“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” No, I am not talking about Charles Dickens’ pre-revolutionary France as depicted in A Tale of Two Cities. I’m talking about B2B sales in the early 1990s.

The Best of Times – As a field salesperson for AT&T in the ‘90s, I used to be able to drive up to a prospect’s office, walk into their lobby, and simply ask to see the person I needed to speak to. More often than not, that person would drop everything and come out to meet with me – even without an appointment. Can you imagine that happening today? We live in a world where prospects hide behind caller ID and voicemail. And inboxes are overflowing with sales emails and messages that are far easier to delete than send a response.

The Worst of Times – When I needed to do pre-call research on a C-level prospect before an important meeting, I would drive to the library, pull out a 5-lb. book called Who’s Who in America, and read what someone else wrote about the executive a few years ago. Today, we can use our mobile phone to instantly read what our prospects’ say about themselves in their profiles and posts on LinkedIn.

If you’re still using traditional methods, prospecting is harder than ever. However, by adapting to today’s modern buyers and leveraging social networks, sellers are succeeding by researching prospects on social media and getting their attention. If you’re a B2B seller, LinkedIn is the most effective social network.

Here are some stats showing WHY:

So, how do you find and connect with decision makers using LinkedIn? There are two basic ways:

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-man-searching-something-binoculars-image15725124SEARCH – Searching is the most efficient way to zero in on your prospects. If you can describe your ideal customer in terms of the basic demographics available on LinkedIn, then you can create you ideal prospecting list in seconds.

Let’s take a second and think about how you might do this. Imagine if you sold Information Security software to financial services companies in New York City. Historical data indicates that your company was most successful with newer executives (no “we’ve always done it this way”). Using LinkedIn, you could identify Chief Information Security Officers of Financial Services companies in the Greater NYC metro area who assumed their role in the last 90 days. Talk about a hot lead list!

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image21367394BROWSE: While not as efficient as Searching, a number of Browsing features and techniques can yield new prospects. One of the best is the “People Also Viewed” section on the right hand side of each person’s profile*. It shows ten other people with different title at the same organization or people with similar titles at different organization. If the seller in the example above is looking at one CISO’s profile, it’s likely she’ll see a few more of them in “People Also Viewed”. Another good method is Browsing the people who Like and Comment on high traffic content that is relevant to your industry. It’s akin to listening in on a group discussion at a conference where everyone’s badge displays their name, title, and company!

In summary, it doesn’t make much difference if you started selling last century or last week. Today’s buyers rely on social networks like LinkedIn to stay informed and get reviews from peers. If you want to thrive, learn how to find and connect with decision makers using LinkedIn.

Want to learn more about finding new prospects using LinkedIn? Check out the final public Social Selling Boot Camp of the year. It’s a virtual program that starts September 14.

* Unless they turn it off in the Privacy settings.