Successfully using LinkedIn to connect with others and boost sales requires more effort than simply completing a profile and inviting everyone you know to connect with you. Here are some basic recommendations for building your connections online:
- Connect with relevant people. LinkedIn is only as effective as your contact list. When you pollute your list with people you don't know or people who aren't relevant to your business and goals, you dilute the power of LinkedIn. "Stay focused on who you are and what you do when building your contacts," advise Eric Butow and Kathy Taylor, coauthors of How to Succeed in Business Using LinkedIn. You'll go much farther with a small network of highly relevant, high-value people than with a large network that has no rhyme or reason to it.
- Seek out high-value connections. Improve your "connectability" by including in your network as many decision makers and high-level executives as possible. This not only makes you appear well connected and a player in the game, it gives you access to the networks of these high-value people. Butow and Taylor point out that all 500 of the Fortune 500 companies are represented on LinkedIn, and all those connections with the exception of one have the title of director or higher. "If this is the world you want to be connected to," they say, "make every effort to have your connections be comparable in value."
- Follow good invitation protocols. Think of connecting on LinkedIn as you would think of making a sale: You wouldn't ask someone to buy something from you the first time you meet him or her. Similarly, you don't want to start sending invitations to join your network to every high-level person you meet. Instead, concentrate first on establishing a relationship and bringing value to others. If you focus on creating value first, it's far more likely that the person will be willing to join your network and recommend you to others.
- Create a complete profile. People new to LinkedIn tend to include only their current company in their profile. By doing so, you limit your networking ability. Instead, fill out your profile as though it were an executive biography. Include not only your current organization, but also companies you've worked for in the past, as well as education, military service, affiliations, and activities. That way, you increase the chances your name will come up in a search. You might also consider adding a link to your profile as part of your email signature so people can see your credentials in an attachment. Bonus tip: Keep your "Specialties" section current with keywords related to your expertise, industry, and location to boost the chances that prospects will find your profile online.
- Show your connections. LinkedIn gives you the option to either hide your connections or make them visible. Butow recommends you make them visible to everyone who views your profile, since your connections are evidence of the "quality of your contacts and desire to help others." Still, as your network grows, you may want to consider filtering these connections to show only those who meet certain criteria. LinkedIn allows you to filter using three criteria: new connections, geographic location, and industry.
Success in sales has always been about relationships, and such sites as LinkedIn are no different. The big benefit of social-networking sites is their potential to start great conversations. Make sure the information you post on your profile makes it easy for people to start a conversation with you. Once you've built up your connections, join groups, start adding your two cents to comment sections, and add "likes" to others' status updates. Remember to find ways to connect with people – not just to them.