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Originally published by Darrell Amy on LinkedIn Pulse.

Since the dawn of time sales people have possessed one critical skill: they are able to drive conversations. As we step into the bold new world of social selling, nothing changes. Until you start a conversation with someone, nothing happens.

The Art of Social Conversation

In face-to-face encounters sales reps look for any way to start a conversation. Sometimes the topics are business-related. Other times they are more personal.

Whether you are talking about a business or a personal topic, the art of conversation requires that you bring something interesting to the conversation. For example, if you’re talking to a prospect about last weekend’s football game, you want to do more than talk about the score. You want to talk about something interesting about the team, the coach, the players, or the school. In the same way, if you’re driving conversation about a business topic, you also need to make it interesting by relating it to their business or telling a story about another company that has experienced a similar problem.

Yet most sales reps have turned their LinkedIn feeds into anything but social. Look at most sales reps’ LinkedIn profile and you’ll find very little things that spark conversation. Instead, you mainly find re-posts of articles, pictures, and graphics. It’s like reporting the score of a football game and not drawing the person into conversation. It is not engaging. It is noise.

If you want to drive conversation, you need to have something interesting to say.

Say Something Interesting, Please!

Reposting someone else’s content without adding your opinion is like reporting that the Dallas Cowboys lost to the Eagles by three touchdowns. Everybody knows that. (Sorry, we desperately need Tony Romo back.) What makes a conversation interesting is your opinion.

You could talk about:

  • WHY the Cowboys lost
  • WHO is responsible
  • WHAT they need to do
  • WHEN they are going to make a change, and/or
  • HOW they are going to do it.

What drives conversation is your take on the idea. This is true in face-to-face conversation. It’s also true in social conversation.

Following are a few ideas that can be helpful as you seek to drive conversations on LinkedIn.

1. Resist the Blank Repost

These days my LinkedIn news stream is littered with blank re-posts of articles. People share articles without giving their opinion. It’s like they didn’t even skim over the article, let alone read it, before they posted it.

Yes, you may have found an interesting article. But turn this into an opportunity to drive conversation by sharing your opinion:

  • Did you agree?
  • Did you disagree?
  • Did the article prompt a new idea?
  • How do the ideas in this article relate to your area of specialty.

Today when you repost an article, take 30 seconds to write down what prompted you to repost it. (Hint: It needs to go beyond saying, “Great article.”)

2. Write Something New

The business world craves new ideas. The most successful people are the ones who bring new ideas to the table.

As a sales person you meet with business leaders all week long. You discuss problems and solutions. In the face-to-face sales world, you live in the world of ideas.

Why not take 30 minutes every week and write down some of those ideas. Create a long post in LinkedIn. Add something valuable to the world. When you do this, you position yourself as an expert and you begin to drive conversation online.

Stuck for ideas to write about? Think back to your meetings over this past week:

  • What problems do your prospects have? How can you solve them?
  • What themes are you noticing in the business world?
  • What did you read this week that sparked a thought?

Take the time to write a LinkedIn long post on LinkedIn Pulse. Not only will this show up on your profile, everyone you are connected to gets a notification that you have posted a new article.  You get top of mind awareness while setting yourself up to drive conversation.

Pay attention to the comments that come in below the article. You’ll find all kinds of opportunities to connect with new people and start new dialog that can lead to sales appointments.

3. Comment on Other People’s Posts

Rather than just reflexively re-sharing an article that someone posted, instead, why not simply comment on the article that they posted. Add your opinion. Share an insight.

These comments show up in the person’s notifications. Many times this can ignite a conversation about the topic in the article. Remember, online conversations can turn to offline conversations which can turn into sales.

A Few Rules

Here are a few rules that apply equally to face-to-face and online conversation:

  1. Have something useful to say. Bring relevant ideas to the table.
  2. Don’t be offensive. 
  3. Be authentic. Don’t just comment on something to comment on it.

(I’m confident there are more rules–feel free to add yours to the comments box below this article.)

In Conclusion

Here’s the bottom line. If you become the person littering other people’s LinkedIn feeds with nothing more than clever sayings and thoughtless reposts, you will get tuned out. It’s no different than what we’ve always done in person. You have to bring your opinion or you’re not interesting and therefore, no one will give you attention.

When you bring new ideas, you stand out. You spark thought. This sparks conversation. This begins to build trust. This leads to in-person meetings. All of this results in sales.

(Disclaimer: The author of this article may or may not be guilty of some or all of the above practices. But he is committed to changing…)