LinkedIn is often thought of as a place to update your resume and keep in touch with former colleagues, but many small business owners might not realize that LinkedIn can often be an ideal place to obtain new sales leads. Whether you’re new to LinkedIn or are looking for ways to get more out of the time you spend on LinkedIn, here are two of the biggest and most powerful methods to use LinkedIn for lead generation. #1. Do your research on companies LinkedIn is an ideal platform for conducting research about other companies in the industry that you serve. Whether you’re trying to get information on competitors, get a sense for which companies are the right fit for the B2B solutions that you sell, or get sales leads by identifying specific people to contact within a particular company, LinkedIn makes it easy to research companies. Just by clicking the Company tab at the top of any page on LinkedIn, you can search for specific companies by keyword or by company name. Clicking a company name within your search results allows you to see the Company Profile on LinkedIn, which includes information such as:- general company employee information (including number of employees on LinkedIn), a list of all of the company’s employees who are already within your network, people who have recently been hired at the company, new titles of company employees who have recently gotten promoted, the geographic areas that the company covers, and the company specialties – what the company does and how they do it. LinkedIn company research can be an ideal way to lay the groundwork for successful lead generation – by finding a list of companies that might be a good fit for what you sell, and by zeroing in to learn more about a specific company before you pick up the phone. #2. Warm up the cold call LinkedIn is a powerful tool for lead generation because it enables you to make “warmer” cold calls. Instead of calling people out of nowhere with no basis for a sales relationship, LinkedIn makes it possible to start building a relationship before you ever talk with them directly. How can you build sales relationships on LinkedIn? Here are a few ideas: Start with your inner circle One of the many powerful aspects of LinkedIn is that it shows you how closely connected you are (via your existing network) to anyone on the site – for example, you might be a 2nd or 3rd degree contact with some of the people at a company that you would love to sell to. The powerful thing about LinkedIn is that it shows you “who you know” who might know someone at the company. You can work through your own network to get in touch with the company on your target list – without having to make a cold call. Participate in industry conversations LinkedIn hosts a number of lively discussion forums on various topics affecting your industry. These discussion groups are great ways to share your expertise and help other people answer questions and solve problems – often that are directly related to what you sell. By spending a few minutes a day scanning through LinkedIn discussions and participating where you can, you will have the chance to get known as an expert in your field and get credit for being a thoughtful, helpful person. It might even lead to some sales along the way! Send InMail E-mail is still a powerful tool for conducting sales conversations, but we all know that it has its limitations – many e-mails get ignored, deleted or lost in the constant clutter of the inbox. LinkedIn offers a feature called “InMail” as part of its LinkedIn Premium Package that lets you break through the clutter by sending messages directly to people who are often the hardest to reach via e-mail alone. InMail isn’t free – you get “credits” that can be used to send a certain number of InMails per month. This makes InMails more scarce and important – and makes it more likely that your InMail message will actually get through. Plus, you can send InMail messages directly to anyone on LinkedIn, even if they’re not in your immediate network on the site. Once you’ve identified the right decision maker and you know more about the company and you have the basis for a sales relationship or references from someone you know within the company, you can send InMail messages to get a conversation started. LinkedIn is likely to grow as a powerful tool for lead generation in the years to come as more professionals and hard-to-reach decision makers rely on this site as their primary social networking tool. If you’ve struggled to reach people and build sales relationships with other social networking sites, try LinkedIn. If you use it the right way – to research companies, to build relationships, and to gradually focus on specific decision makers – LinkedIn can be an effective lead generation method, especially for B2B lead generation and sales. Images: ”LISBON – JANUARY 14, 2014: Photo of LinkedIn homepage on a monitor screen through a magnifying glass. Gil C / Shutterstock.com“ __________________________________________________________________________________ Connect with Tweak Your Biz: Would you like to write for Tweak Your Biz? Tweak Your Biz is an international, business advice community and online publication. Today it is read by over 140,000 business people each month (unique visitors, Google Analytics, December, 2013). See our review of 2013 for more information. An outstanding title can increase tweets, Facebook Likes, and visitor traffic by 50% or more. Generate great titles for your articles and blog posts with the Tweak Your Biz Title Generator. 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