LinkedIn's new Sales Navigator could make it the ultimate lead generation platform

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LinkedIn celebrated its blockbuster Q2 earnings report yesterday by launching a brand new product call Sales Navigator. This is LinkedIn's first real social selling tool, and for B2B marketers, it couldn't have come fast enough.

Social Navigator allows salespeople to prospect and track leads, engage them with direct messaging, and get metrics on their sales efforts through the platform. There's plenty of solutions out there that do this, but they don't have complete access to LinkedIn's entire network. Since this is LinkedIn's own product, it offers unfettered access to its vast repository of well stocked business profiles. It's basically a gold mine for sales leads, and until now, it had only been offering tiny areas for prospecting.

Here are some of the Social Navigator's features:

Lead recommendations - LinkedIn's algorithm recommends profiles of people it thinks will be good sales prospects based on your preferences and previous lead search history.

CRM integration with Salesforce - The new tool will sync account and contact info with Salesforce's CRM platform, making it less of a competitor and more of a complementary service to Salesforce. For companies already hosting their leads in Salesforce, LinkedIn will match that information with profiles within its network, creating an effective single view of the customer across multiple channels.

Premium search - This is an advanced search tool that allows users to prospect for sales leads more effectively, as well as track the activity of existing leads. This is where LinkedIn's acquisition of Newsle comes in handy. Through Newsle's media tracking technology, LinkedIn gives salespeople real-time updates about what their leads are saying in the press, social media and other online channels. That's crucial information for social sellers, who can tailor their pitches and approaches more effectively based on this information.

Here's a video explaining how the lead tracking works for salespeople:

Unlocking profiles - LinkedIn will offer a limited amount of "profile unlocking" each month to Sales Navigator users. This means they can view the profiles and get in touch with people outside their network.

Teamlink - A way to get introduced to sales prospects through your own company's network.

Although LinkedIn had previously offered some of these capabilities within its platform, this is the first time it will offer a standalone social selling solution, available for subscription at individual, group and enterprise level pricing.

For B2B marketers and salespeople, the Sales Navigator could be a game changer. LinkedIn has effectively cut down the amount of work they have to do in finding potential customers, and also reducing the "cold calling" aspect by giving them rich profile information. Through the platform, sales teams and marketers can search for people by industry, job title, location and expertise, narrowing their focus to only the prospects with the most potential.  Rather than building lists from months of groundwork, they can start populating their CRM systems almost immediately.

However, LinkedIn doesn't quite provide much in terms of reaching those leads, beyond the usual InMail direct messaging systems. That hasn't always worked, especially in an era where marketers are reaching customers in a variety of sophisticated ways such as rich media emails, social media and video. Tellingly LinkedIn hasn't provided an integration with marketing automation systems such as Eloqua or Marketo, focusing instead on CRM integrations. Even those are restricted to Salesforce and Microsoft. This gives Salesforce CRM customers a big advantage to also use Salesforce's ExactTarget to tap into and engage all those leads hosted in the CRM system.

For now, LinkedIn isn't taking business away from its API partners, or the marketing platforms that integrate with it. Social media marketing platforms such as Adobe Social, Hootsuite, Sprinklr and Spredfast can still publish, promote, and run ads on it platform. But as far as lead generation goes, LinkedIn is keeping that very valuable capability for itself.

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