“You know.  You all know exactly who I am.  Say my name.”

-Walter White, Breaking Bad

A while back, I did a personal branding and promotion training seminar for our sales team. The ideas was simple – boost their prospecting efforts by expanding their online presence. Included in the list of technologies were Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, and Bing. I spent the first 15 minutes of the seminar telling them that they could expand their presence by completing their online profiles. And in doing so they could improve their prospecting efforts.

However, their reluctance was so strong I could feel it.

One member of the team mumbled, “Great! More passwords I have to remember.”

Someone else said, “How important is this?  Is it really going to make a difference?”

A third asked, “What’s my motivation?  What’s the value proposition with this stuff?”

When you’re discussing ideas to advance your team, it’s disheartening to hear them ask, “Do I really need to do this?”

In fact, I started to feel like I was making a sales call!

Questions About Online Prospecting Reveals Pre-existing Attitudes

So I started treating the session like a sales call, and began asking questions to get their buy in first.  I said to the group, “Let’s back up for a moment. What is it that we promote in our sales communication classes about first impressions?”

The answers came back quickly:

“You never have a second opportunity to make a good first impression.”

“It only takes a few seconds to make a first impression.”

“First impressions last the longest.”

“OK. So, we all agreed that making a good impression is vitally important.  The first impression will make a lasting impact on our potential customer throughout the sales cycle and beyond.”

“Now, here’s another question for you.  What do we teach our people to do when they are prospecting?”

More answers:

“Do your research.”

“Read their web page”

“Run a web search on the company.”

“Run a search on my contact’s name.”

“Excellent.  So, when we are talking about qualifying your prospects, you do as much research as necessary.  And the bigger the deal under discussion, the more research on the prospect you do.”

“So, when you are teaching your participants, what do you tell them about relationships?”

“Relationships are an important component of the sales process.”

“Trust increases as the relationship gets stronger.”

“Sales become easier as the relationship develops.”

“So, we all agree that a strong relationship is an essential component of the sales process.  I think we can also agree that the internet has changed the way we communicate, network and develop our relationships.  It has become more social. We now share more information with potential customers and use it to develop our relationships.”

Your Prospect Is Searching  For Your Name Online

I then asked them, “Since relationships involve two parties sharing information, do you think your prospect is curious about you? Do you think they are searching for information about you on the web?”

This question prompted some puzzled looks.

“Why would they do that?  I’m just the sales rep.” was one response.

However, most sales reps in the room couldn’t fathom that their prospect would do any research on them.  [inlinetweet]I think sometimes, as sales reps, we are so focused on the providing a solution that we forget our prospects see us as a part of the proposed solution[/inlinetweet].

I continued, “Here’s what we have to remember. The internet allows us to share more information about ourselves than was possible 10 years ago.  But if you aren’t managing your personal branding on the web, you’re telling your prospects, ‘I want to know everything about you but you don’t need to know anything relevant about me.’  You’re not interested in developing a relationship, you’re spying. Your prospect wants to building a relationship, something that you said is essential for the sales process. So wouldn’t you expect your prospect to look you up on the web as well?”

Then I asked the question that got their attention. “So if your prospect searching the web on your name to develop that relationship, what kind of goodies are they finding?”

Starting Point For Your Personal Branding Strategy – Search Position

Prior to our training session, most of the sales team had never performed a search for their name.  I said, “Go ahead and run a search on the name you use to introduce yourself to your prospect. And keep in mind what you just told me about relationships and first impressions.”

One sales rep searched his name on Google and was shocked. He discovered a very ugly, nude bodybuilder taking the top five results on the first page.  I said, “Somebody’s personal branding strategy is working – sure isn’t yours!

Another sales rep ran the search and discovered that he shared his name with a convicted murderer on death row. Articles about the convicted murderer dominated the top positions.  My sales rep didn’t show up until the third page.

His comment was “Oh, c’mon!  Anyone who types in my name is going to know that isn’t me.”

“You know what? I agree with you.” I said. “The guy dominating the first page looks a little taller than you.  And he’s better looking, too!”

“But consider this.  The average user typically doesn’t click past the first page. Rarely will they click to the second page.  And if they can’t find you in the first two pages, what is the all-important first impression they are left with? That you didn’t take time to take control of your personal brand?  That the nude bodybuilder is more internet savvy than the person they are trying to do business with?

In today’s environment, companies do their due diligence online. They use more online references and resources to make purchasing decisions. Don’t you think it would be a good idea to at least show up to the party?

7 Ideas to Begin Maximizing Your Personal Branding Strategy

After I finished scaring everyone, we had a lively discussion on a variety of tactics they could use to improve their digital profiles.  Here are 7 tactics we discussed during our training session that you can turn into immediate wins:

Personal Branding Idea 1 – Buy Your Domain Name.

Places like GoDaddy.com, Bluehost.com, and Dreamhost.com will let you search for and purchase your own domain name.  And they have the facilities to do web hosting when you decide to building your website. The name that you use to introduce yourself to your prospects and clients should be the name to use for your domain name.  You can use domain names like YourName.biz, YourName.org, YourName.info, YourName.name or YourName.us.  However, the ‘.com’ domain is still the most recognizable and popular.  So, if you can get YourName.com, grab it. Point of clarification here. In place of ‘YourName’, be sure to use your name. Just making sure.

Personal Branding Idea 2 – Start Your Blog.

Starting a blog is a good way to start promoting your ideas, your capabilities and solutions.  It’s also a great way to showcase some of what you’ve done for some of your other clients.  And it’s a great alternative to creating and maintaining a website.  While starting a blog may seem like a daunting task, services like WordPress and Google’s Blogger make setup a snap.  From there, the toughest part will be writing content for it on a regular basis.  However, if you are looking for a way to establish your expertise, generate leads, and develop a following, this is it. If you tie this with previous idea, you will give your site a chance at higher placement in the results pages.  Which means your prospects won’t have to search the search results pages to find you.

Personal Branding Idea 3 – Modify Your Linkedin Profile.

I get LinkedIn connection requests all the time from a variety of people. I’m surprised to find that there are still URI profiles containing random letters and numbers.  LinkedIn has made it extremely simple to modify the profile URI to have more structure, for example, www.linkedin.com/in/larryprevost as opposed to www.linkedin.com/pub/larry-prevost/3/98/a65.  All the profile information is available for Google to index. So LinkedIn also plays an important part in getting your name to place prominently in the search-engine results pages (SERPs).

There are some other ways to modify your profile and impact your placement on the SERPs for certain keywords. But changing that URI is a simple modification you can make immediately. I created a reference document for my  sales team so that they could modify their profiles. But people outside of our organization have used it as well. Give it a review and if you haven’t done so yet, modify your profile to reflect your name. You can find it here.

Personal Branding Idea 4 – Update your Twitter Profile.

Like LinkedIn, the Twitter database is open for Google indexing.  This means that all your tweets and your profile information are available for the world’s most powerful search engine to crawl. And if Google can find your tweets and your profile, then so can your prospects.  You can increase your presence in the Google index, as well as Bing and Yahoo!, by making your profile reflect your brand name.

Now, your “Username” can’t have any spaces in it. Like Linkedin, it’s one string of characters. However, one of the mistakes that most people make is to leave their “Profile Name” the same as their “Username”.  Separate your “Profile Name” into “FirstName” and “LastName”. This will increase your ability to be found through the Twitter search engine and in Google’s index.

You also want your profile to reflect creativity, but be professional. If you have a Twitter “Username” like @superbadmarketer or @redhotsalesassociate, now would be a good time to change it. Create an account like @FirstNameLastname, or a slight variation, and begin controlling your brand.  Then in your account setup, modify your “Profile Name” to be “FirstName” “LastName” and increase your visibility across the web.

Personal Branding Idea 5 – Modify your Facebook profile.

I haven’t had time to fully integrate Facebook into my online laboratory yet.  However, that doesn’t mean I’m gonna miss the opportunity to claim my identity on the 2 billion-user Facebook Nation. Back on June 13, 2009, Facebook started allowing its members to personalize their Facebook URI. This made it easier for users to guide their friends to their profile. And the major search engines have signed a deal with Facebook, making this information available for them to index.

If you currently have a Facebook account, simply go to www.facebook.com/username and follow the instructions for modifying your Facebook URI.  Again, I would recommend setting your “Username” profile to “FirstNameLastName” to keep your branding efforts consistent across platforms.

Personal Branding Idea 6 – Create a Google profile.

You may be one of those people who unfortunately have a name like ‘John Smith’ or ‘John Adams’.  There’s nothing wrong with these names, but they do belong to historical figures.  As a result,  searches on these names will generate a plethora of historical references, pushing you out of the first result page.  You can remedy this effect somewhat by creating a Google Profile. If you have a Google account or are running Gmail, then setting up a profile is a snap.  Simply go to www.Google.com/profiles and get started.  If you don’t have a Google account yet, the system will ask you if you want to create one. Review this article on Techcrunch to get an idea of the benefits of setting up a Google profile: techcrunch.com/2009/04/21/google-profiles-finally-have-a-big-purpose-appearing-in-google-search-queries/

Personal Branding Idea 7 – Leaving comments on other blogs.

This is another great way to highlight your expertise.  However, if not done correctly, you can come across as a spammer.  And being labeled as a spammer is not the expertise you want associated with your name.  Blog owners take a lot of time and pride in their creations.  They really don’t appreciate blatant product pitches, or empty comments like, “Hey. I really like your blog. You can find my stuff at www.buy-my-stuff.com”.

However, they do like to give their readers additional value on their subject matter.  If you can provide valuable new insight on a topic, a blogger will happily post your comments.  And to add credibility to the comment, the blogger will want to reveal the author and their profile. This means your name will be displayed on their site and possibly a link back to your site. So leave relevant and valuable comments and you will start getting noticed.

Personal Branding Leverages Basic Sales Principles

One of the principles we base our sales process on is to focus on our prospect’s challenges, not on us. However, you need to recognize that your prospect wants to do business with a person. They want to know as much as possible about you before entering into a business relationship. Promote your personal brand and make it easy for them to find supporting information. Enhance your online profiles so that your leads and prospects can get to know you before you make the call. That way, when you do make contact, they will be talking with a trusted advisor and not an unknown sales rep.

With the tools and media at our disposal, sales reps have many opportunities to capture leads and turn them into prospects.  Do we still need to send out email, sales letters, and make cold calls?  Yes, we do need to continue to use those methods.  But, we also need to embrace the latest technologies. Otherwise we risk being supplanted by the new sales reps who are willing to break with established tradition and explore the full power of everything available today.

Now get out there and start controlling your personal brand.

Good Selling!

-Larry Prevost