Using LinkedIn for B2B Business Development

LinkedIn for Hunters

In talking to many others about LinkedIn there seem to be two main schools of thought. One says you should have as many connections as possible while another, less common view, is that you should be very selective worrying more about quality and relevance than quantity. I am in the quality, less is more, camp.

My thinking is to some extent shaped by the approach I have always used when looking for new customers; research, create a list, refine and filter until I have a small list of well qualified suspects that I then approach one-to-one. I have carried this approach with me from long before there was an internet.

I found support for my view some years ago when I read about Robin Dunbar who undertook a piece of research from which he coined the term ‘Dunbar’s number‘ which is about 150. This says that a human being can only effectively maintain around 150 relationships at any one time and if new relationships are created some older ones will have to go or probably fall into disrepair.

But many people would say they have many hundreds or even thousands of relationships as Facebook friends or contacts on Twitter or LinkedIn? Who is right; Robin Dunbar or everyone else? The answer is actually both. The on-line world makes it very easy for us to connect so with the click of a few buttons we can put someone else on the list of names we call our friends, contacts or connections. However, when Robin Dunbar did his research he was focused specifically on “relationships” which implies interaction between the parties and a mutual acceptance that there is a relationship that has purpose and will be worth investing effort to develop and maintain; this is different to a list of names.

Another idea on this goes by the name of ‘The 6 degrees of separation‘. Put simply this says if I speak to a contact of mine and they speak to a contact of theirs and so on and so forth, after six layers of contact I could have access to anyone else in the world. Mathematically this could work as it would only require every person in the chain to have 43 contacts to equal the current world population. So, for a much smaller number than Dunbar’s 150 it would appear that everyone in the world is available to us. However, this cannot work as it misses the point made by Robin Dunbar that to be meaningful, the connection must be a relationship and relationships are not infinitely transferable. This means that my friends’ friend is not going to be my friend unless I put in the work to make them so. They might be more inclined to meet me due to a transfer of mutual respect through our shared friend but from this point onwards they are a stranger.

While it could be argued that having many connections on LinkedIn, all of whom can view my activity, is rather like a market stall or shop front where the model has always been that people passing by are attracted by the window display so they come in to browse. That may be good for traditional retail, but this browser approach has never worked well for B2B.

With respect to invitations to connect; be aware that any you receive which only contain the standard texts, may have been automatically generated. Take the time to review the sender and start a conversation before connecting. They may be genuine, or a competitor seeking to monitor you, or just acquisitive. Their response to your initial contact may even set the scene for a blossoming relationship. Bear in mind, others may think this way about invitations that you send so always be genuine. You can end up black listed by LinkedIn if you get too many messages rejected by intended recipients.

My conclusion is that I see no point collecting 100s of connections on LinkedIn if I want it to be a part of an effective business development mechanism, so here are my top tips on using LinkedIn as part of a B2B go-to-market strategy:

  • Make sure you really understand what people buy from you and why.
  • Make sure you know (really fully understand) what your customer would therefore look like.
  • Use the above information to create a profile of where you are most likely to find your target new customers on LinkedIn; a good starting point is appropriate groups.
  • Share/post interesting external articles with a short introductory perspective on its value; it may be commented on or liked by your existing connections and thus receive wider visibility. It may just be seen by someone with whom your observation resonates regarding a current focus of their attention.
  • Get active on the groups; post comments and create your own discussions.
    • Look at who viewed you every day and if they are of interest look back at them so they know you have seen them.
    • Whenever you see someone that might be of interest to you, take the time to view their profile – they will probably see you have done this and look back at you.

    This is one method of laying the ground bait, piquing interest, before starting a conversation

  • You can reply privately to people in discussion threads, especially if they have also ‘viewed’ your profile; make sure you have something really worthwhile to say to them
  • You can send people In-mails; again make sure the message is individual, specific and pertinent to the other party otherwise it may be viewed as any other cold generic e-mail
  • Even at the basic level (non-paid) membership you have some advanced search facilities so you can search for people who are likely to be interested in what you sell; Location, industry sector, job title, etc. You can then approach them directly either by e-mail or better still by phone.

In summary; focus, filter and refine and then make direct outbound contact; don’t wait for them to happen by your stall or shop front.