Eighteen years ago, Zoran Katic started his sales career with classic cold calling. Today, as owner and managing director of Pluspulso GmbH, he still focuses on acquiring new B2B customers, but his strategy has changed. Instead of using "push marketing" to make cold calls, he now prefers "pull marketing." Katic combines new communication channels like LinkedIn with the personal relationship-building of traditional sales. In this expert interview with snapADDY CEO Jochen Seelig, he shares with us how he implements these strategies for his company and what he recommends to his customers.
Interview with the expert
From cold calling to Social Selling
Jochen Seelig: Zoran, tell us about your background – what do you do today and how did you get here?
Zoran Katic: For years, I was just an employee and well-known in the company as the "telephone man" because I made classic cold calls. Then, when the business platform OpenBC – now Xing – came on the market, I noticed that there were many promising contacts. So, I started contacting potential customers on the platform. This is how B2B new customer acquisition started for me, which is now known as Social Selling. After many years as an employee, I freelanced as an agency to generate leads and set up appointments for other companies. At some point, I incorporated LinkedIn, and even as late as 2017, I was getting responses faster there than on Xing. By now, most of the action is happening on LinkedIn. Over time, companies approached me and said that as soon as I was gone, the leads were gone as well. So I changed my focus and instead of offering new customer acquisition services, I now offer training on Social Selling.
What is Social Selling?
Seelig: The term Social Selling is used a lot these days. There are always online sessions on the subject that are superficial and don't clearly explain what it means. How would you describe the term "Social Selling" and, how would you contrast it with other sales strategies?
Katic: You're right, there is now a lot of labeling with this term. I and many other people prefer "Modern Selling." This term fits better to the great strategic communication component. Since my background is in sales, my focus is on customer acquisition. After 15 years in this field, I can conclude: It's all about contact with potential customers without focusing on a direct conversion.In other words, I establish contact before people have a problem or need my services. This way, when the time comes, they already know me and my work. When I do Social Selling regularly and with many people, contacts that already know me and, in the best case, even like me, get in touch with me. Anyone who has long-standing contacts knows that it's a whole different sales experience when you know each other beforehand. So, building visibility and relationship help to get deals easier.
Seelig: In my experience, people can get to know me and snapADDY well through Social Selling without the classic sales approach. In a certain position, you get more frequent network requests and immediately a typical sales message. That's exactly what you shouldn't do, right?
Katic: I have to admit, I did this kind of acquisition myself – also successfully – for years. It was also more agreeable to just write to the people and not to call them anymore. At some point, however, this changed and is now used so frequently that we are mainly annoyed by such inquiries. So the goal with Social Selling is to get in touch differently and prepare the groundwork so that people are open to interacting.
LinkedIn Sales Navigator
Seelig: Due to the canceled trade shows, I know of a few companies that have now purchased LinkedIn Sales Navigator licenses by hoping that the sales team will now digitally generate leads, win customers and make sales via LinkedIn. I also know from a few companies that
were disappointed because it didn't work very well. What's your opinion on companies buying Sales Navigator licenses for their sales department? What can you recommend?
Katic: Sales Navigator is a premium license from LinkedIn that gives you helpful sales features like better research or lead storage. I also observe that companies often buy these licenses as a quick solution, but they do not use them. The reason is that people do not understand exactly what to do with it. The tool helps to get in touch with customers digitally – better, faster, and more effectively. However, this also requires a strategy: who do I want to address and what are the interests of my potential customers? In other words, Sales Navigator is used as an analysis tool, which I also think is very good. However, in the end, nothing has changed at all for the customers because they continue to receive sales inquiries, only as InMail (function of Sales Navigator to reach all members without introduction or contact information) instead of as a personal message. Sales Navigator should instead be brought into a process and not just seen as a shortcut.
Seelig: You can identify the right contacts very well with Sales Navigator thanks to the filter option, but the InMails also tend to go unanswered – in my experience. So I should rather observe how active someone is and how I can get in touch – via a post or other activities.
Katic: Depending on the license, I already have a lot of possibilities with Sales Navigator – up to person-level information, which is very exciting. However, the mistake is often using these tools but then trying to close the deal directly when the customers are not even ready. Nowadays, customers control the sales process and want to decide when to contact a salesperson. This is a very important conclusion for the sales department – not to always approach customers proactively, but to pave the way for inquiries and to let the customer decide on the timing.
Seelig: At some point, of course, the deal has to be closed, but at the right time.
Katic: We used to meet customers and prospects twice a year at trade shows, for example, but today we have the opportunity to get in touch with them on a weekly – if not daily – basis via social networks. We can also see what they're interested in through their likes on articles or on our posts. We should use this to target customers with a relevant message. For example, we can follow up on recent activities of the contact and write: "I saw that you are currently interested in the topic XY. Maybe I can help you with it. Are you open to a conversation about it?". That's different than writing directly, "We are XY company and offer XY. When would you like to hear from us about this?"
Practical tip: Trade fair preparation on LinkedIn
Seelig: Let's stay right on the topic of starting conversations and give a practical tip. There are more face-to-face trade shows planned for the summer. How can I specifically use LinkedIn to prepare for a trade show in sales?
Katic: Many companies make phone calls and send emails before a trade show. I can enhance this very effectively on the social network channels. Many don't like to commit over the phone; instead, you can create a LinkedIn event, for example. There, customers and prospects can be invited virtually, and thus one can enter into communication with them by teasing content. The event can and should be advertised. Communication in advance is the build-up of tension until the physical trade fair happens. A trade show may last three days, but customers are reachable 365 days via social media. The time after memories of a trade show fade is increasing. You should be prepared for this by using snapADDY VisitReport, for example, to scan business cards at the trade fair with the integrated business card scanner – the snapADDY CardScanner – and contact the captured customers afterward. In addition, it makes sense to stay visible to the relevant people through general content such as postings.
Seelig: After all, everything in sales is about getting the attention of prospects and decision-makers. In the future, no more cold calling and no more email campaigns, but only Social Selling is not the right way either. Instead, it should be a mix of all these components.
Katic: That's right. Getting attention for appointments or advertising is becoming increasingly difficult – this is also shown by several B2B surveys. Many underestimate the issue because in the past you were at a trade fair once and then remembered for a long time. Today your appearance is quickly forgotten again due to a large number of impressions. Advertising is one option to attract attention, but Social Selling through employees is another way.
Seelig: Decision-makers usually receive a lot of information every day. That means I also have to find a suitable channel depending on who I'm talking to. There are also decision-makers who cannot be reached at all via LinkedIn. I need to call them instead, for example. However, there are also legal restrictions on contacting them, it is not always easy for a company. Social Selling is a nice extension for more visibility, and in the context of what is possible. You just have to be careful not to slip too much into "push marketing" or active acquisition.
Katic: Exactly, as you say, Social Selling is about expanding your toolbox. It's easy to see that dwell time on LinkedIn is increasing significantly. Since the app is often still installed on the smartphone, contacts are reached quite quickly and easily. Therefore, you should also use this for yourself.
Seelig: That's right, you just have to see who you can best meet and where. Also, I think you can get creative with a different way of addressing people. Yesterday I had an inspiring experience when I received an email from another software company. They confirmed our online meeting and attached a coffee coupon as a goodie, so I can start the meeting relaxed. I had never heard of that before, and it already makes me look forward to our meeting.
Katic: That's true! There's a lot of automation these days, and I don't want to denigrate the sector at all. Nevertheless, you can see that deliberate personal contact – as in your example – makes all the difference. A video message is also a nice way for personal contact that conveys "I see you and pay attention to you," which tends to fall by the wayside in the current information overload. The face-to-face level is an important aspect, especially for products that require explanation. 80% of lead generation can be automated, but for successful sales, 20% should still take place on a personal level.
Social Selling for first-time users
Seelig: What tips do you have for companies that are not yet active on Xing or LinkedIn?
Katic: There is no one solution for everyone – it depends on the company culture or what the target market and market size look like. In general, a platform like LinkedIn thrives on exchange. This means that I need people on the social medium. In the best case, there are different people active there – with a mix of professional, but also personal appearance. I should consider which people in my company are motivated and predestined to go into the exchange and the market. This can be someone from sales, product management, or pre-sales. The important thing is that people like to talk and interact in front of and with the customer. Also, there shouldn't be a rigid approach to making contact; it's all about the personalities. If you're worried as a company that something won't go the way you want without guidelines, it makes sense to train employees, of course. I've been working with companies that have done Social Selling for years and like to give employees leeway to be successful. Companies like to select employees for Social Selling based on who has access to a potential market or customer. In my experience, however, the most important thing is that people are intrinsically motivated and want to make things happen. This sometimes goes beyond the core working hours. So it makes sense to select people specifically and to observe what develops over a longer time. There is no one program, but it is better to train a few as pioneers, who then also act as guides and role models for the others. Another important point to mention: Management often does not understand that activities on LinkedIn are a seminal and strategic sales activity. So, besides the training for the employees, management's rethinking is also required.
Seelig: I definitely agree with you there. I'm not a complete beginner, but your Bootcamp gave me some helpful impulses to define a strategy. Furthermore, I wasn't aware of a few ways to participate in conversations, for example, even though I'm not even networked with people yet. So there are still a few hidden issues on LinkedIn that can help but need to be brought to your attention. I would say the Social Seelig has caught on with me because I enjoy sales in general and the focus is just on connecting people. It's not about trying to talk someone into something.
Katic: I can only agree with that.
Seelig: Thank you very much for your time, Zoran. For those who would like to exchange ideas with you, the best way to contact you is direct via LinkedIn.
We thank Zoran Katic for his tips and tricks on modern sales and Social Selling.
The interview was recorded on February 9, 2022, and is available (in German) here.