If you want to scale your business fast, you need to be the preferred option in the marketplace. Many successful businesses became what they are today thanks to this strategy. But how do you go about differentiating yourself, especially in the current digital marketplace? In this episode, Ben Baker brings on Monte Clark, who is widely considered as one of the foremost thinkers and marketing strategists on LinkedIn. Monte drops vital tips on how you can digitally set yourself apart and shares the secret to unlocking LinkedIn. Want to know more? Tune in and come out better equipped to differentiate yourself digitally.
Welcome back to another episode. Thank you, for joining me once again and being such a great audience. If you love the show, subscribe, share it, join on any of your platforms, whatever you like to do. I love hearing your comments and I love having you part of my audience. I have Monte Clark on the show. Monte and I are buds through LinkedIn. We have enormous long conversations of diatribes over LinkedIn and I had to have him on the show. We're going to talk about differentiating yourself in a digital marketplace. Monte, as a CMO, as a Chief Marketing Officer, as someone who sits there and helps companies communicate, let's get into this. Welcome to the show.
I appreciate you having me on, Ben. It's a pleasure. I look forward to coming on your show for a long time. Thanks for having me.
I always love our conversations. We always go back and forth and I always learn something from you. I'm hoping that our audience will as well. Let's take a couple minutes and delve into where did you come from? What got you here? What are you passionate about? Let's get into this conversation about digital differentiation because it's an important one.
My background is I started as a graphic designer. My trade was design. I quickly realized though that what I enjoyed more than the design aspect was the strategy aspect of it, and helping people communicate and get a message out. I started as a freelance designer, then quickly evolved into doing marketing for various small companies on a freelance basis. As my career has gone on, I’ve been fortunate to be owner in a number of companies, as well as a partner in some different things, and then worked as a CMO for a number of companies.Treat LinkedIn like it’s a live networking event. Click To Tweet
It's been a good journey, but in May of 2019, I decided I'm going to pick up my LinkedIn account that I had, but haven't used forever like many people. I'm going to invest in it. I want to see what LinkedIn is all about, how I can make the program work for myself, and then see if I can make it work for other people. Since then, I have been on the platform every day for hours every single day and probably spent too much time on the platform. The platform is all about relationships. We talk about building brands in the B2B space. That's what it's all about. It's been this journey of figuring out how can I create my trust, expertise and authority on a platform that I can then extend into other platforms and other mediums?
There's a lot there. There's so much history. There are a lot of things to think about. One thing that brings to mind, I see it all day every day and I want your opinion on it, what's the one thing you see people are doing wrong on LinkedIn? There's a lot of things we can talk about people doing right. I want to start off by if you had to pick one thing that you see over and over again on LinkedIn that people don't do right, what would it be?
They do not treat LinkedIn like it's a live networking event. That’s the number one thing. When people get on the platform, it's almost like when you're driving your car. You feel like it's your own little space. Nobody else around sees you. You can do whatever you want in your car. You can act however you want and be mad. That’s why we have road rage and all this other stuff, because it's almost like this enclosed little bubble, but people are watching and interacting with you.
LinkedIn is even more so. The first thing that I preach on LinkedIn is treated like it's a live networking event. If you do that, then you're going to approach the platform a lot differently. You're not going to message every new contact that you have with the sales pitch right out of the gate. You're going to get out and look at people's profiles. You're going to find ways that you can interact with them. It becomes more about the person that you're talking to, more than it is yourself.
When I go to a live networking event like you when you go to any of these events, you don't stand in the corner and watch. You might at the beginning until you get used to the ground. Ultimately, if you're going to be successful at a live networking event, you have to engage. You walk around. You figure out the types of people that you want to engage with. You might look at people's titles on their shirts, from their name tags or whatever. You have to strike up a conversation. If you walk up to that person and you strike up the conversation, and the first thing you do is say, “I have this product or I have a service. Do you want to buy it?” They will not have a conversation with you.
It's called being pitch slapped.
Nobody likes it. When you're at networking events, it's all about the other person, “Tell me about what you do. Tell me about your background. Why did you get into this? How did you get into this?” We talk to people in that way. When we finish it, we're asking them, “Tell me about yourself.” That happens very little on LinkedIn, and because that happens very little on LinkedIn, there's almost the stigma around messaging people. It's almost like having repetitive ads show up in your feed all the time. You start seeing it over and over that you get sick of seeing it was. When people start messaging you, you automatically have this assumption that the first thing I'm going to see is a pitch. I’ve even had situations with some people where they've come right out and said, “I'll connect with you as long as you don't pitch me anything.”
I’ve heard that many times. It’s like people already have their hackles up because they'd been pitch slapped many times so hard by many people. They're going, "The next person, all they're going to do is try to sell me. That's all they're going to try to do.”
The bottom line is every single person that's on LinkedIn is selling something. You're either selling yourself if you want to get a job. You're selling yourself to whoever it is that you want to get a job with. If you're selling a product, you're still selling yourself. If you have a job and you're not looking for a job, you're still selling yourself. Everybody that you engage in is a relationship. Every relationship is an opportunity. Everything you do on LinkedIn involves a sales process. Whether you're actively selling or passively selling, you're still selling. We don't have to be so caught up in whether or not you're going to give me a pitch.
What if my pitch was, “I'd like to give you $1 million?” You told me I couldn't pitch you, but I wouldn't go about doing it that way anyway. Going back to this relationship-building process and using it as a live networking event, my interest is first getting to know you. Once I get to know you and I understand through a series of questions that you have a problem that I can solve, then we might have the conversation, but I might not want to do any business with you. It's all relationships. The secret to unlocking LinkedIn and making it successful is how quickly can you develop those relationships, and how easily can you lead them into an opportunity without pitching.
I find the best relationships that I have online are the relationships that I’ve taken offline. The more that we can talk, understand, listen and value each other, the better off it's going to be. You're absolutely right. People are missing that humane touch on social media. They think it's all about me, “Look at me, look how wonderful I am. Look at the selfie I took. Look at the house I live in. Look at successful I am. Look at how amazing I am.”
If we turn that around and we make it about the people that we're curious about, and get to engage with people, the better it would be. My question to you is, what's the best way to teach somebody how to make that shift? People come into the platform and they treat all social media platforms the same. They say, “I was on Tiktok. LinkedIn is going to feel the same way. Facebook and Twitter are going to be the same way.” I act exactly the same in all these different platforms. When you move to one or the other, what might work in one place certainly isn't going to work in another. How do you get people to understand the differences between the platforms, and how do we engage in a meaningful way based on the platform that you're on?
To me, Instagram, Tiktok, Twitter are not relationship platforms. They are media platforms. You go there to consume media. Facebook is a relationship platform, but a relationship platform with you. It's more of a personal platform and because of their algorithm change and how they go about doing it, they almost have restricted your ability to build relationships. Facebook has become more of a group-centric platform of which they do a phenomenal job. I will definitely commend them for that, and wish that LinkedIn would follow suit. LinkedIn, however, is purely a relationship-based platform that comes along with content. There are over 700 million users on LinkedIn. Of that, it's traditionally been said that less than 1% produce content for the platform. If you take a look at that, if you take that 1%, how much is that? How much of that 1% are what we would consider professional content producers? It's maybe 1% of that 1%.
I have no idea, but it definitely is a small number.
It's a very small number. You can come to LinkedIn for a specific type of content all driven around your niche. It’s the difference with LinkedIn. You can search hashtags and people's titles. You can search groups and start getting involved with the type of content that you want to be involved with. How you start to make that shift is not necessarily by posting yourself, but by getting involved with the people who are active on the platform, producing content within your niche, and engaging them in their content. You then start to develop these repetitive relationships that as you show up day after day, and you are engaging a select amount of people, you start to establish what some people call your tribe.
Those are people that will engage age you on an ongoing basis. You're establishing relationships. As you begin to understand how to develop relationships through your engagement, that then follow suit within how you direct message people. Your mindset is how can I engage and give back to this person through the comments that I'm going to put on their content? By the way, when you're putting comments on people's content, it becomes content. Be thoughtful in how you're engaging people because other people that are coming to that post reading that content are also reading your comments. There's a larger opportunity there for you then to engage people who engage you within your content or who liked that post and are also involved with it. Following suit within the direct messaging, when you connect with people, it's not just saying thanks for the connection.
When you go out to somebody's posts, it's not saying, “Thanks for the post.” It's, “How can I serve you today? Tell me about yourself. Tell me an area in which you need some help with and let's investigate whether or not I can bring value to you.” You do that in commenting. You do that in engaging people's content. You do that in direct messaging. The two go hand in hand. The better you get at it, the more quickly you're able to start developing relationships. It's never about you, but it always ends up being about you the more you make it about the other person.If you're going to be successful at a live networking event, you have to engage; it's all about the other person. Click To Tweet
With that in mind, it's how people connect. It's interesting how people connect because I don't know about you, I get hundreds of people on a weekly basis that hit the connect key. All they do is hit the connect key. You have no idea who they are, what they do, who they're connected to, what posts they read of yours, what they found valuable, why they're connecting in any way, shape or form, but they hit the connect key. They assume as soon as they hit the connect key that you're going to connect with them. That's not necessarily the case. I probably deny as many connection requests as I take, if not more.
The reason for that, first of all, is if you didn't take the time when you hit connect, and you can do this whether you're within the app or on the desktop to write a small message. “I saw this post that you wrote. I found this interesting. I'd like to connect with you because of this.” Now there's a basis to start a conversation. Why do you think that people are so lazy that they hit the connect key? Is it the fact that they don't know any better or is it the fact that everybody else does it to them, so they think that it's okay to do it to you?
There's a number of answers to that, but let's go back to the live networking event if you walked into a room full of people with a stack of business cards. You walked around and you stuck your card in people's hands and walked away and said nothing. You write and you flip the card down. How many people are going to contact you back from that? None. A lot of the times, people don't understand the platform and don't understand what you do. There is a fault in LinkedIn because sometimes you can hit the connect button thinking you're going to be able to add a message and it shoots on to connect.
That's the problem with their mobile app. You have to go down and you have to look for where it says, “Connect with comment,” or whatever it is.
You have to know a little bit about the functionality of the platform and make sure that you do that. There's also a problem with automation. A lot of people are using automation very poorly. I'm not one that is absolutely dead set against automation. I never use it. The problem is it's like writing content. Most people don't use it right. If you don't use a technology correctly, it's going to be negative. You have to be careful about how you use automation and who you accept as a resource for that automation because you can get yourself kicked off the platform quickly too. Anybody that's reading, be careful about getting sucked into that. I would say for the most part, it is laziness. They don't take the time to look at somebody's profile and see how I can engage them through a conversation, even if it's a simple sentence.
There are a ton of people out there who are simply going for numbers and it's a connection game for them. It's, “How many people can I get connected with?” There's been a popular term out on LinkedIn called the LION, LinkedIn Open Networker. Those are people that will connect with anyone for any reason. I want more connections. You're only given 30,000 connections, which is a ton. Nobody needs 30,000 connections, but if you're on the platform for a specific reason, I recommend you do like what you do, which is be very focused on who you want to connect with and why.
Have it be more about the value that you feel like you can offer them more than they can offer you. You will then develop what I consider to be a very high-quality network that's going to open you up to a lot of opportunities, whether or not you're trying to find a job or selling a service or a product. The more focused you are and the more diligent you are in building a high net worth network, not from a dollar standpoint, but ultimately it would be a dollar standpoint, but being focused on your target market and who you're going to have value to, the more quickly you're going to find success on the platform.
Let's talk about numbers because you're right. There are many people out there that are like, “I’ve got 5,000 members. I’ve got 8,000 connections. I’ve got 15,000 connections. I can't connect with you because I'm up to 30,000 connections. I'm going to have to let somebody else go so I can have you as a connection.” It's that humble brag type thing. I'm sitting there going, “There are connections and there are connections.” There are connections because you're valuable to them, and they're valuable to you. They're going to share your information. Their network is valuable to you. The people that are going to see their posts and their engagements with you are people that might be connections as well.
There are people out there who could never buy what you have to sell. They can never afford what you have to sell. They will never connect with you on anything. They want to have you as a connection because they're looking to raise their numbers. What are your thoughts on all of this? I hear 100 different viewpoints. Some says, “Connect with everybody because you never know who they're connected to.” I want to hear your thoughts on that.
Personally, I don't think anybody is going to recommend me to anybody without a relationship with me first. That defeats that argument that you never know who somebody is connected to and everything else. Connect with everyone or form relationships with everyone. You can't form relationships with everyone. That's impossible. It's like going into Walmart and you are a Mercedes-Benz salesperson. You go into Walmart looking for customers to buy Mercedes-Benz. There are hundreds of people in Walmart, maybe 1, 2, and this is not saying anything towards the type of people that shop at Walmart or anything, other than it's a discount store. You don't see a lot of people going into Walmart striking up conversations in hopes that they might know somebody who would want to drive a Mercedes Benz.
Why treat LinkedIn any different? Why wouldn't I be more focused on spending my time going out and understanding my customer? One of the first primary problems that most people have is they don't understand who their target market is. Therefore, they shotgun it or they don't understand their business enough to say, “This is the specific problem or group of problems that I can solve for this specific person. I'm going to go find that person and see if I can solve that problem for them.” They say, “I can solve problems for everybody. I'm in marketing. I solve problems for everybody.” I don't. I solve problems for very specific people. I solve them in very specific ways.
If I'm out there and I'm looking for that specific person, and I spend five hours a day going out looking at profiles, investigating, trying to establish and develop relationships with those people. At the end of the week, I have connected with five people that I know that I can do business with, I will put that up against your 500 that you have no idea whether you can do business with them or not, or maybe 5,000. I'll guarantee you, Ben, I have already had in that week five very solid connections and very solid discussions with those five people. Your 500 or 5,000 that you've connected with or had follow, you probably haven't had much of any connection, comment or engagement with that person at all.
The beautiful thing about LinkedIn is if you're willing to take the time and make the effort, there is an enormous amount of information on companies, on individuals, on groups sitting at your fingertips. You don't even have to get a paid sales navigator membership in order to be able to sit there and say, “What are they interested in? What are they passionate about? Are they golfers? Are they tennis players? Do they like to go yachting on Sunday? What different groups are they part of? Who are the type of people that they're connected to?”
All of this information is sitting at your fingertips for free. Ninety-nine percent of the people on LinkedIn or any other social media platform never take the time to sit there going, “That person's interesting.” Before I sit there and write them a note, I'll go there and say, “Let's find out a little bit more about them. Let's find out about the last three companies that they work with. Wait a second here. They're in a company for eight months on average. Maybe there's something a little flaky about this person, and they're going from job to job. Maybe they're not somebody that's going to be around long enough for me to be able to build a relationship with.”
There are lots of different hints that we can look at based on looking at people's profiles. My question to you is, why are people not taking the time to build deep relationships instead of these feeling that they need to waive their Visa card around and say, “Who wants to buy?” Why would people not look at it and sit there and say, “If I’ve got 200 strong relationships, I'm good?” Why is there this ego bait that the numbers got to be huge?
It’s because we live in a microwave society, in my opinion. Everybody wants it now. Not only does everybody want it now, but they want it to be easy. “I don't want to invest that amount of work. I’ve got other things to do. I’ve got a full series of Netflix that I need to guzzle over the weekend. I don't want to spend time going out and investing, getting people on LinkedIn.” I’ve worked with a lot of people and 90% of the clients that I work with, when I say, “If I could fill your cup today, how many people can you possibly work with yourself or your company?” From down to the person, it's usually ten or less.
I was about to say, it's probably somewhere between 8 and 10.
Every single person that I work with probably has ten people that they already know and already have had relationships with, that they could either go and get some form of work or contract with now, or could talk to that person that could put them in touch with the person that could possibly do that. Our circles are small is the point. When you're talking about LinkedIn, if you only need ten people, why do you have to talk to 100,000? If it takes you 100,000 people to get that ten, you're your own business. You don't have a good product or you don't have a good service. Figure out what your product and what your service is, and then invest the time into the people that you can solve that problem for and you're going to be much more successful.
Forget about the numbers game on LinkedIn. It simply doesn't matter. It doesn't matter how many views you get to your posts. It doesn't matter how many hundreds of thousands of followers you've achieved in the last six months. I get so weary of seeing posts from the next guru on LinkedIn who puts up their SHIELD analytics, showing that I got 1.1 million views on my content last year. So what? It's vanity, it's ego. Honestly, any single person on this platform can do it. If everybody can do it, then what's the value of it?Every relationship is an opportunity. Click To Tweet
There's a ton of noise out there. We both agree to it. There are all sorts of noise out there. There's everybody saying, “Me too. Look at me. Look how wonderful I am.” Here's my last question for you. How would you differentiate yourself? If you were talking to your 18 or 21-year-old self getting onto LinkedIn, trying to set your own boundaries, create your own tribe, how would you go about starting this all over again to make sure that you're attracting the right people in the right way that saw the value in what you did and wanted to communicate with you?
I would first start with hashtags. I would select 2 to 3 hashtags in my industry.
Explain the hashtag, in case anybody doesn't know what they are.
You find hashtags on pretty much all social platforms. It's the number sign and a word. It can be a phrase or whatever and it is what LinkedIn uses to search content types. #Marketing technically should come up with a bunch of marketing posts, #TipOfTheDay is going to come up with all kinds of how-tos and help type content for that day. The more you dig into hashtags, the more evolved and the more niched they become. There's almost a hashtag for literally anything. Any niche out there, there are hashtags within your industry. Start looking for hashtags. Once you accept one or once you follow one, LinkedIn will recommend other hashtags around that as well. You can very quickly build up a number of hashtags that would be important to you or a value to you.
Start there and look at the feed. Take a week with no engagement, nothing at all. Scroll through the feed and find out who keeps showing up. Who's there on a daily basis? On a daily basis, you're going to find people who are posting fairly regularly. Maybe daily. Of those people, you want to start engaging those posts. Take the next week, only engage people that you see show up on a daily basis from the previous week. Click on the name, go to their profile, go to their activity section on their profile, and then on their posts. You can see who is posting daily. Choose ten people that are posting daily. Save a bookmark of those people on your browser. Now all you have to do is pull up their link that goes directly to their posts so you can see their next post of the day.
Engage those ten people every day for 1 or 2 weeks. Don't reach out to them, don't connect with them or anything. Simply engage their posts. If you see other people on there that are commenting fairly regularly, engage those people as well on their posts on those ten people. At the end of a couple of weeks of doing that, if they haven't reached out and connected with you already, go connect with those ten people. They will connect with you. Anybody that you have been engaging the comments of from those posts as well, go reach out to them. Try and connect with those people. They will likely connect with you if you've been commenting on their comments. Now you've established your foundational tribe. Those are people that as you engage, once you now start producing content, will likely come engage you.
As they come and engage you, now you are using LinkedIn to build a following and to build your tribe. You add to it one by one. The more people you engage, the more people will come engage you. Continue to add them on your bookmarks to your browser and engage. The more people you engage, the more people are going to come to engage you. The secret to all of that is your content. Ultimately, you absolutely have to have engageable content. It can't be broadcasting information that people can't engage with. That's a whole other show. If you want to build up and start building a following quickly, that's the recipe.
Let's put it this way. That's building up a tribe of people that are valuable to you and you are valuable to them because first of all, you’re following hashtags that you're all interested in. You're all talking about the same thing and you're all interested in the same thing to begin with. That's the key. It's getting rid of the shotgun approach and hitting the sniper button. Monte, this has been absolutely wonderful. I'm going to make sure everybody can connect with you. Is there a URL for people to get in touch with you directly?
MonteClark.com, but right now on my profile, I only have the follow button. If you want to connect with me, hit the more button and connect. Send me a message and we'll make it happen.
One last question then I'm going to let you go because this is something I ask everybody. As you leave a meeting and you get in your car and you drive away, what's the one thing you want people to think about you when you're not in the room?
I want people to think, “That guy was an exceptional listener and was in tune with what I was trying to convey to him.”
Listening is a lost form of art that we all need to get better at.
The more I listen, the more I hear, the more I can help.
With that, thank you for your time.
It was a pleasure. Thanks for having me on, Ben.
It’s my pleasure.
Monte Clark is a public speaker, author, and founder of relevant, a social marketing and sales company. Monte is widely considered one of the foremost thinkers and strategists of marketing on Linkedin.
He has owned four other companies including a marketing, real estate, and e-commerce company. He was Vice President of Marketing for Quality Group of Companies in Kansas City before starting relevant. Monte is a fractional CMO for three companies including his role with Astron Aerospace.
Monte coaches business owners and executives across the globe on how to unify their marketing and sales teams through brand message and personal brand development. Monte is the host of multiple business podcasts and was a founding board member of the Christian Community Foundation of Kansas City.
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