By G. Going

When I asked Tom if he thought his audience would benefit from an article on b-to-b lead generation, his answer was an obvious “yes,” so here I am. I do a ton of web, social media and content work with Tom, and he tells me that people ask him all the time to share some of his savvy trade secrets. Against his better judgment, I’m going to do exactly that in this post. Enjoy…

Most people think of LinkedIn as a great place for networking, researching contacts and searching the job market, but it’s true value as a lead generation tool has yet to be fully realized.

With a highly-engaged community, quality discussions and the ability to generate an incredible amount of traffic and leads, LinkedIn can be an incredible sales tool for b-to-b companies when used strategically. I only wish it hadn’t taken me three years of using it to figure it out.

Before I go into my tips for using LinkedIn, let me clarify: I don’t believe that “So and so sent me a message on LinkedIn and now we’re talkin’ business” qualifies as a case study on using LinkedIn for lead generation. The event must be uniquely limited to the platform at hand, whereas in that example, the same thing could have easily happened over email (or Facebook, or Twitter, or…you get it). Now, if the person got a hold of you on LinkedIn because they happened to see your contribution to a discussion in a group there, or arrived as one of your shared connections, well, that’s another story altogether.

Anyway, I’ll cut to the chase and tell you a few ways we’ve used LinkedIn to generate leads and other business opportunities for ourselves and for clients…

Obviously one of the great (and sometimes, not so great) things about social networks is that people can emerge (or just pose) as experts in their industries. Given a soapbox, many people will use it to spew advice or request it, and that’s exactly what happens in the Answers section on LinkedIn. People in your network post questions-provocative, thought-provoking or purely inquisitive-and other users answer them. Of course, many of these questions can lead to opportunities, whether you present yourself as an expert by starting an engaging conversation, or if you provide someone with a solid answer (or point them toward another source who will offer them that answer) and start the dialogue that way.

We’ve used the Answers section several times to connect our clients with opportunities. For example, we were able to get Bank of America’s Annual Report (produced by our client Story Worldwide) featured in the book The Writer’s Guide to Annual Reports by Robert Roth. We’ve also used it to secure speaking engagements, radio interviews and identify business opportunities.

Still others, as pointed out in an article by Copyblogger, use Answers to identify sources for articles they’re writing, which could mean media coverage for you…especially if you’re in a niche industry where experts are hard for journalists to track down.

There are thousands of active groups on LinkedIn and I guarantee there are at least a handful that cater to your interests (whether work-related or personal). I currently belong to nine groups, and have elected to get a daily digest (email) of the day’s activity from about five of them since I, like many people, don’t have the time to hang out on LinkedIn all day to see what’s being discussed. These groups and digests are not only a great way to keep up with relevant conversations; they’re a great way to get your conversations out there.

I first realized this when our client at Hunt Big Sales posted a link to his e-book Landing Big Sales with an RFP into one of his active groups. Within two days, he got 300 downloads (or leads) from simply making the book known to this one group. Considering his book requires a registration (albeit a free one), this was a welcome outcome.

Needless to say, when we launched our new social media e-book last week, we took our audience generation campaign over to our LinkedIn groups (as well as Twitter, Facebook and other outlets). And as expected, 49% of our downloads so far have come from these groups.

The Obvious: Connecting with people you don’t know
There are a few ways to use LinkedIn in the general networking sense. My favorite example of using LinkedIn to generate new business comes from our partners over at Hubspot. Hubspot allows you to collect information about your leads when they download your thought leadership content (such as e-books, research, white papers, etc.). One of their clients noticed that Bank of America* was particularly active on their site, so they headed over to LinkedIn to attempt to make a subtle and professional connect with the person at hand. As it turns out, by simply opening the floor to further conversation by making this connection, the company was able to secure Bank of America as a client. And not just any client—the biggest client in the company’s history.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should just begin connecting to people who you want to work with and start pitching/stalking them. 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. There’s also something more appealing about receiving a business inquiry over LinkedIn than by email. People, including myself, tend to feel a bit violated when they get a random pitch in their inbox. Email is becoming the 21st century’s cold call…and we all know how popular cold calls are.

Updates & Applications
You’ll hear a lot of people telling you to stick to just one or two social media platforms. Our philosophy is to use as many (or as few) platforms as necessary to connect with the entirety of your audience. Basically, you need to be where your audience is. And if you make that commitment, whether to one platform or several, you need to do it right. On LinkedIn this means taking advantage of their newish applications, such as posting an RSS feed to your company or personal blog, and sharing presentations with slideshare, as well as posting regular updates and making sure to flesh out your profile as much as possible to show your qualifications, etc. You want to make sure that when people do find you and/or connect with you, you offer them as much ammunition as possible to start a dialogue with you. This may not be your first choice in platforms, but if this is the only place you’re going to be found by a certain portion of your target audience, well then, put a little bit of effort into it.

Okay, are you still with me? If so, thanks for reading my coffee-fueled dribble and feel free to connect with me over at LinkedIn

*This example is unrelated to the previous Bank of America example. Just a coincidence…

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