Traditionally, LinkedIn is seen as a networking tool for personal use. Connecting with former colleagues. Joining and interacting in different groups. Finding new talent/employees. And, reaching out to new contacts and forming new relationships that start online.
This is how most folks use LinkedIn.
But, for B2B organizations, LinkedIn presents a new opportunity for folks to meet and establish relationships with new potential customers.
I’m not talking about just using LinkedIn as a networking tool. No, I’m talking about using LinkedIn as a strategic marketing tool to start and foster long-term relationships that can eventually lead to meaningful business down the road.
How? Think about how the following process might play out for your B2B organization:
* Make a list and check it twice. Start by making a list of all the potential companies you’d like to target. Whittle that down to your top 50. Let’s start there.
* Focus your search. Using the company search function, find each company and identify 4-5 people who might be either decision-makers or purchase influencers in your specific industry or field.
* Introductions, please. Next, look for folks who can introduce you to these people. Using the “Get introduced through a connection” function, you can approach these folks in a non-threatening, informal way. Write a personal note to your connection asking them for the introduction. Then, paste in a note you’d like them to pass along to the person you’d like to meet. Keep it informal and breezy:
Hello. My name is Arik Hanson and I’m the principal of ACH Communications, a consultancy focused on helping brands become digitally relevant. I’m hoping we can connect here on LinkedIn. Seems we might have some shared interests, common colleagues and similar ideas around digital PR and online marketing.
* The art of the follow up. When/if they respond, make sure to follow-up with another short note. This time, be sure to give them some free, relevant information. Preferably, a blog post you recently wrote or an article you found interesting that they might, too. You’re just trying to start the relationship here, so you want to prove you’re there to help and you care about their best interests–not yours.
* Keep your radar up. Send these folks a private message on LinkedIn every once in a while. Again, stick with blog posts you’ve written or industry articles you think they might find interesting. Not to beat a dead horse, but this will prove you care and that you’re genuinely out to help them–not you.
* Nurture the relationship. After a few weeks–even a month or so, send them more pointed information about your organization and how you might be able to help them. Not a sales call–just more targeted information. Could be a blog post. Could be an invite to a local event. Heck, maybe it’s an invite to coffee (if they’re local). At this point, you should have a bit of trust built up with them–start to explore where that can go.
* Facilitate new connections. Finally, look for other folks in your network that your new contact might benefit by meeting. Obviously, you don’t want to connect them with competitors, but what about other people in similar positions at other organizations? Could they benefit by meeting that person and learning how they handle certain common challenges and situations? Might not seem like big value for you, but believe me, there’s a lot of upside in being the connector/facilitator. Just ask Keith Ferrazzi.
I’ll be honest, this approach probably isn’t for everyone. It’s time-intensive and take a lot of care and feeding. But, I do believe, if done right, it can have substantial pay off. After all, relationships are the bedrock the B2B sales process, right?
Note: Photo courtesy of Nan Palmero via FlickR Creative Commons.