the target audience, scratching my own itch, and I could understand their pain. This gave me my USPs.
USP stands for Unique Selling Point and in the modern world, the majority of businesses only have this one selling point: you.
When the business becomes bigger than yourself, your “why” is trickled down into your employees and that’s why your mission statements and values are important. With every hire, the employee needs to be in line with your purpose.
You will find that your best customers are the ones who are also in line with your values.
You can read more in detail from the book by Gino Wickman, Traction.
Solution Selling: Why Do We Have to Complex Sell?
If our USP marketing message is no longer as powerful as it once was, what do we communicate to potential consumers?
It goes back to what we previously said. In order to sell a product, you need to design a product that your customers want and not what you think they need. Consumers look for solutions to overcome their problems and you might have come across the phrase “consumer pain points”.
Your consumer pain points are the number of frustrations they are experiencing of which you solve by them using your product.
If the consumer has one problem and you have one solution, then it’s a simple sell. For example, “I want to open my wine bottle but don’t have a corkscrew”. The simple solution is to buy a corkscrew.
However, what happens when I demand a corkscrew that meets a number of demands. For example, “I would like a corkscrew that is X colour, helps me to open the wine with ease and is still easy to use, oh, and I want a bottle opener on the end, too”. Now we have a number of differentiators of which to market to a specific person. It also becomes a much more complex sell.
Now the product has a number of facets and features which are beneficial to the consumer and will help identify your product as the right solution. Hence, understanding what the benefits of your product are to the customer is so crucial.
Understanding Your Benefits
Sales coach Andy Bounds, has an excellent exercise to finding out what your benefits are in your business and it’s as follows:
List out as many events that happen after your consumer has used your product.
I would aim for 5 initially and as you go on, carry on to list more.
For my business, the results are the following:
- My clients’ businesses grow
- They are more profitable
- They are more robust to take on their industry
I could list more as each of the benefits go on according to all our different services plus more.
THIS IS IMPORTANT. If you mention any of the following your list, cross them out because your competition will be saying the exact same thing?
You mentioned your:
- Product or service
- Price (absolute no, no)
Yup. They’ll be saying the exact same. After delivering hundreds of LinkedIn workshops across the country, I can guarantee that pretty much everyone in the room will do this every time.
What Are Your Business Stories?
Have you ever wondered why you can remember certain details about a friend of a friend you don’t even know or an event that happened 30 years ago, but can’t remember what you did yesterday and where you left your phone two seconds ago (hint: they’re in your hand!)?
The memory works in a funny way like that, and factors like emotion, recall and memory priming (or triggers) can all impact how a memory is remembered and how strongly. Certain things can help us consolidate memories so that they stick around for longer.
The power of storytelling has been used by marketers for arguably hundreds of years to do this. You will already have many relevant and interesting business stories off the top of your head. Even if you think it’s boasting or not interesting, this section of the article is crucial for your LinkedIn marketing campaigns to work (and wider marketing campaigns).
Why Do Stories Sell?
Facts tell. Stories sell.
It’s true. Evolution has wired our brains for the art of storytelling. Humans are tribe creatives and sitting around the campfire regaling legends and myth is a basic human need.
On a neurological level, when a story is being told, the synapses fire across either side of the brain and lights up the areas of the brain associated with pleasure and important chemicals are released: cortisol, dopamine and oxytocin.
The chemical cocktails that’s released into our brain when a story is being told is the following recipe: Cortisol, otherwise known as the “stress” chemical, helps with awareness. With dopamine, the “pleasure”, which helps with arousal and in conjunction with oxytocin, the “love” hormone, our bodies’ are primed for action.
For marketers, this is fantastic, as the consumer moves much quicker down the sales funnel if they were simply “told” the benefits in the form of a story of some form or other.
How Do We Create Business Stories
Now that you’ve got your benefits listed out, you can take the actions listed below. The more benefits you have, the easier this will be.
You will need to list out the industries or services of your most profitable target audience and the ones you’d love to work with. Again, this is crucial: If we’re going to go out and put valuable business resources (time, money, scope), we want to ensure it’s in line with our business growth plan.
- Mechanical Engineering
- Food Production
Think of a time when one of your benefits (afters) happened in one of your target industries and put them together. What you will have will look like this:
“When working with a METAL FABRICATION COMPANY (manufacturing), we were able to help their BUSINESS TO GROW by advertising their services and helping to build a ¼ million pound business from the new e-commerce websites for the first year.”
Now, repeat. You will need a number of these quick stories to hand for the next part.
How to Tailor Your Stories to Your Target Audience
At this point, you might have 10 stories in your back pocket. You may think, “great, that’s all I need” and go off. Well, yes, you can, but that would be pretty inefficient.
I will give you an example: have you ever been in a conversation where someone is telling you a story and in your mind, you’re thinking “Why are you telling me this?”, “What does this have to do with me?”. Yep, we’ve all been there.
This is exactly what happens to your potential consumers when they hear a business story from yourself that’s not relevant to them. They simply think “yes, well, that’s great for that company, but that doesn’t apply to us.”. They can not visualise their company working with your business. It’s at this point that you’ve lost the sale.
Thankfully, we’ve got LinkedIn as a resource, conversational marketing as an approach and stories in our back pocket. We have everything that we need in order for them to exclaim “That’s us! They’ve had the same challenges as us!”.
According to the Challenger Sale, we understand that by tailoring our marketing message to the consumer’s specific needs and objectives with insights about how they can save or make money. This will allow you to take control of the sale and not concede to the consumer’s demands or objections, which ultimately ends up running your own business into the ground.
In order for us to find out enough information from the consumer about what they do and their pain points, we need to use conversational marketing to dig for the pain. To do that, we need to understand the next section of the article.
A useful exercise is to list the pain points of your customers per industry. This will also help you tailor your message appropriately.
The Art of Negotiating – What is Sales a Negotiation?
Alan De Botten describes why sales is a negotiation when he discusses tips on leadership. As a manager, we ideally need to be the leader of that allocated group (I say ideally, as this is not always the case).
As a manager, we need to lead the team to perform a number of tasks to get the job done. If the manager barks orders at the team member, it automatically spikes a high level of cortisol in the team member and gets them into the defence mode of “fight/flight”. The team member learns nothing and is also on the backfoot of not wanting to do said work.
Sales are the same. The more you push or shout a sale into someone’s face, the more reluctant they’re going to be to want to engage in whatever is being offered.
I like to describe the big, mass marketing messages on LinkedIn DM’s as the above. Yes, it’s easy, convenient and my job would be very easy if it worked, but it’s very inefficient. A consumer will see over 5000 adverts a day. How many of them can you remember?
“Consumers don’t want to be sold to.”
Therefore, a sale is a negotiation as it’s two parties discussing with the aim to reach an agreement. Key emphasis on the discussing element. That’s conversational marketing.
Chris Voss, former FBI agent and author of Never Split the Difference, is the expert on negotiation, and he has two techniques that everyone can use to be better at sales online and offline, but also in any social engagement.
If you find yourself in a large room forced to engage with a bunch of strangers, use these techniques.
Mirroring and How To Do It
Mirroring is pretty much what it sounds like; it’s about reflecting back the behaviour of the person you’re in conversation with, so you could take a few keywords from the individual’s statement and frame it in a question back to them.
Here’ what it would look like:
“We can’t pay the invoice because we’re waiting for payment from our client.”
The response would be….
“We understand that you’re waiting on payment from your client before you pay the invoice?”
Mirroring has a couple of specific benefits.
By imitating behaviour in subtle ways, you’ll appear more familiar to the individual, which builds trust and rapport because the individual feels like they’re being listened to as you’ve literally repeated what they’ve said.
It will also encourage the repetition to then be echoed by the individual you’ve been repeating. As a result, the individual will sense the urgency to provide more information to clarify their issues further, so that you can understand their requirements and present the most appropriate solution.
Labelling and How To Do It
If mirroring is about reflecting a person’s language back to them to show that you hear them, then labelling is about proactively identifying the individual’s emotions to show that you understand them.
For example, if a salesperson knew that an individual was worried about the longevity of a product, you could say:
“It sounds like you’re worried about the product’s longevity”
Using non-committal language like “it seems” and “it sounds like” etc. allows you to demonstrate your understanding without enforcing an emotion on them. Saying “you’re worried” rather than “it seems like you’re worried” comes across as a lot less empathetic and hospitable to their feelings.
How to Create a Landing Pad For You to Sell Your Business
You’re sitting on LinkedIn, having generated a number of connections and you’ve been digging for the pain through a conversation, but when do you know when to “sell” your services to them?
To know, we need to understand the Law of Reciprocity according to Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion.
The Law of Reciprocity commands that people are obliged to give back to others the form of a behaviour, gift, or service that they have received first.
To give an example, person A has given person B a Christmas present. Person B did not get person A a gift and may respond “Oh no, but I didn’t get you anything?!” The need to gift the other person with a present is the strong need to reciprocate.
This also applies to linguistics, or more specifically, questions in a conversation. A conversation is a two-way dialogue and if we’ve already established that we’ll be asking questions eventually, the Law of Reciprocity will kick in and the counterpart will ask questions back.
Fantastic, now we’ve created our landing pad to communicate our tailored sales message.
The conversation to a manufacturing company might be something like:
“What projects are you working on?”
“We’ve just in the midst of working with a METAL FABRICATION COMPANY (manufacturing) by helping them to GROW THEIR BUSINESS. Really interesting, we productised their services by building an eCommerce site. So far so good!”
Not only have I been specific, mentioned a benefit but it’s also been tailored to the conversation.
How to Get Your Prospects Receptive to Your Proposition
Before we piece everything together, there’s one important law we need to follow in order for our potential consumers to say yes to your proposition.
Following on Dr Robert Cialdini’s book Influence, the Law of Commitment and Consistency, we need to establish a hierarchy of commitments.
If you meet someone for the first time, the likelihood is that you’re not going to spend two weeks on holiday with them. As humans, we’re more likely to go for a coffee or drink before committing to bigger allocations of our resources.
The same goes for sales. A potential consumer is going to be more willing to have a phone call opposed to buying on the spot then and there. They’re more willing to read an article before attending your webinar. You need to take the consumer on a journey, taking them down the sales funnel of different marketing assets you’ve created to instil know, like, trust in your brand.
Part 2, the Law of Consistency. It’s defined as keeping a consistent position on something so that your messaging is aligned.
This makes it easier to get someone to make a small commitment, and from there, it’s easier to get them to agree to fractionally bigger and bigger commitments if they’re happy with your products.
The advantage of LinkedIn direct messaging is that the person is putting their commitment in writing and once you’ve got them to say “yes” to one small commitment, they’re more likely to move onto the next level.
Tying The Process Altogether & Generating Leads From LinkedIn
Great. You now have everything to run a successful campaign on LinkedIn using conversational marketing and generate leads for your business. Let’s visually put it all together. Apologies in advance if it might seem crude but this is as close as I could get it to the real deal.
Seller: **SEND CONNECT REQUEST ON LINKEDIN**
Hi [First Name],
I came across your profile via [company name] and was interested in networking. Is that ok?
Consumer: **CONNECTION REQUEST ACCEPTED**
Yes, that’s fine.
Fantastic, thank you for connecting. How’s business?
Business is going great, thank you. How about you?
That’s great to hear. What do you specialise in?
Yes, business is great, thank you. Very busy!
We’re a metal fabrication business and specialise in industrial ducting. You?
That’s interesting- you specialise in industrial ducting?
I’m the director of a digital marketing agency and specialise in engineering, manufacturing and construction. Absolutely love it.
Yes, we worked across the UK mainly in large open units.
That’s certainly different.
Seller: **LOOKS AT PROFILE FOR MORE INFORMATION**
Ah, yes, I can see from your profile, that you do a lot in manufacturing companies?
We’ve just in the midst of working with a METAL FABRICATION COMPANY (manufacturing) by helping them to GROW THEIR BUSINESS. Really interesting, we productised their services by building an eCommerce site. So far so good!
Hmmm, we’ve been looking at our marketing strategy recently. Would you be free for a phone call?
Absolutely, when’s best for you?
And then it goes into the back and forth details and the sell carries over to the phone and face to face meetings continuing to use all the techniques in this article.
Generating leads for your business is more complicated and competitive than ever. It can sometimes feel like this never-ending, soul-crushing job as you’re repeatedly being told “no”.
Nobody envies the salesperson “going out” there, getting more work, and then you have the marketer, pouring over endless strategies to get the brand “out there”. However, with these proven tools and tactics created from our endless hours of research, your campaigns will be more successful and efficient than ever before.