The Sales 2.0 revolution – spawned by innovative Internet-based technology solutions that support sales activities – is constantly creating powerful new tools to help sales professionals become more successful. One of the simplest and most effective of these tools is LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com). LinkedIn is an online networking hub where users create a profile of themselves, including professional portfolio, employment history, educational background, etc. Users are then able to link themselves to other contacts by sending and receiving invitations to be connected to the networks of other users. Once you are linked to a new user, you become a part of their network, which makes it easier to connect to their LinkedIn networks, too.
The basic account is free, but for a reasonable fee you can upgrade to premium accounts that allow you to access more and deeper levels of information within the networks you are connected to, send special “InMails” to help you get noticed, and leverage the network connections you have to get introduced to important contacts that aren’t in your network. These are just a few of the ways that LinkedIn provides you with the opportunity to drastically expand your own network of potential contacts and customers.
LinkedIn has been around long enough now that most sales professionals have either created a LinkedIn profile or at least received an invitation from an associate to join their network. However, the vast majority of sales professionals seem content to just have an account and connect with a few customers and associates. Most have yet to appreciate or take advantage of the full potential that LinkedIn offers to help drive business.
Here are some tips to help you leverage LinkedIn to grow your business:
LinkedIn enables you to search the site by title and industry to find the best contacts at those customer organizations that are in your High Potential Target zone. You can also search by title and company name for specific target customers. In addition to this, customers can also use LinkedIn to search for partners like you who are in your line of business, so be sure your profile is complete and up to date and contains the appropriate keywords for your business.
Qualify Prospects: Sending InMails via LinkedIn is a great way to qualify interest. Rather than cold calling into an organization, where you are likely to be put on hold and passed around the organization without ever getting to speak with the right person, InMail allows you to directly target people who are most likely to know about the company’s current needs and business challenges that are related to the capabilities of your company. Some InMail users report a three out of ten response to InMail requests.
Once you have identified prospects, LinkedIn can help you generate a list of people within the organization to be contacted to discuss your value proposition. By spending just a little time on LinkedIn looking at the contacts they have, and who their contacts know, you can then ask for introductions to the people at the target account that you really want to speak with. This method usually helps smooth the way to a warmer reception and a longer conversation.
Quickly Build Rapport – LinkedIn provides you with important information about the people you want to connect with, including things like where they went to college, their major, their past career experience and positions held, and their personal interests and unique expertise. You can leverage those interests and connections in the rapport/trust building phase of the relationship. Also, once you are aware of how they got to their current position, how long they’ve been in that position, and what their job responsibilities are at their current company, you can leverage that knowledge to help understand that person’s role in the organization and his/her role in the final decision-making process.
Link to “Power Networkers:” Power networkers are individuals with over 10,000 connections. They are also known as “open networkers.” Once you are connected with a power networker, you are able to gain visibility into their network. Connect with a few of these highly connected people and see how it affects your Network Statistics (found under the Contacts section on LinkedIn’s top menu bar). After you’ve made a few connections, you can use LinkedIn’s search features to find a specific title or role at one of your target accounts. You will see many more names than you did before. A great place to start building connections with power networkers is to join the LinkedIn groups that attract these users. A few groups to get you started include: LION500.com, 500+, OpenNetworker.com and TopLinked.com. Leveraging Power Networkers can often slice months off of your sales cycle by helping you identify and reach out to key people you might not identify any other way.
Solution Research and Delivery
LinkedIn is brimming with people who are more than happy to share their insights and experiences with others, which makes it one of the richest repositories of business expertise on the planet. When you are looking for ideas or partners, LinkedIn expedites the process of helping you identify and start conversations with others. This is done by creating and joining Discussion Groups and posting questions about critical business issues. The response from other users in the group is usually immediate and very robust. This is an especially valuable feature for small businesses that may be not only looking for solutions ideas but solution partners who can help them deliver extra value to their customers.
Deepening Relationships with Customers and Professional Contacts
When you establish a beneficial relationship with a customer or colleague, send them an invitation to connect on LinkedIn so that you can help each other in the future with referrals. There is no better way to deepen relationships, especially with a customer, than to send business their way. Another way to deepen relationships is to post recommendations for your contacts on their profile page, and ask them to do the same for you. Recommendations build credibility and make your services more attractive to potential customers.
If you are responsible for hiring, LinkedIn provides two strategies for you. First of all, and free, you can post job in user groups that are specific to the role you are hiring. For example, if you were interested in hiring project managers, you can post a job opening in one of many project management groups. This is free and very effective. If that does not yield the results you want, you can post a paid job advertisement and target specific industries, locations, or skills.
Establish a regular LinkedIn Routine
1) Be sure your profile is thoroughly developed, detailing your professional background and successful accomplishments. Your profile functions as your personal web page, and savvy customers will check out your profile before they decide to talk to you. If your profile is sloppy or out of date, your opportunity may die on the vine
2) It is very important to send a LinkedIn invitation to all professional colleagues you know well, or with whom you’ve had a business relationship. This includes contacts both in and outside of your company. Your goal should be to constantly be creating as many links as you can. Nothing says credibility like someone who has a highly developed network.
3) After you have an initial conversation with a promising prospect, call them back them back the next day and tell them you would like to Link with them. The best time to do this is right after the conversation. Just make sure you call before you send a link request. If you don’t call and ask first, they may view you as being too pushy, and they might not accept the invitation. Also, by calling them, this gives you an opportunity to continue the previous conversation and perhaps uncover other valuable information.
4) When your invitation has been accepted, log on to LinkedIn and take a look at their connections. You never know what you might discover. You could find that there are people in your new contact’s network who work at a company where you are trying to develop an opportunity. When that happens, reach out to your contact and see if they can provide a reference for you.
5) Before making a first time call prospecting, especially if you are calling on an XO or senior manager, make sure you check out his or her LinkedIn profile. You may discover you have mutual business associates or interests. Those can prove to be the best ice-breakers you’ll ever have.
6) Don’t spam people by sending LinkedIn invitations to them if you haven’t met them yet. Invitations from unknowns don’t often result in links. LinkedIn is a fantastic tool for developing serious business relationships, so use it in a professional manner. Only invite people you really know or have been provided an introduction for.
In these highly competitive market conditions, there is no substitute for good intel and great relationships. LinkedIn provides you with both in an effective, actionable manner that will help you reach more prospects, build stronger relationships, close more business and drive more revenue.
- Open a LinkedIn account if you haven’t done so yet. Update your profile if you haven’t done so in the past month. There is always something new you can add to increase the value of your site.
- Name the top 3 ways that you use LinkedIn to drive business. If you aren’t using LinkedIn to drive business, name the first three strategies you are going to implement.
- Go over your existing contact list, find the names of everyone that you haven’t created a LinkedIn Invite to, and send them each an invitation within the next week.