Linked In: 5 tips for generating business
In today's guest post, fellow Wharton Alum , Craig James, offers tips for leveraging Linked In  to generate sales. Craig is the founder of Sales Solutions, a sales productivity improvement business located in suburban Boston. Contact him directly toll-free at 877-862-8631, or by e-mail at email@example.com 
Sales people and others responsible generating business for their organizations will find LinkedIn a valuable tool. Unlike sites such as Facebook and MySpace, LinkedIn tends to attract those looking to develop business relationships, as opposed to friendships.
But while many of us are familiar with the basic features of LinkedIn, we don’t always know how to best leverage them to drive sales. Here are five tips you can use to create a Linked In profile that will motivate prospects to come to you--without your having to "sell" them.
1. Position yourself as a thought leader
People buy from those they know and trust. Especially when it comes to important purchases, people also want to buy from experts that are ahead of the curve. LinkedIn offers multiple tools, many of which are discussed below, that you can use to demonstrate thought leadership and reinforce their confidence in you as a trusted advisor.
2. Get and give recommendations
What impression do you suppose a prospect will have after reading glowing endorsements about you from former coworkers, bosses, and, especially, clients? While they may suspect those clients likely did not volunteer to write those recommendations, they also know that clients would not agree to do so if they did not feel comfortable legitimately endorsing you.
Get started by writing one for someone else. Doing so accomplishes three things: one, it clearly flatters the person you write it for; two, it helps him or her look better to people viewing his or her profile; and three, it creates a desire to reciprocate.
2. Use polls to engage interest
People like giving their opinion about issues that are relevant or important to them--and reading what others have to say about topics that matter to them. Every so often (once a quarter or so) use LinkedIn’s polling feature to take a poll.
Moreover, your name will appear on their status updates, reminding your connections you’re out there, and in so doing, keeping you top of mind. When combined with your other LinkedIn activities, it will increase the likelihood, they'll remember you when they're ready to buy.
3. Find and share news that will help others
Each group has a news section that contains news articles other members post, and increasingly, blog entries. You never know what interesting tidbit you might come across that the difficult-to-reach prospect would appreciate receiving (and reward you for sending with a return call).
4. Demonstrate your value
Adding your experienced-based comments to existing discussions in the groups to which your clients and prospects belong is an unobtrusive, but powerful, way to demonstrate your thought leadership and your willingness and ability to provide value.
For example, I contributed to a discussion in one of the Mergers and Acquisitions groups. The very next day, I received an email from a boutique M&A firm on Long Island saying they “would like to learn more about my firm and services as they may be beneficial to his prospects and client base.”
5. Post documents, presentations, share what you’re reading
While you may not sell people on LinkedIn, your marketing materials may. Use LinkedIn Applications such as SlideShare Presentations, Google Presentations, Box.net Files, and Reading List to passively communicate about your company and yourself.
I’ve used this to post my standard sales presentation, which promotes what I offer, and a couple of books I’ve read and recommend. This helps others get to know me better as a person, effectively building my personal brand. Others use it to establish thought leadership by posting white papers their firms have authored.
Bonus: Search for status updates for trigger events
In addition to these ideas, there are a few I’d like to share courtesy of a fellow business owner. David Leaver of Opus Partners recommends that his clients identify some trigger events—events that, when they occur, will create a need for a product one sells—among the weekly updates mentioned above. For Leaver, who provides sales training services, one trigger is when a VP of Sales changes jobs; often he or she will want to bring in a sales or marketing consultant to evaluate the staff being inherited.
Premium LinkedIn Extra: Target your most promising prospects
Premium LinkedIn users have a host of additional benefits that are beyond the scope of this article. One that I’ve found extremely valuable is the ability to search for contacts using premium-only demographic criteria, such as company size, function, and seniority level. This provides me with a reduced, and more targeted, list of prospects. I can then zero in on the exact person or persons I want to reach, in the size of organization I want. This enables me to send a custom, targeted message to those prospects via InMail, or, if I don’t have a premium account, via a connection.
Share your LinkedIn sales and marketing tips
As we have seen, there are a plethora of easy-to-use tools available to you on LinkedIn that can help you improve your sales results. Start by picking one or two, and use them for about a week, until they become second nature. (Nigel Edelshain of Sales 2.0 disciplines himself to devote 15 to 30 minutes each and every day.) Then, gradually start using the rest of the features presented here, until you find yourself becoming a bona fide LinkedIn maestro.
Do you have other LinkedIn tips for generating sales? If so, please share them here.
This post originally appeared on the BB Marketing Plus blog