Exploring the lead generation marketing potential of LinkedIn

If you want your business to grow and thrive, one of the most important things you need to do is be creative and explore ways to acquire new customers. There are plenty of traditional old ways to drum up leads, such as picking up the phone and making cold calls, but innovative business leaders are leveraging technology to find novel approaches.

Your approach to lead generation marketing is vital. Expansion is all about finding more customers to bring in additional revenue. And if you do a little research, you may find one online resource that’s underrated as a source of B2B leads – LinkedIn. While it may be known primarily as a job site for individual professionals to network with one another, it can also be used as a tool for growing your business exponentially.

Supplanting the “big two” in lead generation
As companies have moved away from more traditional strategies like phone and direct mail in recent years, there’s been a rising tide of sentiment that there’s a new “big two” in lead gen methods – direct email marketing, and attracting web leads via search engine optimization. Those two approaches are clearly both here to stay, but there’s another question now seeping into the conversation – how will social media play a role?

Perhaps one of the problems with integrating social is that many enterprises don’t know where to start. There are countless networking sites out there, and only so many hours in the day. How can you figure out where to focus your efforts?

According to ReachForce, LinkedIn is the one social site that’s most effective. The news source drew upon survey data from Eloqua, CMO.com and Software Advice to reveal that 44 percent of marketers in the business-to-business arena have generated leads from LinkedIn, compared to only 39 percent via Facebook and 30 percent through Twitter.

What sets LinkedIn apart? It’s not the site’s raw popularity – after all, Facebook and Twitter are both more heavily trafficked sites overall. But because LinkedIn is so much more professional in nature, it makes the perfect tool for businesspeople to connect with other businesspeople. The other social sites make better B2C networks.

The ReachForce survey data shows that social media now ranks third among all lead gen strategies, sitting behind only in-house email and SEO. As of November 2012, 66 percent of B2B marketers were reporting “moderate to full engagement” via social sites. LinkedIn, because of its ability to connect people with like-minded professionals, is a clear reason why.

Connecting with people you don’t know
Let’s start with an obvious truth – if you want your business to expand and reach new audiences, you need to take the initiative to meet new people. After all, you’re not likely to bring in extra revenues simply by continuing to sell to the same people you’ve always sold to. The trick is to tap into additional streams of income.

Unfortunately, Facebook and Twitter don’t work too well for this challenge. Think about it – when you “friend” someone on Facebook, it’s usually because they’re actually a friend that you know in real life. And chances are, you’re not going to dramatically increase sales for your business by pestering your existing friends. If your close personal contacts wanted to be your customers, they likely already would be.

According to Hunt Big Sales, the beauty of LinkedIn lies in its ability to connect you with people you don’t already know. That’s a benefit that many other social sites don’t have. Tom Searcy, an account strategy expert, explained that LinkedIn connects people based not merely on their existing friendships, but also on their shared professional interests. This means you stand a good chance at developing a working relationship with someone even if you’ve never met them in the flesh.

“Of course, this doesn’t mean you should just begin connecting to people who you want to work with and start pitching/stalking them,” Searcy cautioned. “It means you should integrate LinkedIn into your overall sales strategy. After all, because of its professional nature, people are more open to talking shop here than they are on, say, Facebook.”

Searcy noted that people find business inquiries more appealing over LinkedIn than they do via phone or email. Professional communications are commonplace on a site like LinkedIn – after all, it’s why people show up in the first place. Email, on the other hand? Searcy referred to it as “the 21st century’s cold call.” We all know how popular cold calls are.

Creative strategies for LinkedIn success
Sooner or later, everyone is going to catch on and board the LinkedIn bandwagon. At that point, you’ll need to be creative in order to attract better leads via the site than your competitors.

According to HubSpot, this means looking beyond the simple strategies like posting a resume and connecting with your friends and professional contacts. The site (and its accompanying mobile app) are fully loaded with other ways you can reach out and forge new connections. Marketing expert Pamela Vaughan pointed out that LinkedIn groups are a great way to find potential leads – and you can go past the obvious strategy of joining groups that are specifically designed for your industry.

“By stretching out a little bit, you’re expanding your reach, which is always good for business and helpful in lead generation,” Vaughan explained. “So, for example, if you’re an accountant, you don’t want to just join accounting groups – you’ll want to join groups for entrepreneurs, small business owners, restaurateurs and other groups outside of your immediate circle.”

Groups aren’t the only useful feature. You can also participate in LinkedIn Answers, which allows you to enjoy fruitful dialogues with people who share your interests, and LinkedIn Applications, which allows for discourse on everything from your latest professional experiences to the book you’re currently reading.

No one ever said generating new leads would be easy, but you can find success using sites like LinkedIn. You just have to be willing to expend some energy and try some inventive new strategies. Has the site already worked for you?

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