7 Steps to LinkedIn Sales Success

Launched in 2003 and with 80 million registered users in 200 countries, LinkedIn is the foremost business oriented social networking site. In Australia, LinkedIn already has close to 1 million users and continues to grow at double-digit rates. A majority of these users are mid-to-senior level managers, professionals and business owners, making LinkedIn an invaluable sales tool for the new millennium.

Here are seven things you must do to succeed in business development using LinkedIn:

1. Ensure your profile is sales-ready
Most new users list only their current employer in their profile. By doing so, they severely limit their ability to connect with people. Fill out your profile like it is an executive bio and include past companies, education, affiliations and activities. This will help you build your network by enabling people from all your current and past affiliations to find you easily.

There is a critical difference between a profile written for a job-search (a majority of profiles read like this) and one written for sales. A good job-search profile emphasises that you are a choice employee and lists your responsibilities and achievements. A good sales profile emphasises that you are a trusted, subject matter expert for your company and the product or service you represent. It should contain information on your target customers, how you help them and what results you have delivered for them.

Take a look at my profile to see the difference between the description for my current role with Salescraft and prior role with FedEx Kinko’s http://au.linkedin.com/in/pritamsarkar

2. Keep building your network
By inviting people to connect with you, you grow your first, second and third level contacts exponentially. Your first level connections see all your public activity – new connections, recommendations, status updates, groups joined and questions answered. This is a great way to constantly get noticed and build top-of-mind-recall with them. When people search using LinkedIn’s functionality, you get listed ahead of those who are outside their networks.

There is a simple rule of thumb for invitations: invite people you know, might know, have known, those known by someone you know or people with whom you share a common affiliation. Do not invite people you don’t know, as most often, people will decline an invitation from a total stranger.

There are a few ways to accelerate the growth of your network:
i. LinkedIn provides the facility to search your Web-based personal email account (hotmail.com, gmail.com, yahoo.com, aol.com) and tell you which of your contacts are LinkedIn users.
ii. Always look at all the connections of your connections. Once you find someone you know, invite them directly. If it is someone you are keen to know, ask your first level connection for an introduction.
iii. Join groups and invite people of interest to connect after you have built your presence through active participation in the group.
Inviting new contacts needs to be a prioritised, regular activity.

 3. Ask for recommendations
The top two questions prospects usually ask are:

i. What’s in it for me? (What problem can you solve for me?)
ii. Why should I trust you? (What makes you competent and reliable?)

Recommendations are a great way to communicate both. If you have ever received or given a recommendation on LinkedIn, you know that the system ensures that it is genuinely written. Make it a priority to build the number of recommendations you receive. Every time you exceed a client’s expectations, ask for an endorsement. It is reasonable to ask for an endorsement as well as mention what aspect (trust and value) you would like them to touch upon. By and large most people are happy to oblige. It is also important to recommend those who have provided an exceptional service or value to you.

Finally, when contacting new people within LinkedIn, invite them to read your recommendations so that they can read what other people experienced while working with you. You can also include your public profile in your email signature and invite people to view it, read your references and connect with you.

4. Research people and companies using the ‘Advanced Search’ feature
You will need a premium account to get the most from this feature, but the expense is worth it. This powerful search utility enables you search by city, company, industry or any other keyword. The results of your search criteria give you a list of people’s names and a link to their public profiles. You can read and research people’s profiles and plan your next steps to engage the contact electronically, by phone or even snail mail.

You can save your search criteria and categorise and bookmark people of interest. Being able to keep notes in the ‘Profile Organiser’ make this a powerful and up-to-date CRM system as well.

5. Follow Companies to see their employees and their movement
LinkedIn allows Companies to create their own profile and provide information about themselves. People can link to these pages in their work profiles, therefore a number of Company pages have an extensive list of employees linked to them.

For example, Microsoft (http://www.linkedin.com/company/microsoft) has almost 95,000 employees on LinkedIn and almost 200,000 people following it. If you wanted to get in touch with someone at Microsoft, LinkedIn would be a great place to start.

In a company’s ‘Overview’ tab, you can see their Employees, New Hires and those (from the company) that are in your network. You can also see ‘All activity’ which lists the movement of people associated with that company’s LinkedIn profile page.

This is a great way for Account Managers to increase their relationships within their major accounts.

6. Expand your network and influence through ‘Groups’
LinkedIn allows you to join a maximum of 50 groups and you should use the full capacity available to you. Groups attract people with common interests. Search for groups within your target markets and join them. Another way to find groups of interest is to look at a target contact’s groups at the bottom of their public profile and join the relevant ones.

Participate in these groups by showing interest in other people’s needs and problems. Not only does this build relationships, it also helps demonstrate expertise. Though no one grudges you your commercial interests, people are always attracted to those who are willing to give rather than get. You can ask questions, initiate discussions and share useful articles and resources that will be of interest to your groups.

7. Establish your credibility through ‘Answers’
LinkedIn provides a section called ‘Answers’ for people to ask questions and get input from their network. This is a great way to showcase your knowledge and establish expertise. It is important to give valuable information through this channel rather than just use it for self-promotion as, needless to say, this is not looked upon favourably by the information seeker. That said I believe that givers gain, so expect something to come back your way!

In summary, how we interact and associate has been irrevocably changed through social media like LinkedIn and Facebook. Therefore, for the contemporary sales professional, it is critical to learn how to navigate the vast amount of publicly available information to gain a critical advantage in the business development process. It’s time to evolve or face extinction by the end of this decade!

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