Prospecting for Customers on LinkedIn

In our previous post, Set Yourself Up on Social Media Sites, we continued our series with a discussion on how to set yourself up on various social media sites.  In this post, we continue with a look at how to set yourself up and get started on LinkedIn.

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Prospecting for Customers

Since LinkedIn is all about connections, before you can prospect, you’ll need connections. You can upload your address book from the major services and send out invites, but resist the temptation to spam everyone you’ve ever met. That happened to me when I first joined LinkedIn, six weeks after it was founded in 2003. I checked the wrong box, and sent LinkedIn invites to my 3,000 contacts. It actually turned out OK, because I heard back from a lot of people, but I sure apologized a lot.

These days, you need to be careful whom you invite. Historically, LinkedIn would suspend you if you got too many IDKs (I Don’t Know). However, with the mid-2010 and 2011 revisions to how connection invitations are handled, it’s unclear if this is still so, or even if these actions should still be called IDKs, since the label has changed. There’s more on IDKs in an upcoming post, What is an IDK?

You’ll also want to customize your invites, adding a personal note to the canned one LinkedIn provides. You are limited to 3,000 invites, lifetime.

Follow Your Connections

Once you have connections, their activities will show up in your timeline. Follow that daily. Use a contact’s update as an excuse to reach out to them and comment. Remember, social media is about creating relationships, not bombarding people with commercial messages. Never spam your contacts with a sales pitch. Instead, update your status on a regular basis with information about what you’re working on. This causes you to appear in your connections’ timelines, keeping them informed of what you’re doing in a subtle way.

Offer Value via Status Updates

Every time you change your LinkedIn status, that status appears in the timelines of your connections. Make sure you regularly update your status, and offer value in the form of links to interesting or timely information.

Ask Your Connections to Introduce You

To reach beyond your immediate network, you can ask your contacts to introduce you to people in their networks you’d like to know. Use this sparingly, and be sure you communicate a very good reason to want to connect with the contact’s contact. We discuss introductions and other connection requests in the upcoming posts Types of Direct Connection Requests and Finding People to Invite.

Send a Connection Invitation after Meetings

If you have a meeting with a customer or a prospect and you’re not already connected to them on LinkedIn, send them a connection request as soon as possible after the meeting. You will be fresh in their minds, and they will be more likely to connect with you right away.

It’s also a good idea to look your prospects up on LinkedIn before the meeting, to learn more about them.

If you can’t find them on LinkedIn, this is a good excuse to either bring up LinkedIn in the meeting or email them afterward and ask, “I wanted to connect with you but couldn’t find you on LinkedIn. If you don’t belong, I’d be happy to discuss the benefits of joining and help you get started.” If they take you up on the offer, you’ve already expanded your relationship with them. Even if they engage you to tell you why they think LinkedIn is a waste of time and energy, you’ve connected with them on a new level.

If your customer or prospect does connect with you, now you will (usually) be able to see their first order network. In that network there may be connections you have in common, and you can appeal to them for ideas on how to close your prospect or delight your customer.

Also in their network you may find people who have hundreds of connections whom you might benefit from connecting to.

Join LinkedIn Groups

A better way to get to know those you don’t is to join LinkedIn Groups. There is a group for every conceivable interest under the sun. You can join 50 at a time, so be wise about those you choose. The cool thing about groups is that you can message fellow group members, either publicly by commenting on their posts, or privately. We will discuss LinkedIn Groups soon in our series.

Prospecting Example

To pull this all together, here’s a great example of how to use LinkedIn for prospecting.

One of the Social Media Performance Group partners used to work for a $4M IT consulting company. He called a major multibillion dollar international company and inquired about getting on their vendor list. The purchasing guy actually laughed at the request. “We just sliced our vendor list in half to get rid of little companies like yours. You have no chance,” the guy said.

Robbie was not to be dissuaded. He searched on LinkedIn (using the advanced search) and found several company employees to target. Since group memberships are often listed on people’s profiles, he found and joined the groups they belonged to. If they contributed something to the group, he messaged them to ask a question about it, and otherwise found excuses to engage with them. He did no selling; he asked them about their challenges, offered interesting information, advice, and links, and eventually it was time to ask them to connect, and later, to have coffee.

After nine months of cultivating these relationships, one of his contacts said, “Hey, we’ve got a new project starting that you guys would be perfect for. I’ll have the purchasing guy give you a call.” And who eventually called him? You got it: the laugher. Robbie’s company got the bid, and got on the vendor list of this huge company. He never once pitched any of his LinkedIn contacts.

Prospecting for Customers on LinkedIn is the 82nd in a series of excerpts from our book, Be a Person: the Social Operating Manual for Enterprises (itself part of a series for different audiences). We’re just past page 245 . At this rate it’ll be a long time before we get through all 430 pages, but luckily, if you’re impatient, the book is available in paper form at and you can save $5 using Coupon Code 62YTRFCV

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Get our new book, The Infinite Pipeline: How to Master Social Media for Business-to-Business Sales Success online here. You can save $5 using Coupon Code 62YTRFCV

What Others Are Saying

Infinite Pipeline offers practical advice for using social media to extend relationship selling online. It’s a great way to get crazy-busy prospects to pay attention.”
—Jill Konrath, author of SNAP Selling and Selling to Big Companies

“Sales is all about relationships and trust. Infinite Pipeline is the ‘how to’ guide for maximizing social networks to find and build relationships, and generate trust in our digital age.”
—Sam Richter, best-selling author, Take the Cold Out of Cold Calling (2012 Sales book of the year)

Infinite Pipeline will be the authority on building lasting relationships through online social that result in bottom line business.”
—Lori Ruff, The LinkedIn Diva, Speaker/Author and CEO of Integrated Alliances

Next up: Building Relationships on LinkedIn

[1] While this book was being written, LinkedIn was adding about 5 million members a quarter, so the total is likely to be greater by the time you read this.

[2] LinkedIn on complete profiles:

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