Prospecting using Linkedin
Conjecture: can social sites replace conventional means of prospecting for customers? Nobody knows what influence the social sites and Web 2.0/3.0 will have on business in the long run but it is worth making your own assessment to see if there is anything in it for you.
This paper will argue that you can use social sites in this way but first some caveats. The key social site for business-to-business (B2B) marketers at the time of writing is undoubtedly Linkedin. That’s not to denigrate the others but each has their role in the great scheme of things and undoubtedly some are more appropriate in a business-to-business context, others business-to-consumer. Whilst it can be argued that even B2B marketing should be redefined as B2C2B – work it out, it’s an interesting concept – it seems that few Cs take their out-of-hours interests into the B arena and thus Linkedin appears to have more traction than Facebook or Twitter.
The second caveat involves the role of marketing at a tactical level. This is argued more fully in our paper HERE which gives the marketing function the task of “finding” in the “finding, winning and keeping” definition.
So returning to our theme, new business comes from a) a prospect contacting the supplier, b) marketing generating leads, or c) sales knocking on the door. All of these can be encouraged through social sites. Four functions within Linkedin lubricate this process: Companies, Groups, People and Broadcast.
Linkedin lets you search for companies by both industry sector and location. This can produce previously unknown prospects which can then be qualified. It can also produce a list of people following the site which may indicate a supplier status or add to the list of prospect companies. Another advantage of Linkedin is that it may list middle management names which are not usually available through bought-in lists.
'Groups' are groups of people who have an interest in common. It is a good way for a marketing person to keep in touch with what is happening in an industry as well as to become a thought leader by publishing articles and thus creating a halo effect around your company which will make selling easier. Others participating in a Group may also be added to the prospect list. In many industries where conventional segmenting by size, SIC etc is not possible segmenting by interest may provide more insight and more actionable data. It may also help to focus copywriting and offers. Emailing prospects through Linkedin is restricted (see below) but any member of a group can email any other member with no limit on the number of times. Groups also always have a notice board and you can paste an html link to your web site so facilitating the move to an offline conversation: much more likely to produce a sale.
Broadcast allows you to share interesting articles with connections and, of course, makes your profile available to a wider audience making the first contact easier and less ‘cold’.
Linkedin allows users to search for buyers by job title and it can be restricted geographically which is also helpful. The resulting list will need to be qualified.
These functions within Linkedin are only the first step. It may be possible to gain an introduction through a common contact: shades of word-of-mouth marketing and good old fashioned networking.
Subscribing to the premium services is one step up from this. This allows any Linkedin member to send up to 10 INmails a month to members of the database even if not connected. The advantage is that it allows qualification by sector, connections or offering and prevents the email being stopped by a firewall or other filter.
So, a new club in the marketing golf bag or just another dead end as the internet comes of age. Time will only tell but with all the barriers to making contact by conventional direct marketing and telemarketing many companies will find this approach attractive especially while budgets are under threat.