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
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.
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.
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.