Mainsheet Marketing LinkedIn TrainingAs a (new) working mother, I have a new appreciation for the value of time.  I know you all do too, so this month I’d like to share one of my favorite ways to use LinkedIn to make your next one-on-one networking meeting a valuable use of your time.  

We’ve all gone to coffee meetings with another professional who should be able to refer us business – and vice versa.  Over the hour you’re together various topics are discussed from business to sports, weather, your families, etc.  As you walk back to your car, if you were honest with yourself, you would probably rate the likelihood of that person making a solid introduction for you in the next 30 days somewhere between “hopeful” and “wishful” – or rather, there’s no solid plan for anything to happen.

Instead of deciding that coffee meetings aren’t worth your time, do something different to improve your chances of success.  Walk into the meeting with a list of 3-5 people your coffee-mate knows and ask for introductions.  Chances are you’ll walk out of a meeting with 1-2 future prospect meetings in the works.

Here’s the plan:

  1.  Make sure you are connected with the other person on LinkedIn in advance of your meeting.  I recommend checking this when you are scheduling the meeting. Each time you put an appointment in your calendar, check LinkedIn too.
  2. Before your meeting (as in, a day or more before, not 5 minutes before), go to the person’s profile on LinkedIn and click on their number of contacts.  In this example, your meeting would be with me.LinkedIn networking research
  3. This will bring you to a section lower on the person’s profile where a few connections are displayed.  But what we really want to find is the search button that looks like a magnifying glass.  Click the magnifying glass.LinkedIn networking research 2
  4. Now you’ll see that a text box appears.  Here is where the magic happens.  You can search your connection’s contacts for whatever you want… “CFO”, “owner”, “biotech”, “sailor”, etc.   Then click Enter (on your keyboard)LinkedIn networking research 3
  5. What will then appear will be the people that meet your search criteria. In this case the search was for “CFO” and there are 51 people who match that search.  In other words, the person you’re about to have coffee with knows 51 people with the term “CFO” in their profile.  Good to know, right??      Now click “advanced search”.LinkedIn networking research 4
  6. In the advanced search display you can further refine your search.  Perhaps you only want to meet people in Greater Boston, or in a certain industry.  On the left sidebar you can find and check off those criteria to further focus your search results.  The number in parenthesis next to the category is the number of people in that category.  I recommend checking off “2nd connection” because you don’t need an introduction to a 1st connection and a 3rd connection isn’t someone your coffee-mate knows directly.             LinkedIn networking research 5
  7. WARNING!   Take notes.  If you stray from this search results page (onto a person’s profile page, for example) you will lose your original search and have to start all over.  It’s not ideal, but that’s how it goes.
  8. You can repeat this process with as many search terms as it takes to create your list of 3-5 people to whom you’re going to ask for introductions.  The reason for the 3-5 number is that they won’t all work out.   We all have connections on LinkedIn that we don’t know well and wouldn’t feel comfortable reaching out to.  Also, sometimes you’ll get the good advice not to do business with someone and you can scratch them off the list as a problem avoided.
  9. When you are at your coffee meeting, you can explain to your referral source what you’ve done (they’ll be jealous.  I’ve not met a person yet who thought this was creepy.).  Explain why each person is a good match for your services (niche industry, common hobby, right sized business, etc) and ask for the introduction.  Be sure to express that you’re open returning the favor.
  10. When you walk away from your meeting you should have 1-2 (or more?) names of people to whom you’re expecting an introduction.  This way, you can follow-up with your referral source on a concrete activity instead of a vague promise to “keep you in mind.”

OK!  That’s it!    This strategy works best with someone you know fairly well but can be tried with anyone.   I’ve done it multiple times with great success.  I hope it works for you too.   Yes, it is an additional investment of time upfront, but I believe it’s an activity with tremendous ROI.

Have questions or a success story to share?  Contact me!

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Alison has more than ten years of professional services marketing and business development experience. She is a Double Eagle, holding both a BS in Management with concentrations in Marketing & Information Systems, and an MBA from Boston College. Alison is a member of the 2009 Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 class of honorees. Visit Alison on Google+.