In early 2005, I received an e-mail from Alan Birrell, a client and friend, inviting me to connect with him on LinkedIn. Never having heard of LinkedIn, a number of thoughts ran through my mind as to what Alan was inviting me to do. Was it a gag, some kind of spam, a virus, one of those Facebook-ey types of things? I suppose I could have looked it up on the internet, but that would have taken time and effort.
I didn’t know what to do with the invitation, so I did what I usually do when I don’t know what to do. I didn’t do anything. Actually, I did do one thing – I deleted it, and didn’t give it another thought until about three months later, when the invitation reappeared in my Inbox. Again I deleted it. Then it re-appeared again three months after that. This time I decided to accept the invitation, if only to stop it reappearing again! Of course, I had to set up a LinkedIn account for myself in order to connect with Alan, which I did because there was no charge for it. So I opened my free account, and then, not knowing what else to do with it, let it sit idle, apart from adding a few connections here and there.
Fast forward two years. During a conversation a friend asked me if I was on LinkedIn, and I replied that I was, but that I didn’t do much with it. When he asked why not, I told him I didn’t see much use for it apart from just keeping in touch with people I know. His reply took me by surprise:
“Why not? It’s freaking awesome. Don’t you use the Advanced Search function at least?”
Duh! Use it? I didn’t even know where to find it, let alone use it. My friend made me log on, and then in just a few clicks, he opened up a whole new dimension of prospecting to me. We did a search on VP Sales for IT companies in Toronto, and there were 490 results. 490 new prospects! I was amazed at the power of the program, and what I had been missing out on, and I have been a raving fan of it ever since.
In talking with salespeople, though, I’ve come to realize that while a lot of salespeople have LinkedIn profiles, there are a lot of them who aren’t aware of the full potential of the tool to help them sell. So I thought I would share some of the ways you can harness the power of the tool to help you prospect and sell more effectively (please note – this blog is not an advertisement for LinkedIn, and I am not receiving any payment for this posting! I am only interested in one thing – helping you sell more):
- First and foremost, you need to make sure your profile is well written and complete, so that it properly showcases your credibility and expertise. The system will help you complete your profile with various prompts. A comprehensive profile will also ensure you appear in more searches.
- One of the most valuable features of LinkedIn is the “Advanced” button. (Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know where it is – I had to be shown myself. It’s to the right of the People search bar). This will take you to the Advanced People Search screen where you can perform a targeted search for new prospects by specific geographies, job titles, companies, industry, company size, and more. You will need to upgrade to one of the paid versions to take full advantage of the Advanced search capabilities, but I’d highly recommend it. Upgrading also gives you other privileges such as access to far more profiles during searches than the 100 with the free version. This is worth the upgrade alone. Some of the other benefits of upgrading are that you can see everyone who has viewed your profile, and you get free InMails each month.
- In the Advanced screen you can also search for 2nd connections to the prospect you are targeting. The search results will show you all of the people that both you and the prospect are connected to. If appropriate, you can then ask the common connection to introduce you to the prospect – either personally or through LinkedIn. Having a common connection also helps you build rapport with the new prospect, since one of the aspects of good rapport is commonality. So it pays to build your network of connections that you can call on for referrals. Be cautious, though, and only invite people to connect with you that you know, and only accept invitations from people you know. Remember that it’s the quality of your connections that counts, not the quantity. And don’t forget to thank the person who referred you, and offer to reciprocate.
- If you don’t have a 2nd connection to introduce you, you can also use InMail or the Open Link function to contact new prospects, or regular e-mail if you have to. Be respectful, though, and go easy on the sales pitch. Use the opportunity to initiate a relationship and direct the person to your profile. If they like what they see, they’ll reply. You can also follow this basic process to get referred to decision makers.
- When calling new prospects, have two files open on your computer: the prospect’s company website, and their LinkedIn profile. Not only does the profile show you which connections you have in common, but it also gives you their work history, interests, and group memberships, all of which can give you valuable insight into the person that can help you in gaining access to them, and engaging them in a dialogue.
- Use the Company search function to find the appropriate contacts for your product or service within a target organization.
- Check your Network Updates on a regular basis. Whenever I see someone has moved to a new organization or has been promoted, I make it a habit to send a congratulatory message through LinkedIn. It’s a great way to stay in touch with your connections, and it can lead to new business. I recently sent a note of congratulations to a connection who had been promoted to National Sales Manager, and it led directly to a contract for sales training.
- It’s also great for maintaining existing relationships. Once a month, scroll through your connections and choose five people who you haven’t contacted in a while, and send them a short note to say Hi. I’m currently negotiating a contract with one of the people I sent a note to last month.
- Once a month, in case you missed them in the network updates, look through your connections for anyone who has recently changed organizations. Contact them after they have been in their new job for a couple of months and enquire about a referral into their new company.
These are just some of the ways that LinkedIn can help you boost your prospecting success. It’s by no means the only tool I use, but it is the one that has helped me the most in growing my business over the past 5 years, and I fully expect will continue to do so in the future.
And I have to give kudos to Alan for having the foresight to recognize how useful LinkedIn could be, and for becoming an early adopter of the technology. Oh -and thanks for introducing me to it. And thank you to all the Delaine Alumni group members who contributed to our discussion on using LinkedIn. You know who you are.
Try it – it works!