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Big Data. Business Intelligence. Predictive Analytics. Strategies reserved for huge companies with huge budgets, right? Wrong.

Have a LinkedIn profile? This article is for you.

Last year, Microsoft turned heads in the tech and social media world when it bought LinkedIn for $26 billion. That’s 26,000 million dollars.

As a company that had never dabbled in social media, Microsoft’s decision seemed like an odd choice to many.

But to me, it made perfect sense. Microsoft was investing in the biggest treasure trove of business intelligence in the world. And that store is only growing bigger — LinkedIn reached a milestone 500 million members in April.

By owning LinkedIn, Microsoft can now track trends related to employees at large corporations, and trends about employment in general. If four banking executives from a high-profile bank suddenly update their resumes within a week of each other, it’s a good bet that something is changing at that bank. That business intelligence can guide Microsoft as it expands its enterprise-level software operations.

Luckily, you don’t need to spend $26 billion to get access to crucial business intelligence via LinkedIn. You don’t even need to pay for a premium account.

You can gain valuable insight into the challenges your prospects are facing by simply checking their social media updates. On LinkedIn, this means navigating to their profile and just observing. What are they reading and liking and sharing (you’ll find this under Articles & Activity)? Have they written any articles? What product or service are they advertising on their banner photo? Have they changed anything about their work history or their headline (what they do and what they’re looking for) recently?

The next step is to navigate to the company page, and repeat the observation process. I have found that most companies use LinkedIn (and other social media platforms) to share their biggest initiatives that are going on at the moment. You don’t want to walk into a meeting not knowing what the company is working on if it was publicly available.

Here’s an example of how I used this when meeting with a prospect.

I was pitching a banking client and knew I needed to have better business intelligence than my competitors. I had done some basic research on their social media profiles, and I noticed that their profile banners were promoting their mobile app. I reasoned that they must want more users to download and use the app because it makes them stickier clients who would have a harder time switching banks. I continued to scroll through the feed to see what information they were sharing, and I noticed that they were also making a big deal about the grand opening of a new modern cafe-style bank branch offering popcorn and coffee and inviting customers to hang out.

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These two initiatives seemed at odds with each other, so I made a note to ask them about their strategy during my pitch. When I did, I got a response that told me a lot about the company. They explained that their business model relied on providing great customer service by blending convenience with relationships. The app provides convenience, but the physical interaction through the modern bank branch helps build relationships.

During the rest of our conversation, I was able to focus on how I could come alongside their efforts to provide great customer service in other areas of the business, building on the work they’re doing with their app and their branch renovations.

If you’re not using LinkedIn to gather business intelligence about your clients, then you’re missing out on freely available information that could make or break your next pitch.

Why else do you think Microsoft would pay $26 billion for a social network? They want to know who people are at work, and there’s no better platform for understanding who someone is at work than LinkedIn.

That’s insight you can’t afford to live without.