I’m looking into writing something about how to use Linkedin for generating leads and making sales. Here are two articles I found to get you started thinking about it, A Guide to Business Development 2.0 by Alex Iskold, and A Guide to Generating Leads on Linkedin by Ann Handley.
I guess the first important point to come out of these articles is that there are uses for Linkedin beyond job hunting. This wasn’t really much of an issue for me as I haven’t been job hunting for a while.
Next, they look to make points about Linkedin’s popularity (second after facebook of all websites), and of how it is perceived as more of a business than a social site. This is important for two reasons – one, you’re more likely to find the leads / contacts you’re looking for, and two, they’re more likely to being open to a business related approach on Linkedin.
Both make some good points about how to use the search functionality of the site to find potential leads – you can refine a search by company name, location, job title, etc. So if you know that you typically sell to, for example, HR managers, search by that title and then start combing through the names that come up.
The next important point is that Linkedin will show you how you are connected to the various people that come up in your searches – i.e. how many ‘degrees’ you are separated by, and who the linking people are in between the two of you. This allows you to make the next move, which is to approach that person, using the intermediate connections as reference points. For example, my preference is either to call the lead directly and mention that I found them through Linkedin, perhaps mentioning some of our mutual acquaintances, or to contact one of the intermediate people and ask them for an introduction. I’ve found this to be an incredibly powerful way of starting new business relationships, especially if you believe those who would claim that ‘cold calling’ is effectively dead and buried in the age of Web 2.0.
Of course, the proviso underlying all of this is that one has to be sensitive to not abuse relationships or trust. Play open cards is my advice. If in doubt, rather ask for permission to use someone’s name or make contact with one of their connections. In the long run, this online world is not that different from the offline one – if you lack scruples, word will get around and you’ll start to find it very difficult to form any new relationships.