Networking and referrals are the life blood of B2B's (businesses that provide services/products for other businesses), as they are the most effective ways to access new contacts and generate new opportunities - until now.
With the advent and mass adoption of social networking websites, now B2B has its own virtual networking space, that provides one of the most effective ways to grow your network and identify new business opportunities.
LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) is a business-orientated social networking site that makes it possible for business professionals to connect and stay in touch online.
It has more than 100 million registered users, 71 per cent of its users are over 35 and 52 per cent are business decision-makers.
Like with other social networking sites (such as Facebook), each user has a personal profile. But, unlike other sites, this isn't a profile to share pictures of your family and updates on what you had for lunch that day.
Instead, LinkedIn profiles act like online CVs that allow other business professionals to review your work history and education, access online recommendations (written by other LinkedIn users who have done business with you), view links to your corporate website, blog and/or other social networking sites and access your business contact details.
LinkedIn's most powerful and attractive function is that it allows you to import your contact databases (your email database out of Outlook) and connect with your "real world" contacts on LinkedIn.
Once you are connected on LinkedIn, the networks of all the people you are connected to are transparent - allowing you to see who your contacts know (up to three degrees of separation) and may be able to introduce you to.
The obvious advantage of this site is that, rather than having to approach a business that you'd like to work with on your own, you can request that a contact (who is connected to the business you want to meet, on LinkedIn) introduce you. Because this introduction can be done through LinkedIn, it's less harrowing for nervous business owners than requesting real world introductions from their contacts and also allows the business you want to meet to review your online profile (and recommendations) without any obligation - building familiarity between you and ensuring your eventual call to them is no longer a cold call.
Another benefit of using LinkedIn is that it automatically sends users a weekly update email, letting them know of any changes their connections have made on LinkedIn. This means that if you actively use LinkedIn to keep your contacts up to date on what you're working on (through status updates) and seek online recommendations from others, then your connections will be reminded of you at least once a week - allowing you to stay "top of mind".
Wendy Schollum is a web strategist and managing director of Xplore.net Solutions (www.xplore.net). If you would like to learn more about using LinkedIn to generate leads and make sales, register to attend the Xplore.net "Are you LinkedIn?" seminar, this Thursday. For more information, go to www.walkingthetalk.co.nz, call 0800 100 900 or email email@example.com.