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LinkedIn is rapidly becoming the Facebook of the white-collar worker and you can benefit IF you use it to your advantage. When LinkedIn first began it was comparable to a large conference not serving alcohol; most people just stuck to themselves in the corner and handed out business cards under the table. The Consultants saw this opportunity and used it as a platform to share how “awesome” they were. LinkedIn fought back with groups, Celebrity Influencers, and Pulse to try and keep the content streamlined towards business. It worked, kind of.
Today, the majority of the content you find will either be:
However, this content makeup isn’t a bad thing; at least there are no baby photos yet! Even though the content is changing, the legitimacy of LinkedIn remains. This means, the more people who use it as their dominant social stream, the more you can do as a salesperson to turn it into your personal CRM.
Now, let me apologize to GMs, DPs and sales managers, as this information will likely go against everything you are trying to do. For the rest, here is why LinkedIn is the best sales CRM:
If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, wake up. Whatever hang-ups you have about being social online are irrelevant. As of May 1, 2014, there are over 300 million members on LinkedIn, 100 million in the US alone. Every second, two new members are added [i], putting you further behind the curve. Unless you’re a C-suite executive, sooner or later you will lose out for not participating if you haven’t already.
Trust is an essential component of the sales equation; customers are very hesitant to open their wallet when there is a feeling of uncertainty. Building trust also takes time – time you should be spending on building value in the product and your brand. Like with a referral, the ideal situation is to have a trustworthy persona established before you even meet a customer for the first time. One vital first step on your way to being trustworthy is to manage your reputation online. This isn’t just for businesses, but salespeople as well. Whenever I meet a new person the first thing I do is search for them online. Your customers are doing the same, whether you know it or not. Having zero presence is certainly not a positive thing; it puts you in the “faceless” category where all the “bad salespeople” exist.
LinkedIn not only allows you to showcase your professional achievements, but it also acts as a perceived independent third-party advisory to your character. If you are open and honest online, it lends to the belief you are the same in real life, say in a negotiation situation, for example. Even without recommendations, endorsements or shared connections (more on that later), having a profile shows a customer you are accessible, accountable, and most importantly, trustworthy.
Once you have a profile up and running, during your meet-and-greet it should become habitual that you ask if you can connect with your customers on LinkedIn. Remember, over 100 million people in the US have LinkedIn, so roughly one of two people over the age of 18 have it. Best practice is to have the customer add your profile, so when you leave your office to check availability, the first thing they will do is stalk your profile and hopefully add you. Secondly, if they are busy looking you up, they won’t be price-shopping your competitors. :)
Third, it begins to build trust from a third-party source, fortifying the impression you have given off during the greeting process. If they don’t add you right away, you have another opportunity before the customer leaves, or when they purchase the vehicle. You may be surprised that a customer may be more willing to add you on LinkedIn than to give out their email address. The average person is more vain than you think; everyone wants to hit that 500+ followers mark.
The more customers you have in your wheelhouse, the more beneficial the other aspects of the LinkedIn CRM will be.
Online reviews are all the rage right now, and business rely on them more than ever. More often than not however, the reviews benefit the store more than they do the salesperson. Yes, services like Dealer Rater offer individual salesperson reviews, but what would happen if you ever switched jobs? Building your personal reputation on the back of a dealership is like building a house on an iceberg; it may seem sturdy now but if it ever melts you lose everything (more on that later).
Don’t get me wrong, reviews with the dealership are also essential for yourself as a salesperson, but don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Using LinkedIn’s Recommendations allows you to diversify your testimonial portfolio while increasing the trust level of your profile. Any recommendations you receive are connected to someone else’s profile, with a picture, i.e., a tangible, real-life person that was so thrilled with your performance they attached themselves to you. Reviews like this far outweigh anything written by a faceless “John S.” Most customers will believe LinkedIn recommendations more feverously than photocopied pages in a “Why buy here” book because there is accountability of a third-party source.
Furthermore, recommendations solidify many of the other aspects of the LinkedIn CRM system; best practice is to ask for a LinkedIn Recommendation from every customer you sell a vehicle to. Wayne Gretzky said it best: “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”
As I alluded to earlier, for a salesperson the number one issue with a dealership’s CRM is that if you were to ever leave, your contacts stay with the company. Your (hopefully) hundreds, if not thousands of customers are locked away while you get shipped off the island.
Keeping a separate copy of your customers in your permanent possession allows you the freedom to travel, if you so wish. The days of the loyal customers following the salesperson are quickly fading away; it is up to the salesperson to maintain contact and not wait for the customer to come to you.
The “Introduction” system built into LinkedIn was originally designed for those in the job search, but it is far more effective in generating your own referrals. The larger you grow your network, the more potential customers you are able to reach out to in the 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon. For example, my connections put me within arm’s reach of over 10 million professionals on LinkedIn.
Now, if you have made an excellent connection with a customer, especially if they have written you a LinkedIn recommendation, they will have no problem bridging the connection. The end result is a potentially infinite wheelhouse of referrals at your fingertips. Can your dealership CRM do this for you?
An integral part of any CRM is to keep track of communications with current and potential customers. LinkedIn provides the same functionality; for every connection you are able to keep notes on their Contact and Relationship, information all kept within your profile.
The system allows you to create notes, set reminders, create custom tags, note how you met, and most importantly, if you tie it into your other systems (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, Outlook, etc.), it will also keep a chronological history of all your interactions.
You can then view all of this information in an expanded view of all your connections within the Keep in Touch section where you can sort by Contact Info, Last Conversation, Tag, Company, Location, etc, etc. The possibilities are endless, and quite frankly has practically the same functionality as any dealership CRM out there.
As an example you could use “Keep in Touch” to sort by Last Conversation and reconnect with those whom you haven’t spoken to in the longest period. Or, as another example, you can sort by Company when you hear of a public acquisition, and target all the employees who likely have received a cash buyout. The ones you don’t have direct connections with, you can use Introductions to get them into your wheelhouse as well.
Several times a week I get an email from LinkedIn telling me who got a new job, or who is celebrating a work anniversary. It also updates me of who has new connections, and who has been looking at my profile. To the untrained eye, this information may seem trivial, but with the LinkedIn CRM you can use this information to sell more cars.
For example, when someone gets a shiny new promotion or job, what is one of the first things they do? Upgrade their vehicle! It’s very easy to congratulate them on their accomplishment, and soft sell them on your services. If you get a conversation started, you can also ask if anyone they know is looking for a vehicle. Prospecting has never been this easy!
Same goes for a work anniversary. If someone is celebrating their 20th year at Company X, or celebrating their 50th birthday, likely they are feeling the need for a “change.” What is a great way to spice up your life? That’s right, a new car!
The LinkedIn CRM does a fantastic job of notifying you of your contact’s big life changes, and allows you to step in and prospect new sales and new referrals. It’s almost criminal if you are not doing this already! :P
Once you have accumulated a healthy contact base, built trust with recommendations and are prospecting regularly, the last piece of the LinkedIn CRM is to build your personal brand with content. Just as a good dealership does with their webpage, you can do the same with the LinkedIn CRM.
Whether you create the content yourself (ideal) or are sharing great content from DrivingSales, your gentle touch (shhhh…buy a car) is spreading itself across all your connections. Every time someone interacts with that content, it spreads to their connections (shhhh…buy a car). The more interactions, the more prominence it is given on the site (shhhh…buy a car). The more prominent content, the more your profile is advertised across your 10,000,000+ connections and sooner than later, you get a message saying, “Hey, I have some questions about buying a car. Billy said I should message you.”
You could share news about the latest concept vehicle, or create a FAQ article about how to keep your car door locks from freezing. As long as you are sharing relevant, high-quality content, your reach will continue to grow. Again, yet another thing your dealer CRM can’t do for you.
Again, to the DPs, GMs, and SMs, I apologize for sharing this information, but think of the positive. If your salespeople are prospecting customers and selling more vehicles, how much is there really to be worried about? At the end of the day, we all want the same thing: to sell more cars and make more money.
Robert Karbaum arguably has the best name in the automotive industry. His combined experience over the past decade in E-Commerce and the automotive industry has allowed him to master the art of “AutoSpeak”; the ancient language that bridges the gap between internet geeks, the showroom floor and everything in-between. He manages the E-Commerce, Social and Digital Marketing operations at Weins Canada Inc. (formerly Don Valley North Automotive Group); a prestigious automotive group in Canada which includes the #1 volume Toyota and Lexus dealerships in the country.
Catch him on Twitter (@karbaum) or DroppinBaums.com.