Andy Neilson, Procurement Director for a company called Poole Lighting in Dorset where I have been since January this year. My career spans many years in Procurement and Supply chain.
When was your LinkedIn date of birth?
12th March 2008
Finish this sentence "to me LinkedIn is………."
....My business networking tool, I don’t use Facebook at all but LinkedIn enables me to network with like minded professionals across many sectors and locations. It allows me to discuss best practice with other procurement professionals and it also allows me to ‘check out’ suppliers and potential suppliers. LinkedIn also allows me to network with people who have common interests but are from outside my normal business contacts for instance people who are also into Rugby, Golf, motorsport etc
When do you login to LinkedIn and how often?
I’m on LinkedIn every day, I login as soon as I get to work or if I am working from home almost as soon as I get up! I think I logged in at 6.30am this morning! I don't log off until the end of the day so it is literally on my computer all day long, in the background mostly but its always there and invitations ping through every now and then.
How many connections do you have and why do you connect with someone?
2294. I like to connect with a wide range of people who I can network with, I am keen to take on board other professionals views on a wide range of subjects and building a large network also helps me find more people on LinkedIn which is invaluable when I am looking to directly source and investigate potential suppliers. Its also important that other people can check me out and see/understand where I am coming from and what my expertise are. I think this helps to build relationships which ultimately helps me with my negotiations, I am not just a voice at the end of a phone line - they see what I am all about and who they are dealing with, my background, skill set, recommendations etc I find that helps with any negotiations. I try not to be ‘clever’ in negotiations, I am an honest open chap and I want people to see that I am authentic. They have something that I need and we agree on what that looks like in terms of product/service and price. I know they need to make a margin and they know I want to find a good deal, I work with them to achieve this and I believe this is reflected in my LinkedIn profile as many of my recommendations are from suppliers who have confirmed this. My view is that business is all about relationships and my LinkedIn profile serves an important role in that respect.
All of my current supply base are in China and whilst there are some cultural differences, it still comes down to relationships and basic good manners and when they read my profile it is welcoming and open and that sets the right agenda. I have developed countless relationships where the starting point has been LinkedIn. Unfortunately the Chinese are not yet massive users of LinkedIn, they love Skype and I regularly receive invites to connect on Skype, some of the more forward thinking ones connect on linkedIn but many of them are just not using it yet. I haven't worked much with the Chinese prior to this role and I am learning that they like to network in person or at least via a video call on Skype and LinkedIn doesn't provide that facility, which is a pity.
I get plenty of invites from sales people and from recruiters who are keen to do business with me and rightly so, I have no problem with this. With regards to recruitment I believe LinkedIn has become the main tool for recruiting and job hunting, no longer would anyone consider going to the Daily Telegraph in search of a job!
What features of LinkedIn do you use most?
'Whose viewed your profile' is one thing I look at most days, I guess I’m just very nosey but it's always interesting to see who has been checking me out! Company profiles are an important resource to me as well when assessing suppliers and the advanced search function is also important in that regard.
A typical situation might be that I might be looking to source a freight forwarding supplier for example so I would use keywords and search LinkedIn to find profiles relevant to what I am looking for, once I find someone interesting I look at their company profile and go through the list of employees to find the most relevant contact - such as the Sales Director. Alternatively I might find the companies first via a Google search, then look them up on LinkedIn to then find the relevant contacts profile as above. LinkedIn searching gives me the ‘purest’ set of results though. The profiles I find are not found because they have paid Google or an SEO company and what I get is great information about real people - as opposed to their web sites.
So what do you do when you find the Sales Director, what is your next step?
I would normally contact them by inviting them to connect, 9/10 times we would normally share a group but if not it can get difficult because LinkedIn gives me no easy option in terms of giving a reason for the invitation. I often end up using the ‘friend’ option which I am not comfortable with but we haven't done business and I don't know their email address so it's all I can use. LinkedIn doesn't give me the option to say ‘I am thinking of doing business with you’ which seems crazy to me. It seems that all the reasons are historical rather than progressive. I see LinkedIn as a way of networking and getting to know new people, this is why it is useful to me so I will invite strangers so long as they are relevant. The crazy thing is that LinkedIn limit the amount of invitations I can send out which seems counter-productive to me because it's a networking site! I mean why would I want to network online with someone who sits 2 foot away from me? I want to network with people who I don't know who share their knowledge and experience with me and vice versa - because that's how you improve.
I am a great believer that good networking is about helping others and a large network helps me do that. A good example today is that a recruiter who is a connection has posted an update saying they are looking for a senior Buyer in London with experience in fashion which is great so I will have a quick look and then send the recruiter a message saying ‘check out so and so who is one of my connections’ I have done that on maybe 30 occasions just in the last month! I know I am in a position to facilitate the connection and I know it is helping both parties - there are plenty of good people out there struggling to find jobs and if I can help I will and I can only do that because I have an extensive network. I have even seen people in the ‘people you know’ section who are stating that they are seeking a new opportunity and I invite them to connect for no other reason than I think my connections might be able to help them and why not? Why wouldn't I offer help when I know it could be really beneficial to them?
What is your favorite feature?
'Company search' and 'whose viewed my profile' are my favourites, ‘whose viewed’ is something I check every day and I am interested to see if the number is going up or down, that is less professionally beneficial...but interesting all the same! I have noticed that the connections I make attract similar types of people to view my profile. As an example I am connected to a number of elite athletes, this started as a result of my interest in rugby and rugby related groups on LinkedIn and has spread from there. I had an ex pro rugby player recently who contacted me to ask my advice on moving from sport into business, I didn't know him but I was more than willing to offer him some advice and he could see we had common contacts so he felt OK about approaching me. We had many conversations about how to approach his job search and now he has ended up in a role as a recruiter. This was really bizarre because this was a guy I was used to watching on TV! There are plenty of rugby players on LinkedIn, not many footballers although Gary Speed the Welsh Manager before he sadly died was a big LinkedIn user who was also a connection of mine.
What success (if any) have you had from using LinkedIn?
Well my current job came from a direct approach from a Recruiter on LinkedIn which is one example, I wasn't openly looking and my profile didn't say anything to encourage a recruiter but the timing was good and the opportunity exciting, the recruiter did a great job and was very professional, he had read my profile and didn't just send me one of those dreadful messages that they have obviously sent to many people. I always make sure my profile is up to date and looks good because I am very aware that it is my first impression. Obviously I checked out the Recruiters profile before replying to his approach to check he looked credible etc - that reminds me I had another approach recently from someone who had a profile with little or no information within and only 1 connection! I’m sure he was a nice guy but a profile with no information and few connections just makes me question whether they are real!
Another example of success is a recent exercise I undertook in investigating running reverse auctions. I have some experience of running reverse auctions but not in China and I imagined it could be a nightmare if not done properly so I needed to find organisations who had the right experience to run them for me. A quick search on LinkedIn gave me several names of companies who were exactly what I needed so I went from sitting at my desk with a blank sheet of paper wondering where to start, to a situation where I had proposals from 3 companies who knew exactly what was required. This took no time at all and was a major help, without LinkedIn that would have been a much harder task.
What new features would you like to see?
Because I deal with the Chinese the incorporation of Skype or some sort of instant messaging and video call facility would be really useful as previously mentioned, I use Twitter a lot as well and its big advantage over LinkedIn is its immediacy, LinkedIn communication is more like email and frankly, email is a bit old-fashioned these days!
I do believe LinkedIn have got it wrong by seeing a network as something in the past, they should design more functionality around using it as a way forward to build new contacts and relationships
Will LinkedIn still be important in business in 2020?
I cant see it going away, why wouldn't we be using such a valuable tool in the future? I can only see it getting bigger and bigger to a point where it replaces Google as a business search facility and becomes an invaluable networking resource to many more people. LinkedIn has made my job so much easier in the last 4 years and I am sure it will for many more people in the future.
I loved this interview, Andy is a great networker and dispels the myth that procurement professionals are aloof and difficult to access. Andy is a true networker who looks to use his time on LinkedIn to help others as well as himself in his role when sourcing from the far east. I especially liked the way that he believed in having an open, informative and easy to find profile made his negotiations with suppliers more effective because this created an atmosphere of trust and co-operation. His ideas on integrating Skype into LinkedIn are also very interesting.
Another point worth considering is how Andy sources suppliers by undertaking keyword searches. Imagine if you were a supplier providing reverse auction services/expertise in the far east and you hadn't taken the time to optimise your profile with the relevant keywords and phrases. A major opportunity could be missed!
Andy was too modest to say this during the interview but it is worth noting that he has previously been a recipient of a CIPS (Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply) award for the quality of his work.