A lot has been written about how employers look at a job candidate's Facebook or MySpace page, searching for any potential red flags.
In fact, I was surprised to see some pretty revealing postings on my nephew's Facebook page recently. He's a manager in the IT department of a very well-known online services company. I wondered aloud to him, "If you didn't already have a job, do you think that would cause you problems?"
He didn't answer the question. Oh, well.
I've been using LinkedIn for years. For me it's been a terrific tool, because I can identify sales leads, keep in touch with many hundreds of contacts in my business network and provide introductions to potential employers for some unfortunate folks looking for a job.
With the intent of building their personal brand, I used to recommend that salespeople solicit reference letters from their best customers. The idea was to selectively use those with new prospects, in order to put into words the personal value they have delivered to customers in the past. This approach worked quite well for many of them.
These days, the same thing can be accomplished fairly easily on the Web. In this business environment of commoditization, a sales rep's personal capital can be a very effective differentiator. Think about it: Sales leaders and other executives have biographies on corporate websites. Or they write blogs to convey their commitment to the companies who would buy from them. Those bios project some of the executive's personal capital to the reader.
Since salespeople seek differentiation and credibility at the customer's executive level, why shouldn't they project their connections, experience, uniqueness and value—their personal capital—to their customers also?
How about this? Let's say a sales rep populates his profile on LinkedIn so his prospects could learn about him while they were considering buying from them. I'm not talking about prospects finding them on LinkedIn (just reading their profile to "check them out").
In this scenario, the rep wouldn't want his LinkedIn profile to mirror his resume, as almost all sales reps' profiles do now. If an online resume was the format, it would likely turn a lot of potential customers away. They really don't care how much a sales rep sold, what companies they worked for or how many president's clubs they attended.
Instead of the online resume, our sales rep would build a profile that was customer value-oriented. They would list the names of companies (or profiles of companies, if confidentiality were an issue) to which they had sold their products and services to in the past. The rep's profile would outline specific customer initiatives, projects and accomplishments.
The rep would also get recommendations from people in those accounts who would provide testimonials to the rep's honesty, business savvy, determination and desire to see the customer succeed. Once a rep had developed a LinkedIn profile like that, they would attach the "See My LinkedIn Profile" button to their email signature, inviting customers to click on it (as I do).
When the sales rep—with his new customer value-focused profiles—start connecting to other contacts, these shouldn’t be other sales reps or managers. The rep should strive to build a broad and deep network of customer contacts, leaving their friends and relatives for Facebook.
Our sales rep would now begin to leverage his relationships with customers to help him sell, introducing his best customers and clients to each other. That’s a critical capability for serious rainmakers.
What do you think?
Dave Stein is the author of How Winners Sell and CEO and Founder of ES Research Group (www.ESResearch.com) in West Tisbury, Mass.