As a teacher and author on prospecting and networking, I thought I knew a lot about LinkedIn. And then I met and heard Wayne Breitbarth, one of the country’s leading experts on the subject. He shared something that did not occur to me before: LinkedIn is more than just a social network. LinkedIn is a living, active, business database.
We all know the role that business databases play in prospecting. Indeed, it’s all about prospecting. If people didn’t need to prospect, business networking web apps such as LinkedIn wouldn’t be as popular and useful as they have become.
So, if business networking sites are all about prospecting, this begs the question: how does one best use them for this purpose? There are lots of ways to use—and abuse—them.
LinkedIn is particularly powerful and designed specifically to help people maximize their business relationships—for everyone. In other words, it is as much about being a helper as it is about being helped. But what really strikes me about it is that it creates a platform where many of us who consider ourselves shy in a crowded room can really shine—if we put forth just a little effort to help others.
Secondly, and this is perhaps the biggest brag point of LinkedIn, because of this database power, it can show us how many people we really do know. How many of us have met with a friend and/or colleague seeking referrals, and have asked the often ill-fated, open-ended question: “Who do you know…?”
Now, with LinkedIn, when conversing or seeking introductions from people with whom we have a positive relationship, we have a list to work from—a list of our friend’s network.
Now, before I go further, I want to emphasize one very important point: networks of people are sacred. Business connections are not commodities. Don’t let the database definition fool you. These are still people (not records) and deserve respect. Indeed, LinkedIn recognizes this very point when they stress that you should only be “linked” to people whom you know and trust. While this rule can be loosely interpreted, it overall has helped maintain integrity in the system.
Because of this integrity, when meeting with a person in your network with the hopes of seeking referrals, it gives both of you an advantage that makes the process much easier. Before going to a meeting, review your friend’s contact list and jot down names of just a couple people to whom you would like to be introduced.
And while you are doing so, be prepared to reciprocate. Engage your colleague and learn more about who else he or she should be talking with concerning their business. And consider members in your own network that might make a good fit.
Do this with just THREE established contacts within the next few weeks, and you might be surprised at the results.