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The One-Week Social Selling Action Plan

Wednesday, February 22, 2017 8:05
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The One-Week Social Selling Action Plan written by Guest Post read more at Duct Tape Marketing

Think back to a sales situation with a friend of a friend, one where you started with a huge trust advantage: how much smoother and faster was the process?  What if you could replicate that dynamic on a much larger digital scale?

Your friends of friends are not hiding in distant corners of the world, in fact, they’re probably right in front of you, and you can take advantage of warm connections without attending more energy-sucking business mixers or cocktail events.

By the end of this post, you will have a one-week action plan for systematizing social selling to win dozens of more meetings and closed business every month, and once your system is up and running, you’ll find that the time investment is very minimal.

25% of your prospects’ day is spent HERE…

US workers spend 6.3 hours per day in their inboxes (source).  Distraction-heavy social media darlings come and go, but the email inbox is going strong after more than two decades.

Moreover, the inbox is where your prospects go to get things done, including research and purchases.  Twitter and Facebook can generate traffic, but when it comes to getting an immediate action, like a sales conversation, I’d rather hang out where business is being done, not where news articles and cat videos are consumed.

With all that in mind, your action plan will center on lukewarm, email, and in my experience, many business owners and marketers have head trash about it, so let’s cover some common misconceptions:

Misconception 1: “Unsolicited email is SPAM!”

Nope, it’s not as long you comply with a few simple regulations – here are the rules, straight from the FTC.  If you’re outside the US, regulations can vary, so be sure to check the receiving nation’s rules.

Misconception 2: “I always ignore cold email, and my buyers will too.”

Overall, the bar is extremely low when it comes to cold email – most practitioners dip the scale way too far toward quantity over quality, and their campaigns rarely produce results.

Most of us ignore cold emails because they are A) poorly targeted, B) self-serving or irrelevant, C) poorly timed, or D) all of the above.  While bad timing can be tough to completely avoid in every situation, you can always create a well-targeted list and write a compelling message, and by the end of this article, you’ll know how to do that.

Misconception 3: “Maybe cold email works for some people, but it won’t for my high-end prospects.”

I used to think that until our cold campaigns started landing meetings and closed business with Fortune 500s for mid-five figure deals.  While big ticket products might carry longer and more complex sales cycles, high-end buyers are just as lazy as the rest of us, so they use the same methods: Google, social media, and yes, their inboxes.

The strategy in a nutshell

Here’s what you’ll learn how to do:

  1. Use LinkedIn, and later other social networks like Twitter, to curate a list of high-value, warmly-connected prospects.
  2. Hire a virtual assistant to find your targets’ emails and other information.
  3. Write and send email sequences to your list.
  4. Optimize and repeat.

Goals and benchmarks

When it comes to social selling, the trust advantage you enter with will produce results superior to almost any other strategy.  Here’s what you’re going for:

  • New recipients per week: 150-300
    We’re not shotgunning emails to the masses, and 150-300 per week is a list you can curate.
  • Open rates: 70%+
  • Response rates: 10%+
  • Meetings per week: 8-15
  • Click rates
    Who cares: we want the shortest path to a conversation, not necessarily traffic to your site.

The One-Week Action Plan Day 1: Post hiring ad for lead generation VA

If you already have this role filled, then feel free to skip ahead to Day 2.

Since getting applicants will take a few days, we’ll get the ball rolling right away.  Your lead generation VA will be researching prospects according to the plan you develop. He will track down emails, verify them to avoid bounces, and log custom fields in your spreadsheet.  Later, your email platform will pull this data to form your email template.

Even if you’re at a very early stage, if you’re reading this, it’s safe to say that research tasks are below your pay grade, and conducting them will leave you time for little else.

The good news: hiring a lead gen VA is low-cost (we’re talking as low as $20 per week for a very limited campaign).

Step 1: Create Upwork hiring account

If unfamiliar, Upwork is one of the largest freelance hiring platforms.  If you have other hiring resources you trust, feel free to run with them, but if you’re starting from zero, Upwork will let you hire quickly and cheaply.  The client setup process is pretty straightforward, but here’s an article that will guide you through it.

Step 2: Post job ad

Now you will write and post your job ad so you can get the best quality applicants.  Make sure to sell the opportunity a bit, and be very specific.

Job ad example: 

Best practices:

Use Google forms to weed out the templated applications

Simply include the link to the form in your job post and ask applicants to apply. The questions you include are not especially important, as this is just a weed-out tool.

Make sure they know how to do email research

You should not have to explain the step-by-step process for email research, as this is the mainstay of the trade, and any specialist worth their salt should know the basic process for hunting down addresses based on names and company details.

Ideal rates for lead generation research: $4-7/hour

Go for project-based arrangements when you can, estimating 2-4 hours of work to find 50-100 targets.

Step 3: Invite applicants

If you’re new to Upwork, it will take some time to attract applicants, so it helps to send invites to the job ad as you’re getting started.

Typical search parameters I use to find lead generations VAs:

Application invite example:

Upwork tips

Best lead generation talent: The Philippines and Eastern Europe

Watch for red flags, but don’t get too hung up on experience or feedback ratings

While you should keep an eye out for negative feedback, a millions amazing reviews and thousands of working hours logged do not always indicate reliability.  Keep in mind that there are many highly experienced low-cost specialists who are new to Upwork and have little official history.

Build your hiring history to attract better and cheaper talent

Once you build a track record on the platform it becomes easier to bring on top notch people.

Prioritize responsiveness and written language skills

Once you develop a shortlist of applicants, send them messages and ask to follow up questions.  Their responsiveness and written language skills are often litmus tests for later performance.

Hire fast, fire fast

Don’t wring your hands to find the perfect candidate – start testing specialists, and move on if they’re not working out.

Keep great freelancers on board

If you make an awesome hire, and you can afford it, it’s worth the investment to find things for them to do so you can keep them with you for the long haul.

Day 2: Create lead research procedure

Sometimes determining your target audience can make your head spin – maybe your business serves a variety of different niches.

On Day 2, you’ll zero in on the prospects who inhabit your personal network and are most likely to purchase, or at least refer you to someone who will.

In the background, the VA applications will be drifting in, so you’ll have options to consider on days 3 and beyond.

Step 1: Complete The 3-Question Targeting Diagnostic

If you’re having trouble pinpointing the ideal niche to start with, give this diagnostic a try:

Where do you have leverage?

Which of your client verticals are your champions?

These are niches represented by clients who are chomping at the bit to give you testimonials and refer you business since you’ve created huge wins for them.

Where is there market growth?

Where, on a macro level, are the money winds blowing?

All things being equal, you may prioritize big data software companies over printing companies, for example.

Who is most receptive?

In which verticals do you experience smooth, seamless sales processes, instead of arduous uphill battles?

Which clients just get it?

Step 2: Determine your targets’ revenue floor and ceiling

Go after clients where the investment in your solution will be an easy-fitting line item and not a budget boondoggle.  To identify the companies that can afford you, keep in mind that marketing budgets typically represent 7-10% of total yearly revenues (source).

How can you estimate total yearly revenues if they’re not public?  You can guess by multiplying the number of employees by the typical revenue per employee for the industry you’re targeting.  In the ad agency world, for example, $100k-200k yearly revenues per employee is typical.  You can easily find the rough number of employees from LinkedIn, which you’ll do on the next step.
While you your prospects should easily afford you, you also want to ensure they’re not too big to accommodate.

Step 3: Set up LinkedIn advanced search

You have a clear picture of your buyer or at least a solid guess, and now it’s time to build your LinkedIn advanced search and see how it plays out.

You might be skeptical since many of our Linkedin connections are loose at best.  I felt the same way.  What I found after hitting pay dirt with this strategy is that the power lies with combined mental triggers: when you stack the relevance of your offer (more on that later) with the trust of even a loose personal connection, it’s often enough to lock down the conversation.

Here is an Advanced search I used to source a list used to generate a consistent stream of 7-10 sales consultations each week, in the niche of creative service agencies sized 11-50 employees:

Note: while the extra search parameters provided by LinkedIn Premium speeds up the process, you can avoid this expense with additional research in the form of guessing and checking titles and company sizes.  (I think splurging for Premium is worth it).

What if you don’t get enough search results or enough relevant results?

If the results are limited or irrelevant, refine your search until they’re mostly on point.

It’s ok to start small.  As you connect with more people, you’ll develop a larger web of 1st and 2nd-degree connections, and your network will grow by leaps and bounds.  This is The Connection Snowball Effect, and what starts as a limited group will quickly become scalable.

Why not just send InMails?

I tried this strategy and got stagnant results.  A few reasons why I gave up on it:

  • Most people don’t check their LinkedIn inboxes regularly.
  • Unless you are 1st degree connected, your InMail allowance is limited to just a few per day.
  • InMail convos tend to quickly drop off, and it’s tough getting communications from InMail to the calendar.
  • Bottom line: the email inbox is where you want to be, for the reasons described earlier.
Step 4: Create spreadsheet template and custom fields

Now that you have solid search results, it’s time to set up your spreadsheet template. (Google Sheets is recommended since it makes collaboration easy).

Your email platform will be pulling fields from your spreadsheet to create a customized, yet automated email template, so the syntax of each field in your spreadsheet should match up with the way you have each logged in your platform (more on platforms later).

When you’re determining your fields, use these heuristics:

  1. How can you demonstrate impressive research about your prospects (even if it’s automated)?
  2. What knowledge will fit nicely into a spreadsheet cell?
  3. What knowledge will look natural and relevant in an email?

Custom field ideas:

  • Previous clients your recipients worked with.
  • Company nickname:
    Consider how employees in the target company refer to it ie. NOT “ACME Creative Inc.”, just “ACME”.
  • Reference a recently-launched product.
  • A new job title they’re hiring for, and the hiring site you used to find it.
  • Years in business.

Intimidated by custom fields?  No worries.  At a minimum, just make sure you have columns for FirstName, LastName, and Email.  You can get fancy later on if you’d prefer.

Spreadsheet example

Step 5: Curate your list and make LinkedIn connections

Now that you have your custom fields set up in a spreadsheet template, you can start curating your list.

I tried to automate everything from the beginning, asking my VA to build the list soup to nuts based on a search parameter.  Once your VA fully understands your target audience, they can take everything over, but at the outset, a bit of curation on your part will make the difference between dozens of conversions and completely stagnant results.  Plus, it’s your personal network, and you probably want to have at least some control over who you’re hitting up.

To curate the list, as you peruse the LinkedIn search, simply copy/paste each target’s LinkedIn URL to the appropriate column in your spreadsheet (you’ll find the URL under the profile pic).

As you go along, connect on LinkedIn with the prospects you’re adding to the list, if you’re not connected already.  You can expect reconnection rates of 50%+ since you’re already a 2nd-degree connection.  This is powerful because even if they don’t accept, they are likely to become at least loosely familiar with your name and face, which will go a long way when you start sending emails a few days from now.

Days 3-6: Hire VA and delegate lead research

Now that you have a curated list, your VA has work to do.  On days 3-6, your VA will be gathering fuel for your campaigns by completing the missing fields and finding the emails and other info for your warm, personally connected prospects.

Step 1: Arrange interviews and delegate research on curated list

Shortlist your VA applicants based on relevant experience and their follow through on instructions, and send them rough instructions and the curated list.

From there, set up interviews for the purpose of further explaining and clarifying, and then let them get off and running with research.  If possible, record these interviews and provide your VA with the video for future reference.  If your budget allows it, bring on multiple VAs and treat this exercise as a test assignment.

Again, make sure your VAs should have their own email research procedures, as this task is a mainstay of the trade.
Step 2: Delegate email scrubbing

To keep your bounce rates low, and mitigate your risk of having your domain flagged by email providers, make sure to run your list through an email scrubber, which checks if addresses are valid.  Bulk Email Checker is a good option, although many email platforms have this functionality built it from the start.

Step 3: Review progress and correct course

After your VA finds 50 addresses, review their progress.  Later, when they are doing all the curation and research, make sure to leave detailed feedback within the spreadsheet when your VA inputs an irrelevant target.  Before long, they will understand your target market.

Day 7: Write and schedule email sequences

By now you hired one or two skilled lead generations specialists, and they have built a list of 50-100 prospects who are warmly connected to you.

Now you will setup your email platform and write your sequences.  Stay alerted: this is the point at which many starts going down the over-complication rabbit hole.  You do not need to build a Rube Goldberg machine of sales funnels and marketing automation that’s integrated into absolutely everything else in your business.  Though there are a few technical considerations, which I’ll cover, at the end of the day we’re simply sending emails with the aim to lock down a meeting.  You’ll put each recipient into a sequence, each message spaced out by 3-7 days, and when someone shows interest, you put them into your CRM.

Step 1: Set up outbound email platform

Email platforms are always changing, and setting up the campaigns in each one is beyond the scope of this article (that good news: most platforms are easy to use).

When you’re picking your outbound email platform, make sure you’re NOT using one intended for newsletters, autoresponders, and other inbound marketing to those who have opted into your list: you won’t use products like MailChimp, aWeber, or ConvertKit.

Here are a few solid outbound email options:

Step 2: Set up alternate domain and DKIM/SPF registrations

Make sure you’re sending your cold emails from an alternate domain, NOT your main one, which you use for all other communications.  By setting up an alternate, if you get flagged as spam, you won’t have your main domain trashed by email providers.  Instead of being SomeDude@ACME.com you’ll become SomeDude@Acme.co.  From there, have your alternate URL redirect to your main.

Without going too far into the technical forest, SPF, or the Sender Policy Framework, and DKIM, domain keys identified mail, tell recipient email providers that you have authorized your email service, like Google apps or your outbound email platform, to send emails on your behalf.  Don’t worry if you’re not sure how to do this – most platforms offer step-by-step instructions.

Step 3: Write your main offer email

The quality of your list is 75% of the battle.  The remaining 25% is the quality of your messaging, which is where we are now.

One of the most powerful mental triggers you can leverage is the community and the trust that goes along with it.  Being even loosely connected to your prospect will make you safe in their eyes, so be sure to lead with the connection.  Also, some custom field-driven black magic never hurts.

You’re probably eager to see that million dollar email template, right?

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all template, and the canned messages that float around on sales forums are of limited value because they’re not properly crafted to your situation.  With that in mind, use other people’s templates for inspiration only. 

But here’s what I’ll do: I’ll guide you through the conceptual framework for what I’ve seen work by using question-based heuristics, and then I’ll contextualize it all by showing you a template I’ve used successfully.  Sound good?

Overarching best practices

  • Keep it relatively short: 2-5 brief paragraphs
  • Tone: write like you’re reconnecting with the friend of a friend you met at that cocktail party.
  • Avoid marketing copy: no false scarcity, no gushing adjectives, no litany of features and benefits.

Subject Lines

How can you be intriguing without being deceptive or misleading?

Best practices:

  • Include custom fields in your subject line (usually the company name suffices).
  • Questions tend to get higher open rates ie. What does ACME look for in a website rebuild?

Beginning (1st paragraph)

How can you demonstrate understanding where all others have missed the mark?

How can you make them feel like a unique snowflake instead of another brick in the wall?

Best practices

  • Lead with customization, demonstrate research.
  • Use first names (“Hi Bob”, not “Dear Mr. Peterson”).
  • Ideal place to include custom fields ie. recent job openings, product rollouts, relevant clients they’ve worked with, funding rounds…

Middle (2nd and later paragraphs)

How can you demonstrate falsifiable results?

What outcome is so compelling or alleviating that even the faint glimmer of its realization would compel them to talk to you?

BAD: “We’ve built stunning websites for our tech clients”

BETTER: “Our sites have helped our SaaS clients convert 5% more leads in less than 3 months.”

What if you don’t have a bunch of sexy case studies like that?

Don’t worry – you can mention relevant clients you’ve worked with or other wins.  Just try to be as specific as possible.  Remember that your offer should help your prospect to easily visualize an amazing outcome.

End: Call to Action (CTA)

So what action are you going for?  Should you direct your prospects to a sales page, a white paper, a tripwire product, a calendar widget, a webinar?  There are many choices, and the CTA you choose will depend on your overall strategy.

That said if you want leads for a high-end product or service, and you’re getting started with cold email, go for a simple, low-commitment conversation.  If your list and messaging are on-point, this is NOT too much to ask.

So what does low commitment mean?  Let’s answer that with examples…

This is NOT low commitment:  Can we schedule a meeting next week to see if you’re a fit?

 “Meeting” = long and grinding, and “to see if you’re a fit” = one-sided sales pitch.

BETTER:

Can we chat briefly next week so I can give you all the details on the program?

Would you be interested in a free review of your current lead generation and sales approaches?  We’ll go over what you’re doing, I’ll tell you all about our program, and if nothing else, you’ll leave with a helpful idea or two.

Put your CTA at the end, and don’t muddle it.

You’ve probably received terrible cold emails that have multiple actions to complete: the sender wants you to download a free ebook, set up a demo, and schedule a meeting, all in one email.  Decision fatigue sets in, so you do nothing.

Template example

The following is a template I used to reach out to my 1st and 2nd-degree connections in the boutique marketing agency niche.

{{BRACKETS}} = Custom fields pulled from spreadsheet

SUBJECT: Found you on Linkedin, curious how {{nickname}} handles lead generation…

Results (after week 1)

Step 4: Write follow up emails

What should you do after you send the first email?  What happens if you don’t get a response?

Don’t give up after the first touch point because it’s often the second, third, or fourth emails where you’ll get an agreement, and herein lies the power of sequences.

Email 2: Professional persistence

How can you demonstrate professional persistence, and show that you care enough to follow up?  Usually, a casual one-liner does the job.

Email 3: Risk reversal

How can you reduce your recipient’s uncertainty and mystery about your offering?  How can you make the pain of remaining the same more than the pain of fulfilling your call to action?  This is where you might link to a PDF or an info page.

Email 4: Loss aversion

If they’ve been busy, on the fence, or interested but unsure, how can you tip them over the edge?  How can you gently imply that an opportunity is about to pass them by?

What happens if you still get no response?

Leave them alone for a while, but in the future, you might send them helpful content, or a different offer.

Reminder: always honor opt-out requests promptly

Do this by setting the recipient as “do not contact” in your email platform.

Days 8+: Optimize and continue

Once your campaigns are rolling, the first priority is building up enough warm and connected targets to fuel your campaigns.  As you expand your LinkedIn connections, you’ll see a snowball effect, and a higher percentage of new contacts will accept your requests.

You can apply this exact same strategy using Twitter – simply search for niche-relevant keywords among your followers and build up your list that way.

From there, it’s all about a/b testing.  Testing can create overwhelm, and sometimes it’s tough to find a good starting point.  Begin by testing subject lines, and once there’s a clear winner based on open rate, move on to testing your body content.

Focus on open rate and response rate.  Don’t put too many links in your messages, and don’t worry too much about click rate – after all, you want meetings, not traffic.

Send no more than 50 emails per day

The small batch approach makes it easier to monitor results and correct course before you either blow out your list or spend too much time and money on lead research that’s not working.

Also, you need to let your domain warm up in the eyes of Google and other email providers.  If you send hundreds of emails immediately, it looks unnatural and you might get flagged.

Resources

Click here to get all the tools you need to implement your Action Plan.

What you’ll find:

  • Video webinar of this Action Plan so you can see how it plays out.
  • Targeting Game Plan Template so you can get laser-focused on your most likely buyers.
  • Email templates used to win five-figure engagements.
  • The spreadsheet template I use to create all my custom emails.

About the Author

Dan Englander is the founder of Sales Schema, where he helps marketing agencies grow by way of done-for-you lead generation and sales consulting.  He’s the author of Mastering Account Management.  Previously he was the first hire at the New York animation studio IdeaRocket.  He’s a decent living room guitarist and he makes a mean paella.

Bio: John Jantsch is a marketing consultant and author of Duct Tape Marketing[www.ducttapemarketing.com] and The Referral Engine[www.referralenginebook.com] and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.[www.ducttapemarketingconsultant.com]



Source: https://www.ducttapemarketing.com/social-selling-action-plan/

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