Let me start by saying that LinkedIn is the best place to win new customers for your business in 2013, bar none. Why? First of all, almost everyone you want to sell to is there. Over 12m people in the UK are members and nearly 90 per cent of budget holders in FTSE100 companies have LinkedIn profiles.
We recently conducted some bespoke research to examine how senior professionals use LinkedIn for strategic networking and business development. Our survey revealed that that only six per cent of those questioned never accept LinkedIn invitations from people they don’t already know, and that nearly one-fifth accept every LinkedIn invitation they receive.
Whilst the indiscriminate nature of this second group may raise some eyebrows, it’s interesting to note that a much larger number – 76 per cent of those questioned – are happy to accept LinkedIn invitations from people they don’t know – as long as they look ‘relevant and/or useful’. In other words, this more discerning group is ignoring the spammers and time-wasters, so if they decide to connect with you, it means that they’ve seen something that they think is interesting.
As networking opportunities go, LinkedIn is unique in that it asks you to categorise the way you know someone right from the outset. When you want to get connected with people you’d like to know, don’t be tempted to say ‘friend’ or ‘colleague’ if it’s not true – that will just irritate people.
If you share Groups with the people you want to get to know, you can select ‘Groups’ as the reason for acknowledgement – if not, perhaps consider joining the same Groups as your prospects. Alternatively, you’ll need to select ‘other’ and then input their email address – Google should help you find a suitable email format.
In any case, when you want to connect with a new prospect, one key point to highlight is that you must make sure you don’t send the default LinkedIn invitation message. It’s bland. In fact, it’s almost rude. If you don’t know the recipient well (or at all), you’ll have to send them a tailored invite to connect. It is important that you look relevant and useful to that person, as that will make them much more likely to connect with you.
‘Content is currency’
This is where the right content can help you to seal the deal. We believe that ‘content is currency’ on LinkedIn and that you can use strong content to create goodwill with your target market. You need to remember that people use LinkedIn to enhance their professional knowledge – and you have plenty of knowledge that your prospects want. However, you’ll need to package it in a way that’s useful – and offer it for free. In our experience, this magnanimous approach to information sharing is a sure-fire way of generating calls and meetings very quickly.
Choosing what content to share shouldn’t be very difficult, since most of your prospects on LinkedIn tell you exactly what they’re interested in – just look at their profiles. What does their career history tell you about them? What companies and influencers are they following? What are their outside-work interests? What Groups have they joined?
Groups are often totally useless as communities, yet some of them can be absolutely brilliant, so you’ll need to evaluate them on a case-by-case basis to determine their worth. A lot of people don’t realise that you can send a free direct message to anyone you share a Group with, which is a superb way of connecting with the key prospects that you’d like to meet.
Search and you shall find
Whilst tips and tricks like these can be very helpful, it’s important not to be tempted to do everything that LinkedIn allows you to do, as this scattergun approach will actually make you much less effective. Instead, we’d recommend that you find all your prospects using LinkedIn’s advanced search function, which is available on the free LinkedIn account.
With LinkedIn’s advance search function, you can find all your prospects based on specific criteria including name, location, employer and job title. Boolean strings (AND/NOT/OR) can help you refine your searches even further (“marketing director” OR “head of marketing”, and “head of finance” NOT director). However, you’ll need to be aware that that some people list their ‘industry’ as their job function. For example, a marketing manager in an insurance company may list ‘insurance’ or ‘marketing and advertising’ as his or her ‘industry’. Likewise, if you search using a postcode, you won’t find people who have listed their location as ‘United Kingdom’, so you may need to try different variations on the advanced LinkedIn search in order to find everyone you’re looking for.
The bottom line is that businesses in all areas of industry are using LinkedIn to create new opportunities right now. As I mentioned earlier, ‘content is currency’ on LinkedIn, so sharing useful items at your status update and LinkedIn Groups is a great first step and much advised. You also want to make sure that you are easily visible to your target audience, so join the LinkedIn Groups that your prospects are most likely to be interested in, and then share your most useful research, white papers, thought leadership articles and insights on a regular basis.
Once you whet their appetite with this kind of collateral, we’ve found that people will want to know more. As a result, they’ll reach out to make contact – and that’s when you can start lots of conversations with some very interesting prospects.
Adam Gordon is Managing Director of Connecting Corporates, which helps professionals connect online for business development, recruitment and strategic networking.
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