Thanks to the hundreds of people who already participated in the 2012 LinkedIn User Survey. I can't wait to share the results with you in a few weeks. But if you haven't voiced your opinion, the polls are still open, and by taking the survey you may be one of the three lucky participants who win one of my LinkedIn DVD training bundles, so don't delay.   


                          Click Here to Take The 2012 LinkedIn User Survey

This week's tip is a story about changes that are taking place in my business, but I am pretty confident it applies to your business as well.

I would like to take you way, way back to the early '90s.  

In those days, office deskwhen businesses wanted to buy a product like the one I sell, office furniture, they would start months before they were ready to place an order. Why? Well, you had to go through THE PROCESS to try to figure out which of the ten office furniture dealers in the greater Milwaukee area you wanted to work with. You might have started with your current vendor, if you could even remember who that was since it had been so long since you'd purchased any new office furniture (the stuff really does last a long time!).

The next step was probably opening up a drawer in your beat-up old desk and pulling out your trusty Yellow Pages. 

Let THE PROCESS begin.

The steps of THE PROCESS went something like this: 

Step 1 (several months before you need the furniture)

Call to set up an appointment with many of the ten office furniture vendors.

Meet live and in person with sales reps and try to ascertain the differences among the products.

Use the pile of brochures you receive to prepare a detailed comparison spreadsheet.

Undoubtedly schedule some followup meetings to be sure you are comparing apples to apples.

Contact each dealer's references.

Step 2 (weeks or months later)

Contact the three vendors from whom you'd like to receive a formal pricing proposal, and notify the others that they're out of the race.

Step 3 (a couple weeks later)

Set up appointments with the three survivors.

Each makes a formal presentation with a big, fat three-ring binder with lots of pretty pictures and the total price way in the back.

Then go back and forth about changes in the proposal and negotiate your price.

Step 4 (another couple weeks later)

Notify the lucky winner and the not-so-lucky losers. 


Now think about how that same customer goes about THE NEW PROCESS today

Step 1 (potentially a long time prior to needing office furniture)
You are connected via social media and/or email to a few furniture dealers, manufacturers or experts. You receive updates, articles, white papers, and other resources on a consistent basis from some of them but not so much from others. Since it's your job to stay on top of this area of your business, you check out the information that seems most interesting to you because you know someday you will be back in the market for office furniture.


Step 2 (just a month or so before needing to order the furniture) 

Go online and investigate the available competitors and their products (you can do this anytime anywhere), using all the tools and sites on the Internet, including but not limited to:

  • Google 
  • Company websites 
  • LinkedIn company pages 
  • LinkedIn individual profiles
  • Facebook business page
  • Better Business Bureau
  • Other industry or recommendation sites     

Contact any of your friends who are connected to employees of these dealers and discuss their experiences. Read any online recommendations you uncover. This should help you narrow the field to a few good candidates.


Step 3

Set up appointments for formal presentations, negotiate changes and price, and then notify the vendors of your final decision.

Think of the time you saved by not having to meet with ten different vendors, not to mention all the trees you saved by not needing all those brochures. 


Now, of course, this story may be a bit of a simplification of THE PROCESS or THE NEW PROCESS, but the idea you want to take away is that things have changed, and we all need to be part of the change or else we may find ourselves and/or our companies in the group that doesn't even get contacted to be a part of THE NEW PROCESS


Don't get left behind. Be sure to:

  • Choose the social media platforms that are best for you and your company
  • Develop comprehensive profiles
  • Use the keywords your potential customers are likely to include in their online search
  • Regularly update your profiles
  • Share important status updates with your connections
  • Consider having a connections strategy that includes not only current customers/friends but others in your market who may be connected to potential decision-makers/influencers

One last question: Would you be on the list of finalists a potential customer chooses after searching online for the type of products or services you offer?