When looking for new prospects to keep your business swimming, don’t fish in a dried up mud hole. Businesses have to overcome more hurdles and cut through more clutter than ever to get noticed. It’s time to work smarter, not harder, shift your thinking and drop a line in a new stream.

1. The targeting power of LinkedIn

LinkedIn celebrated its 10th birthday this spring. It now boasts 200 million users, 35 percent of which check in every day. And a whopping 81 percent belong to at least one group. This is a wake-up call to take this social network seriously.

For B-to-B companies, LinkedIn can be an excellent channel to disseminate your thought leadership, drive prospects back to your website and lead them through a conversion funnel.

Every time I write an article like this one, I share it with my network as well as with the eight groups to which I belong. According to LinkedIn, my 526 connections link me to more than 6 million other professionals. Couple this with the people who aren’t connections but are members of the same groups as I am and we’re talking about serious reach.

LinkedIn advertising is also a very powerful tool when used effectively, allowing you to handpick your target audience by title and company. You pay for clicks – not impressions – so even if someone doesn’t click through, you’re gaining valuable impressions.

2. Paid search – Hook ‘em when they’re looking to eat

You have a much better likelihood of success of capturing a prospect’s attention when they are actively looking for what you have to offer.

But cries of “I’ve tried Ad Words and it didn’t work” ring throughout the B-to-B world. Given the complexities that go into researching, testing and maintaining a successful Ad Words campaign, I’m not surprised at the level of skepticism.

Success in paid search requires expertise and following best practices. Before tossing up a few ads and waiting to see what happens, you need to run a rigorous test.

Success in paid search requires expertise and following best practices. Before tossing up a few ads and waiting to see what happens, you need to run a rigorous test. Set a test budget of $1,000. Do your research. Compare the keywords you think make sense to data that shows how many people are searching for specific terms. See what other terms Google recommends based on actual search volume. (You can even see what terms your competitors are buying.)

Then set up several different ad groups, each with multiple ads that lead to a specific landing page on your website, tailored to align with the ad. Create several landing pages with variations in messaging, imagery, offer and so on. Test which landing page produces the best conversion. Continually monitor which sets are performing the best – and cut off the poorest performers.

To do this, look at the analytics to determine optimum conversion.

For example, during the testing phase, an Altitude client was getting 40 percent of its clicks between the hours of 1:00 a.m. – 4:00 a.m., but they were among the worst conversions. We turned off the campaign during those hours.

While the volume of clicks went down, costs decreased and overall conversion rate went up.

3. Remarketing: If at first you don’t succeed …

Let’s suppose your LinkedIn efforts sent an ideal prospect to your website but they didn’t convert. Sometimes you need to recast your line a few times before you hook one. When a prospect visits your site, you can (legally) place a cookie on their browser so the computer remembers they visited your site.

Then, by partnering with one of many ad networks out there, your ad can appear wherever this prospect goes on the web.

Recently, I visited Zappos.com. Two days later, a Zappos ad with the shoes I was looking at appeared on Boston.com while I was reading about my beloved Red Sox. I clicked through and bought them.

Welcome to the age of digital remarketing. My rule of thumb is don’t remarket to someone more than five times – otherwise, it can become downright creepy.

4. Take a hard look at attendee list for trade shows

Sometimes getting more cost effective at lead generation doesn’t require new technology – it just takes good old-fashioned research and analysis.

I have a love/hate relationship with trade shows. They used to be the one time every year where everyone in the industry would get together – buyers, sellers, executives and worker bees – info-sharing, networking, doing deals … But times have changed – the rising cost of travel, attendance and exhibiting, coupled with technological advances that have made communication within an industry easier, means you have to really scrutinize the investment.

A new Altitude client attended its three industry trade shows each year to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. Return on investment data – leads produced and converted as a result – was absent. We took a look at the attendee list to see how many of our client’s buyers – CTO or CIO level – was in attendance. Turns out, at two of the three shows, attendees were at a much lower level and in functions outside information and technology. Talk about fishing in the wrong spot!

Conversely, we found an opportunity which at first sounded like extortion. It was a “CIO summit” where 30 top CIOs from the industry were invited out for a few days of golf, networking and presentations. The cost for our client to attend was about the same as exhibiting at two trade shows – but they were guaranteed meetings with at least five of these CIOs – individuals they couldn’t get face time with otherwise and who were nowhere to be seen at the trade shows.

5. Don’t cold call

How many decision makers do you think are going to take a cold call? People are busy. Decision makers often have gatekeepers – or at a minimum they have caller ID. This is like fishing for wild salmon long after they’ve jumped the falls upstream. The odds of hooking one makes it simply not worth it. Spend your time and effort elsewhere. Anywhere.