LinkedIn’s role in prospecting

On Monday, in response to my post about a presentation I’m making in mid-Sept., Nick asked this question about LinkedIn:

How much is too much with using LinkedIn to prospect? What are their limitations before they get grumpy with you for requesting too many connections?

It’s a good question–one that provides a good jumping off point for a discussion of LinkedIn’s role in prospecting.

A LinkedIn connection request to a contact you don’t already know isn’t prospecting–it’s really a cold call, and likely to be received as such. In fact, LinkedIn discourages members from sending requests to contacts they don’t know, with restrictions placed on the accounts of those deemed guilty of abuse.

LinkedIn is still a very powerful prospecting tool, however, via data mining before a connection request is offered. Here are a few examples of how you can prospect on LinkedIn:

Studying a prospect’s profile (assuming it’s public, of course) to understand where you can learn more about them (on Twitter, a blog, or SlideShare, for example)

– An advanced search that helps you find prospects–and understand who in your existing network is connected to those prospects

A closer look at the groups you’ve joined or events you’re attending to see if a shared interest could provide a conversation starter

Keep in mind, however, that while these strategies help get things started, you’ll still need to work at building the relationship online and offline. While LinkedIn makes it much easier to learn about your prospects, it simply precedes the personal contact that substantive relationships require. That may seem like the long route to the end goal, but it’s ultimately much more efficient to spend your time with a few qualified prospects than a dozen strangers. LinkedIn hasn’t changed this, but it has given you a great tool for converting strangers to friends more quickly than ever before.

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