By Shaun Thomson, CEO of Sandler Training (UK)

Most workers in the UK have a number of social media accounts and they tend to associate Facebook and Twitter with personal use, and LinkedIn with business. LinkedIn has hugely grown in popularity in recent years – it now has an estimated 200 million users worldwide, with approximately 11 million in the UK alone. It’s the go-to place for finding out about a potential recruit, but has yet to be fully leveraged as a sales tool.

In fact, many businesses in the UK won’t have even heard the phrase “social selling.” For the businesses that are turning a profit there is very much a ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality for sales, and for those businesses that are struggling, the typical approach is to throw more time and people at their traditional sales tactics of cold calling and e-shots.

There’s an old adage in sales – if you always do what you have always done, you’ll always get what you have always got. The businesses that thrive and exceed targets are those who aren’t afraid to think outside of the box and innovate. In years gone by the best way to contact someone was by phone. In today’s Internet age, people are spending more time online and on social networks, so it makes sense that to engage them you need contact them via the medium they are using – ergo the advent of social selling.

Many businesses targeting consumers invest heavily in Twitter and Facebook advertising, but for small businesses that want to sell to other businesses, LinkedIn is fast proving itself the best channel. You can easily find information on the person you want to target at a prospect company, such as the marketing or finance manager - the key is how to best engage them. Here are some top tips to build relationships and drive revenues via LinkedIn:

Use Sales Navigator: LinkedIn has launched an excellent tool called ‘Sales Navigator’ – this will help you find prospects and content and track relationships

Get to know your prospect: Take time to look at your prospects work history and the type of content they post. Send them an in-mail to introduce yourself before requesting them as a contact and make it clear that the connection is about building their network rather than giving you an in-road to inundate with them with product information. Just as with traditional email, recipients do not take kindly to ‘spam,’ so it’s important to be targeted and personalise introductions.

Engage your prospect without a sales agenda: Further engage them by commenting on articles they have posted, sending them relevant articles or by answering/ helping them with questions they have posted – thus demonstrating that the relationship is adding value

Play matchmaker: Use the broad professional network you’ve built to spot people who aren’t connected yet but could mutually benefit from being introduced. When you broker this type of introduction, you’ve added value for two people simultaneously

Personalise the e-meeting: Once you have built a rapport the next step is to arrange a call or WebEx where you can qualify the prospect. Again, it’s important to personalise with a detailed agenda that shows you’ve considered the meeting from their point of view then preparing a buyer-centric demo once the prospect is qualified and you’ve identified their ‘pain’ (the issue that they are facing, which you can alleviate with your product/ service)

LinkedIn is a largely untapped tool, but has a huge scope to redefine how businesses can approach prospecting and selling online – starting with these tips, coupled with LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator application, and you could soon reap the benefits of social selling.