Linked In and Networking
A couple of years ago I wrote a post just as I was resurrecting my old company about “The Automation Community”. In this post I mentioned that in all my years of business I had never been able to trace a job directly to a “cold call”. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a cold call is when you get a lead (phone number and name, e-mail address etc.) and try and sell your goods or services to someone who doesn’t know you.
After graduating college my first couple of jobs were in the sales field working for electrical and controls distributors. I started with a list of existing customers and would call or visit them to introduce myself. You could call this a “warm call”; the customer didn’t know me personally, but knew of the company I worked for and the products they sold. This was before the internet and e-mail, the only way to contact people was to use the phone or a visit. My results were mixed; often people were busy or didn’t want to be bothered with salespeople and would not return calls or otherwise not be available. In sales you have to have a thick skin and I would simply move on to new prospects.
Of course the companies I worked for also wanted their sales force to make new contacts. At that time industrial shows were a good method of getting your products in front of new faces. We would do three or four shows a year and get a lot of good leads from people who visited our booth. These contacts could also be called “warm calls” since they were made up of people who had expressed an interest in our company or products. I would also get leads from the manufacturers of our products that were useful.
When it came to making cold calls I had a book called the Manufacturer’s Guide. This listed all of the manufacturer’s in my state and some of their employee’s names and phone numbers. Engineering and maintenance managers, small technical company owners and plant managers were usually the people I called or visited. If I could get in front of them with my demos I could occasionally make a sale, but this was tough sailing. It reinforced my view that cold calls were a tough way to make contacts.
Fast forward 20+ years to the age of the internet. Now it is harder than ever to cold call a customer in a manufacturing plant. There are gatekeepers and phone messaging systems that make it nearly impossible to contact someone who doesn’t want to be contacted. Increased security has also made it impossible to simply walk into someone’s office and talk to them. At the same time there are more methods to connect with people than ever before.
One of these methods is social media. Nearly everyone in business is on some kind of network. Probably the most common network for the business world is Linked In, a business-oriented social networking service. Founded in December 2002 and launched on May 5, 2003, it is mainly used for professional networking.
I first joined Linked In in 2006 after closing ACS and going to work for Wright Industries. I quickly connected with most of my colleagues at work and also with a few of my old customers. I posted a few tidbits about myself and my work and education history, treating it sort of like another social network I belonged to at the time, MySpace. After all, at that time I wasn’t trying to look for a job or sell my services.
Over time I started receiving connection requests from people I didn’t know. If they were in my field I would usually accept, but some were obviously from some kind of spammer. I also got requests from recruiters, and still do. Their motives are at least obvious, and I usually accept the connection.
After restarting my old company I started taking my profile more seriously. I updated my descriptions and skills much as I would if I were looking for employment. By 2012 Linked in had added some features that enhanced the experience such as written endorsements from connections. I treasure these above many of the other features of networking because they mean someone took the time to craft a thoughtful analysis of your strengths and experiences with a real project or company.
Linked In has also added a section called “Skills and Endorsements” that allows contacts to click on listed skills to let people know that you do indeed have ability in some area of expertise. This is a bit fluffy; for example I have endorsements from people I have never worked with that say I am good at Automation or PLC Programming. Some of these people don’t even know what a PLC is, let alone that I am good at programming one. I have accepted connection requests from some of my musician friends, they have endorsed me for several of these technical skills. I suppose that is because I didn’t list “Guitar” or “Rock Star” on my profile…
The drawback to Linked In profiles is the same as that of the recruitment and employment industry in general. Just like a resume, people can list half-truths or outright lies on their profile. Unlike a resume, other members may then endorse these fibs. I know of several profiles personally that I could never endorse for any kind of technical employment despite the posted credentials and employment history.
In short, I think Linked In and social networks have more benefits than drawbacks in general. Since Linked In is more of a business and professional network that say, Facebook or Twitter there seems to be less idiocy and ignorance displayed there. Most people are interested in displaying their best face to the public.
By the way, my Linked In profile can be found at www.linkedin.com/in/franklamb/. I generally accept requests from anyone who is interested in my work; this includes readers of my blog. Several readers have asked to connect on Facebook, I usually don’t connect to people I don’t know on that platform. If you wonder why my profile doesn’t show up there at all, Google “Phranc Lamm” for a good laugh.
I have also never yet been able to trace a project or job through Linked In connections or any other “cold” contact method. The best method of prospecting has always been through “somebody who knows somebody” who I have actually worked with or truly knows my work. I have to think this also holds true for people looking for employment. Still, I recommend Linked In highly for those people looking for new contacts.