Using LinkedIn for leads is an underused resource. Being the only social media platform intended specifically for business networking, we should be using LinkedIn to find leads. LinkedIn is a great tool for that purpose, but it has to be done strategically and there are a few landmines you can step on.
There are two major aspects of LinkedIn suited to prospecting clients and customers. The first area can be accessed with the free account, and that is the LinkedIn groups. Groups are discussion areas with restricted access. There is a group available for pretty much any area of business that interests you, from working on an oil platform to managing a casino.
Most people use groups incorrectly. Let’s take, for example, the owner of a machine shop. The owner joins a group related to machine shop owners, allowing discussion with other machine shop owners. There ‘s obviously value in that, but finding new business isn’t really where the value lies when networking with colleagues. For that, the owner needs to network with people in the target market.
That means, in addition to the groups directly related to machine shops, the owner needs to find the groups where his target market hangs out. Get into the groups and then monitor the discussions. When somebody asks a question the owner can answer, the owner steps in, answers the question, then backs away. It doesn’t end with a call to action, it ends with a feel free to contact me if you have more questions. If somebody is interested, they’ll click through to your profile (which is why that has to be as complete as possible, but that’s another discussion).
It’s about adding value and positioning yourself as a subject matter expert. People like to do business with those they trust, and subject matter experts tend to be trusted.
The other main way to leverage LinkedIn requires a paid account. There are three major benefits to a paid account. 1) A “Premium” flag in your profile, which makes you appear more legitimate. 2) Access to enhanced search capability, and 3) access to InMail.
The premium flag appears on your account, and is important when visitors look at your profile. When networking with people you already know, the flag doesn’t make much different. It’s when you catch somebody’s attention and they click through to your profile that it matters. The premium flag helps to give you legitimacy, especially when the profile view comes from an InMail contact. It helps reduce the chances you’ll be considered a spammer.
The enhanced search feature helps you to find qualified prospects. Different levels of capability are unlocked depending on which premium level you pay for. In my experience, the most important search fields are available at the first business level. (The lowest paid level is intended for job hunters.) The fields include industry, position of a person in the company, and even seniority in the company from intern all the way to C-level executive.
Inmail allows you to make direct contact with the prospect you found via search. Use a short and respectful email to invite conversation, but recognize that some people don’t want to be contacted, so make sure you let the person know that if they aren’t interested, you’ll move on. The last thing you want is to be labeled a spammer. There is an inmail reputation score that’s generated based on whether people respond and whether you get marked as a spammer.
A few words of warning. Crafting your InMails correctly is extremely important. If you’re contacting C-level executives, you want to be respectful of their time. Make your message short and to the point. Make it clear you actually viewed his or her profile. Mention briefly any common connections you might have. Most importantly, absolutely do not try to sell anything. Just offer to open discussion about problem your product solves and give them an easy opt out. Like anything, this is a numbers game.
The other pitfall isn’t sinister, but can waste your InMail credits. You only get a limited number of them each month, so obviously you’ll want to minimize ineffective InMails. It pays to view the prospect’s LinkedIn activity and friends count. The more activity, the more likely the person will log in and actually look at your message. The best message is useless if it isn’t opened by the recipient.
It also requires a bit of effort. Figuring out which position in the company may take some trial and error, or some A-B testing. Learning how to recognize profiles with a good probability to actually respond is a learned skill, but it’s not that difficult.
Used correctly, LinkedIn is a tremendous resource for prospecting, as long as you remain respectful and are willing to put some effort into it.