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If you want to look at how other professional services companies are using social media for B2B marketing, there’s a very interesting interview with Alan Schoenberg of CME Group that gives some helpful insights on how to make LinkedIn and other online tools.
CME Group is a derivatives marketplace, with an electronic trading platform and trading facilities in New York and Chicago, and it also operates a central counterparty clearing provider.
Schoenberg says LinkedIn is the best B2B social media platform. Among other insights, he says CME is maintaining different LinkedIn groups for different segments of their market:
We now have more than 10 groups on LinkedIn and all of them are very different but with a common goal – connect our sales team and product experts to our customers. I like these groups because we keep them private in order to keep out competitors and vendors, but also to keep them small and manageable.
That makes a lot of sense – your LinkedIn groups should be client-focused communities, which means you will need different groups if you have many customers with different interests.
Schoenberg offers a couple of other tips on LinkedIn:
First, focus on finding the people internally who want to use LinkedIn and help them build their profiles. This includes sending them news stories to post and actually helping them write their posts. If you do this consistently (every week) they will better understand the resource and will become great advocates for your brand. My other tip is that you should make your company page a priority.
Again, it’s great advice. Developing a coherent continuous effort to engage colleagues inside your firm to use LinkedIn as part of a joined-up business development strategy is essential to avoid wasting time and losing focus. And yes, the company page element of LinkedIn is critical – as we said for UK law firms recently, it’s important to provide frequent updates, make good use of visual images, highlight specific services, and give useful links to your professionals and web pages.
If you search on LinkedIn for law firms in the UK, you’ll find a little under 2000 firms are listed as either law practices or legal services (some of these aren’t actually law firms but are services for law firms).
Amid that crowd, how do you stand out?
One way is by having an excellent company page, making use of LinkedIn’s tools to attract and retain interest in your brand.
What makes a good company page? The most immediate impact is simply visual – the branding of the image at the top of your page is a key element in conveying something quickly about your identity, character or offering.
Next, it’s key to have some fresh updates with information that’s relevant to whomever you want to develop relationships with – your clients, potential recruits, and other stakeholders. If you want these people to ‘follow’ your company on LinkedIn so they’ll automatically receive any updates you post on your page, you have to show them first that you’re going to deliver information and news that’s interesting and relevant to them.
Finally, if you offer distinctive services (or products) you should specify these in the products/services section, preferably including links to the relevant sections of your own web site.
I’ve made a quick list – see it on Listly – of some of the better UK law firm company pages on LinkedIn. On the Listly page, you can voice your opinion or like/unlike a page, or send me a better example if you want me to include that instead. I’ve selected pages from some firms of different sizes, to show what’s possible at any size.
It’s always worth reminding ourselves that LinkedIn is a way to foster your relationships with other living, breathing human beings – with all their uniqueness, their sensitivities and their social expectations. If you want to relate well with valuable contacts and clients, you need to treat them with the kind of respect, consideration and social grace that you yourself would expect as a client or potential client.
Earlier this month Liz Ryan wrote an excellent piece about the ” several jarring ways in which LinkedIn makes clear that its product folks don’t understand how real people operate.” She picks out five particular examples of how this otherwise excellent online business networking tool doesn’t quite grasp what Ryan calls “the soft and squishy side of online networking and collaboration.”
It’s worth being careful, therefore, about how you use the many tools and functions that LinkedIn provides. Before you press that invitation button, request that recommendation, or publish that comment, think to yourself:
- Would I say it, or do it, like this if I were talking with someone in person, or on the phone?
- How would I feel if someone spoke to me or treated me this way?
- Is there a better way of doing this that this particular person would prefer?
Along these lines, for example, it’s worth thinking about who you accept as connections if you haven’t met them, and how you ask for a connection with people you haven’t met. Kristen Burnham has written about when to accept or reject connections, and offers some tips on which connections to accept and what to do when you yourself approach someone you don’t know.
For professionals, LinkedIn is a great technical aid for growing your business, but at the end of the day that business growth will depend on having solid, long-lasting relationships with flesh-and-blood human beings.
How do you get the best out of LinkedIn to generate sales in professional services?
For a great starting point, check out this blog on using LinkedIn for sales prospecting from Anna Bratton at Salesforce.
I particularly like her advice on using LinkedIn’s advanced search function well:
“By intelligently mixing the different filters you can get really deep and identify key individuals quickly and easily….You can also save your search criteria and get a weekly report listing anyone new who matches the customers you’re looking for.”
And she also explains how it’s possible to map the decision makers within target companies:
“You’d be surprised how much people put in their profiles – which team they’re in, which office they work out of, what projects they’re focusing on. With a little detective work, you can quickly build up a picture of who you should be talking to, what they’re like (check out their recommendations) and what they’ve done before.”
Great advice – in professional services, it clearly makes sense to use these ways to find the specific individuals you want to talk with and their role in any decision to engage your services. I’ll be talking about these and other ideas in my next workshop on Using LinkedIn as a Business Development and Marketing Tool.
There is a thoughtful blog on making the best use of social media for marketing on LinkedIn’s new ‘thought leaders’ pages from Tim O’Reilly, founder of the publishing and event company O’Reilly. The key nugget, I think, is his belief in the value of amplifying the voices of others, particularly in a community where you share common interests, rather than simply shouting about yourself or trying to get others to tout your services:
In short, the secret of promotion in the age of social media isn’t to promote yourself. It’s to promote others. Success comes when your success depends on the success of your customers, your suppliers, your end-users, and when you spend more of your time thinking about them than about yourself.
It’s an inspiring perspective, and it fits well with age-old practices of successful human networking through helping others to make connections. How could you make use of this principle in the way you use LinkedIn (for example how you take part in LinkedIn Groups) and your other social media activities?
If you’re considering using online marketing channels, which is best for generating sales leads?
According to a study by Hubspot earlier this year, LinkedIn is almost 3 times more effective than Twitter or Facebook for converting more website visitors into leads. The data are based on using organic networks (including LinkedIn groups), not on pay-per-click advertising through these channels.
The results are a little complicated by the mix of B2B and B2C companies studied, and it doesn’t reveal what sort of organic marketing worked best within, for example, LinkedIn – whether it was using groups, company pages, personal pages, email, or other means. From the comments at the Hubspot blog, it seems different people have different results, but some of this may depend on having used advertising rather than organic networking, and it may also be that LinkedIn is more useful if you are trying to target specific professionals with a specific service they need, rather than a broader group of consumers.
As one commenter puts it: “LinkedIn is the warm handshake we all need.”
For professional services businesses, developing a thoughtful and sustained approach to networking in LinkedIn should be a key part of your business development efforts. I’ll be talking more about that at my workshop later this month in London on Using LinkedIn as a Business Development and Marketing Tool.