Imagine turning up first thing on a Monday morning for a meeting with a major potential client. This is a deal you really, really want to win. You’re keen to make a great impression. You’re spruced up in a new suit. You’ve spent hours rehearsing your presentation. You’ve even practised your handshake. You’re nervous, but you’re feeling confident. You can nail this.
And then you walk in the door and you realise, with a horrible sinking feeling, that you’ve seen this person before. You have a hazy recollection of tequila shots and “ironic” dancing and slurring your words. And then, just as you’re praying you’re mistaken, they tilt their head and say, “Hey, weren’t you in that bar on Saturday night?”
Would there be any start to an important meeting more mortifying than that?
And yet, this is the kind of risk so many of us take every day – just by having so much of their lives open and available and uncensored online. By leaving their reputations and the way they are perceived by others up to chance.
What do your clients find when they search your name?
What’s the first thing that comes up in Google? Your LinkedIn profile? Your Facebook? A website or blog? An interview or news report?
Because these days, you can practically guarantee your clients are doing a little sleuthing on you before they commit to a major purchase or contract. And since the web makes no separation between your personal and professional image, it’s essential that you come across online, consistently, in your best, most professional light – the version of you want your clients to see.
That means it’s time to start building your personal brand.
In the past this was a lot easier. Your clients based what they thought of you on the image you project during meetings, and on word-of-mouth recommendations from mutual contacts. Now that they can research you for themselves, you no longer have that luxury. You have to make sure that you’re putting your best face forward, even when you’re not there to put it forward yourself.
Let’s start with the basics.
The bare minimum for anyone who takes their career seriously is to ensure that there’s nothing publicly available online that reflects badly on them, and that their professional networks are all complete and up-to-date. But a salesperson with real ambition will need to go a lot further than that.
Obviously you need to adapt the way you present yourself to your sector and potential client base, but that doesn’t mean contriving your entire personality. The way you communicate online should reflect the way you communicate in person. There’s only so long you can “fake” your voice – and even if you could keep it up, it’s hardly the best approach to selling. Authenticity and passion are far more convincing. Focus on honing your unique voice and sales style, drawing on your strengths, instead of impersonating someone else or trying to paper over your perceived weaknesses.
Note down how you’d like to be perceived.
What adjectives would you ideally want your customers to use to describe you? Insightful? Reliable? Trustworthy? Creative? Reassuring? A great listener? Once you know what traits you most want to project, you can use these terms to assess your online messaging and your pitches to clients. It will help you to focus on what’s important and keep on perfecting your personal brand.
Think about what would really swing things from your client’s perspective.
Not just what would make them trust you, per se, but more broadly, what information they need to support your business case. It’s not enough to demonstrate that you’re a qualified sales agent. At the end of the day, why does your client care? They’re looking to buy from you, not hire you. If you’re smart, you’ll find ways to keep demonstrating why you’re an expert in the thing you sell – i.e. an expert in your client’s sector, not in your own.
They need to trust you as an authoritative voice on the problems they want to solve, not on how to sell. Boasting online about sales prowess isn’t necessarily what your clients want to hear; they want to know that you can help match them up with the best products and services for their business, not that you’re great at persuading them to buy stuff. Think carefully about who you’re trying to impress – and how.
That means really, really understanding what you sell and how it relates to your clients’ areas of interest. It means appreciating, on a deep level, what pain points your clients are grappling with.
What does that involve in practice?
Follow the key influencers in the sector on Twitter. Read the publications your clients read. Join the LinkedIn Groups they join. Download the industry reports, whitepapers and eBooks that are aimed at their industry. Look for the nuggets of information, the statistics, the case studies that relate to your products and solutions. Tweet, post, tag, start discussions. Curate interesting news reports and items. Think of it like this: wherever your potential customers go online to talk about their industry, and to seek out insights and information, you want your name to be there.
Post to your social media platforms regularly.
The point is to be a strong, recognisable voice – and a consistent, reliable source of information. Firing out a tweet every now and again won’t have any impact whatsoever. Neither will an occasional LinkedIn update. To establish your personal brand, you need to figure out your voice, style and overarching message – and then you need to treat your output with the same strategic approach you would if you were running a company’s marketing campaign.
Draw up a social media and content calendar.
Decide what kind of messages or content you’ll post, the day of the week and the time. Make it regular, and stick to it. Using a scheduling tool like Hootsuite helps you fire out the same messages across multiple platforms at a particular time and keep track of mentions and interactions across all of them. Don’t forget to reply to comments, retweet interesting ideas and thank people for engaging with your content.
The more depth of expertise you can demonstrate, the better.
Keeping a blog, writing posts on LinkedIn or articles on Medium will all help you to get noticed and attract a following.
As you start to build a following, you could also think about setting up a regular podcast, webinar or video series, interviewing key figures in your sector. Not just because it helps to position yourself alongside other influencers, but because it gives you a fantastic excuse to call up the kind of people you want to sell to, build a rapport with them and start a conversation that could help lead to a long and lucrative business relationship.
Consistency is essential.
No matter where your potential clients come across your messaging, they should be able to immediately recognise your voice – and your visual style.
Simple things like using the same (or similar style) photographs and colour scheme across all your social media platforms makes a big difference. More importantly, make sure you stay on message, and maintain the same tone across all your output. Changing style of direction too much will confuse your audience and undermine your brand.
Networking is everything.
Your web of contacts and followers is the sum of your influence – and your value as a salesperson. Keep nurturing those relationships and building more connections. Don’t get complacent. At the end of the day, your network is the core and the strength of your personal brand.