Mr. Livingstone, I presume: How to use LinkedIn to search for contacts

Now that you’ve chosen a target market, start looking for contacts. If your target customers are involved with LinkedIn, it’s a great place to look for decision makers, business managers, and information about their companies.

Where the money is. Why did Willie Sutton rob banks? “Because that’s where the money is.” That’s true for LinkedIn if your target market is businesses. More than 40 percent of North American users are from large companies (10,000 employees or more). Another 30 percent work at companies with 1,000 to 10,000 employees. About 16 percent are C-level, VP or Director. Executives at all of the companies in the Fortune 500 are members. Nearly 2 million companies have LinkedIn company pages.

Join ‘em. Join LinkedIn groups (up to 50) that are relevant to your industry and your target market’s industry. See what questions they are asking. Answer questions to show your expertise. Post informative updates (90%) and focused offers (10%). Follow the top influencers identified by the group. For really important groups, become a top influencer yourself. Being a member of a group also makes it easier to invite group members to be part of your network.

Want to get extra attention and influence? Start your own group. Invite members and start conversations. Ask questions. Promote your events.

Hunt for customers using the LinkedIn Advanced Search feature.

Places to go. Focus on the geography where your customers are, or where you want them to be. Choose entire countries, or look for contacts within a given distance of a postal code.

People to see. Search for contacts by job title, industry, and company name. Or look for individuals by name or key words in their profiles. LinkedIn lets you look for people who worked at companies in the past – they can be a good source of insider information. Armed with this information, you can learn about contacts in advance – no more “cold” calls or mailings. Remember: the more people in your extended network, the more people you can see.

Besides looking for customers, this is a good way to look for new employees.

Things to do. Look for your contacts’ events. Events are good opportunities to meet potential customers off-line … you know, face to face. Help them know, like and trust you. On your home page, go to ‘Search Events’ and enter Tampa, Florida, or another geography. Pick a time frame and an event type and click ‘search’. Sign up for the ones that look good and go!

Extra! Extra! Subscribe to LinkedIn Today to get current news from industry groups that are important to your business. Post links to relevant articles and make insightful comments. Share news with your company colleagues.

Reach out. Save your search, and export results to spreadsheet or contact manager software. Start building your relationships and revenue. Answer group questions. Invite people to join your network. Promote your events. Post updates and comment on other people’s posts. Go out and shake hands. Use the search information for a phone, email or mail campaign. Boldly go where you haven’t gone before.

Next: Practice safe on-line networking: secure your Facebook account with lists

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A Target Rich Environment: Pick the Best Target Market to Grow Your Business

As a small business, you may be reluctant to turn away business opportunities, no matter what the source. But trying to be all things to all people will usually lead to failure.

Follow the money. ‘Do what you love’ is a great place to start, but you need to find the best place to sell your product or service. Look for a target group large enough, with enough money to spend, to produce the revenue you need. Avoid markets that need what you offer but can’t afford to pay for it. You and the people around you have limited time, and a limited budget. Focus them on a market that gives the best financial results.

What do they really need ? Once you have chosen a target market, you can focus on their unmet needs. When Federal Express started their express package service, their message was, “when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight”. They targeted people and companies who had an urgent need for overnight delivery, and were willing to pay extra for it. You can do the same thing in your business.

Stand out. In every market, there is plenty of competition. Successful companies must find a way to be different from and better than their competitors in the eyes of a particular group of customers. What problems need solutions? How can you use your existing skills and abilities to be seen as an expert? What can you offer that competitors will have a hard time matching? Study your ideal customer until you know them as well as you know yourself. When you can answer the question “why should I buy from you instead of your competitors?” from your target customer’s point of view, you are ready to move forward.

Check it out. Is there a way to communicate with the group cost-effectively? How does the group search for a vendor on the internet? What media does your group use to look for product or service information? What conferences and meetings do they attend? What marketing messages will be the most effective on your web page or in your blog? People respond best when they believe you are talking directly to them about their individual needs.

Reach out. Take some time to confirm what you have learned. Go to the meetup groups and LinkedIn events where you expect customers to be. Start some conversations. Search for comments and questions on social media sites. Ask some questions yourself and see who answers. Do they respond to you? Are they interested in what you can do? If not, change your offer, change your message, or look for a different customer group.

Engage ! Deliver your message to your target market using the media they follow and the events they attend. Execute your business flawlessly so your customer has a highly satisfying experience with your company. Ask for referrals and recommendations to other customers. Listen to customer concerns and feedback. Adjust as necessary. Repeat.

Next – Mr. Livingstone, I presume: how to use LinkedIn to find business leads