We're pleased to present this post by guest author, Dianna Huff, who offers practical advice on how to find out more about -- and better connect with -- your prospects.
A client of mine was seriously considering spending thousands of dollars to advertise in an industry trade journal in order to (hopefully) catch the attention of specific people in a very niche industry.
After talking with him - and asking lots of questions about his industry - I asked, "Have you tried LinkedIn?"
"You mean that site where I get lots of emails from people to connect?" he asked. "Uh, no. What would I get from LinkedIn?"
For those of you who think LinkedIn is simply a place to post your resume when you need a job or to half-heartedly build a "network," it's time to revisit LinkedIn.
In the last year or so, LinkedIn has significantly increased its functionality - making the business networking site a great way to gather market intelligence about your prospects and connect with them as well.
1. Read Company Profiles - Do you want to target specific companies within a niche industry? To find these companies, simply use LinkedIn's "Search Companies" function. (Look for the search tool at the top of each LinkedIn page.)
You can learn quite a bit reading Company Profiles: how large the company is, its specialties, locations and the number of employees at each location, and its previous years revenues.
Even better, you can quickly see which employees are in your network, new hires, employees recently promoted, former employees, and those employees who have "popular profiles."
Even better, you can find people with the job titles you're trying to target for marketing campaigns.
2. Study individuals' profiles - Once you have a list of individuals you'd like to target, go to each person's profile and see what you can learn.
Some people keep their entire profile "open" for viewing, and for those who do, you can learn quite a bit: the person's connections, the Groups they belong to, the events they're attending and even the books they're reading.
Also look to see if people have links to a corporate or personal blog or Twitter or Facebook profiles - if they do, be sure to follow them and/or add their blog to your blog reader.
3. Search "Groups" - You can also find people within your targeted industry by using LinkedIn's Search Groups function. Find specific Groups by using industry keywords in your search (i.e. B2B social media).
Look for Groups that seem to have a good fit with the industry you're targeting and see if they match them up with the Groups the prospects on your list belong to. Then, join those Groups. Why? So you can begin networking and getting to know people!
4. Join Groups - Now that you have an idea of who some of the experts are in your industry, which companies they work for, and which Groups they belong to, it's time to join a few (2 - 3 at the max) Groups.
The reason I limit this number to two or three is because to do this step well, you really need to devote time to getting to know people within the Group and how the Group operates, and answering questions when you can (without being self-serving).
If you join too many Groups, you'll spread yourself to thin. (Trust me, I belong to too many Groups and have time for only one - my own B2B Social Media Group.)
5. Search "Answers" - Again, do a search using your industry terms and you'll find questions (and answers) people have posted relating to your query.
Read those Answers that pertain to your industry and analyze who is answering them - do these people match any of the names on your prospect list? Who are the experts?
Yes, doing all of this "grassroots research" (as one of my clients calls it) does take some time and effort. But the result is worth it: over time, you get to know industry players, you begin to add them to your network, and eventually they'll begin clicking through to your Website, downloading content, and then doing business with you.
In effect, you're targeting real people on a one-to-one basis versus hoping unknown people with "job titles" notice your ad in a print publication or respond to your direct mail letter.
About the author: Dianna Huff, Principal of DH Communications, Inc., specializes in B2B marketing communications consulting and copywriting. To receive her FREE Web Marketing Toolkit, visit her Website at www.dhcommunications.com.