(SEE ALSO: Part 2)
Unlike other social media sites, LinkedIn came out of the gate targeting professionals, establishing itself as a site for furthering your career, as opposed to sharing personal updates with friends and family. Once you are signed up as a member, LinkedIn gives you the ability to create a professional profile largely centered on your career. Like a resume, your profile includes work history, skills, education, and other credentials. But it quickly became clear that this professional networking site was much more than a digital resume repository, and that it was as valuable to sales and marketing professionals as it was to HR recruiters.
Since its official launch in 2003, LinkedIn has expanded to more than 200 million members globally, 74 million of them in the United States. According to usage statistics from LinkedIn, approximately two members join every second.
LinkedIn’s layers of easily accessible data about members—such as where they work, how to reach them, and who they know—support the social selling process. And the site’s tools (both free and paid) can help you search for, connect to, and interact with both customers and potential prospects, even the ones most difficult to reach using traditional methods such as phone calls and emails.
Used to its fullest capabilities, LinkedIn could possibly become your number one prospecting tool, particularly for B2B sales.
How do you turn LinkedIn connections into sales? The process starts with a few basic rules, a handful of LinkedIn tools and strategies, and a serious commitment of your time.
The foundation of a successful LinkedIn experience is the Profile, or public LinkedIn page, that you create on the site. Showing your job history, especially your current position, in your profile is helpful in the social selling process. First, it provides an immediate association with the company you represent, and second, your experience (if described properly) reinforces your expertise in a particular area. Remember, a great deal of the social selling process is about establishing your credibility and building a relationship so that you can guide prospects through the buying decision.
But your job history is only the beginning. Several elements must come together to form an influential profile. Let’s start by taking a look at the five key profile components, which are shown below [or wherever].
Your profile picture shows up next to each and every action you take on the site. According to data from LinkedIn career expert Nicole Williams, people are up to seven times more likely to look at your profile if a photo is included with it.
Select a photo that looks professional, preferably a head shot. Smiling in a photo often makes it more inviting or likeable. Using pictures that are off-putting, blurry, or unprofessional is almost as bad as using no photo at all.
This section at the top of your profile page, next to your photo, includes your Name; a Headline (which can be as simple as your job title or position, or a short sentence or list of keywords highlighting your areas of expertise); your geographic Location, and the Industry in which you work. Think of this section as similar to your business card. Along with your photo, it is usually seen first by other LinkedIn members, and it is searchable within LinkedIn and by search engines.
Also visible in the top section of your page, this information includes your email address and up to three websites. When adding your website, instead of showing only the URL and linking to your company’s home page, use a descriptive sentence or call to action (such as “Get a Free Guide to Social Selling”) and link to a specific page with an offer for people coming from LinkedIn.
Almost anytime you do something on LinkedIn, it becomes immediately visible to others who are connected to you. These actions are documented as activities and appear toward the top part of your profile page. They also show up in weekly activity summaries that LinkedIn sends all your connections. This is a great place to keep sharing articles or presentations.
Several important pieces of information make up this section, including a Summary, or short description of your capabilities; an outline of your career Experience that shows current and past positions; and a Skills and Expertise list that allows you to include specific keywords associated with your professional capabilities, such as “lead generation” or “online marketing.” This is an ideal spot to incorporate phrases that are important within your industry, or keywords that your prospects might use to search for information related to your products or services.
The background section is your chance to shine. Unlike the sections already discussed, it is a place where you can rearrange the order in which your information appears and add eye-catching visuals and videos.
Several other helpful areas or descriptions can be added to your profile to provide a more complete picture of who you are, giving people more reasons to connect with you, and emphasizing your knowledge and expertise in a particular field.
Some of the more important profile add-ons are:
A testimonial from a customer, vendor, coworker, or boss (past or present) is a LinkedIn “recommendation.” These testimonials are visible on your public profile page and you are able (and encouraged) to send requests for recommendations to people in your network. Figure 11–2 shows how easy it is to send such a request.
A relatively new feature for LinkedIn, endorsements from your connections are for particular skill sets, usually the ones in your Skills and Expertise section, but people may choose to endorse you for a skill not included in your profile. An endorsement can be completed with one simple click on a link, even by someone you have never worked with directly. For those reasons, the validity and value of endorsements are still being debated.
For now, I think endorsements can still be valuable in the social selling process because they provide a quick overview of how people categorize your capabilities. Plus, LinkedIn keeps a public tally, visible next to each skill, of how many times you are endorsed for it. If you have been endorsed 118 times for being a Public Speaker, people viewing your profile for the first time are more likely to believe you must be pretty good at that.
Additionally, when people endorse you for a skill, you have a good excuse to reach out to them, renew old connections, thank them for their endorsements, and perhaps ask them to write recommendations. On the flip side, if you are looking for a subtle way to get on the radar of one of your connections, you may want to endorse that person for a skill. But do that only if you truly have reason to know that the person is good at it.
Showing degrees you have earned or time you spent at a college or university can provide another reason for someone to connect with you or trust you. Even if you didn’t graduate, including the time you spent at a school places you in its general network so that you have access to connect with anyone else who attended.
Particularly if you are in some type of service-based sales, describing current projects is a good way to demonstrate the type of work you and your company do (or can do) for customers. You can mention any type of project or research. For instance, if you are planning a webinar or writing a white paper on a topic of interest to your prospects, describing those works as projects is a good way to promote them and get inquiries about them before they are even ready to launch.
Like “projects,” this appears in the Additional Information section of your profile. Most people use interests the same way they would on a resume—as the spot for additional color about activities and hobbies. But in your LinkedIn profile, Interests is the place to reinforce the professional skills or expertise you have with two or three short sentences, again using strategic searchable keywords that will help you get found online for what you do best.
Other Profile Sections
Certifications, Patents, Organizations, Honors and awards, and Languages are among the additional sections that LinkedIn lets you include in your profile, and all can be helpful to the social selling process.
As you complete each section of your profile, don’t use descriptions like the ones you would use on a resume—short, bullet-point phrases that focus on key accomplishments or goals. Instead, think of your profile in terms of how you want your customers to see you. Use descriptions and keywords that matter most to prospects in your industry. Write sentences that illustrate how you have helped customers, as opposed to how you helped the company for which you work.
Use your profile to make a good first impression—and to sell yourself as an expert who can help people identify and solve their problems as a consumer or a business.
Once your LinkedIn profile is completed and fine-tuned, you are ready to start building your online network. Basic guidelines and strategic recommendations for that process will appear next month in Part 2 of this series.
Shannon Belew is a digital marketing advocate and the author of Starting an Online Business for Dummies, All-in-One. She currently manages online marketing and lead generation for a global IP telephony company and blogs at OnlineMarketingToGo.com. This article is derived from her new book, The Art of Social Selling: Finding and Engaging Customers on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Other Social Networks. © 2014 Shannon Belew. All rights reserved. Published by AMACOM Books, a division of the American Management Association. To learn more: www.amacombooks.org.