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Simon Owens

LinkedIn launched in 2003 — more than a decade ago — yet a significant percentage of its users view it merely as a place to update your resume and look for a job. Lost on many of them is the notion that LinkedIn and its 400 million members offer an entire bevy of opportunities that include professional networking, job training, education, thought leadership, and, yes, generating more sales leads.

This fact continually baffles John Nemo, a consultant who works with sales teams to train them on LinkedIn. “Whether it’s launching LinkedIn Pulse or purchasing [job training site] Lynda.com, LinkedIn wants to be the world’s one-stop shop for professionals,” he said in a phone interview. “This is where you go to get news. This is where you go to get training. This where you come to find talent. LinkedIn wants to take over the whole business world, and if you look at it as a marketer or salesman, most of the world’s business-related attention is going to be there.”

Nemo, the author of the book LinkedIn Riches, has developed several strategies over the years to produce business relationships and sales leads on the social platform, and sales teams will often hire him to coach them to through the process. He walked us through the six most common pieces of advice he gives to clients.

Your profile needs to be “outward facing”

“The single biggest mistake I see people making with LinkedIn is that they have a profile that looks a lot like a resume,” he said. “It reads like a resume, it’s all about me, it’s all about where I work, where I went to college and what I’ve done. And the only problem with this is that nobody cares. Sorry Dude, I don’t care, so what can you do for me? It’s Sales 101: what’s in it for the customer?”

Nemo’s advice is to make your LinkedIn profile “client facing” by following a simple formula: “Hi, I’m [insert name], I help [insert target audience] achieve their goals by [insert your product or service].” He also encourages his clients to consider all the keywords his target audience might search for — both in LinkedIn’s internal search function or on Google — and make sure they’re included on your profile.

Figure out your niche audience

This goes well beyond simply determining what industries you want to reach. When you visualize your average customer, what is their job title? What did they major in in college? “Most people can say something like, ‘Oh yeah, typically I sell to CEO level or C-suite executives at health care companies,” said Nemo.

Utilize LinkedIn’s powerful search tools

“LinkedIn is like big brother,” said Nemo. “It knows everything about everyone! They know where you work, what your job title is, where you live, where you went to college. They know what your interest and hobbies are. So what I teach people to do from a selling perspective is go on LinkedIn and use tools like its search feature and basically find all your ideal prospects in one place.”

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The platform even allows for boolean searches in which the user can create parenthetical fields to exclude or include results based on “and” or “or.” “It’s like tapping into the NSA database,” he said. “Whether it’s regional, company based, job based, industry based, title based, it has all these advanced features you can refine, and what ends up happening is you create a ready-made list of prospects for free.”

Begin building relationships

Notice that we didn’t say “begin selling.” When you send that initial LinkedIn invitation, you shouldn’t lead with your product or service. Instead, you should review the publicly-available information on the prospect’s profile and look for points of common interest with which to start a conversation. “I can say, ‘I see you live in London, how’s the weather this week?’ Or I can say, ‘Hey, I see you listed rugby as a hobby,’ and start a conversation that way. We start with a fun, friendly, non-threatening conversation and then once we do that people can get to know and trust us, which is something people need first before doing business with you.”

Scale your relationships with LinkedIn Groups and blogging

LinkedIn has a number of tools that allow you to speak to larger groups at scale. One is LinkedIn Groups, which are message board threads that are focused around a particular topic or industry. The company also allows users to upload native articles to its blogging platform. “Where LinkedIn really shines is it gives you incredible analytics,” said Nemo. “So there’s a feature called ‘who viewed my posts’ that you can access, and it’ll break down the industry representation of who read your post — here’s the job titles of people looking at it, here are the names of people who have liked, commented, and shared. If you write a post and 100 people like it, that’s 100 warm leads that you now have a context that you can message around. Lead with something like, ‘Hey, thanks so much for liking my post, what did you enjoy most?’”

Move your relationship off LinkedIn

It may seem counterintuitive to move your conversation away from LinkedIn, but Nemo argued that conducting it solely on the platform carries risks. “You’re playing on rented land,” he explained. “At any moment LinkedIn could decide to switch off one of its features or make it so you have to pay to message people. We saw that with Facebook fan pages, where a few years ago businesses spent time and effort building these fan bases, and then one day Facebook said that you’re going to have to pay to reach these fans who opted in to hear from you.”

Your goal then should be to get the person to sign up for your newsletter, view your webinar, get on a phone call, or even meet you in person. “LinkedIn is changing all the time because they’re trying to monetize,” he said. “We saw it with Facebook, and the day is coming with LinkedIn where you’re going to have to pay for reaching your contacts and other stuff we took for granted. But at the end of the day, the risk and reward are worth it; when it comes to B2B sales and marketing, there’s no better platform than LinkedIn.”

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