Social Selling Case Study: Doug Ales of ABB

Social Selling

A 25-year veteran with a large power and automation technology company, ABB, Doug Ales helps people achieve dependable, justifiable, and safe electrical systems. His employer markets their products through a network of electrical wholesale distributors, so not only must Doug compete for his customer’s business, but he must also vie for his distributor’s attention. Using a “solution sales” strategy that was two decades old, Doug wanted to see if social selling could accelerate his growth.

The Challenge

In Doug’s industry, the local electrical distributor provides the customer’s connection; Doug provides the application experience. By working together, they grow their mutual business. Could social selling help Doug accelerate networking, build relationships, and grow sales?

After deciding to give social selling a try, Doug polished his LinkedIn profile and optimized it for specific keywords. He then began posting regular status updates, engaging in LinkedIn Group discussions and growing his network with people who were engaging on social media. However, he soon discovered that the industrial executives that he needed to connect with were mostly inactive on social media.

Doug learned how to gauge a person’s activity on LinkedIn and then found that the connections he wanted most usually had a LinkedIn profile with a good number of connections, but were otherwise inactive. He began to wonder if his market was different. Maybe social selling just wasn’t right for his business to business, executive focused industry.

The Solution

Not ready to give up, Doug went on to further develop his profile with ‘social proof’ including recommendations, endorsements, and regular Pulse articles that showed him to be both a thought leader and someone who continually provided value.

He further determined that his connections fell into one of two categories, Strategic Connections and Core Connections. Most of his connections would never purchase from him and fell in to the Strategic Connection category. These connections he would help or act as a connector when needed, but it was his Core Connections that were his key focus.

With much trial and error, Doug discovered that these hard to access executives did selectively answer their LinkedIn messages. He also created a successful approach when sending out his personalized connection request to them. Doug started by evaluating their profile and then focused his message on what they had in common, such as shared connections, as well as mentioning any business history the two companies may have.

He would then follow up with a non-selling welcome message that mentions a trend in his connections market, plus a short, high gain question that kept the conversation going. Research was a crucial part of his strategy as he noticed that he received a very strong and positive response rate from the messages that included a mention of an issue related to his connection’s industry trends.

“Showing knowledge of your connection’s industry trends and issues as well as building a profile that is rich with solutions to those issues is the best and most effective way to build trust with your connections and have them see you as a potential trusted advisor” says Doug.

Using industry trends as the topic, Doug continues the conversation with his connection. Later, when his travel plans involve him being in his connection’s geographic area, he includes a mention of his travel plans. This often results in a meeting request from the connection, moving the online relationship into an offline relationship.

The Results

After initially spending countless hours on other social media sites with nothing to show for it, Doug now only focuses his time and energy on LinkedIn. This social selling approach has achieved 40% key account sales growth, which has exceeded the results of any other strategy he ever tried.

Using the social selling strategies he developed for non-engaged business executives, Doug has continued to successfully connect with his target clients, and nurture these connections into successful and mutually beneficial relationships.

One such example of Doug’s success using LinkedIn begins with one of his distributor’s salespeople setting up a meeting for him with a contact at a food processing facility. During that meeting he discovered that the person he was talking to was not the person he needed to connect with. He found out later from the salesperson who set the meeting up that they did not have a connection with anyone at the company who would understand how his product would save them more money than it would cost them.

He knew that the Food Safety Modernization Act was increasing the frequency and cost of food recalls and that another facility had recently had to discard a large quantity of processed food due to contamination. This would have been preventable if they had been using a detectable alternative product from Doug’s company. Armed with this knowledge, he decided to give LinkedIn a try.

Using LinkedIn’s Advanced Search, which included the company name, location, and keywords, he was able to identify his ideal connection at the company.

He crafted a personalized connection request focused on shared connections and existing business. He then nurtured the relationship with the executive and on his next trip to the area, Doug arranged the client meeting. This time, the meeting was with the person he needed to speak with, the person responsible for the financial repercussions of product recalls.

Takeaways

  • Social selling requires you to evaluate what is and what’s not working and then make changes to your approach.
  • Using LinkedIn advanced search filters (such as company name, location, industry, etc.) you can identify your ideal connections.
  • Business executives are more likely to accept a LinkedIn connection request from someone that does business with someone they already know.
  • Understanding your connections industry trends and issues as well as having a history that shows you solving these issues on your LinkedIn profile, allows you to gain engagement with executives.
  • The magic of social selling comes when you move an online LinkedIn search result into an offline relationship.

Doug states:

Business is LinkedIn’s focus and LinkedIn’s strength is professional networking. This is why I believe that: If business comes from relationships, relationships should be your business.

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