How LinkedIn Plans to Strengthen Relationships in the Age of Virtual Selling

Sales Navigator's quarterly update includes more detail about online communications

Relationships between buyers and sellers are more important than ever. Getty Images
Headshot of David Cohen

Key Insights:

Industries throughout the world shifted to virtual selling due to the coronavirus pandemic in their second quarters. Now, as stay-at-home orders persist, those teams are relying more than ever on the relationships they’ve fostered to continue to do business.

Networking company LinkedIn has tried to capitalize on that momentum.

New features to its LinkedIn Sales Navigator emphasize relationship building, and though there are specific challenges for each buyer, “they need to feel confident that you understand their challenges and goals,” the tool’s head of product Lindsey Edwards said in a blog post.

“In the end, you aren’t necessarily selling a product or service: You’re selling a trusted relationship, and the person at the center of that relationship is the buyer,” Edwards said.

LinkedIn Sales Navigator will now include more detailed information about online communications, including sent and received messages and attachments through InMail, sent Smart Links (which lets Sales Navigator users easily share content within their workflow) and received connection requests.

LinkedIn Sales Navigator now includes more detailed information about Smart Links.LinkedIn

Craig Rosenberg, chief analyst at Gartner-owned Topo, which provides research on the world’s fastest-growing business-to-business companies, told Adweek that sales teams need to “change the way we engage, change the way we message, build real relationships and do this all virtually.”

“Salespeople have viewed themselves as sellers of product instead of as partners,” Rosenberg said. “The ability to be relevant and timely, even when you haven’t spoken to that person, is everything right now. The relationship starts any time you deliver any kind of touch to them.”

Trust was ranked by 35% of decision-makers as the most important factor in closing a deal, even over other benchmarks such as return on investment or price, according to The LinkedIn State of Sales Report 2020.

That could come down to asking simple questions, posed Anita Nielsen, president of sales enablement consultancy LDK Advisory Services, that could give a salesperson insight into not just the company, but also the human being, such as, “Are they worried that they’re going to lose their job? Are they trying to get a promotion?”

“When you ask those questions, engage with the customer, be a good listener and follow through, you create trust. Those are building blocks for trust,” she said.

Similarly, 59% of decision-makers believe an organization’s thought leadership is a more trustworthy basis for gauging the relationship than information such as marketing materials and product sheets.

“I don’t like to fit buyers into templates,” Nielsen said. “We coach salespeople to do things the right way, buyer-first.”

The professional network found that those decision-makers choose to work with sales professionals whom they perceive as:

  • Well-informed about their industry (91%)
  • Consultative (91%)
  • Trusted advisers (88%)
  • Essential partners (66%)

“Sales is a game of information exchange,” Nielsen said. “The old slimy, sneaky salesperson historically held all of the power, because buyers were solely reliant upon what that sales professional told them. Here we are in a world where you can research the heck out of anything. There is very little information you cannot go get about a company on the web. Salespeople can continue to try to sell in a way where their knowledge is important, or turn things around and think about what’s valuable to the buyer.” David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.