blog article
Social Selling
Tony J. Hughes
Tony J. Hughes
min read

75% of potential customers and all employers research us before deciding to engage. Masterful use of LinkedIn is therefore essential for anyone progressing their career or seeking success in business and sales. What message to they take away and what do they think of you when they view your LinkedIn profile?

Everyone needs a strong and authentic personal brand and your LinkedIn profile must attract and engage those aligned with your professional purpose and values

Your LinkedIn, Facebook and other social platforms are and extension of you and your values so never write, post, upload or publish anything that is not also consistent with your employer’s brand. Stay positive and show insight in all that you do in LinkedIn.

It takes a lifetime to build your brand but just a moment to destroy your reputation

If you are currently seeking a new role, understand that hiring managers use a CV to screen candidates out of their process so make sure you tick all the boxes of skills, qualifications, experience, commitment, insight and positive personal values.

If you're a leader or salesperson, you must transform the way you use LinkedIn by moving away from it being an online CV! Instead use it as a personal brand and engagement site. Avoid posting or publishing your company’s brand, products or services. Instead make your LinkedIn profile shine as your personal microsite where the value you provide and the values by which you operate are front and center.

There are approximately 500 million LinkedIn members with 2 people joining every second of every day. The overwhelming majority of people you need, in order to be successful in your professional life, are all there. According to IDC Research, 75% of buyers use social media to research sellers before engaging. Add to this the research from Corporate Visions that revealed 74% of buyers choose the seller who first provides insight and value; it begs the question: What do people see when they find you online? Do they see a Porsche driving, quota crushing, transactional, pushy salesperson with a profile aimed at their next hiring sales manager; or do they see a warm and friendly professional offering insight and value? This video is very funny!

Here are the essential things you need to do with your LinkedIn profile to create a credible digital personal brand that paves the way ahead to accelerate engagement.

  1. Settings:

    When updating your profile do not notify your network each time you update your profile (select 'no'). This is important because you will be making many changes within your profile and you don't want to be bombarding your network or cause them to wrongly assume you are updating your profile because you are looking for another job!
  1. Photo: 

    Ensure that your photo is a professionally friendly head and shoulders close-up. It needs to be in-focus and well lit. Always avoid a high contrast bright backgrounds. Also avoid the Zoolander Blue Steel look, glamor shots, power pics, wedding shots, mug-shots, sporting shots, trophy shots, and pictures taken more than 5 years ago. People form an opinion within a second and your photo and headline is what will most influence them. Do you appear to be credible or arrogant; friendly or cocky; approachable or unprofessional? Make sure your photo has the right background which means there should be a soft image behind. Not your cubicle which makes you look like you don’t deserve to meet with a CEO; and certainly not a stark wall like it was taken at the police station. Never hide your photo from people viewing your profile: Check LinkedIn settings under account / settings and privacy / account / basics / showing profile photos / select ‘everyone’.
  1. Headline:

    Instead of your title and company, have a headline under your name that describes what you do for customers or those whom you serve. What is the difference you make for clients? Avoid passive words such as helping, seeking, enabling, etc. Instead make a positive statement such as ‘Transforming customer experience for retailers’ or ‘Delivering process efficiency for the mining industry’ or ‘Making customers the heart of strategy and systems’ or ‘Creating memorable events that deliver results’. Your headline should describe the results you create for your customers but not in a way that makes you look like a complete tool. Avoid cliches, acronyms and over the top phrases.
  1. LinkedIn URL:

    Personalize and shorten your LinkedIn link (the URL that takes people to your profile). View your profile page by clicking on the small thumbnail of your photo in the upper right / then on the right side of the screen as you begin to scroll down select ‘contact and personal info’ then click on the small pencil icon, then click again on your LinkedIn URL (maybe LinkedIn will have made this easier by time you read this!), then change to something that is not already taken by another member with your name. Don’t forget to save and this link should be included in your email signature.
  1. Contact Details:

    Complete your contact details. If you are in sales, forget privacy, and instead make it easy for people contact you. Whenever you change employers, always remember to update the website links. View your profile page by clicking on the small thumbnail of your photo in the upper right / then on the right side on the screen as you begin to scroll down select ‘contact and personal info’ then update details as appropriate.
  2. About (Summary Panel):

    Create a summary that describes the business value you deliver and the values by which you operate. Write it in the first person and neither be too over the top nor hide your light under a bushel. This is where people can get a sense of what you believe and how you operate. This starts to create trust and set the agenda on value even before a single word has been spoken. With the permission of Emma, one of my clients, here is an example of how we transformed her LinkedIn profile to support her outreach with the heads of Government health departments. First, we changed her LinkedIn photo from her sitting in an office cubicle / workstation to instead have her dressed as the senior manager she is and standing at her CEO’s high-rise office window with a harbor view in the background. We took the photo with my iPhone so don’t use the absence of a professional photographer as an excuse!
Emma's profile before we updated it.
Emma's prfile with an updated photo.
  1. Then we created a Summary that highlighted her insights, the value she provides, and her credentials and personal values in delivering the right outcomes for those with whom she works. This is her Summary:

    The Australian healthcare sector is modernising the way services are delivered with technology and consumer expectations transforming the delivery of both public and private sector healthcare. I work with government, health and peak body organisations to achieve better outcomes through digital transformation. I help them translate their policy initiatives into business strategies, and build evidence-based business cases that make the best use of health sector funding.

    I am passionate and committed to deliver for my healthcare sector clients and I have two decades of experience in senior government, not-for-profit and private sector roles. With a Diploma of Health Science, ten years’ experience as a registered nurse, and a Bachelor of Business, I have both understanding and empathy for the challenges facing the Australian healthcare sector. My extensive experience in human services, and the quality and reach of my professional network, helps me provide a positive influence with a wide range of senior stakeholders within government and industry.

    This worked. Emma was immediately taken more seriously and started securing meetings with senior executives who had previously been ignoring her. She was also promoted within her company shortly after. Thanks Emma for allowing me to share all this with my readers!

    By changing your LinkedIn profile to be a personal branding microsite, you enhance the way you sell but without any downside for a future career change with potential new employers. They will be attracted by the way you intelligently use LinkedIn to attract and engage potential clients.
  1. Recommendations:

    Request these within LinkedIn from people who have engaged you in current and past roles. This is a way of powerfully building trust before you meet or speak with someone because the majority will review your profile. These recommendations are ideally from loyal customers or partners and evidence your positive values and the results you deliver for them. Simply use the request feature within LinkedIn to ask trusted relationships to make a recommendation which you will have the opportunity to review before adding to your profile. LinkedIn Recommendations are far more powerful than ‘Skills and Endorsements’ within your profile and focus on listing those skills that are valued by your customers.
  2. Skills and Endorsements:

    Do not list too many of these and nominate only those relevant to your target audience. Focus on the skills that show you can help your customers.
  3. Education, Qualifications, Volunteer Experience and Accomplishments:

    Provide details about your credentials but avoid bragging. It is especially important to show credibility in your ability to deliver and list any philanthropic activities that evidence your positive personal values. Within your LinkedIn profile, provide details about your credentials but avoid bragging or coming across as a ‘quota crusher’, as Jill Rowley famously says. It is especially important to show credibility in your ability to deliver for customers and list any philanthropic activities that evidence your positive personal values. If you achieved number one performer status then you could provide a description like this: Highest performer of the year and achieved this by working closely with my customers in the manufacturing industry to enable them to benefit from substantial improvements in supply chain efficiency.

    Again, the focus with your LinkedIn profile is to target customers rather than potential employers. Create an authentic narrative that shows how you can help them deliver results through your insights, experience, positive track record and credentials. Make sure you convey the fact that you can do something worthwhile for them, rather than being a salesperson seeking to sell something to them.

Publishing Content

Let’s face an awful truth; very few salespeople are good writers and everyone in sales should be selling, not writing Posts or Articles during prime selling time. You can see there is a problem with salespeople writing content if they are not good at it and if it distracts aways from important prospecting and selling activities. Yet we are known by what we share and what we publish. Prospects and customers are watching so we must make it count.

I do not advocate that salespeople write content during business hours, they should instead pick-up the phone and dial prospects and customers.

All sellers should however self-educate by doing research and create their own insights that enable them to carry the right conversations with senior people in the marketplace. As a result of this activity there are two primary types of content that can be created in LinkedIn within the seller’s profile:

  1. Posts or Updates that are short and often for the purpose of sharing other people’s content relevant to your audience or customers.
  2. Original articles or blogs that are typically more than 400 words and with embedded images or videos.

1. Posts and updates: This is where you need to subscribe to a content sharing tool such as Buffer which has a plugin for your web-browser. This makes the process of capturing content and scheduling it for publication into your social media accounts extremely easy. Anytime that you come across a piece of content that will be appreciated by your customers, simply click the Twitter share button on the content’s page or the buffer icon in your browser... and bingo! It is queued ready to go without you needing to give it another thought. But where do you find this content?

Every professional stays current by reading the latest articles, journals, blogs and publications relevant to them and their patients or clients. The best salespeople do the same. If you sell into a vertical industry, or if your market is defined by a particular demographic, or if your buyer is a particular role or persona; then you can identify the places where they learn online. As your customers that very question! “Where do you go online to stay up-to-date?” You could also ask: “Who do you follow as a leader in your industry?” or; “Which analysts or commentators to you rate more highly?” Then you go and subscribe (RSS feed) to their blog and configure a Google Alert for their name.

Now you’ve built a platform for sourcing and sharing content that will be of interest to your buyers. If your marketing team can help you with a corporate tool similar to Buffer, then use it, but do not share corporate propaganda as it will be perceived by your audience of potential customers as spam and they will probably disconnect or ignore you.

All of your content must be of value for your target audience. Your goal is to be seen as an aggregator of high-quality relevant content for those who are too busy to source it for themselves. If you were selling a cloud software solution for accounts payable automation, then your primary target audience is the CFO role. You would investigate where they learn online about outsourcing and find the analysts and journalists that write about the latest trends and research for transforming the finance function within corporations. What are the major conferences? Who are the speakers? Which research has been published? Sharing this kind of content and associating yourself with credible brands is a smart thing to do.

Treat everything you publish online as if it will be there forever and only publish content that you would be happy for your mother or next potential customer to read.

2. Articles or blogs: This type of publishing requires more effort but it is massively powerful for proactively dealing with objections and setting the agenda on value and risk mitigation for the customers. At a minimum, everyone should have three articles that they have published within their LinkedIn profile and aim for 600 to 900 words in your posts (that's just over one page in a Word document) and there are two valuable topic categories to stimulate your writing:

The first topic to write about is proactive objection killers. This is a self-learning exercise that beats any sales training because it creates clarity of message with a narrative that has the power to avoid objections altogether! List the common objections you receive and then adopt the positive counter position. As an example, I have worked with recruitment companies where sales people commonly receive this objection from a hiring manager: “If I met with every head-hunter that wanted my time I’d never get anything done. I’m too busy to meet so just send me a CV if you have a viable candidate.”

I’ve helped recruiters write articles about why investing twenty minutes saves twelve hours and dramatically reduces hiring risk. In this example we take the excuse for not wanting to meet and make it the reason to engage. The seller reviews the LinkedIn profile of the target person and looks for posts or articles that show their values and then adopts this narrative. “It’s because you’re busy that we need to meet. It’s not enough to screen based on skills, qualifications and experience; you must also eliminate anyone early, who is not a cultural fit for because that’s where most of the risk is with a new hire. I define value in the fewer number of CVs I send and I’ll invest the time to understand how you personally define cultural fit to significantly de-risk your hiring process. That’s why I need 20 minutes with you understand how your personally define cultural fit for anyone in your team. Twenty minutes together will save you twelve hours and give you the right result… when can we get together for 20 minutes on Thursday?”

Can you see the transformative approach here? Instead of leading with the ‘product’ of supplying candidates for a role, the seller is leading with why a conversation matters. The reason for a conversation is that the seller can help the buyer Save time and reduce risk; and that’s what is being sold initially… a way for the buyer to save time, reduce risk and assure the culture that have built into their team so they can achieve the necessary results.

In addition to positive proactive objection killers, sellers should develop insights that hook interest with buyers. Again, this is highly valuable sales training as it forces research into the customer’s world. It should be done outside prime selling time and treated as homework in the evenings. What are the trends, risks, disruptive forces, innovations or case studies that potential customers need to know? How are their customers or markets changing? Beyond information, what are the insights or lessons to be learned? What are their biggest risks concerning commoditization or disruption? The people you follow for creating Posts or Updates are the source for these articles you can write and it is not a difficult task to create an article that quotes several experts and then add your own commentary before posing a question of your own audience to create engagement.

Every seller needs to be a capable micro-marketer and I highly recommend David Meerman-Scott’s book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR. If you are serious about creating a stella personal brand and embracing ‘social selling’ (a misnomer really as it is mainly social marketing), you must read David’s book. I studied his advice and then adapted my own within strategies within LinkedIn, and as they changed their algorithm I adapted to continue to drive followers as a publisher.

At one stage, the best way to build followers (audience and connections) was to be highly active in groups, and then it was about writing original long-form blog/article content in Publisher which would occasionally be picked-up by the editors of Pulse Channels and pushed to a larger audience. Then LinkedIn dramatically reduced the notification stream to first degree connections for content creation which created a big hole for many seeking to build following. LinkedIn subsequently decided they needed more engagement in streams of content just like Facebook so individual Posts (previously labelled Updates) became the key to attracting followers. I continued to be active in all channels within LinkedIn buy focused on where I would get the most traction. Within two years I became the most read person on B2B selling within LinkedIn globally and secured my book publishing contract which is how you are reading this.

Let’s anchor what needs to be done up to this point with your brand. You’ve created a professionally attractive profile within LinkedIn and enhanced it by showing insight and value in what you publish. You’ve identified the thought leaders who are relevant to your target market) that you will begin to follow in LinkedIn and Twitter to connect with to ‘curate’ their content and share with your network. You can begin to be a "forager for the tribe", as Michael Hyatt describes it, to be a content hub for relevant quality information about a topic domain or industry. You then have a reason why people should connect with you because you provide insight and value relevant to those in your network.

Beyond first impressions, publishing content is the big differentiator for salespeople as they build strong personal brands. Here are three topic categories to stimulate your writing in the evenings and not in prime selling time:

By changing your LinkedIn profile to be a personal branding microsite, you enhance the way you sell but with no downside for a future career change with potential employers.

Does your LinkedIn profile show why people should invest their time, energy and personal credibility connecting with you?

Here is an excellent summary by LinkedIn covering all the elements for creating the ideal LinkedIn profile.

Please follow my LinkedIn post page for all my articles and visit me at if you are looking for a keynote speaker go to for sales methodologies that generate pipeline and manage complex opportunities. Image from Flickr: Flickr: kris krüg - Sir Richard Branson at WE Day Vancouver 2011

About the author

Tony J. Hughes
Tony J. Hughes

Tony is a co-founder of Sales IQ, committed to elevating professional selling and sales leadership for a Better Business World.

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