In a former life I was a "rainmaker" in the ad agency business, charged with bringing in new clients for my agency. I had a lot of fun with this job, and I even wrote a book about my exploits with the rather catchy title Life’s a Pitch…Then You Buy.
A part of my job was to initiate new relationships with as large a number of qualified prospects as possible, so that when one of them began considering a new agency, we would have a chance to get "on the list." So every morning, five days a week, I spent at least an hour making "cold calls" to advertising directors and marketing executives at prospect companies, trying to begin a relationship-building process with someone who didn’t know us and might not have even heard of us before. I would get through to someone about 10% of the time, overall, and once I got through the odds were about 50% that I could actually begin a dialogue. It was ego-crushing work. Definitely not a job for self-doubters.
Naturally, we did everything we could to try to generate "warm" introductions to new prospect companies. We hosted events, joined clubs and social groups, and published white papers based on research that we sponsored. We also did a "Rolodex dump" whenever we hired a new executive or manager at our agency. After welcoming the exec to the firm, I would politely ask permission to go through his or her Rolodex of names and numbers in order to identify any friends, relatives, or colleagues who worked at a potential client. Rolodex dumps generated by far the most productive kind of warm introductions—friend to friend, colleague to colleague.
Today you can do a Rolodex dump via Linked In (along with Facebook, Google+, and other social media platforms). But as with everything social, this creates a tremendously valuable "network effect," and the result is that the need to make cold calls—the need to do anything but a warm introduction—has practically disappeared, at least for large companies with dozens or even hundreds of sales people networked together.
Last month I spoke to several audiences assembled by SAP, the large enterprise-applications business. Their "OnDemand" sales and marketing software application has a capability that works like this: When a new executive comes on board your company, you ask him or her for permission to access their LinkedIn account (along with Outlook, Facebook, Google+, and other platforms that contain lists of contacts). OnDemand then integrates this executive’s own contacts with everyone else’s contacts at your company, allowing others to search your connections and you to search theirs, directly. (A synopsis of how SAP does it can be found here. You’ll have to look at the other big vendors yourself to see how they do it.)
This capability is actually something that LinkedIn users have asked for before, although maybe instead of asking LinkedIn they ought to ask the big sales force automation vendors! Regardless of how it’s done, if you pool your contacts then it’s almost a certainty that someone in your company will know someone at a prospect firm you’re trying to contact, or at least someone will know someone who knows the prospect.
Now despite the potential for sales, some of your managers might be creeped out by the idea that their employer could troll through their own personal business contacts and Facebook friends. So if you want to make this happen at your company with a minimum of hassle, then you should lay down some strict rules to respect your executives’ interests and privacy. Fit the rules to your own company’s culture, but at a minimum I would suggest:
- If an executive prefers not to share certain contacts, or certain platforms, this will be considered a matter of personal choice, will not be disclosed to anyone else at the firm, and will not be considered in any way when it comes to evaluating job performance or compensation.
- No one at your company will be allowed to phone, write, or email anyone else’s contact without that person’s permission in advance, unless the communication makes no reference at all to the relationship.
- The best kind of introduction will always be colleague-to-colleague, so sales execs trying to arrange a warm introduction should be encouraged to seek the contact owner’s actual participation in the process, where this is appropriate.
- Some prospect executives are likely to have multiple connections to different executives within your firm, but any executive whose relationship is to be mentioned in a communication with a prospect must first grant permission.
One more thing that's important to remember: You may not have sales force automation software that allows your executives’ LinkedIn or other contacts to be pooled into a single database. But everyone still has those contacts. If you don’t have the software tool, then instead of doing an automated Rolodex dump with everything at once, you can at least poll your executives on a regular basis, especially with respect to your company’s "drive" accounts, or other key prospects you are trying to move through the sales funnel. So you should consider an email-to-everyone once in a while asking for "any and all contacts at Companies XYZ, ABC, and JKL."
You want to sell more and faster? Figure out how to use today’s social-media and communication platforms to do away with cold calls altogether.
What creative ways do you use social networks to boost sales? Tell us about it in the comments.