Career Advice Jan 18 2012

Has LinkedIn Killed the Rolodex?

By damian ghigliotty

During his 17 years working in ad sales at Meredith Corporation, Mark Josephson, 49, took on new business accounts as his role evolved. That meant less contact with other key clients over time.

After joining Reader's Digest in November 2010 to fill a top sales position, he wanted to reconnect with some of the clients he had lost touch with, especially the ones who make the big media buying decisions at their companies. He knew he could use a number of digital networking platforms to reach out, but his experience told him to take a more human approach.

"How did I get back in touch with those clients?" said Josephson, chief sales officer of Reader's Digest. "I focused on making personal contact with them over the phone or through emails. I would target the top decision makers on our accounts and I would immediately call and reconnect."

Damian Ghigliotty of FINS talks about LinkedIn and its effect on personal business contacts.

It's a question you hear a lot these days: Has LinkedIn wiped out the importance of developing and maintaining a Rolodex, that is, a list of people that you know on a personal basis?

Absolutely not, say recruiters and sales reps. People do become easier to track down as more of their information moves online, but an extensive contact list means little without genuine business relationships to back it up.

"It's easy to go onto LinkedIn and start connecting with new people," said Josephson. "But how many of those connections are quality connections? Probably less than 20%."

In many ways, the insignificance of a fleeting business card exchange without a real connection has been heightened by the ease of clicking "connect" online, said Atlanta-based e-commerce recruiter Harry Joiner. It's a common error that has been exacerbated by technology, he said.

"Just because I have someone's name, rank and serial number doesn't mean that when I call them they know or remember who I am," said Joiner, 47, owner of EcommerceRecruiter.com. "That's the difference between a legitimate Rolodex and a list of names and job titles. Nothing can substitute for the real-life connections you have."

Nothing can substitute for the real-life connections you have

If you work in sales in 2012 -- at a time when the amount of turnover in nearly every industry can cause head spins -- those connections need to be updated, filtered through and managed on a regular basis, said digital media recruiter Michael Adler. The only way to do that is by reaching out to people directly, he said.

"To consider someone a part of your Rolodex, you have to have corresponded with them in the last three to six months," said Adler, 40, a managing partner at the recruiting firm AC Lion. "The problem with LinkedIn is that everyone wants to expand their professional networks, but they're not doing much beyond that."

LinkedIn's user base is growing at a rate of more than two new members per second, according to the company. As of November 2011, the professional networking site had more than 135 million members around the world, up from 100 million members in March.

If used beyond cold connecting, the site's features enhance the correspondences between sales reps and their clients and prospects, said Christian Sutherland-Wong, product lead and general manager of LinkedIn's Premium Subscription business.

"LinkedIn is a very strategic tool for sales professionals, particularly as they think about how to get information on their current network and extended network of leads," he said. "The more you know about a person's background and the common connections between you and that person, the higher your response rate will be."

In one recent case, a company's sales team was able to secure a high-profile client through the organization's shared network on LinkedIn, said Sutherland-Wong. That prospect was sitting right under their noses, linked to the company's chief financial officer.

"The company's sales team reached up to the CFO to make that connection and they ended up closing the deal," he said.

LinkedIn does enable users to make their most successful business relationships visible to others, said Rachel Barash, 44, a national sales rep at Realtor.com who sells online advertising.

"I have asked some clients to endorse me on the site and I do believe recruiters and sales directors look at that," she said.

Write to Damian Ghigliotty at Damian.Ghigliotty@dowjones.com



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