Your Complete Guide to Using LinkedIn for B2B Prospecting

It’s great to have people tell you that they can find new leads for business on social media, but can they really?

Do people really see success through using social media to prospect for new business, or is it all a load of crap?

Let me tell you the truth: it’s both.

Most of the people you see talking about using social media to prospect aren’t actually doing that – they’re trying to sell you on their paid workshop or boot camp course, for the low, low, price of $999.

Prospecting for new leads isn’t just something you pick up in a single afternoon or a bootcamp course.  You have to work at it, regardless of the medium, and social media is no exception.

What do you actually need to do to start prospecting effectively on social media?  I’ll walk you through my preferred tactics for LinkedIn – which can tell you a considerable amount of information about your prospects, if you do it right.

ultimate guide to LinkedIn prospecting

Step 1: LinkedIn Search

The first step to prospecting is clearly defining exactly who your prospects are. For a detailed guide on creating a buyer persona that’s tailored to what you’ll be able to find in your social media efforts, click here!

Once you have your personas defined, start searching.

Use search to cast a wide net, and see what happens when you just splash around a bit, metaphorically speaking.

As an example, I’ll use Telecom Expense Management.

TEM search linkedin.png

This is what it looks like when I type that in to my LinkedIn search bar.

Go ahead and scroll through these initial results.  See who shows up at the top just in this initial search, and it might be worth noting what job postings are automatically served up for you in that search.  If a company is hiring for specific positions, that’s often a sign of growth, or a sign of need – and may indicate that the company is worth investigating.

Once you’ve scrolled through a couple pages of these top results, start narrowing it down.

Change your search to the most common job title you’ve identified as the decision maker (if you’ve been able to identify one).

Filter by 2nd degree connections (1st connections are people you’re already connected to, and we’re not worrying about them right this second).  2nd degree connections are close enough that the mutual acquaintance you share with that person may allow you an easier time connecting with them later on.

Filter further by limiting geographical region (US based, Canada, etc), language, and/or industries.

You should end up with a nice, targeted list of potential prospects.  If you’re lucky, it’ll be fairly large, allowing you to continue to filter as you go.  If your list of potential prospects is only 10 people, then your prospects are too narrow of a niche.  Start broad, then refine.

refine linkedin searchStart broad, then refine. Like science!

Step 2: Try and Qualify

Next, click away.  Start visiting profiles willy-nilly (okay, maybe you should try to be strategic about it), and look through them to see if you can identify a few key things:

  • How active are they? Do they post or seem to be active daily, or are they much less frequent LinkedIn users?
  • How long have they been in their current role?
  • How experienced do they seem in that role?
  • What are they interested in?

Make notes on these things, and then click through their job description to see the LinkedIn page of the company they work for.

Run through your checklist of sales qualifications – if you can identify them from either LinkedIn or their company page.  Are they large enough?  Growing fast enough?  Bringing in enough revenue?

If the company is a fit, use their LinkedIn page to check out other employees at that company.  Check out profiles, and make notes of other employees you may be able to get in touch with to get an “in” into the company.

What should happen is that as you go through the first 2 or 3 pages of results, you end up with a list of great fit companies, okay fit companies, and poor fit companies.

You should also have a short list of employees you’d like to connect with at the companies that are potential prospects.

That list of employees is your prospecting list.

bullet journal for business

Your method of keeping notes can be as pretty, or as messy, as you prefer.

Step 3: social selling, like a human.

That first day that you spent prospecting should have taken you a while, easily an hour or two (or the entire afternoon).  You visited a bunch of people’s profiles, and if they log in to LinkedIn on a regular basis, they’ll see that you visited them.

That’s your goal.  You want to wait at least a few days after that first visit, maybe even a week, to see who comes calling to check out your profile in return.

Those people are your even shorter list of potential prospects who are active and engaged on LinkedIn – they’re who you’re most likely to be able to start a conversation with on the platform.

Now, to not seem creepy, you’ll want to change your viewing settings before you go any further.

Click through to your profile settings (click “me” in the upper right corner, then click “settings and privacy”), and in privacy, you’ll see “profile viewing options”.  Select either private profile characteristics, or complete private mode.

turning your linkedin profile viewing off.png

It’ll look like that.

Now, go back to the profiles of everyone who’s been checking you out, and learn more about them.

Are they members in groups that you’re a member of?  When’s the last time they posted or interacted with a group?

When someone is regularly posting and active, you’ll see a box underneath their profile highlights that says “So and So’s Activity”.  Check that out – that’s where you’ll get a feel for what they find interesting, and possible ways to start a conversation.  You don’t have to be connected to the person to see this box – but it only shows up if they’re active.  No activity box means they’re not active, plain and simple.

linkedin prospecting part two.png

This is what it looks like when I check out the lovely Kathleen Glass on LinkedIn – she’s a true expert in social selling, and worth following!

You can click through the “see all activity” button, and see all posts from that person.

If they’ve been posting, then make a note.  You’ll want to come back to comment on those after you switch your profile back to displaying your name and headline when you look at profiles.

After you’ve checked out the people who checked you out, you should have an even shorter list of people who are engaged (not just active) on LinkedIn.

linkedin prospecting b2b

Step 4: What to do with these lists now that you’ve made them:

On the shortest list, where people are active and interested in you, you can try to connect with more finesse than you’ll be trying with other folks.

Turn your profile back to displaying who you are when you look at people, and go back to your shortest list of people who looked at you and are active on LinkedIn.

Visit them one by one, taking the time to go through their most recent posts and like or comment on them.  If they’ve been publishing Pulse articles, even better – read them and leave a comment underneath about what you read.

Bonus: if their posts are genuinely good, add them into your social media posting calendar.  Make sure to tag the person you’re targeting in your posts so they can see that you liked what you read enough to share it. 

Then, send a connection request, and in the personalized note you’ll include, mention one of the posts you commented on.  Use that as a reason for your interest in connecting with them.

Don’t you dare pitch them in the connection request!  We’ll get to that later.  Actually, we’ll never get to it. You never pitch directly through LinkedIn, or any social media platform.  You pitch in person, once you get to a call.  You use social media to get to a point where your prospect asks for the pitch.

Your next list is the people who are active on LinkedIn, but not engaged – they’re not posting or commenting on things on a regular basis.

Visit their profiles, and send them a connection request as well.  Try to call out something you have in common (groups, school, people), and think of a genuine reason that’s not trying to make a sale that would mean you’d connect with the person.

One option is to say you’re trying to build your network in this particular space, and because of (shared group, school, or people), you thought that they’d be a valuable person to know.

With the list of people who didn’t visit your profile, visit their profile again and check their activity stream.  Use the same tactics as above for engaged vs unengaged people, and make sure to keep notes on what you’re doing, and when, for later.

Why not just do this to all potential prospects in one go?

Prioritize.  It’s best to focus on a small group at a time, so that if you do get any initial, enthusiastic replies or messages about what you offer, you’re able to jump on the opportunity.  Tackling this with small groups at a time also allows you to genuinely make each connection request, comment, and interaction a genuine one.

As much as I like automation, this isn’t something you want to automate.

It’s the human factor that makes this work.

using LinkedIn for B2B prospecting

Step 5: build a relationship.

You saw that and you went “yeah, sure, Jen, I’m just gonna build a relationship, because the bricks for relationship building just grow on relationship trees!”

It’s more complex than just “go out and make people like you”, yes.  But there’s practical ways you can get started when you’re trying to get yourself out there.

Ways you can work on relationship building:

  • Participate in groups – keep an eye out for your prospects commenting or posting.
  • Keep a list of people related to specific topics or industries, and when you find an especially helpful or informative piece of content, send them a LinkedIn message.
    • DON’T SEND EVERYONE THE MESSAGE WITH THE CONTENT AS A MASS MESSAGE! Take the time to message people individually.  If it’s too annoying to message all the people you want to with the content, then your targeting isn’t narrow enough.  If you’re annoyed just trying to send the message, think about how annoyed the person receiving it will be!
  • Comment on and/or like the posts made to the target company’s page. It may not get you directly in touch with your key decision maker, but the person managing the company page will notice you.  When the “does anyone know who this guy is?” question inevitably happens, they’ll say something about how you’re the person always interacting with their content.

Keep notes in a CRM so you’ll know who you interact with the most and who you can start to count as a genuine connection, not just a digital acquaintance.

Throughout this entire process, you should also be posting blogs and content regularly to your LinkedIn profile.  Chances are extremely good that you won’t actually get a lead from a direct message on LinkedIn – your leads will actually reach out to you themselves through your website.  LinkedIn just kept your company top of mind.

Notice that nowhere in this sequence is there a step where you send your pre-formulated pitch to the person.

That’s because you never do that.

Never ever ever ever EVER. 

Sure, if you spray and pray, you might get a nibble once in a while.  Some people swear by that.  Think about the people you’ve met who swear by “just pitch everyone you meet!”

They probably remind you rather forcibly of greasy, used-car salesmen.  And sure, copying their methods will probably get you leads.  Used car salesmen sell cars, after all.

But you’ll get far fewer quality leads, and you’re far more likely to alienate any warm leads you were developing.

If you’re feeling confident, after you’ve spent some time building a digital relationship through interactions, you can try sending a message to engaged prospects to see if there’s any pain points you can help them with.

Each message should be unique and tailored to the person you’re messaging.  No copy pasted, formulaic messages.

If this sounds like a lot of work, and that it takes a long time, that’s because it is, and it does.

What you’re doing is networking, but expanding the power of personal networking through social media.

This isn’t any different than all the hand shaking and business card exchanging you do at a conference, it’s just more strategic and you can do it from home in your pajamas.

ROI for linkedin prospecting

So…How long does this take?  When do I see ROI for the efforts?

Ah, that’s the rub.

Doing all of this takes time.  It may only take a few months, it may take a year or more.

Either way, it’s not a fast lead generation tactic.  If you’re really, really determined, and you really work at this for an hour or more a day, religiously, then you may start seeing some pretty dramatic results fairly quickly.

But let’s face it.

You’re not going to spend an hour or more a day looking up potential prospects and networking. You’re not going to scour your LinkedIn groups for posts you can comment on, and you’re not going to craft pithy, touching messages on a daily basis to connect with potential leads.

Instead, let’s set some reasonable goals.

You work on this for a solid afternoon, maybe two or three afternoons, maybe a couple evenings with a glass of wine so you can better cope with how truly lousy some people’s profiles are.  I mean, really, if you’re in TEM and all of your LinkedIn activity is about cupcake factories, that tells me what you’re really aiming for in life.

Mmm, cupcakes.

Anyway, be realistic.  Don’t expect this to generate big name clients overnight, and don’t expect it to be easy or fast.

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