3 Ways to Build an Online Community That's All About Your Prospects

Whether you're talking leads, sales or even a happy marriage, the key to success is always the same: building a strong, trusting relationship first.
Guest Writer

LinkedIn recently adopted a proactive measure to help entrepreneurs and marketers generate more high-quality leads, by rolling out a feature that provides auto-populated lead generation forms to users who read sponsored posts While this was certainly a welcome development and a novel approach, the truth is that the site already offered -- still does -- one of the most effective lead generation tools available: LinkedIn Groups.

Related: How to Maximize Your LinkedIn Profile to Find Potential Customers

Done right, an online group is a powerful tool that every entrepreneur should be taking advantage of. If you fill it with like-minded members, including all of your ideal prospects, a group can become the platform from which you build your authority and credibility.

Not only can you elevate your leadership status by managing a LinkedIn Group, but you can also use the group to stay in front of prospects by posting updates, participating in discussions and sending weekly announcements that are delivered to members' email inboxes.

Whether you're talking leads, sales or even a happy marriage, it seems like the key to success is always the same: building a strong, trusting relationship first.

From leadership to lead generation

LinkedIn is a career-centric social site, so it makes sense that business leaders go there primarily for business-related reasons. If someone is thinking about working with you, there's a good chance he or she will look you up on LinkedIn before making a decision.

But, did you know that LinkedIn is also a lead magnet? DemandWave's State of B2B Digital Marketing report found that 62 percent of B2B marketers surveyed reported using LinkedIn for lead generation. And, according to a recent International Data Corporation study on social buying, about half of participating B2B buyers surveyed said they do research on the site before making purchasing decisions,

LinkedIn Groups work because they allow you to target specific prospects and engage with them personally on a regular basis. In a LinkedSelling case study, for example, computer pioneer Dell proved that the model works with its group, Business Solutions Exchange. Over 70 percent of group members are upper management employees, and with 50 to 100 people joining the group each week, the group grew to 1,409 members in just three months.

All were among Dell's most valued prospects.

Building a value-driven group of prospects

You have to be careful and strategic about forming groups if you want to attract your best prospects and keep them hungry for more of your content. Here are some tips on how to do that:

1. Find your people. The first step is to fill your group with people who are interested in learning more about what you have to say, and there's a right and a wrong way to do this.

Using the advanced people search tool on LinkedIn, target about 300 specific individuals who would find value in your group. Let's say you use LinkedIn to search for attorneys in your area. As mentioned, look up their names on Facebook to try to glean more info about them; then, send them a personalized invitation to connect on LinkedIn.

Don't use the default message to add connections; that comes across as impersonal -- especially in the context of adding people you don't know. You don't need to write a novel; just mention that you came across this person's profile and thought you'd both benefit by being connected.

Although LinkedIn is the obvious choice for businesspeople, it's not the only option. Seventy-three percent of Facebook users told a HubSpot survey that they use the site for professional purposes. Even if they don't use it for business-related reasons, the survey found, 76 percent of users are at least scanning their Facebook News Feed for interesting content.

The personal nature of Facebook makes connecting with prospects slightly more challenging, but it is possible. You can find them and connect through LinkedIn first and then try to connect on Facebook, or you can join Facebook groups that they belong to or may be interested in and meet up with them there.

2. Save the day. Everyone has a problem to solve, and if you're able to identify these pain points and provide beneficial insight, you'll become a hero.

Study your groups closely, and treat each as its own sales demographic. Listen to conversations about problems and exciting opportunities, and don't be afraid to jump in to offer useful information. You'll be able to further narrow your target and identify the exact pain points they are experiencing.

Related: 4 Easy Steps to Increase Sales Through LinkedIn

Even though you're thinking like a salesperson, at this point, it's important not to try to sell any of these contacts anything. One of our clients, Aaron Agius, founder of Louder Online, told us he learned this with his LinkedIn Group, Marketing Leaders of Australia. Simply sharing useful, relevant content on a regular basis allowed Agius to grow his group to more than 9,000 prospects and position himself as an industry expert.

First and foremost, then, bring value to these contacts' world. Don't concern yourself with immediately trying to pitch your services or making sure they see you as an expert in your field. That will happen naturally over time as you keep showing up in their LinkedIn feed, speaking intelligently about the things they care about or need help with.

If you consistently share relevant content and useful ideas, you'll add real value to their lives and automatically be viewed a trusted resource.

3. Make it easy for them to get to know (and like) you. Create a personalized multitouchpoint nurture campaign to keep prospects engaged and begin to build a relationship.

People are more likely to do business with someone they know. In fact, utilizing our approach, we've found, about 20 percent of prospects will ultimately agree to a phone call after a relationship is established, compared to about 2 percent with cold calls. This means you need to stay in contact with them after you initially connect.

To build a relationship, stay in touch by sending each prospect four or five personalized messages every couple of weeks over the course of a few months. In the beginning, simply send a message thanking this individual for connecting and letting him or her know that you're available to answer any questions. In the following message, send a link to a piece of content (that you did not create) that they may find interesting.

Related: A Non-Spammy Approach to Generating Leads With LinkedIn's Sponsored InMail

You might see the (self-proclaimed) "World's Greatest Salesman,", by Joe Girard, as a source of inspiration. He writes about how he would send a personalized, handwritten note via snail mail to each of his clients every month.

These days, however, social media makes it easier (and cheaper) than ever to thank your prospects and keep in touch. By building and joining online groups and creating connections with prospects, you'll build relationships that will do more than convert leads into sales -- they'll also add value to your customers' lives and yours.

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