How to Use Linkedin to win new business: poll results

My latest tips on building a Client Winning Profile for Linkedin are now on a free, short video – click here to watch it.

As you might know, as (apparently!) a Linkedin Expert, I’ve been asked by Cisco Webex and Linkedin to do occasional blog posts related to the European Business Awards they’re running.

One thing I was interested in finding out was how people were using Linkedin to win new business. Many people, myself included (in this article on Linkedin tips for professionals), have written on the topic and given ideas and recommendations based on our own experiences and private research.

But I wanted to know how this was playing out in practice.

Never mind the theory, how are people actually winning business via Linkedin in the real world?

Webex were kind enough to run a poll for me in the Business Awards group asking people what they’d found to be the best way of winning new business via Linkedin.

We had 256 respondents. Of course, the results have an inbuilt bias as they’re not from the full Linkedin population, but from those who have participated in the Business Awards group. But they certainly give a good picture of the different ways people are actually using Linkedin effectively.

The Results: Just How Are People Using Linkedin to Win New Business?

The poll question asked was “What has been the best way you’ve found to win new business using Linkedin?”. Like all Linkedin polls, respondents were allowed to pick one answer only.

First up: Overall results from all respondents

Overall Business Development Poll Results

That “Finding new connections” came out in 1st place is no surprise. The way Linkedin works makes it ideal for connecting with friends of friends. And that’s been the main focus of most of the advice given about how to get new clients through Linkedin: using search and asking other to refer you.

But what was a surprise for me was that “Reconnecting with old contacts” was only just a few percentage points behind it in 2nd place. Remember, the question wasn’t just about how you use Linkedin generally or for fun – it asked respondents about the best way they’d found to win new business. And nearly 30% of respondents were primarily getting new business from reaching out to old contacts they’d lost touch with.

When you think about it, this makes sense. Our old contacts (in the main) already know and trust us – whereas new connections don’t. And the obvious initial question “what are you doing now?” can lead to interesting follow-ups: “oh really, funny you should say that, we were looking for someone to…” or “actually, I know someone who is on the lookout for…”. Although this is not something that’s happened to me personally, a number of people I’ve spoken to have said this has worked well for them. the contacts they’ve reconnected with have often been in a position to pass on work to them.

Linkedin’s pretty good at recommending names to reconnect with. And the more old contacts you connect with, the more it seems to recommend other, similar contacts.

So perhaps my biggest recommendation emerging from this survey is that if you want to use Linkedin to win new business, don’t just focus on trying to find new connections: look at re-establishing contact with some of your old colleagues and clients.

Results by Company Size

There weren’t really many differences between responses of different levels of seniority of respondents. But where there was an interesting difference was when you look at the results by company size.

Linkedin Business Development Poll Results By Company Size
You can see here a clear difference in the response of medium sized firms.

There were a significant number of responses from these firms (44), yet none of them found either contributing to discussions or deepending relationships to be good uses of Linkedin to win new business.

It’s difficult to make a lot of sense of these results. Perhaps medium firms are less specialist than small ones – and hence don’t get value from sharing their expertise in discussions. But then why would large firms and corporates firms see value in it?

Without knowing the answer, what is clear is that few medium sized firms have found value in this. Yet it’s often a strategy recommended by experts in Linkedin.

My own experience is that I’d be wary of investing a lot of time in using Linkedin discussions (either in groups or the Q&A section) to try to win new business. Yes, you can establish yourself as an expert. But I’ve known many people invest a lot of time into building this expert status who’ve yet to see any work as a result from it. Not that no one has – but it does seem very hit and miss and difficult to predict in advance if it’s going to pay off.

Results by Gender of Respondent: Stereotypes confirmed?

This is another area with markedly different results by group.

Linkedin Business Development Poll results by gender

Firstly, there were a lot more men answering the poll than women: 192 to 64.

But more interestingly, the big difference is that for men, the strategy they report as being the most effective at winning new business by far is finding new contacts. For women it’s a much more balanced picture. They get new business by reconnecting with old contacts more than men. They get business by deeping relationship with existing contacts more than men. And they get business by having their profile found more than men. In short, it plays right in to the stereotype of men as aggressive hunter gatherers – going out and looking for new business. While women spend more time nurturing old and existing relationships to win business.

Now this may be because we’re playing to our stereotypes and if we tried alternative approaches we’d have success. Or it may be that women really are better at ‘relationship stuff” than men (I’m sure a woman wouldn’t call it “relationship stuff” either). Either way, it’s worth testing further.

What Does it Mean?

The main thing I’ve learned from this is to challenge my own assumptions. I’ve written quite a bit on Linkedin, discussed experiences with many people, and read widely. But it was still a surprise to me to find out how many people were using the “reconnection” strategy so effectively, or the differences between medium sized businesses and others, or the differences between the experiences of men and women.

In future I’m going to be a little more wary of assuming that because a certain strategy has worked well for me that it’s the best one for others.

And, of course, I’m going to start reconnecting…

So that’s my interpretation of the results? What do you think? Hit the Comments below to share – it’s much appreciated.

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Comments

  1. says

    Ian,

    Interesting and useful analysis. Before seeing the results, my instinct was that reconnecting with old contacts would the highest source of business, as opposed to referrals, because of the trust issue that you mention. However this may reflect the way that I use LinkedIn as opposed to other users.

    Also agree that discussion fora can be a time waster although I find them useful to keep abreast of developments in my field.

    I’m puzzled by the medium size firm results as well and whilst there are always exceptions that prove the rule, stereotypes exist because there are some grains of truth in them.

    Regards

    Richard

    • says

      Yeah – I think I had overlooked the reconnecting angle because the firms where I spent most of my career already had strong alumni networks – so I was already connected to many of my old contacts.

      The medium sized firm thing puzzles me too. Not really sure why the results are so different. With 44 responses it can’t be just be random variation.

      Cheers,

      Ian

  2. says

    Hi Ian,

    Thanks for publishing these useful results.

    I’ve recently reached 500+ LinkedIN connections and posted about the benefits and expereinces I’ve enjoyed – http://nickpoint.co.uk/2010/01/15/what-has-linkedin-done-for-you-lately-2/ Many of my findings echo the survey results for both that “Finding new connections” and “Reconnecting with old contacts”.

    I also believe that the higher the number of LinkedIN connections an individual has the more ‘well networked’ they seem to be. This is a great persistent message to send out to potential clients who are evaluating you and your company.

    I’m sold on the benefits LinkedIN brings!

    Best

    Nick

    • says

      Hi Nick,

      Many thanks for posting.

      On the “high number of connections” front, it can cut both ways. Some people see you as more credible if you have a large number of connections. On the other hand some are wary that you’re just “collecting connections” and won’t be a good contact, or that connectign with you will “open up” their network to your loose network of potential spammers (in their eyes).

      Rgds

      Ian

  3. says

    Agreed – some people assume that you’re just “collecting connections” and won’t nessesarily be a good contact, or that connecting with you will “open up” their network to your loose network of potential spammers (in their eyes).

    I’ve personally been extremely focused on NOT phishing for connections. As I said on my blog post “I’ve followed up every new meeting with a personally edited LinkedIN connection email. “. This took much more time and effort than randomly finding people. It also took alot more time than just sending a personally edited LinkedIN connection email rather than the standard LinkedIn invite.

    For me it does matter – it sends out a social media message – I’m real and have integrity.

  4. says

    Hi Nick,

    My (slightly controversial) point of view is that trying to measure the ROI of social media is misguided. It’s like trying to measure the ROI of using the telephone or the mail or the internet. It’s a tool/technology – not a marketing initiative.

    What’s much more realistic is to measure the ROI of a marketing initiative which uses an aspect of social media as a core element.

    So just as you might decide you want to use a telephone marketing campaign to try to set up 20 meetings with potential clients which turn into 1 sales of over $10,000 (or whatever) – you can decide you want to get 20 meetings with potential clients based on referrals and direct contacts via linkedin, and you’re looking for $10,000 in sales as a result.

    In both cases the technology (telephone or linkedin) is a core tool used in a marketing initiative. You can measure the ROI of the marketing initiative in terms of number of meetings, sales, etc. But you can’t sensibly the ROI of the tool itself.

    And if you can’t construct a marketing campaign with measurable ROI which uses social media, then that’s a hint that you may not be getting value from it in the way you’re currently using it.

    That’s a simplified view, of course. It becomes much harder when you combine social media with other approaches in a mixed campaign or an ongoing client relationship management programme. Did we retain our clients because we met with them face to face, or because we talked to them a lot on Twitter? You could try testing different approaches but it’s difficult to get a valid test, and it’s too tempting to abandon it once on approach shows slightly better results.

    And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with doing something that doesn’t have a measurable ROI. Lord knows what the ROI of being nice to my wife is – but I still do it.

    Ian

  5. says

    Agreed its a tool just like email – what’s the ROI on email. Again, very hard to measure but we continue to be addicted to email. An addiction which social media still can’t dispact its promise and our overfolwing inboxes.

    As for the ROI on marriage/partner – well, your on to a looser (ROI, that is ;). Atleast I’m ;) But as you say we still do it. Affairs of the heart ;)

  6. says

    Good article here Ian. I’m going to tweet it out later today.

    I find it difficult to manage the time I spend on LinkedIn, and as I’m relatively new to it (6 months) I have not seen results (as in “new business”)…yet! But I have definitely made new connections, deepened trust with existing contacts, benefited from sharing the expertise I’ve found in my Groups, etc.

    My goal is to limit my time spent to 30-60 minutes a day on all Social Media activity. I tend to lose myself for several LARGE chunks of time each day!

    Enjoy your blog….I’ll be back to visit soon!
    LA

  7. says

    Hi Leslie Anne,

    I think the time element is the biggest issue for most people. Having said that, I know people who use Linkedin for just 10-15 minutes a day who get great value from it. They invested up front in writing a good profile, and they spend their time reaching out to new connections via referrals or reactivating old ones.

    The things that can burn time are the groups and Q&A. They work for some people to generate a reputation and win business – but they can be a huge time sink. You must be careful and make sure you’re getting decent traction from them before investing a lot of time.

    Ian

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