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A Simple Guide for Defining Your Ideal Prospects and Leveraging LinkedIn to Find More

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Growing your pool of potential customers begins with defining the profile of your ideal prospect. This activity should be done collaboratively between sales and marketing.

Start by looking back at opportunities that you won over the past two or three years and recreate the path or circumstances that led a prospect from contact to lead to opportunity. Drill down to determine the types of individuals and organizations, as well as the situations or issues they faced that motivated them to talk to you.

A word of caution: be careful about accepting the lead source in your CRM system at face value. Marketing automation and CRM systems are notorious for missing offline handoffs and will tell you that all leads came from the web. In my experience as a CMO, there are many other activities and touch points that engage multiple buying influences within a prospect organization. This activity drives brand awareness, word of mouth, and offline delegation of tasks within the buying process. So when an organization is finally ready to buy, they either will go directly to your website and call the 1-800 number or they will Google your company or product name, hit your website, and call the 1-800 number.

Buyer Characteristics

If you’re going to find like-minded prospects, then you need to know what specific activities led to this point. While you’re at it, find out what issues they were trying to solve and why they chose to engage your organization. This is a great opportunity for sales to educate marketing about what customers are really buying and for what reasons.

Defining your ideal prospect requires you to look at the characteristics common to your buyers and the organizations in which they work. This typically includes:

  • Company Characteristics — company size (employees and revenue), industry, location, growth rate, age/maturity
  • Buyer Characteristics — job title, level, tenure, attitude, ownership (or lack of) of the problem, scope of responsibility (buying on behalf of department, function, or company)
  • Situational Characteristics — initiatives, triggers, opportunities, threats, regulations, internal change

Leverage LinkedIn to Find Ideal Prospects

Once you have determined your ideal prospect profile, you need to find prospects that fit the profile — some of whom might be sitting right under your nose within your existing accounts. Get into the habit of linking to your customers on LinkedIn, which will give you the ability to see who they are linked to (unless they make their contacts “private,” but this is seldom the case).

Here are suggestions for leveraging your connections’ networks:

  • Their colleagues: People usually link to others in their organization who share similar interests and responsibilities. If you are linked to your buyer, who is perhaps an IT Director in Division A, LinkedIn can help you find IT Directors in other divisions or locations of that organization that you should get to know. People also link to their bosses and their boss’s boss. So if you need to sell up and across in an organization, LinkedIn can give you insight into whom you need to target and possibly facilitate a referral.
  • Connections outside their company: Your connections are also connected to people outside of their organization who could be viable prospects for you. These could be former colleagues with whom they used to work but who have changed companies or classmates who had the same major and are doing a similar job in another company.
  • Suggested similar connections: LinkedIn is also a great resource to help you find people similar to your buyers. In fact, they make it simple by including a feature on every profile page that identifies people with profiles “Similar To” the profile that you’re viewing.
  • Organizational and industry groups: LinkedIn Groups are a great hunting ground to find people who fit your ideal prospect profile. Start by looking at the LinkedIn profile of a contact who matches your ideal prospect. Scroll down to see the groups that they belong to, and click on a few that seem likely to have similar ideal prospects. You’ll be able to see members of the group and the discussions taking place. If appropriate, request to join the group. Most groups are “open,” and you will be accepted almost immediately. Once you are a member, you will be able to see the names of other group members, even if you are not yet linked to them. And, if you know the right technique, you can either invite them to link to you, get introduced through a contact, or send them a message.
Even offline, you will find that “birds of a feather flock together.” For example, HR directors know other HR directors, and many belong to the same HR industry associations and subscribe to the same publications. CFOs have their own industry-specific associations, as well as regional associations. All of these associations have meetings that provide speaking or sponsorship opportunities for you. As a vendor, becoming “part of the group” might take a little longer and require you to be in “helping mode” versus “selling mode.”

There are many other sources of contacts (e.g., Hoovers,, Netprospex, and Lead411), as well as associations and groups, to join. Knowing your ideal prospect will help you find targets that, over time, have the best odds of becoming customers.

The suggestions made here all favor casting your lines where the fish are, so to speak. That usually makes the most sense and nets you (yes, pun intended) the best results.

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