I like to think of my LinkedIn network as being a lot like a vegetable garden. My garden, and probably yours as well, has a lot of variety that includes a number of very healthy plants. Sometimes weeds work their way in and then there are also times when I find myself growing a vegetable only to find out that it is not to my liking. Dandelions and Brussels sprouts have got to go!
Now, I don’t actually eat my LinkedIn connections, but I do expect them to feed me in one way or another. You need to be able to assess your LinkedIn connections’ business value to you based on a number of different criteria including …
- Their ability to buy your stuff. Do they buy from you now?
- Whether or not they have a need that you can, and want to, fulfill.
- Can they teach, mentor, or guide you in some fashion?
- Are they able to refer you to others who meet the aforementioned criteria?
You certainly may have additional areas that you feel are important; feel free to add those to your list.
Create a LinkedIn Network “Target Buyer Persona”
The best place to start your assessment is by defining your target buyer persona. These are people who represent the composite profile of your absolute best customers (a good place to start) as well as those who have the identified potential to rise to that status. Some areas to consider:
- Location – Do you wish to provide your products or services locally, regionally, nationally, or internationally? Where will you not go?
- Previous engagements and relationships are a huge plus providing that they have been positive. Still, this experience is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways.
- Influence and reputation – It’s beneficial to have a high level of influence from a person who is willing to share their knowledge and their connections, with you. Think introductions and referrals.
- Type of business – Your product or service may be industry specific. If it is not, what industries best match your buyer profiles?
- Company size – Size can be defined by employees, revenues, locations, and many other factors. What sized company is most likely to invest in your services?
- Title – My ideal candidates, (based on company size), will have one of the following titles: Sales Manager, Sales Director, V.P. Sales, President, Owner, or G.M.
- Business potential – If this is an existing customer, this is not necessarily what they have spent in the past but rather what they will be will to invest going forward. You will need to gauge this potential for your prospective customers. Think CLV (Customer Lifetime Value).
- The ability to refer – Your existing customers should be your best source for referrals. Are they? If not … why? Have you ever even asked them for referrals? Don’t forget about your influencers and collaborators. How about power partners? Power partners are non-competing businesses who call upon your same target personnel. This can be a win-win for both of you!
- Keywords in their LinkedIn profiles – Can you identify and discover commonalities that fit your persona? Start with your existing customer sampling.
- Their specific areas of interest that you are able to satisfy – No pain = no sale. No need = no sale.
- Existing status with a competitor – Will you be able to unhook that relationship? What value can you offer that would entice a switch? Are there chinks in their armor?
As you begin to evaluate your existing LinkedIn connections in terms of their potential business value, if you find yourself sobbing uncontrollably, buck up. While all is not yet lost, you do have work to do. You have probably fallen into the same trap that many of us, including me, have found ourselves ensnared.
In our haste to expand our network, we have given too little thought to the importance of connecting with the right people and this will need to be your focus going forward. Apply your target buyer persona to all potential new connections before you act.
Determine Willingness to Engage
While prospects who match the buyer persona may have the ability to fulfill our needs, your success will be entirely contingent on their willingness to do so. Without this, we have nada. Bupkus. Someone can have the ability to buy — but will they have the willingness to buy from you? This starts with their willingness to engage with you and you will have to be the one to initiate that.
Unfortunately, and I am guessing that this is true for the majority of folks on LinkedIn, their connections are little more than part of an electronic Rolodex that gathers dust when not in use. It is very difficult to gauge the value of any connection if you are not willing to connect with them in ways that are meaningful to you both. This ball is in your court, not theirs.
Cultivate Your Garden
Armed with the insights gleaned via the previous activities, it’s time to tend your LinkedIn network garden. Only when it is healthy will you have the ability to accurately assess true business value. Cultivation includes:
- Pruning and weeding where necessary – You have likely uncovered connections that either do not fit your buyer persona, are unwilling to engage with you professionally, or both. You will have to decide for yourself how you wish to address these connections. Your options range from plucking them out like a weed (disconnecting) to keeping them while focusing on your prized plants.
- Fertilize and feed on a consistent schedule – If you want your relationships to grow, you have to take an active part in making that happen. Different plants require different nutrients so you must personalize your efforts for each.
- Introduce new plants where and when appropriate – Maybe you would like your garden to feature a little more variety or certain areas of your plot are bare. Perhaps you are expanding your field into new markets or products. Unfortunately, old plants die for a variety of reasons and new ones will need to be planted in their place to keep the garden vital.
You probably have some ideas and even experience of your own for how you have assessed the business value of your LinkedIn connections. Please share them by leaving a comment below!