What’s your approach to sales? Are you a hunter or a farmer? Do you play the numbers game and go for the shortest and straightest line to a close, or would you rather build a strong network of long term relationships and pick up new business along the way? LinkedIn enjoys global recognition as a networker’s heaven, but it can equally cater for both approaches to generating new business, as this article investigates.
To make the insights below practical and easy to understand, let’s start with a real search and then explore ways in which both hunters and farmers can use the results to generate sales:
- Go to the Advanced People Search tool
- Set the filters to: Marketing professionals, Seniority level Director, UK companies, 200 + staff, “Information Technology and Services” industry
- Add the word “Marketing” in the search terms
- You should get something like 110 results
This list of 110 professionals is your database of cold prospects to work on
Tip: Save your search and LinkedIn will email you weekly updates with any new people meeting your search criteria. LinkedIn builds your database for you!
A hunter’s paradise
So you are a hunter. You don’t really need a full profile, lots of connections, time consuming group memberships, shared book lists and other snazzy LinkedIn applications. They certainly help, but being an instinctive sales animal, all you need is your perseverance, charm, confidence and of course your pitch. Having done your LinkedIn search, your mission now is to put your irresistible and well rehearsed story in front of these 110 people, work them through your sales funnel and seal some deals. Here are 5 ways to achieve this:
LinkedIn offers a number of ways to contact people not connected to you, although each has some limitations (to discourage aggressive sales hunters).
- Send InMail – there is only a limited number of InMails you can send, but you have the option to purchase more
- Send a message – some people have this feature switched off, so it is not always available
- Send message via an invitation to connect – here you have a 300 character limit
Making such direct pitches does not exactly follow LinkedIn’s etiquette, but you are a hunter; since when do you need permission to talk to someone?
You can approach 2nd and 3rd degree contacts through a common connection’s introduction. Just click on “Get introduced through a connection” and write two messages, one to your connection and one to your target prospect. Such approach is much closer to the LinkedIn way of doing business, albeit not the most time-efficient approach.
Scroll to the bottom
The last box on people’s profiles is called Contact Settings. Some people populate the space with their full contact details, such as emails, numbers, IM/Skype details, etc.; just like an email signature. You might find that people who do that tend to be consultants addicted to online business networking with 500+ connections and an unnaturally high number of recommendations. Marketing Directors of medium to large enterprises tend to avoid putting their full contact details on public display, but despite the slim chances, it is definitely worth a quick scroll to the bottom of the page.
The LinkedIn Events application is an excellent way to search for events, book your space and share your attendance with others. Scan people’s profiles for event attendance and you will discover exactly where and when you will find them to make your pitch face to face.
Take it off LinkedIn
If contacting someone via LinkedIn proves difficult, you can extend your search to other online resources. The individual’s LinkedIn profile has already provided you with enough information to search for their contact details on Google, on their company’s website, on their Twitter profile, on Plaxo, or on industry portals and directories.
A farmers market
Farmers use LinkedIn in a very different way to that of hunters. Like in the offline world, farmers win new business not only by building a strong network, but also by adding value to their network relationships. LinkedIn offers a set of tools to help you achieve both. But before you attempt to attack your 110-strong database, you need to do a bit of groundwork on LinkedIn to ensure that your personal brand communicates all the right messages about your industry expertise, natural talents, involvement with your network and commitment to adding value:
- Achieve the magic “100% profile completeness”
- Build a network of at least 250 connections
- Update your status religiously
- Join groups and participate in discussions
- Ask and answer LinkedIn questions
- Install and use LinkedIn applications
Having ticked most of the boxes above, your aim is to create touch points with these 110 people so that you can learn more about their needs, they can learn more about you and you can add value to their career, job or business. Here is how you can use LinkedIn to create such touch points:
Your mission is to add as many of these 110 people to your network as possible so shared connections is your first touch point. Sort your search results list by “Relationship” to see how many of the 110 prospects share connections with you and start working on your connection (not sales – this is not hunting!) pitch – why would any of these people want to connect to you?
Groups are where a lot of the networking action is and where you can witness your prospects’ involvement and engage in valuable conversations with them. Your search results list will show you who belongs to the same groups as you, so this can be your starting point. You can also scan all the other profiles and join the groups these people belong to.
Scan each person’s profile and find out who has asked or answered questions on LinkedIn’s “Answers” function. Not only can you learn more about the person’s interests, challenges and level of engagement on LinkedIn, but also you can answer their recent questions and make your self visible.
LinkedIn just expanded its integration with Twitter, so that not only can you sync your LinkedIn update with Twitter and vice versa, but now you can also follow the Twitter feeds of all your connections from within LinkedIn. Also, go directly to Twitter and follow everyone on your list who Tweets and you are not connected to on LinkedIn. Either way, this is another great touch point that allows you to kick start valuable conversations.
Like Twitter, blogs are great touch points. First, they broadcast content straight from your prospects brain so you get a clear insight on their business engagements, thought leadership and personal interests. Second, blogs are also natural conversation starters, allowing you to add value by commenting on posts. Use LinkedIn’s Blog Link application to view all your connections’ posts on a single page.
Tip: Change your settings so that LinkedIn generates an RSS feed with all your network updates and use your RSS Reader to stay constantly updated.
So, like a good farmer, you have managed to turn that raw list of 110 people into a lively, valuable network. But when do you actually make your pitch? The answer is, of course, it depends. Each and every relationship will be different and so will the opportunity; some people might express a need you can fulfil very quickly, whereas others might end up introducing you to someone, who introduces you to someone else who sends you a fat brief.
Whether your approach to sales is like hunting, or farming, LinkedIn can’t land business on your plate. LinkedIn is a powerful tool that helps people connect and stay connected in ways unimaginable 15 years ago. But ultimately, it’s the age old human qualities of charisma, empathy, perseverance and a hankering for a cup of tea and a chat that will seal the deal.
Update: B2B Marketing site ran an amended version of this story here