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LinkedIn – Sales, Market Research… and Networking tool

Many people think of as sort of an Online Rolodex. Others might describe it as MySpace for business people or Facebook all grown up. While these descriptions are accurate on some levels, they are not painting the complete picture of what LinkedIn can offer to business professionals. There are numerous uses for the site that go far beyond basic networking and contact management. Notably, the site is a great tool for Sales Professionals and Market Research. I got the opportunity to present this concept to the Dayton Service Marketing Professionals group today at a meeting which was hosted downtown at Brady Ware. It was an excellent discussion, and I think people found it to be informative. I wanted to share a little of what we discussed here in this post.

First, LinkedIn is just as much “Google” as it is “Outlook”. What does that mean? Well, it seems to me that most users of the site typically think of it as online contact management – which in and of itself has huge value. I use the brand names to illustrate that idea. However, I am here to tell you that if that is all you are using the site for, you are missing out on a wealth of information – free information. LinkedIn is a rich and dynamic database, which can be searched, mined, and yield insightful and useful information to you and your business. It is a goldmine of marketing information, all of which is just a search or two away from you.

With over 20 million users, the site has information about companies large and small. Who is growing, who is shrinking, who is looking for help? All important information for sales and marketing professionals. You can determine quite a bit about a company and its future plans by simply looking at who is adding people and examining the skills they possess. It is all right there for you to view.

How else can LinkedIn help you get the cash register ringing? As a sales rep, the worst thing in the world is having to talk about “The fish on the wall” at your initial meeting with a prospective Client. Still, good sales people know the importance of building rapport, and engaging the prospect in a dialog about something other than business. “Get them to like you,” is often how this is described, and it is 90% of selling. It is also damn hard, which is why people get stuck on “hey, where did you catch that fish?” Pretty lame. Enter LinkedIn. If someone has a profile on LinkedIn, you can find out where they have worked, where they went to school, clubs and social groups they are engaged in, who they know, and who you know that they know. All potential conversation starters. Better yet, if you have a common connection, you can make a call prior to the sales meeting to do some research in advance of your meeting. This could create a very memorable first impression. For example, say you discover that your prospect is from Urbana, Ohio. You could bring along a bag of Mumford’s Potato Chips as a small but thoughtful gift. Your friend might inform you that this person is on a heart smart diet, in which case you might want to opt for some strawberries from Michael’s Berry Farm – an equally thoughtful, and slightly healthier idea. These are the silly little things that might just make the difference in getting the business. They might also get your name mentioned to others – an added bonus. This was an especially appealing idea for using this tool in a room full of marketing professionals who work primarily in the heavily regulated industries of accounting, law, and wealth management. Great actions are often easier to pull off in these industries that are great brochures and web sites. In the end, thoughtful gestures are more effective anyway.

Yes, LinkedIn is a powerful networking tool. You probably already know that. Still think about it a little differently, and possibilities begin to emerge for its potential. I will post more on this later this week. Are you using LinkedIn? How?