We have all experienced that attracting new customers can be expensive and time-consuming. According to the Customer Service Institute, 65% of a company's business comes from existing customers, and attracting a new customer costs five times more than it doest to keep an existing one satisfied.

Still, all businesses need prospects. And properly qualifying prospects is one of the biggest challenges most sales people face. You need to know what problem you’re solving for your prospect and how to communicate to them that you can solve it. LinkedIn can help you pre-qualify your prospects, save time and frustration and even improve your closing ratio for current and new clients alike.

LinkedIn sales training consultant Barbara Rozgonyi asks training attendees what they are doing now to get sales that they wish LinkedIn could help them with. "One person said they had a list of people to call and knew nothing about them," says Rozgonyi. "LinkedIn profiles give you insights to your contact, their co-workers and the company itself. It's a great resource where you can do some research and get know more about your prospects before making the call."

Rozgonyi was kind enough to share with us her 11 tips to maximizing the value of current customer relationships on LinkedIn. My personal favorite is No. 10—what's yours? You can let us know in the comments below. 

1. Find out who's who.

Take a look at your top-20 customers' LinkedIn profiles. What makes them top customers? Is it number of sales, volume, or lifetime customer value? What do they have in common: problems you can fix, a need for something specific, an attachment to your brand? Make a model customer profile based on these answers and then overlay location, industry, interests, groups and title. It’s okay to have more than one model. Just be sure each one is cohesive and consistent.

2. Confirm your connections.

Send invitation requests to all current and past customers. Add a note that includes their name and mentions your business connection. "Hi Bill—great working with you on the launch project! I’d like to add you to my LinkedIn network. Thanks for your consideration." To broaden the connection, add in assistants, vendors, suppliers, and anyone else at their company that you interact with.

3. Sync with SlideShare.

An application that allows you to upload PowerPoint presentations, SlideShare automatically shares your sales presentations on LinkedIn. A monthly customer success story allows you to feature your customers and builds goodwill. You can also use SlideShare to explain product upgrades and answer service questions.

4. Request recommendations and referrals.

Ask two questions: "What's the biggest pain I solve for you? What do you say when you refer me or my company to others?" The best time to ask for a referral or a recommendation is when your clients are happy, like right after you have closed a sale. They're too busy? Ask the questions over the phone, write down the answers, and email them with a request for a recommendation. Make it easy for them to be your best advocate.

5. Get into groups.

What groups do your best customers belong to? Join these groups and recommend or refer your customers’ services when you can. In your communications with them, talk about the latest group activity. Connect with group leaders to let them know who you are and start discussions. Invite your customers to join in the conversation; they will see you as an active leader. You can start up to 10 groups on LinkedIn.

Now, after you’re connected with all of your existing customers, it’s time to start prospecting on LinkedIn. Here are tips to follow for pain-free prospecting for new cutomers on LinkedIn.

6. Search for significance.

What are people searching for when they’re looking for your company on LinkedIn: location, industry, specialty, service? Type in keywords that your customers use to search for you in LinkedIn’s advanced search function. Compare how you come up against the competition.

7. Build your list.

Use your ideal customer model components to search for people. Then, plug these parameters into LinkedIn’s advanced search function. You can target companies by finding people, or you can use LinkedIn’s company search and then look for people within your target companies. Once you have a target company list, then you can follow the companies, and find out whom you want to connect with inside.

8. Share today.

Subscribe to your industry’s channel news on LinkedIn Today, a content aggregator of all the top news shared on LinkedIn. Inside your network, share stories and articles you think your customers would be interested in. They’ll begin to recognize you as a leading resource for relevant information.

9. Promote products.

Complete your company’s LinkedIn profile  if you haven’t already. On your company’s LinkedIn page, list out products and services. Use your best customers as "before" and "after" stories. Ask them to leave you a recommendation and to follow your company.

10. Export to email.

Manage your connections by exporting your list every quarter. Merge the contacts into your customer database. Start a newsletter, or add to your current list, by inviting your connections to subscribe. Use a double-opt in service that sends out a confirmation request.

11. Expand your reach.

Adding new connections gives you a greater reach. While you may not choose to be an open networker that accepts invitations from everyone, the more people you connect with, the bigger your network will be. It’s simple math that compounds with the power of LinkedIn. Check out this list of 20 ways to add LinkedIn network connections.

Too often companies assume that their sales people maximize the full power of LinkedIn. Even expert users can squeeze out more productivity and sales with LinkedIn’s ready-made tools for prospecting and sales. Sales teams can meet to compare notes and build customer models together. When you use the power of LinkedIn to maximize your sales performance, you’re sure to outrun—and outsell—your competition.

Want to know more? Grab a copy of Barbara Rozgonyi’s LinkedIn chapter from Success Secrets of the Marketing Superstars.

Join me as I interview Barbara on The Million Dollar Mindset podcast on Monday, April 2 at 2pm ET. Listen live or download the podcast later. Barbara and I will discuss more on building business with LinkedIn and other social media platforms!