Sales Prospecting in the Age of Digital Relationships: 3 Essential Techniques for SMBs

May 8, 2019


Editor's Note: This post was originally published on our SMB blog. 

A genuine smile and a firm handshake: these two ingredients were once part of a reliable relationship-building recipe in sales. But today, with so many of our interactions and engagements taking place in the digital space, such classic personal touches are fleeting.

How can we recreate this sense of closeness and familiarity without the luxury of a face-to-face meeting — especially during the introduction phase? For sellers at small- to mid-sized businesses (SMBs), the stakes have never been higher.

Why Sophisticated Prospecting Matters for SMBs

Fostering the image of a trusted, responsive partner tends to be one of the main advantages for an SMB in comparison to a larger enterprise. Strong relationships yield upsells, cross-sells, and referrals that lead to efficient growth. But the most challenging step is the first one: you can’t build trust if you don’t make the right impression.

At a time where 90% of decision makers say they never respond to cold outreach, finding ways to warm up your introductions is a vital aspect of modern sales prospecting. Beyond the poor results they yield, spammy prospecting practices are damaging to an SMB’s reputation; word gets around when sales reps from a particular company are slamming inboxes with irrelevant, cookie-cutter messaging.

At LinkedIn, we find that our sales teams achieve larger deal sizes and convert opportunities at a 15-18% higher rate when using a warm introduction. But of course, this is easier said than done, especially for a lean business with limited resources and fledgling professional networks.

So how can you effectively pursue this objective — building the types of meaningful relationships that propel your business — in the “post-handshake” era? Drawing from the bevy of tips and insights available in our Sales Academy guide and beyond, here’s a look at three essential techniques.

Three Critical Techniques for Successful B2B Prospecting

Salespeople will be positioning themselves well by following the social contract, developing emotional connections, and creating constructive tension. Here’s more on these three key relationship-building tenets.

1. Give Before You Get

The best way to spark a conversation with a new contact is to receive an introduction through a mutual connection. This instills an immediate sense of recognition and credibility. But it’s important to remember that asking for an intro is asking for a favor. Look at it from the referrer’s perspective, knowing that they have a reputation to upkeep. Give them confidence that you can truly make a positive impact for the contact in question. And think about ways you can assist that referrer in return.

The social contract is a transactional principle that applies to many things in life, from business to backscratches. We need to build up equity and trust if we want those things to come our way.

As such, once you get in touch with a prospect, it’s always wise to deliver value upfront. Here too you are asking for a favor — even if it’s initially just taking the time to hear you out. Pointing the individual toward a piece of customized valuable content, or a helpful third-party resource they might not be aware of, can help you establish yourself as a consultative partner, rather than a pushy pitcher.

2. Make an Emotional Connection

Don’t be deceived: emotion plays a major role in B2B purchasing decisions. “We know that business decisions are made emotionally and justified rationally. There have been a number of reports that show the importance of emotion in business decision making,” Christoph Becker, CEO of the New York agency gyro, tells B2B News Network.

Even though LinkedIn is primarily viewed as a professional platform, that doesn’t mean personality and feelings don’t matter. In fact, one can argue they matter even more: genuinely connective stories and conversations stand out amidst business content and career updates.

This doesn’t mean you should shoehorn humor or drama into your approach; it’s advisable to be authentically yourself. Highlight shared interests or experiences with prospects. Learn about the things that truly matter to them — the successes they enjoy, the failures they fear — and become an advocate in these particular areas to the extent it aligns with your business.

3. Create Constructive Tension

Motivating action is one of the most difficult elements of driving a sales dialogue forward. How can you move someone from “I’ll think about it” to “I’ll act on it” without pestering, or forcing a false sense of urgency? The answer often lies in constructive tension.

One suggested technique is to craft an empathetic narrative anchored in numbers. This will enable you to illustrate the risk and negative impact of failing to take action, while backing it up with objective data. In doing so, you can strike an effective balance between emotion and logic — your prospects feels the weight of their pain, and understands the path to resolving it.

Even if you aren’t able to sway a potential buyer, don’t view it as a total loss. There are many advantages to making a good impression and leaving things on a positive note. Perhaps this individual can refer you to another opportunity (in which case it’s back to technique No. 1), or maybe they’ll think of you first once their problem elevates to a need. This, in essence, is why relationships are everything.

A New Era of Sales Requires a New Playbook

There’s an old saying that goes, “The handshake of the host affects the taste of the roast.” In other words, that first interaction is a tonesetter for all that follows. When done right, a warm and informed initial outreach can become the digital equivalent of a firm and hearty handshake.

By providing value upfront (to both prospects and referrers), developing emotional connections, and creating constructive tension to move things forward, you’ll be on the path to lasting relationships with long-term dividends.

To learn more about these techniques and others, download our guide, LinkedIn Sales Academy: Mastering the Relationship Element of Prospecting.