The term "prospecting" likely conjures visions of sales representatives in tight office cubicles cold-calling and cold-emailing the unsuspecting general public to make a quick buck. It's an age-old way of creating sales opportunities, what is known as "nurturing leads."
By nurturing leads, you can find out which prospective customers are likely to convert into paying customers.
However, prospecting isn't just for making a sale. It can be used to find prospects for myriad circumstances. For instance, a prospect could be a new employer, a new employee, a freelancer, a vendor, supplier, or even a donor for your non-profit organization. A conversion doesn't only have to refer to people who become paying customers. It could refer to someone who becomes a client or someone who gives your company a donation.
And, thanks to the increasing popularity of professional social networking site LinkedIn, targeting prospects no longer requires cold calls and cold emails. You can do it without having even to leave your desk.
With hundreds of millions of users on LinkedIn, it is a major tool for prospecting. This usefulness is particularly the case if you have a B2B niche (LinkedIn likely isn't the best place for selling your bespoke crochet hats). You're sure to be able to find whatever kind of prospect it is you need. In fact, not using it is a wasted opportunity.
But before you begin aimlessly messaging everyone and anyone, there are some things you should take care of, and best practices to know when approaching your prospects.
Before you begin:
Ensure your profile is professional and up-to-date
Leads won't buy what you're selling if your LinkedIn profile contains no indication of what that is. Take some time to fill it out with your qualifications and experience. Write an engaging brand statement (link to article). Help people learn who you are and why you do what you do. Include a professional photo to make it more personal.
Elevate your profile by asking previous clients, colleagues, customers, or whoever is relevant to endorse your skills and write you a recommendation. Include links to your portfolio, if relevant. For example, if your niche deals with professional skill building and helping clients get hired, ask your happiest customers to write about how you helped get them a job.
You want to find leads you can trust, but you need to give them a reason to believe you in turn. A half-hearted LinkedIn Profile won't do you any favors on this front.
Expand your connections
If your LinkedIn connections are limited to close friends and family, you're doing it wrong. Prospective leads will find it strange that you aren't connected with anyone in your industry. Plus, being connected to industry peers will bring a whole host of second and third-level connections. So make sure you take the time to connect with old and current colleagues, as well as people you meet at networking events.
In that same vein, you should also create a company page if you haven't already. We'll discuss this in more detail later.
InMail is a way of messaging people on LinkedIn you are not yet connected with. It's a premium feature, so you will have to pay for it. However, if you see yourself reaching out to prospects regularly, it will be worth it. A certain number of emails come with LinkedIn's premium plans, and you can pay for more credits if you need them.
We'll talk a little more about publishing content later in the article. By posting and publishing regularly, you'll give prospects the chance to engage with you. It also provides you with an opportunity to position yourself as someone with expertise in your field.
So you think you're ready to reach out to prospective prospects. That's great! However, there are some things you should bear in mind while doing so unless you want to make a bad impression. Ensure you come across as personable, polite, and friendly instead of pushy and sales-y by considering the following points.
Know your target audience/market
Knowing your audience is an integral part of knowing your business. Depending on who you're looking for, your general audience persona may not be the same as your prospect persona, especially if you're seeking a freelancer or consultant, for example, rather than looking to make a sale. In each case, it's good to know the general demographic of who you're targeting, from age, gender, to income level.
Joining LinkedIn groups that focus on specific industries will help paint a picture of who you're looking for. For instance, if you're a printing company who wants to offer your services to budding photographers, join photography groups to find the general profile of prospects and their needs and wishes.
No matter how large or small your prospect list, you'll want to keep track of them. Sending the same pitch to someone twice is not only embarrassing, but it's also unprofessional. Keeping track could be as simple as creating a straightforward spreadsheet on Excel or Google Sheets. For example, you could create different tabs for each keyword used. Then in the columns, you could have, Name, Job Title, Company, Industry, City, whether or not they responded to your message, etc. Whatever is relevant to the kind of prospecting you're doing.
Here is also a wide range of free and paid CRM tools on the Internet that will make tracking prospects easy. Commonly used options include Zoho, Salesforce, and Freshsales.
Connect only with relevant prospects
Unless they're already personal acquaintances, most people will be puzzled to receive a connection request from someone who doesn't work in their field. Reduce the chance of confusion by including a short message in your connection invitation saying why it is you'd like to connect. Maybe you are interested in the same things, or you like the work they do. Mention it.
Ask a mutual connection to introduce you or make a referral
If you share any mutual connections with your prospect, make the most of it by asking the one you trust to vouch. Prospects are more likely to trust you if they know you're real.
Build relationships before making a pitch
Be sure to thank your prospect if they accept your invitation. Don't make your pitch right away. Depending on the kinds of leads you're looking for, building a relationship with your prospect first is a good way to avoid being too forward or pushy. There are numerous ways to go about this.
One way is to engage with their posts regularly. Whether they write an original post or share a picture, be sure to like and comment. This will make them more likely to engage with your posts. If you find any content that's relevant to their interests, share it with them.
Ask them for their opinion on something related to their expertise. Maybe ask them for a quote or to contribute to an article or blog post on your site that you think they could elevate. With time you'll have established a rapport. Then it's time to make your pitch.
We've covered what to do before and after you find your prospects, but how exactly do you go about finding prospects on LinkedIn? There are numerous avenues you could go down, read on to find out what they are.
One or a combination of the following is a great way to get started with finding leads on LinkedIn:
Boolean keyword search
Get more specific when using LinkedIn's search function by using a Boolean search. Boolean search is when you combine keywords with what is known as operators or modifiers, such as AND, NOT, and OR. For example, if you are looking for "content OR advertising," your search results would feature both content and advertising. If you searched "content, NOT advertising," anything with advertising would be omitted.
You can also use parentheses and quotation marks to make your search more specific. With quotations, you can search for an exact phrase or job title, "social media manager," for example. LinkedIn only supports straight quotation marks in its search function. With related searches, you can use multiple terms to refine search results, such as "content AND advertising NOT (writer OR manager)."
Check out your connections' connections and your competitors'
As we said earlier, adding people in your field is a surefire way to find other prospects. Scope them out by perusing your connections' connections. This research is also effective with your competitors' networks.
Use the "People Also Viewed" sidebar
With this method, just one prospect can beget even more prospects! You may have noticed that whenever you view a LinkedIn profile, there is a People Also Viewed sidebar that features profiles that are similar or related to the one you're currently on. If you're viewing a prospect's profile, this sidebar is your key to instantly gaining several more.
Use the skill endorsements section
Much like the previous point, your prospects' endorsements section is probably filled with similar people. Check out who gave them endorsements and if they match the profile of your prospect persona.
Reach out to people who have commented on your prospects' posts
Earlier, we discussed the importance of interacting with your prospects on their posts. You're missing out with a potential wealth of potential prospects if you don't interact with other commenters too. Like the previous two sections, your prospects are likely to attract like-minded people in similar industries. Interacting with these commenters is an excellent way of building a rapport with prospects before you even send an InMail or invitation to connect.
Reach out to people who have commented on your posts
This engagement is the same principle of the last point, with arguably less effort on your part. Potential prospects have come to you. Don't waste this opportunity; take the time to respond to people's comments and interact with them. You never know where it might lead.
Sign up for LinkedIn's Sales Navigator Tool
Created specifically to help you use LinkedIn for sales prospecting and gaining insights into potential leads, the LinkedIn Sales Navigator tool does a lot of the groundwork for you. It comes with an advanced lead and company search function that will help you target the most relevant prospects. It also makes lead recommendations and keeps track of changes you should be aware of, from company changes to leads' job updates.
If you have the budget to spare and plan on using LinkedIn for a great deal of prospecting, sales, investing in the platform is worth it. There are three packages: Professional, which is aimed at individual sales professionals; Team, which is geared toward sales teams; and Enterprise, which is aimed at organizations.
The key to sending prospects messages on LinkedIn is keeping it personal. This doesn't mean getting creepy about it (mentioning you saw it was their kid's birthday when you stalked their Facebook post is not recommended), it just means showing that you read their profile and have a general sense of who they are career-wise.
If your proposal or product is not relevant to their industry field, then you shouldn't be messaging this person. We can't stress this enough.
What we mean about getting personal is tailoring each message to reflect the information you've gleaned from your prospect's profile, or including something you've learned if you previously interacted with them on posts or comments.
Be sure to use their name throughout and use "you" rather than "I" to focus on what you or your product or service can do for them. Don't jump in with what you're offering straight away.
You don't want to bombard your prospect. It should be a simple message that outlines who you are, what you can do for them, and request whether or not they would be interested. If the recipient replies affirmatively, then you can go into more detail.
Here are three templates for professionals reaching out to potential clients, organizations reaching to potential job candidates, and professionals or organizations offering their product or service.
Remember, unless you have InMail activated, you need to have a first-degree connection to your prospect if you want to message them.
Hi [Prospect Name]
Hope you're having a great day/week.
I wanted to reach out and say that I've always admired [something integral to company or professional]
If you ever need any help in that area, I specialize in [abc]. If you'd like to take a look at my portfolio, I'd be more than happy to send it.
If you're interested, feel free to message me here. I can also be reached at [xyz].
Hi [Prospect Name]
Hope you're having a great day/week.
[Introduce who you are]
[Your company and what it does]
[Who you're looking for - what the role entails]
You seem like a great fit/Would you be interested?
Hi [Prospect Name]
Hope you're having a great day/week.
The article you posted yesterday about [prospect's industry] gave me food for thought!
Our company offers [your product/service], and it has helped people in your industry in the past.
If you'd like to find out more, please drop me a message, and we'll set up a call.
So far, this article has largely been concerned with the best ways to seek out prospects. But what can you do to make prospects come to you? For this, you'll need to market yourself and/or your company.
Marketing yourself or your company on LinkedIn to attract more prospects need not be intimidating. Here are some tips to get started.
LinkedIn groups are a great way to find prospects in your particular field. You cannot only engage with fellow group members and build relationships as well as your profile, but you can keep abreast of the latest happenings in your industry. Can't find the group you are looking for? Create one!
Make the most of your company page by doing the following:
Whether you're an individual or an organization, posting content regularly is going to get you found. Again, the kind of content you post will be dependent on your niche and what your ultimate goal for prospecting is.
For instance, if you're a non-profit that helps the homeless and is looking for new donors, you could write articles about recent events you've organized or anything you've done lately. At the end of the article, be sure to include a call-to-action with relevant links that inform people how they can get involved or donate.
For example, if your company recently ran a food drive, the headline could be "X raises $X for community food banks." A successful charity run could have the headline, "Our 5K event raised $X for local homeless shelters". A call-to-action can be as simple as "Find out how you can get involved by clicking here" and hyperlink to the relevant page on your website.
You can also use the company status updates feature to keep followers in the know about relevant stats and figures and charitable events that are coming up. Because LinkedIn is a site that deals with business professionals, you can aim your message at those in the business of corporate social responsibility or corporate philanthropy.
For freelancers, posting content can be a great way to position yourself as an expert in your niche, which will boost your chance of finding prospective clients. You could write an opinion piece on the latest industry happenings in your fields, including a link to your services at the end.
Maybe you're a financial advisor looking to acquire more clients. You could write articles about common savings mistakes people make, tips for people to manage their money more effectively, or where to begin when it comes to investing.
Other examples of content an individual or company could create for LinkedIn include infographics, videos, and company news.
There's no limit to the kind of content you post if you get creative. Check out thought leaders and the leading companies in your industry to see the type of content they're posting. This will give you a good indication of where to start.
Like with utilizing LinkedIn for marketing, using LinkedIn advertising is a surefire way of getting prospects to come to you, with LinkedIn ads, you have several options at your disposal. How you go for it will be dependent on factors like budget, niche, and the kind of prospects you're trying to attract. Ads can be created using Campaign Manager, LinkedIn's advertising platform.
The LinkedIn ad formats to choose from are:
With Campaign Manager, you can build a target audience by picking from specific criteria, such as industry type, job title, age, and gender. Once you set your budget, you're ready to launch a LinkedIn advertising campaign.
Advertising on LinkedIn can get expensive, so it's good to make sure you have the right kind of business for LinkedIn advertising. As previously mentioned, lead generation on LinkedIn is best suited for B2B companies and not for promoting your Etsy shop.
Cost per clicks can also get more expensive, depending on how high your target audience is up against the corporate ladder. However, LinkedIn targeting is considered to be very useful so that it could be worth it. Targeting lower on the food chain is less expensive, and is ideal for companies who sell software as a service. Text ads are the most cost-effective option if you don't have a big marketing budget, but they tend to have less of an impact.
Whether or not LinkedIn advertising is worth it will change from business to business, so make sure you sit down and calculate whether it would produce a good ROI for your particular niche.
Using LinkedIn for lead generation can seem intimidating if you're unfamiliar with the world of sales, but it doesn't have to be. By optimizing your profile and company page, following a few best practices, tracking prospects, and regularly engaging with potential prospects in groups and comments, you'll be well on your way to successfully using LinkedIn for prospecting.
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