Using LinkedIn to Your Advantage

In the past few years, LinkedIn has gotten huge. Worldwide, it’s used by more the 354 million people, 115 million of those from the U.S. In terms of its reach, it’s the Facebook of professional social networking sites—but you never have to view pictures of people’s lunch or vacations. There’s nothing to compare to it—like it or not, LinkedIn is the social networking site for professionals.

Many consider LinkedIn to be the holy grail of job websites. HR departments and recruiters use it to look for talent. For us folks in the sales trade, it’s a great resource for prospecting for new business relationships. Below is a list of reasons why you should “like” LinkedIn and how you can use it to your professional advantage.

Who You Are
Update and/or complete your profile. Be transparent about who you are and the company you’re with. There’s a very good chance that prospects will look you up after you reach out to them—maybe even while you have them on the phone. It’s human nature to want to see a picture of someone and find out about them. It puts prospects more at ease to know a bit about you, as opposed to dealing with a cold-calling stranger.

Tip: Never sport sunglasses in your LinkedIn photo. You may feel all “Risky Business,” but you’ll actually risk business by coming off as unprofessional. When you pull the shades down over the windows to your soul—it makes you appear less approachable, less professional, and possibly untrustworthy to prospects.

Work the Network
We’ve said it before; we’ll say it again: Sales is a people business. LinkedIn’s a great tool for engaging in the ongoing practice of network-building. After you do the glad-handing/business-card dance or connect over the phone, always follow that up asap with a LinkedIn connect request. Don’t wait—do this while you’re fresh on the prospect’s mind, not after you’ve entered the brain file labeled “I have no blooming idea who that is.”

Your first-tier connections will grow organically once you set the networking process in motion, and your second- and third-tier connections will multiply by the thousands. That’s a good thing! This isn’t Facebook, where there’s always someone with eight bazillion “friends,” which means, sadly, they’re sitting at home with their cats all day posting inspirational posters. Don’t limit your focus on the C-level suite, shunning those you’ve deemed not worth linking to. Gatekeepers at large companies are often administrative assistants and the like. They have power and influence. Make “friends” in the right places.

You’ve Got InMail
Emails bang their heads on spam filters all the time—you may never know if that’s the case with the one you just sent to an important prospect. In contrast, a message sent through LinkedIn’s InMail system will probably get that same person to sit up and pay attention, perhaps even for the sheer novelty of it.

The only hitch for you is that you’ll have to shell out some money for a premium account, and even with that you’re limited to how many InMails you can send per month. So use it sparingly. Make every InMail really count.

Find out What’s Cooking
LinkedIn is a great resource for getting up to speed on the haps at a prospect’s company. Often, companies will use the social media site as a platform for linking to press releases, blogs, corporate announcements, management changes, and more. While doing research, it’s well worth your time to peruse corporate profiles for your target demographic.

Prospecting is another thing LinkedIn is good for, because it allows you to narrow your search by keyword, title, company, location, and other search criteria.

They Know You Know They Know You Know
Get your prospect’s attention by simply visiting their LinkedIn page. As many of us know, LinkedIn goes all backwards big brother when you look at someone’s profile. Don’t you just love getting those messages that your profile has been viewed? It’s kind of fun. It’s flattering, really. So if you look at a prospect’s profile, it suffices as a simple entrée to a subsequent LinkedIn connection request or an email. Because they know and you know they know you know they saw you looking, you won’t be coming out of the blue when you connect. Just don’t let a lot of time pass between when you do the lookiloo and when you reach out. Many of them will look at your profile too, see how awesome it is/you are (ahem, without the shades!), and be less likely not to disregard your attempt to contact them.

Be a Groupie
Join LinkedIn groups to which your target audience may belong. Pipe up in the group discussions, and grow your network by perusing group members. You will probably find even more folks to link to.

LinkedIn is a wonderful tool for sales professionals. But while it might be the Swiss Army Knife of social networking sites, it’s still just a tool. Traditional ways of “sales-ing” remain your best course. Use social networking sites in general to connect and prospect, yet know that you’re never going to get a commitment through LinkedIn or Facebook. And that no one is going to tweet on the dotted line. And that you can’t use social networking to answer business-related questions or to unearth what a customer’s needs are. These tools are great for doing research, networking, and getting a virtual foot in the door. As the process progresses, however, you’ll need to pick up the phone to continue the conversation and really get it rolling.