While developing relationships online isn’t all that different from doing so face to face, there are some important nuances that separate the two. When you lose the personal touch of a live meeting, you have to take extra care to ensure that your messaging is on point, that your overtures are well thought out, and that you’re offering value and expertise to everyone you encounter. In this post, we’ve highlighted some pro tips from our friends at Winning by Design to help you successfully develop strong relationships with prospects online.

Approaching a prospect you’ve never met

When you want to start an online conversation with someone you’ve never met before, LinkedIn is often your best bet. Of course, when you message someone on LinkedIn, it’s important to remember that it’s not a sales platform. It’s for connecting with professionals and sharing useful information, so start your outreach with that context in mind. 

Rather than dive right into your sales pitch, show your prospects what you know about them and what led you to connect with them in the first place. In a world where generic messages stand out like a sore thumb and often get ignored, take the time to really personalize yours. Practically speaking, that means making your opening relevant, offering some sort of reward that will make them want to talk to you, and then requesting more information. 

Finally, make sure not to request a meeting. Instead, to help start a productive conversation online, ask them if they have any other priorities that you can help them with.

Using online research to better understand prospects

One of the most valuable things you can do is research the person you are going to be speaking with. On LinkedIn, start with the company description so you can quickly get to the crux of what the company does. Pay close attention, looking for any insights you can glean into the language they use on the page, how they speak to their clients, and even how they view the world.

Then look at the individual’s posts, activity, experience, and how they interact with others. LinkedIn has a wealth of information that’s ready to be mined and turned into valuable insights. To help, try using Crystal Knows for LinkedIn. It’s an extension on Chrome and an incredible tool that curates information based on what your prospect has posted, the language she uses, and her interactions with others. These personality insights will help you have deeper, more meaningful conversations.

Making inroads and forging connections

Executives may not want to talk to salespeople, but they often do want to talk to experts. So, to persuade them to have a conversation with you, you have to prove that you know what you’re talking about. The best way to do that is by developing highly personalized messaging based on research.

Take some time to dig into public documents and read the company’s blog and news announcements to see what initiatives they’re working on and to get a sense of how they might be spending money this year. Insights like these can go a long way toward crafting compelling and relevant messages that demonstrate your expertise.

Be clear about why you’re reaching out and tie that back to what you’ve been able to learn about their situation and pain points. Focus on the value proposition you’re offering as it pertains to their specific context. Then, mention the one thing that you think will have the biggest impact on their current situation based on what you already know about them. 

Getting to the right stakeholders

The ultimate goal is to get to that all-important stakeholder meeting as quickly as possible, which is where you’ll be able to distill their priorities down, build consensus, and have the most meaningful conversation. 

Since decisions are increasingly made by committee, you need to build out the decision-making process and take into account how many different stakeholders will be part of any meetings. It’s crucial to identify who needs to be involved from a time-based perspective, rather than a hierarchical one. Remember, you’re trying to build engagement over time and working to maintain the momentum, so it’s a marathon, not a sprint. But once you know who’s making the decisions, what the criteria is, and how the decision-makers prioritize what’s important, you’ll be well on your way.

Final thoughts

You might not be meeting prospects face to face right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t build strong, mutually beneficial relationships with them online. As long as you do your research and show you’re an expert who has a great value proposition for them that meets their specific needs, you’ll be well positioned to take each relationship to the next level.