I was having dinner at a restaurant the other day with close friends. It was the type where all the meals are precisely designed masterpieces more complex than a high school chemistry experiment. As we were debating the state of geopolitical affairs over appetizers, a gentleman walked up beside our table.

I looked up and he was standing right next me with his arm extended as if to shake an invisible hand. We looked directly at each other wordless for a few moments before I broke the standoff.

“How may I help you?”

No response registered. He was as silent and still as a statue in a park. So I called the maître d’ to escort the gentleman away, which he promptly did.

Some time later, my dinner mates and I were comparing notes on business development strategies, when someone else approached our table and stopped. I peered up to see a woman with a big smile and outstretched arm.

“Hi, we have lots of the same friends. Let’s also be friends.”

Her hand was literally in my face, and I gently moved it aside.

“Do we know each other or have we met somewhere before?”

My words seemed to float into nothingness as her face betrayed no awareness that I even spoke to her. Once again, I asked the maître d’ to lead this person away from our table.

As if the night could not get any stranger, as our table was digging into dessert and talking about recent books that inspired us, someone snuck up and leered over us. And this person was ready to shake hands.

I was thinking this must be a prank, so I decided to take the bait and shake the hand.

“Thank you for accepting my offer! I run a lead gen service and I would very much like to schedule 15 minutes of your time to discuss how we can generate 5x more revenue!”

If this was a prank, it was the worst one ever…

I think many of us can relate. Not to getting interrupted by strangers at dinner, but this thing we use intermittently called LinkedIn. In recent months, it seems that the online version of my dinner is happening at a quickening pace for many people I know.

A little backstory, I started using LinkedIn very early on. Not the year it launched, but not too long after that. I thought the idea was brilliant. Sure, the public resume thing was interesting, but what was more intriguing was this idea that I could connect with other business professionals like myself. But it could all happen online without ever meeting in person.

The best way to use LinkedIn for networking and sales prospecting

It did not really matter in my professional life though until I launched my own HR tech startup. I quickly realized I had zero network outside of the few companies I sold to while at Oracle. In short order though, I was able to network with HR thought leaders, corporate HR leaders, and investors to help fund my new venture.

Then as I became a full-time investor, I expanded my network even further, connecting with entrepreneurs and investors and various people supporting the startup ecosystem. It helped to create deal flow, expanded my influence, and led to many great friendships along the way.

In the past couple of years, a lot of my time has been dedicated to expanding the Enterprise Sales Forum into a global B2B sales community. As we launch in cities that I have barely any network from Seattle to Toronto to Singapore and beyond, LinkedIn has been an enormous asset in extending my reach and allowing me to share our sales talks with sales professionals looking to learn, share, and connect with other sales peers.

To date, my network on LinkedIn consists of over 17,400 connections. That is not humblebrag. That is the result of meticulously building a professional network over the course of over a decade on this platform (with the one exception when I accidently allowed LinkedIn to send connection requests to all of my email contacts).

My secret though is not simply that I strategically use LinkedIn. Anyone can do that and the search mechanisms are easy to master. It is not even the length of time that I have used LinkedIn. The difference is that I connect with people using a personalized invite.

CHOOSE YOUR ADVENTURE

So does a personalized invite really matter, you might ask? Well, I would ask you then how many unsolicited sales & marketing emails do you respond to in a week? We seem to put LinkedIn in a different category though because it seems more “business like” and it is easy to scope people out with a click (though to that point, you should probably revamp your profile so it does look professional).

Just like with email however, we are reaching a saturation point in social networks where there is too much noise and distraction to respond. So our default coping mechanism is to ignore, delete, and forget. And LinkedIn is squarely the culprit in this current state of affairs.

Consider this, when was the last time you responded to an InMail? I have plenty of credits but rarely use them. And I have not responded to an InMail in over a year. People long ago got hip to the fact the InMail was the swamp pit for spammy outreach and slimy sales pitches.

Because InMails have become increasingly useless as an engagement channel, most of that activity has moved to Connection Requests. This is where the problems begin.

Image for post

Before you at least had to indicate how you knew someone and there was a text box to add a few sentences for context. Now we are presented with two choices; the easy way and the less easy way. Guess which way 98% of people chose? Even with the friendly advice in the message box to include a personal note, the allure of the Big Blue Button is too great.

As I write this, I have over 100 invites in my queue. That is a regular situation. Some people would just accept them all and be done. However, I do not subscribe to the open networker philosophy. You may see these folks that have “LION” in their LinkedIn tagline. And then there are some folks that just connect with everyone.

Why do I not connect with everyone? One is the practical consideration that it is hard to manage my large network as it is. There is also the fact that LinkedIn has a 30K limit on number of connections. The point though is I genuinely want to know the people I am connecting with. While I cannot invest the time that I used to in learning about each person, at least a cursory note helps.

When people reach out to connect and do not leave a personal note, what do I do? I send a short but warm response and ask what they are passionate about and how I might help. I rarely get a response, it is about a 5% response rate. So what is the point of connecting then if you do not want to engage? How exactly is that networking?

LEVEL UP YOUR CONNECTION GAME

If you play it right, LinkedIn could be your unfair advantage. Most people are lazy networkers and put in zero effort. Therefore the single most important thing you can do to standout is to connect with purpose. That means understanding why you think connecting would matter to the person you wish to connect with and taking a genuine interest in that person.

The next step is sending a short, concise, and personal note to the person you want to connect with. Some things that DO NOT WORK include:

  • We have X number of common connections, let’s connect.
  • Your profile is interesting, let’s connect.
  • I’m in sales too, let’s connect.
  • We went to the same school, let’s connect.
  • I read your recent post, let’s connect.

Each of these messages suffers from a lack of context, a lack of a compelling reason, and a lack of caring. They are no different than clicking the Big Blue Button. So do not ever use the above tactics, it’s bad form and makes you look spammy.

What do you do then? You make the invite about the person you are connecting with and having a specific ask. Here is an example:

Hello Mark,

I liked your post “Why Dogs Are More Awesome Than Cats”. I too think cats are evil. I am a newbie entrepreneur struggling with sales and saw you host great sales talks. Would love to connect and get some sales advice. Thanks, Julia

If you want to think of the example as a template, the structure is something along the following:

Hi [FIRST_NAME],

[INTERESTING THING ABOUT THEM]. [MY REACTION TO INTERESTING THING].[WHO I AM]. [WHY I AM REACHING OUT]. [NEXT STEP]. Thanks, [MY NAME]

Why would this stand out? Because they made it about the recipient, they made it personable, and they had an ask. It is also concise and to the point, which the 300 character limit of the message box enforces. That is actually a great feature, forcing you to think carefully about how to structure your invite for most impact. You have to be creative and efficient.

Even in the cases where you have met or interacted with the person, my default is to use a personalized request. Why? Because people can be forgetful. Especially in settings where it was very busy like a conference or there has been a good chunk of time between meeting and connecting on LinkedIn, a short reminder of the context helps.

For example, you can do something similar to the following example:

Hello Mark, It was great to meet you at the Enterprise Sales Forum last week in Toronto. I thought the talk on prospecting was super insightful. I would love to connect and stay in touch. Cheers, John

It does not have to be that lengthy, the point is that it provides context, it is complimentary (some amount of ego-stroking helps), and it is simply a nice, memorable note.

What if you are on the receiving end of a random connection request. Here is the latest note that I have crafted when I receive non-personalized connection requests:

Thanks Christine for reaching out! Tell me more about what you are up to and what gets you most excited these days. In the meantime, check out the Enterprise Sales Forum which is my current passion: https://enterprisesalesforum.com/. Chat soon! Mark

Again, short and sweet helps. It encourages a response and is friendly in tone. Not too long ago, I was too curt with my messages and it read like “how dare you reach out to connect, you lowly peon!”. The better road to take is to be neighborly and encourage positivity in others.

My hope is that you can step up your social networking game and become masters of using LinkedIn to build a solid professional network. The benefits are truly outstanding when you take the time to care about others and take a genuine interest in them. Do not aim for quantity of connections, aim for quality of connections, because that is going to reflect in how you develop and grow as a professional. With quality there is trust and with trust comes opportunity.

Thanks again and if you have any LinkedIn networking tips or generally social networking strategies, please do leave a comment, I read and respond to all!

UPDATE #1

Some people mentioned that sending a personalized invite is impossible on LinkedIn’s mobile app. First, I would recommend you not use LinkedIn’s app, it is better to sit down and take time to craft something meaningful. You can always “save” interesting profiles while you are on the go by using the Share via function. Where is that? Hold the thought.

Second, if you REALLY do need to send that invite right now and all you have is your phone, you can in fact do that on the mobile app. Go to the profile of the person you wish to connect to, click on the three dots to the right of their picture, select Personalize Invite, then type your message and click Send Invitation. Note that in the options, you can also Follow someone or Share the profile. So you can send yourself an email about the profile and then follow that up with a personalized note later.

Image for post
P.S. I totally recommend connecting with Reid, he is the best.

UPDATE #2

So if someone sends you a non-personalized invite, how do you send a response to that person? On the mobile app, this is impossible (c’mon LinkedIn, really?), but you can on the website. Go to My Network in the top menu bar. In the Invitations box, there is some text to the top right that says Manage All. Click that and below each invite, there is a blue link called Messages or Reply to [NAME]. Click that and you will end up in the Messages area where you can type your note.

Leave a Reply