LinkedIn has rapidly become the number one B2B social networking tool with over 175 million users from around the globe. Of those users, 2.2 million are in the C-suite and not too far behind that at 1.7 million are business directors or managers of enterprise-level companies. Finally, for those interested in engaging small business owners, a whopping 13 million entrepreneurs are in the network.
So how do you create long-term business relationships through LinkedIn? You know your target audience lives there and you have the opportunity to talk to them through content, direct messaging, advertising, and the like. You can also receive a warm introduction to exactly who it is you want to do business with through the LinkedIn "Get Introduced through a 1st level connection" feature.
It's not as easy as one-two-three. To have the real opportunity to create solid, long-term direct client and quality business referrals in LinkedIn, you need a personal brand, a value, a mission, ethics, and a real commitment to delivering value to your LinkedIn connects. So where do you start and what are some LinkedIn success stories?
Let's start with an analysis of your personal brand and your target audience. This type of analysis yields an effective LinkedIn marketing plan that if done correctly will ensure your business development success. Your personal brand needs to reflect your primary strength as a business professional. Your personal brand style must be natural to how others view you. It's not unlike how you impress others in ways you may not necessarily be cognizant of on a daily basis. And so, to uncover your personal brand and related style, you will need to ask your clients and colleagues to tell you what they feel are your strengths and what it is about your personality that attracted them to do business with you in the first place. You will find that you will realize a common thread among these people - they like and trust you and hence, they decided to work with you. Now you need to understand why.
Let's go on to your target audience. Who is it you want to have engage around your personal brand and why? Who is your qualified client? Who is a qualified influencer (who may refer LinkedIn business to you)? Get granular in how you think about who this is. In LinkedIn language, this means understanding what groups your target is participating in, what categories of questions this person cares about and where she needs help, what type of information she cares about, and understanding who she has in her concentric LinkedIn networks. On a company level, where does your target work and what does LinkedIn say about this company? Follow the companies that represent the people you want to do business with.
Now, let's look at why someone in your target audience would choose to do business with you in LinkedIn. To start, you must have a solid, complete, engaging personal profile that supports your personal brand. This means a number of crucial items:
Now that you have defined your personal brand, established your target audience, and completed your personal profile, you can start finding qualified leads and engaging in frequent communication. You can easily start by doing a contact import from your email program and pull in university, client, colleague, employer, vendor, and partner contacts. The minute you ask someone to connect with you on LinkedIn or accept a LinkedIn invite request, you are starting a business relationship. It is so important that you personalize your invite request and that you immediately reply to anyone who you accept an invite from to ask for a real, live phone conversation.
LinkedIn networking is just that - a way to network with other business professionals, so do it. Whether you are inviting someone into your network, accepting an invite, or requesting a warm introduction to a target client, remember that you must speak to that person in a similar fashion to a business networking meeting. You want to introduce yourself, ask and listen to them talk about what they do, offer valuable insight that may help them, and only request a call/meeting next if they express a real interest.
Once you have a network in LinkedIn and a full profile, you can now start real business development. To do so, you will need to commit to time daily to create and deliver compelling and valuable content across your LinkedIn network, stay aware of your target network's updates, and comment when appropriate and participate in Groups that matter to you, your industry, and your target audience.
To truly stand out in LinkedIn - and an easy way to get your target to pay attention to you - is for you to spend time and honestly answer questions on LinkedIn where you can provide real support. People will appreciate free advice that drives direct results and will more than likely then ask to connect with you on a real level.
Remember also that journalists, reporters, conference leaders, and the media are using LinkedIn to find experts for articles and stories. The more you focus in on creating and delivering a personal brand that provides real value to your target audience, the more opportunities you will have to share your story with these folks, which will, in turn, positively affect your online branding efforts.
In the end, creating solid business relationships in LinkedIn takes strategy, execution, and commitment, like any other successful marketing program. LinkedIn as a B2B social networking tool will only grow as enhanced features and awareness of the tool becomes a daily news item on the Internet. Create a compelling personal brand on LinkedIn and deliver it effectively with a target plan and you will find that LinkedIn will be your business development tool of choice.
Business People image on home page via Shutterstock.
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Jasmine Sandler is a veteran in online marketing. She has over 15 years client experience in helping companies, both large and small, use the web to develop and grow business. Miss Sandler has provided interactive solutions for such clients as: Citibank, ISO, Diamonds International, Doublerock Corporation, Loews Hotels, CityLights Cruises, and hundreds of small businesses and start-ups.
Miss Sandler has expertise in the areas of using LinkedIn to grow business, B2B social media marketing strategy, search marketing strategies for sustainable online visibility, website effectiveness for user engagement, and digital strategies for small businesses. She is a published author of "Branding & Sales: The LinkedIn Way," available on Amazon and in paperback.
Jasmine is a frequent speaker for The Association of Strategic Marketing, The Association of Ghostwriters, Search Engine Strategies, Small Business Technology, and New York Business Expo. Miss Sandler is a contributing monthly writer for ClickZ.com, Search Engine Watch, The New York Enterprise Report, and LinkedIn Original Content.
Jasmine is CEO and founder of Agent-cy Online Marketing, an online branding agency in NYC with a team in digital strategy, web design and development, search marketing strategy and management, social media marketing, and online PR.
Miss Sandler provides LinkedIn Corporate Training and individual executive work as well as digital planning as a consultant to enterprise level organizations globally. Her consulting work and published content can be found at jasminesandler.com.
Miss Sandler holds a dual MBA in Marketing and Technology from the University of Miami and is a very active supporter of LinkedIn and runs several business owner groups on the site. Prior to developing a career in web marketing, she held the position of Director of Managed Data Networking Sales at IBM Global Services for a period of seven years.