When people tell me they don't understand how LinkedIn can be used as a sales tool, my response is, "what have you been doing to engage?" That usually gets a blank stare for a few seconds, and I add, "Do you belong to any groups? Do you monitor conversations in the groups where your customers are?" Most LinkedIn "how to's" will also site the LinkedIn Answers forum as a way to engage and network, but I don't see much potential there for industrial / manufacturing companies. In fact, they don't even have a category for "manufacturing" or any industrial markets, like "oil and gas."
I think the Groups feature offers the strongest opportunities for industrial service and manufacturing companies to engage on LinkedIn. If you've never considered this, just do some searches for "groups" in the search bar. You'd be amazed how niche oriented some of the groups are. LinkedIn members join groups to meet and network with people who have the same professional interests. They are there to discuss relevant topics, post questions, look for solutions, seek out business opportunities, and promote their products and services to other members.
If you don't find a group that deals specifically with an area of interest to your target customer - start your own group. This is a slower way to build a network, but it will also position you and your company as leaders or experts in the area of interest to the group. For example, over two years ago I found there were plenty of groups on LinkedIn that dealt with the topics of marketing communications and social media marketing, but none that were specifically for industrial companies. So I started two groups: Industrial Marcomm (for industrial marketers who aren't quite ready to jump on the social media bandwagon) and Industrial Social Media Marketing (obviously for industrial marketers who are.) Through these two groups, I have gotten more exposure to potential clients than any other marketing media I can think of - for the cost - which was zero. Well, except for my time. Once your group starts to grow, your time investment will lessen; but you still need to monitor the group on a regular basis and look for opportunities to offer value to the group.
LinkedIn allows you to join 50 groups. I suggest you take advantage of that number, and make sure a few of the groups you belong to are "power" groups (groups with memberships in the tens of thousands.) If you're in sales or marketing, there are numerous power groups you can join. The eMarketing Association has over 407,000 members! Even if you're an industrial marketer, you're probably doing some forms of marketing on the Internet, if only managing a website. There's probably a lot you can learn through their discussions. Are you in sales? The Sales Best Practices group has over 100,000 members. Consider how many people this allows you to connect with, or who are exposed to you. It broadens your LinkedIn network, exponentially.
Following are the main ways to engage with people in groups and take advantage of the opportunities available through groups:
Once you join a group and start contributing to discussions, you are introducing yourself to the entire group, whether the membership is 200 or 20,000. You also have the ability to connect with any member of the group through LinkedIn messaging - you don't have to be connected.
Just as joining groups gives you the ability to message many others, joining an especially large group gives potentially thousands of people the opportunity to contact you if they have a reason. In the world of social media marketing, engagement is not just about developing business in the traditional sense. LinkedIn gives you the opportunity to develop alliances and partnerships, find new jobs, (or new employees), connect with new vendors or contractors . . . it enlarges your sphere of visibility in a way that only social media can.
Once you're a member of a group you have the option to receive a daily or weekly digest of what is going on in the group. This is speed reading at its best! From the comfort of your Inbox, you can quickly scan for conversations that present opportunities for you to engage and quite possibly connect with a new business prospect. The flip side of this coin, which I'll get to in Part 2, is that if you also post regularly in groups YOU are appearing in the other members' daily or weekly digests. Don't underestimate the advantage this FREE tool provides. You are advertising yourself (and your company) directly into your prospects' Inbox.
Sales and marketing professionals who hope to open their LinkedIn network beyond their first degree connections MUST be actively involved in groups. When I say "actively," you don't have to sweat. Just make checking in with your most important groups part of your daily morning routine, just as you read your emails. It's a small investment that could reap big benefits.
read more: How to Engage on LinkedIn - Part 1