Identifying B2G prospects via social networking

Let’s say you sell forestry products like hiking boots, items that could be used either by those managing parks or forests. Where would you look for potential government buyers?

LinkedIn has more than 5,100 employees from the National Park Service and almost 6,800 employees from the U.S. Forest Service. Is that enough to start?

Need to locate facility managers who buy building supplies or services? Using “facility” to search groups, you will find 2,180 groups on LinkedIn that have some focus on “facility,” led by the International Facilities Management Association (IFMA) with more than 22,000 members. Three percent of IFMA members are based in the Washington, D.C. area—home of the federal government. We can assume that a significant portion of that 3% is federal facility managers and federal contractors.

You name the niche and they’re probably using LinkedIn. Yes, they may be on Facebook too, but according to recent surveys the majority of businesspeople prefer to do business networking on LinkedIn.

Restrictions that existed a few years ago for government employees using social networks have changed. The same is true for most state and local governments. They have shown up in force.

All of the Fortune 1,000 can be found on LinkedIn. In August, LinkedIn passed 175,000,000 members. As of this writing (September 13, 2012), there are 2,603,417 company profiles and 1,425,475 groups.

So the question is: How do you leverage this for your business? Naysayers (I know you’re out there)—pay attention!

Used properly, social networks like LinkedIn can be a great inbound marketing tool leading to a robust business pipeline. But you have to select the right social network. For B2B and B2G, I strongly recommend LinkedIn specifically.

Before you reach out to anyone, your profile should be complete, informative, and offer a clear value proposition, stating what you bring to your market niche. No one wants to connect with a person who has a bare bones, no info profile. To get an idea of what your profile needs, check out the profiles of others in your industry for ideas, things you might want to emulate. Make certain you hit the “100% complete” profile status. And remember to use SEO friendly terms and phrases throughout.

The next step in leveraging LinkedIn is finding prospects, those you want to connect with. The easiest way to do this is to find out what groups they’re in. There are two simple ways to do this. The first is to look at the profiles of recognized experts and market leaders in your niche and see what groups they belong to, then join the same groups.

The second way is to search groups using keywords and phrases (like I did with “facility”). Your search results may surprise you. With more than 1.4 million groups on LinkedIn, there are groups (communities) for nearly everything. The key to leveraging groups is to find those inhabited by the people you need to reach and influence.

Joining a group is simply the beginning. To stand out in a group you need to start and comment on discussions, post links to articles and blogs pertinent to the group, and generally be active and add value to the group by sharing ideas and opinions. The more value you add to any group, live or virtual, the more you will not only stand out, but the more you will be sought out by those who are starting to see that you “know your stuff.”

These group conversations can lead to individual connections on LinkedIn. They can also lead to Twitter interactions, as most executives on Twitter list their handle in their LinkedIn profile.

The benefits of communicating via Twitter? Consider Harold Good, a procurement official for Frederick County, Maryland and president of the National Procurement Institute. He’s extremely active on Twitter, with accounts. On one account he has nearly 9,500 followers and more than 22,500 tweets. Many of these tweets provide critical insight to vendors.  While it would take you a few days to scroll through his followers, the results might be rewarding if you need to find public sector procurement professionals and others selling to the government. And, by the way, Good is also active on LinkedIn.

Social networking is huge, still growing, and must become part of your prospecting and lead nurturing program. Your buyers and prospects are using social media and you’d best join them in a proactive manner, or wave goodbye.

Broad market or narrow niche, large company or small, the key for each of us is finding the right online community and creating multiple ways of getting on the radar by adding valuable content and a profile that reinforces your position in that niche.

And anyone can do it.

Mark Amtower is president of Amtower & Company and cofounder of the “Government Market Master Continuing Professional Education” program at Capitol College in Laurel, Maryland.

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