Welcome to The Unstoppable CEO Podcast. I’m your host, Steve Gordon, and today we’ve got I think what’s going to be one of our best interviews. This one is going to be all about relationship building, and today I’m talking with Sarah Santacroce. Sarah is an internationally recognized LinkedIn specialist and really an online presence mentor. She’s personally coached over 1,900 entrepreneurs, and she helps them position themselves as experts on LinkedIn so that they get clients with ease.
In addition, Sarah is noted for helping her fellow introverts market their business authentically and anxiety-free and sell their services and make a difference. She’s the host of The Introvert Business Growth Podcast, and you may have heard my interview there, because she’s had me as a guest, and I’m grateful for that. She’s the founder of the Gentle Business Revolution Movement, and I can’t wait to hear all about that. Sarah, welcome to The Unstoppable CEO.
I’m glad to be here. Thanks for having me Steve. It’s nice to be on the other side of the mic.
Yeah, and it’s weird, isn’t it, when you switch roles?
I always have to tell myself wait, I’m not the one asking the questions, but today I am. The first thing that I’d love to learn a little bit more about and I know everybody listening would love to learn a little bit more about is your background. Can you tell us a little bit about what got you to this stage of your career?
Yeah. So I always start with telling the story about me moving from Switzerland to California, because my accent might not give this away but I’m actually born and raised in Switzerland, so that’s always kind of thing where people remember me by like yeah, oh that’s the Swiss girl.
We moved to California in 2006 when my husband said, “I’m kind of done with the rainy summers. Let’s move over there.” So I had to quit my day job here and then after a year of being on the playground with the kids decided to start my own business. It was in the middle of the boom with social media and all, and so that’s what I decided to focus on.
When we moved back to Switzerland in 2010, I made that pivot to really focus in on LinkedIn because by that time, you know, there were quite a bit of social media experts by then, and so I was like well, it’s probably good that I focus on one, and that’s how I then, yeah, chose LinkedIn.
A question that I always get is like why LinkedIn? It’s like the most boring one of the social platform, so why LinkedIn? I only understood like two years ago or so that it has to do with my introversion. I actually really feel comfortable on LinkedIn because I don’t have to share selfies of myself and my family and what I had for dinner and things like that. It can just really focus on business.
Always Be Pivoting
So I’ve been, yeah, doing that work with clients on LinkedIn for quite a while. LinkedIn, as you know, has evolved into something that is no longer just focused on how do I get my next job, but it’s really a platform to get business, to do personal branding, and be recognized as the experts that you are.
Yeah, it really has changed a lot. And that’s one of the things that I appreciated about LinkedIn really from the beginning, was your right, I didn’t have to post what I was having for lunch. I think you and I share that. For me personal stuff is personal and I share it with friends, but I don’t need to share it with the entire world, and I think there’s that pressure to do that on some of the other platforms.
So you started in 2006, and challenging time to begin building a business. Tell us a little bit about that process and what were some of the things that helped you kind of push through as challenges popped up.
Right. I think if I had to summarize my entrepreneurial journey it would be… Like the one word would be pivoting. It was always this going into one direction and… So when I was in the US I was… Kind of my focus was strategy, right? I’m going to help my clients with social media strategy.
Then when we moved back to Switzerland I noticed here they are still in the Ice Age when it comes to using social media for business, and so I had to pivot and focus on training. People had to first learn how to use these tools before they were even thinking about strategy. So I was working a lot more with giving workshops and training and things like that, and then pivot again from social media, like all the different platforms, to only focusing on LinkedIn.
So yeah, it has been a lot of pivoting and adapting to the market, as I think every entrepreneur kind of goes through that journey I guess.
Yeah. I think for all of us there’s the myth that you come up with the idea for the business and you sort of are hard charging and you go out and you build it, and then there’s the reality, which is you come up with the idea and you go out and you put it in front of the people who are going to pay you and they tell you that the idea should be a little bit different than what you thought it should be, so pivot I think is a fantastic word for how to approach that. And so many people get discouraged, you know.
You know, they go out and what they thought the market really needed isn’t what it needed and they don’t find the success that they want, and I think they get really discouraged by that.
The other thing that I see a lot is, you know, people have the idea in their head of this is what I’m going to do. This is the business. This is what the market needs, but then they don’t listen. And I think that’s very astute of you to have kind of recognized that transition as you went back to Switzerland. What was it that landed you on training, because a lot of people wouldn’t have made that shift?
Are You as Introverted as You Think?
Well, it was just really realizing that I couldn’t get any clients for strategy, that they were asking me, “How do I use these tools?” So here I was, you know, wanting to put together this amazing strategy and they were still like at level zero. So that’s when I realized I just have to go out there and train in like company trainings and workshops, but also just public speaking. Like there was a lot of education to be done, and to be honest with you, Steve, it was tiring for this introvert, right, because I had to go like public speaking and do all these events.
Yes, I think that’s definitely what helped me establish the business that I have now, but I’m really glad I don’t have to do that anymore, because now it’s just kind of word-of-mouth business and of course my own LinkedIn outreach.
But it’s what helped me establish the reputation in the first place, so I’m grateful that I had to do this shift and had to go more out there and educate on how these tools are used, because maybe if I didn’t have to do that, then today I wouldn’t have this word-of-mouth business.
You know it’s interesting that you say it took a lot of energy, it was tiring to go out there and… You know, you’re sort of the standard bearer for all the introverts out… Those of us that, you know, probably work better one-on-one than in front of a big crowd.
You know, that had to be a real challenge to sort of put yourself out there in a business model that didn’t necessarily fit your personality, and it sounds like now you’ve completely migrated back to something that is really in alignment with the way you prefer to work.
Exactly. Yeah. And it was… I got used to it and I actually became really good at it. It’s not like… On my own show for… On my own podcast for introverts I notice that there’s 50%… Around 50% of introverts are actually really good at public speaking. They don’t mind it. They go on stage and they kind of step into this different persona and they’re really good. They have this voice and they have this message and passion that they want to share.
The other 50% are like oh, no, that’s not me. I never want to do that. And first I thought that it wasn’t me, but then I realized that if I’m passionate about the topic and if I’m sharing value then I don’t mind. But don’t put me in the spotlight when I’m not prepared. That’s a different story.
But if I go up there and talk about the topic that I really know, then it’s not a big deal. So that was an interesting learning curve for me, to actually realize hey, I can actually do this. So yeah, so it’s just interesting how not every introvert is the same way.
Yeah. It really is. I think that’s important for folks who are listening, because I talk with business owners all the time who… They will describe themselves as being a little bit introverted. They’re not comfortable doing certain types of business development activities, and a lot of times I want to challenge that a little bit, because I think that some of it is just really figuring out what it takes to be prepared to go do that and do it well, and they just aren’t clear on what that is yet. They can go and do it well given the right set of circumstances, and some of these things I think are important.
I want to find out a little bit about the Gentle Business Revolution Movement. We haven’t talked about that before in any of our conversations and I’d like for you to tell us a little bit about what that is.
The Cure for Unhealthy Marketing
Yeah. Yeah. I’m actually still working on it. This weekend I reserved time to write my manifesto, because I think, as you can tell, it’s a revolution, so there needs to be some kind of message with it. The message basically is that I think we need to bring more empathy to kindness to the business world, and especially to the marketing world, because that’s the one I know. I’ve been in this… All my marketing world for over 10 years, and I’m not happy with what I’m seeing.
I’m seeing a lot of anxieties being created with the way we use marketing. By that I mean like, you know, the six/seven-figure hype and using fear as the tools for marketing your programs, fear of missing out.
So it’s just not healthy anymore, how some gurus out there are using marketing, and I think that’s why we need to come up with a paradigm shift where we make marketing healthy again. Like it’s become this thing where we have so much technology that we’ve moved away from the human connection, and I think it’s time that we go back to the human connection.
I talk about that in LinkedIn as well because some of my colleagues or competitors, whatever you want to call them, they’re all about the lead generation machines and how to use these automations and third party tools and how can we get 1,000 leads per day. Well, it’s definitely not my approach, because I’m in the human business and so are you Steve, and I just don’t think that you can really get quality clients if you approached them with this automatized way to generate leads, so that’s what the Gentle Business Revolution is all about, to bring the human touch back into business, back into marketing.
Yeah. I love that. I think it’s so important. You know, a lot of what is shared out there is about how do I get overnight success, and it is such a compelling and tempting offer. You want to believe that it’s possible, and of course there are enough examples, you know, so anyone who is selling that can trot out a few examples of when it worked, but most of the time it’s not so much… I find anyway, it’s not so much about the method that is being used to market, but it’s about how well that business really understands who they’re trying to serve and sell to and how closely what it is that they’re selling matches.
So for example, in your pivot that you described to us, when you moved back to Switzerland you knew who you were selling to, but the thing that you were trying to sell didn’t match what they wanted or needed, and so it didn’t work. The minute you changed that and you matched the two up, now everything works.
A lot of times I think when people are selling the, you know, let’s get 1,000 leads a day with this automated tool and all of this other stuff and you’ll have clients paying you when you sleep, I really think what they ignore there is the fundamental truth that you have to have a really tight match between who you’re selling to and what you’re trying to sell them.
And the judge of that… You’re not the judge of that. The judge of that is the person buying it, right? And so… But it’s so easy for business owners to get distracted.
Yeah. And like you said tempted, right? Tempted to believe these success stories that we’re all being bombarded with. And like you said, these success stories… Yes, they do exist, but out of 1,000 clients maybe there are three or four. It’s just faked to sell us always the ones that work and not show that there is real work behind. Yeah, like getting a reputation takes work. It doesn’t just happen overnight.
Absolutely. Absolutely. I want to take a quick break. I want to come back and I want to dive more into relationship building, but specifically how you approach it on LinkedIn, because your approach is very different than a lot of what folks are seeing out there and I think it’s important that they hear it. So we’ll take a quick break. We’ll be right back with more from Sarah.
Hey everyone, this is Steve Gordon. Welcome back. I’m talking with Sarah Santacroce. Sarah, we left off talking about relationship and the Gentle Business Revolution, and I want to pivot now, to use your word… We’re going to pivot the interview. I want to talk a little bit now about how you’re using LinkedIn to build real and authentic relationships that will support doing business.
Uh-huh (affirmative). Yeah. So let’s… Where should we get started? I think we need to start with the profile, because that’s what most people know LinkedIn for, right? It’s like oh, I have a profile. Okay, but let’s look at this profile.
Does that really represent who you are and what you do and how you can help your client? Because when the person comes to your LinkedIn profile you connect with them. Well, the first thing they’re going to look at is that profile, and that’s really… I often refer to it as a mini-website.
What You’re Doing Wrong With Your LinkedIn Profile
So it’s much more than just this resume or online CV. It’s really where you’re going to be using storytelling techniques to really share with your ideal client… And again this notion of knowing who it is you’re working with is still important here, and that’s what needs to really be shown on the profile, so that your ideal client comes to your profile and immediately they’re like wow, Steve really gets me. He’s been where I was and I need to work with this guy.
So I think a lot of people underestimate the power of the profile itself. I had a look at your profile Steve, and obviously you have done a great job. It really speaks to the reader and you engage with the reader. So I encourage your listeners to go have a look at your profile, because I think you’ve done an amazing job on it.
Thank you. And I’ll tell you, there’s so much out there that will tell you to go down a path that I think over-hypes things and is too kind of Salesforce. It’s not that we don’t want to sell. I mean I love selling just as much as the next person. I like maybe not the process as much as I do closing the sale, but we’ve struggled with that over the years, where I’ve had versions of that profile that I look back and go boy, that wasn’t the best way to do it. So I think it’s an evolution and it’s something you need to keep looking at.
Yeah. And you really need to bring more of yourself to it as well. I see a lot of CEOs making the mistake of using it as your company profile. So it… I come to your profile, yes, because I’m interested in what you have to offer as a service or product, but mostly because I want to know about Steve.
So it’s really… There’s a huge difference between the LinkedIn company page and the LinkedIn profile, which is your profile, so it needs to talk about you as the CEO of your company. It’s a mix of bringing in the I and the we, because if you’re only talking in the we form, then I feel like that there’s this distance and I don’t really feel connected to you, and that’s super important when you want to build relationships, right?
If it’s kind of like this, yeah, this corporation, well there’s not going to be this closeness, where if you’re speaking in the first person and you’re saying that, you know, as the CEO of this and this company our values are blah, blah, blah, our mission is this, so it really… You’re telling the story of you being the CEO of the company.
Yeah. I think that’s a fantastic tip. So once we’ve sort of looked at our profile and gotten that tuned up and really improved, what’s the next thing that we should be thinking about in terms of building relationships?
So the three steps I share with my clients to get clients on LinkedIn or to position yourself as an expert are really… Like we talked about the first one, the profile. Then there are basically two parallel steps.
One is providing interesting, valuable content to your connections. That how you position yourself as the expert and that’s how you get inbound leads, if you want to call them leads, right? Because we’re in this show me era and we’re no longer just tell me.
So now we’re in the tell me on your profile. We covered the tell me. You told me basically that you’re the expert, right? But now I want to actually… I want you to show me, so that’s where the content comes in. So if you’re not engaging and sharing content with your connections, then I can never make my own opinion about you, whether I think you’re an expert or not. So that’s one step, really the content.
The other step is to actually add relevant connections to your LinkedIn network. What I often hear is people saying yeah, but I don’t see any interesting things or content in my newsfeed, like I must have the wrong connections. Yeah, of course if you basically just, you know, have people in your network that are not your ideal clients, well then clearly you’re not going to see interesting content, and your content is not going to be exposed to your ideal clients, so it’s all about adding relevant connections.
You do that several ways. Obviously you can combine offline worlds, so networking events, with the online world, meaning you follow up after a networking event. You invite everybody you met on LinkedIn, always customizing the invitation, so saying, “Hey, it was nice meeting you at this event. Let’s keep in touch.” So that’s one way.
The other way is actually using the LinkedIn database for what it was built for. LinkedIn created this platform for recruiters who were going to use it to find ideal candidates for job position that they need to fill. The way they use it is they enter keywords in order to find matches for those keywords. That’s how recruiters still today use LinkedIn.
Well, it’s the same thing if you’re an entrepreneur, you’re a CEO. You’re going to use keywords in order to find matches to your ideal client descriptions. So you’re going to use… If you’re using the free version you can use the search bar at the top left.
So let’s say if you’re working with HR directors, well you’re going to put in HR director in the search bar at the top left and then LinkedIn will literally spit out a list of profiles that have the title HR director in the title or in the summary or in the experience sections. Then that’s where the relationship building starts.
So rather than just inviting them with a default connection you will have to customize this connection request and send something that… Obviously you’re not going to say hey, can we connect because I want to sell you my services, but something that breaks the ice, something that you see that you have in common, something like I see that we have these common connections. Or it could even be that you like heard them on a podcast, like hint hint.
So find something that you can put into that invitation to connect that starts a conversation because that’s what we want. We want to have conversations on LinkedIn.
Yeah. And I think all good advice. I wish half the people who’ve tried to reach out and connect with me would take your advice and not just send me a connection request that said hey, I’d like to connect with you so I could sell you something, because I do get those. They don’t word it like that, but usually it comes with some kind of a pitch.
Don’t do that if you’re listening. Sarah would not approve.
And Steve would not approve either I think.
No. So this idea of a conversation to me is really interesting. It’s something that I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about and we’ve been doing a lot of testing with, not just on social media, in other places as well.
But I really think these tools provide such a unique opportunity to literally enter into a conversation back and forth. So talk to us a little bit about how you get that going once you’ve made a connection with somebody that might look like a good prospect.
The Right – and Wrong – Way to Speak With People on LinkedIn
Right. So again, you’re not going to go in there with a pitch. You’re just going to, for example, say, “Hey, I’ve come across your profile. I saw that you commented on this and this post. It looks like we have a common interest in this and this topic. Are you open to connect?”
So already when they see that customized invitation there’s a better chance that A, they will connect, they will actually accept your invitation to connect, and B, oftentimes they answer because they’re like oh, this is different. This is not the usual pitch or the usual default invitation to connect.
So that’s where you’re just going to use your common like small talk skills that you would… You know, everything you would also do in a networking event. I’ll give you an example. I connected with someone who lives in Toronto, Canada and my in-laws are over there. I’m like, “Oh, it looks like you’re in Toronto. That’s where my in-laws are.” And then… You know, back and forth.
It really… LinkedIn has done a great job, I think it was about two years ago, where they changed that way the messenger worked. Before they had this really cumbersome way of… It was almost like an email, the messenger box. It was almost like you always had to start from scratch and say dear Steve, blah, blah, blah.
Now it’s more like any of the other messengers we know from Facebook or WhatsApp or whatever messenger, where you can see the conversation, so it’s really just a back and forth, and next thing you know you have established at least the beginning of a conversation.
Then it’s up to you to build it and it’s up to you to make sure that you go and comment on this ideal client’s post when he posts something. Then maybe you want to even go back and send them a private message again, “Hey, really good comment on this and this topic.” So it’s really like you would build a relationship with any other person that you know offline.
Absolutely. And one of the things that I think is even underutilized is this… People want to go too far, you know, so they want to go and sort of get their whole message across in like one message.
You get like these paragraph messages, right, and you go I don’t even have time to read that. But one of the keys as we’ve experimented with this, that we found this just by asking a very simple and easy to answer question. Getting that back and forth going, because there’s a momentum to a conversation I think. If you can get a few exchanges going back and forth it’s… If your ultimate goal is to say take that conversation off of LinkedIn, where you can have a little bit stronger relationship maybe by either talking on the phone, once you’ve had a little bit of back and forth, and it doesn’t take weeks of that, you know, three or four exchanges, it’s easy to say, “Hey, you know, would you be open to connecting by phone? This is really interesting, but it’s kind of cumbersome to go back and forth here.”
People are open to that and they’ll take 10 or 15 minutes, and now you’ve advanced it to the next level. And I think a lot of times people want to jump too far too fast instead of taking these little incremental steps in a relationship.
That is such an important point I think, and I would have definitely… That would have been my next thing to say, is like yeah, you always want to take it off LinkedIn. That is your ultimate goal. But if you go in there and immediately say, “Hey, nice to connect with you. I would love to jump on a call to get to know you,” well that might work with some people who are rather new to LinkedIn or don’t have a lot of business or don’t have a lot… Like I could never just jump on a call with everybody that I just connected with on LinkedIn.
However, if you’re taking it slow and there’s like this, like you said, momentum building it’s another thing, because you’re actually investing into a relationship rather than just going why does he want to do… Like I’m sure he wants to sell me something if he just wants to jump on a call right after we connected.
Of course. Right. So as you’re coaching your clients through this what are some of the ways that you kind of help them understand when is the right time to try and take it off LinkedIn in, and how do you find doing that and what’s the best way to approach it?
As I said, I think it’s… There’s no… Like I don’t how to share this recipe where it’s like okay, after three exchanges you can take it offline, because I think we intuitively know when it’s time, and the less rules we actually put out there the more natural it’s going to feel and the less… Yeah, the person will feel like you’re selling or you’re trying to sell.
I don’t have a recipe. I used to actually Steve, to be honest with you, I used to, and I just found that that’s not working. Maybe it’s just not working for me and my clients because, you know, a lot of us are introverts, so there’s a higher… I don’t know, but the filter is somehow higher where we feel like we’re being sold to.
So I noticed if I just let go of that recipe of three exchanges and then you can ask to get on a call it just start started to work much better, to just let it go and see how many exchanges.
And the other thing I would say is the one thing that is different about LinkedIn from Facebook or any of the other platforms is the sales cycle by default is shorter because we are all in a business mindset. So if there is an interest from the other person they will actually say, “Yes, of course I want to get on a call with you.”
So it is much shorter, the sales cycle, because we’re not just here to have a good time, or like on Facebook just find friends, where everything is mixed in on Facebook, right, friends, family, et cetera. We are all on LinkedIn for business, so if there’s an interest the jump to the Zoom call or phone call is much faster than anywhere else.
Yeah. I can imagine that it is. So as folks are beginning to think about doing some of this, I can think already there are two objections that are going to come up, and you’ve probably heard them before. So the first would be well it seems like this would take a lot of time. The second I think would be maybe at a higher level, you know, don’t I need thousands of connections and all of these people to make this work?
So I’m interested to hear your thoughts on both of those, and I’m sure you’ve heard them before.
Yeah. Yes, it does take time, but everything that’s worth it takes time. So I basically would tell people who are not willing to invest the time in building relationships that A, I’m the wrong person for them, and B, if they have seen results with cold calling or cold emailing then maybe just stick with that.
But a lot of times these people come to me. They don’t see any results with those techniques, and so it’s like, you know, there’s no fast tracking building a reputation or relationships, so that would be the first answer.
And the second answer… I forgot the question. Can you repeat it?
Yeah. So I think, you know, a lot of people have this perception that they need thousands and thousands of connections to make all of this work for them, which obviously takes even more time to maintain all that and to get the connections and to communicate with them all.
Right. Yeah. So it depends. Of course if you’re like a life coach or, I don’t know, a jewelry maker or someone who is basically selling these really small packages for like 100 bucks per hour or something like that, then yes, you would need thousands and thousands of clients to fill your pipeline.
I don’t do my best work with those type of clients because it takes a lot of time, and so a return on investment needs to be worth it. So usually my clients, you know, they charge much bigger amounts. So if you’re talking about $50,000/$60,000/$70,000 per mandate, well then are you willing to, you know, spend a couple of minutes per day, maybe 10 or 15 minutes per day, to build these relationships? Well, it’s a different story, right? So LinkedIn, it does take time and it’s definitely not for everyone I’d say.
Well, you know, I think that’s well put, is that for those of us who are selling services at a high price compared to the size of the opportunity that you have, it is a very efficient way to build these relationships, and if you’ve got a process and a system it doesn’t have to take hours and hours every week to be able to do this. So, Sarah-
I want to just correct the numbers, because I was saying $50,000 for a mandate. For me, as long as you can charge $3,000 per new client, then it starts to be worth it, so that’s kind of where I make the cut. It’s like if you can charge a $3,000 package, or maybe it’s a retainer, the overall return on the client is $3,000, then it’s worth investing some time into that relationship.
Absolutely, and compared to the other ways that you’re going to attract that client… Everything costs.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
No matter how you do it, it costs something. It’s either going to cost you time, which is valuable, or it’s going to cost you money. Getting in front of clients, no matter how you do it, has got a-
But that’s the thing, right? That’s why we need this marketing paradigm shift, is people want the fast route. They always want fast results. Oh, it’s okay. I’ll pay for the fast results, but I just want clients now. So I think we just need to go back to basics and understand that if you want a sustainable business, one that survives not just tomorrow but for the next 10/20 years, well then relationships is the only way.
Absolutely. I would imagine you get clients who have tried a lot of those fast… You know, fast success methods and didn’t find success with them and then they kind of come to you and say, “Look, I need something different.”
They do, but those are the ones who are actually hard to convince.
Are they really?
Because they’re like, “What do you mean? Really? Can’t I just pay for it?” I’ll say, “Well, you can go to my colleagues, my competitors. They have this automated system and maybe that works for you.” But usually those are not the ones I do my best work with.
Yeah. Understood. Well, Sarah, this has been a lot of fun and a fascinating conversation. Tell everyone who’s listening how they can find out more about you and what you’re doing.
Yeah. They can go to my website, sarahsantacroce.com. You’ll put the link in the show notes because my last name is always hard to figure out. Otherwise, just connect with me on LinkedIn, sending me a customized invitation. I love to connect there.
Absolutely. And I recommend anybody listening if you’re using LinkedIn at all or want to use LinkedIn, definitely go and learn from Sarah. She’s got great information and a great approach to this. And check out her podcast, Introvert Biz Growth. It’s a great podcast and lots of interesting guests, and I’m humbled that I was one of them.
So Sarah, great to connect with you again. Thanks for being a guest on The Unstoppable CEO Podcast.
Thanks so much. I loved our conversation Steve.