While many companies identify prospects very efficiently using LinkedIn, I suspect even more ignore this potential lead source completely. That’s a missed opportunity.
A good starting point is to ensure you’ve got as many connections as possible, because LinkedIn is only going to let you see information about people who you have a connection in common with (‘2nd level’). If you’ve never built up your network very well, perhaps a colleague may have done.
Then learn how to use the search facility well. Locations, companies, industries and parts of job titles can all be combined. And if you find interesting people, take a look too at the people who’ve endorsed them. This can yield some interesting prospects. All the time, take the opportunity to build more connections.
If you’re sending a cold message, it’s critical to find something in common to personalise it, and to offer something worthwhile. Be honest that you’re selling – it’s obvious anyway, and people don’t mind. Then keep the conversation going. It’s a real bonus if you can point them to relevant content you’ve put on the site.
There’s a lot of good stuff online about using LinkedIn productively, which might be worth seeking out. I’ve also attended a couple of random seminars over the years on using LinkedIn productively, and found them useful, so keep an eye out for those.