LinkedIn for Sales: How To Identify Prospects and Build Relationships

This is part 6 of a 16 part series, “Mastering LinkedIn For Business

With over 200 million LinkedIn users, finding ideal sales prospects might seem like looking for a needle in a haystack. For a good return on investment, salespeople need the research skills to quickly connect with prospects on LinkedIn. Knowing how to use the People Search functions and build relationships are key to generating leads and sales.

li1With over 200 million LinkedIn users, finding ideal sales prospects might seem like looking for a needle in a haystack. For a good return on investment, salespeople need the research skills to quickly connect with worthwhile prospects on LinkedIn.

Salespeople need to focus on two areas: Growing connections and then building relationships with those individuals. Learning to use the People Search functions — and how to build relationships within this context — is vital to generating leads and sales.

1) Using LinkedIn’s People Search to find and research prospects: People Search is a great tool for finding people to connect with as well as identifying the ideal prospects for your business at target companies. Start by entering the name of the target company in the LinkedIn search box. After generating the results, you can then narrow your search by selecting options on the left, such as filtering by direct connections or second connections. This gives you a list of people at the company and shows any shared connections you may have.

Don’t have specific companies you are targeting? Another good option is to use a similar search strategy in industry-specific LinkedIn groups. As you go through the group members, you can see what type of position they hold and where they work. From there, you may want to explore the Company Page to learn more about a prospective client and see what other employees are using the site. A great advantage of using this method is that if you and the prospect are members of the same industry group, you can connect directly.

Extra tip: To expand your reach, remember to join groups where you expect to find prospects, not just those for your immediate circle or industry. For example, if you’re an accountant, look beyond accounting and join groups for entrepreneurs, small business owners and so on.

2) Building relationships by connecting directly or requesting introductions: Once you’ve identified prospects using People Search, it’s time to make the connection. LinkedIn gives you a couple of options, but the key to a solid strategy is determining which methods are going to generate the best sales.

li2Many people will suggest making initial contact through an introduction or referral from a shared connection. The idea is to ask one of those shared connections to recommend you to the prospect or set up a phone call to discuss sales. True, recommendations are a really powerful tool, but only if the connections involved have strong relationships. And those are harder to find: Many people are open networkers on LinkedIn, so the fact that you share a connection doesn’t mean they actually know the people in their networks. You can easily waste a lot of time if you have to go through several people trying to get a meaningful introduction.

Some find that just starting the dialogue is a more time-efficient strategy for building a relationship. First, review the prospect’s profile to learn more about them and their role at the company, then visit the Company Page to get a sense of the content, or look at the person’s Twitter profile to get a quick sense of what their interests are. With a little research, instead of spending time looking for an introduction, you can initiate the conversation yourself through groups or Twitter, and start building some rapport.

Extra tip: No matter what approach you use, focus on the relationship, not the sales pitch. When you reach out to someone new on LinkedIn, some will want to immediately connect, but others will want to know what your intentions are. As much as possible, avoid just jumping in and saying, “this is about sales.”

In the end, LinkedIn is a great way to connect with sales prospects, but you need some skills if you want to avoid wasting time and earn a good return on the time you invest. Through practicing your skills with People Search, you can learn to quickly uncover the best prospects, and begin building the business relationships that will drive sales for your organization.

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