In my first column about LinkedIn, I focused on ways to promote your company and your employees through LinkedIn. In my second column, I focused on LinkedIn as a research tool. For my column today, I'll focus on LinkedIn as an outbound marketing communications vehicle. It seems perfect for one-to-one messaging, doesn't it? Take a massive database of detailed data on business professionals (data that is willingly supplied by members, I might add) and mix in messaging capabilities to reach your target's inbox. What could go wrong? Actually, everything.
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None of us like to receive email marketing spam. We employ filters so that we never see it. At times, we change email addresses to reduce the amount we receive. And what makes it through to our inbox is usually quickly deleted without being opened. LinkedIn InMails can be worse—for both the recipient and the sender. On the recipient's side, not only are InMails unsolicited but generally they come from one individual, a salesperson. At least marketing emails from a company are often viewed as promotional in nature—and even interesting if they provide a compelling offer that aligns with the recipient's needs at that time. But if the recipient isn't interested, they are easily ignored. Even if the company sends another, each email is just as easy to delete.
Now compare that to your experience of having a pushy salesperson come up to you in a store and ask, "Hi, can I help you today?" What do we often say? "No, thank you." Why? Because once we engage the sales associate, we're stuck. InMails are similar. They usually come not from companies but from salespeople and, if we respond, it becomes harder to make them go away.
InMails aren't just bad for recipients, however. They can be disastrous for you and your company, too. First, they're expensive. Emails cost mere pennies (when considering list buys and email tool costs). InMails, on the other hand, are extremely expensive. Based on whichever premium LinkedIn plan to which you subscribe, an InMail can cost $1 or more. And, even if you were willing to spend a fortune, you are limited to a few dozen each month. On top of that, when recipients get InMail notifications in their inboxes, they only see the first couple of lines. So, if you don't include something compelling immediately in your InMail, your recipients will likely never see your marvelously crafted message. Finally, unlike email, LinkedIn messages are manually sent one-to-one,instead of en masse, so they can burn a lot of your time.
So, how can you turn that messiness into goodness? Here are seven steps to LinkedIn messaging success:
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1. It's Who They Know
Is the recipient part of your Level Two network? In other words, does your recipient know someone you know? If so, see if your mutual contact can introduce you. (It's like asking your waiter to let the guys [or girls] at "that table over there" know that you are buying them a drink.)
Using a mutual contact accomplishes two things. First, if you can get an introduction, your cold call becomes a lukewarm lead. Second, you may avoid having to expend a precious (and limited) InMail message.
2. It's What You Know
If possible, in your first line, mention something specific from the person's profile and indicate why that detail led you to reach out. However, keep in mind that, nine times out of 10, the recipient's first (and possibly only) exposure to your message will be via a truncated version of your InMail that is delivered via email to the person's inbox. That email will only include the first line or two of your InMail.
You need to capture the person's attention via the summary information included in that email or the recipient will likely never see the rest of your message. Get a feel for how much is included by testing it out with a coworker to see exactly how much your coworker receives in email. Like pay-per-click ads in search advertising, those few words are your window of opportunity.
3. Seek First to Chat, Not to Sell
Keep InMail success in perspective. InMails are part of your sales process, not the entirety of it. Your goal with using InMails should be to start a conversation, not immediately drive a sale. With that in mind, focus your message on a topic that is likely to capture the interest of recipients.
For example, can you find something in the person's profile that might highlight an interest—the person's alma matter, a job that may give insight into a personal passion, a certification, or a skill? Can you use those tidbits to engage the contact?
4. Be a Numbers Girl (or Guy)
Start your own version of Big Data. Testing, tracking, and business intelligence (BI) drive growth. Track when you send your InMails (the day and time) and track which ones get responses.
Over time, you may start to see trends. InMails sent on certain days or at certain times may generate more responses. If you identify the days and times that generate the most responses, then start sending your InMails during those windows of opportunity.
5. Educate Prospects
Utilize lead capture assets (also sometimes referred to as "high-value content") to generate higher responses. If your company just published a blog that might be of interest, tell prospects about it via an InMail.
Ditto for a report, case study, best practices guide, and the like. When you offer an asset of value to prospects, you shift the focus from selling them something to giving them something, and that can lead to higher sales.
6. Generate Intrigue
In an earlier column, I talked about using mystery to generate curiosity. You can do the same with your InMails. If you've ever eaten a dish with a unique taste (a unique good taste, that is) that you couldn't quite identify, you likely ruminated on it, discussed it with your dinner companion, and maybe even asked your waiter what spices or ingredients were in the dish. Do the same with your InMails. Create some mystery and intrigue so your prospects want to respond to you.
7. The Best InMail May Not Be an InMail
If all else fails, see if you can get your conversation out of LinkedIn. Does your prospect list an email address or Twitter username in his or her profile? If yes, follow the person on Twitter or send a brief email. However, most people do not provide emails and Twitter usernames in their LinkedIn profiles. But you now have their name so you can search for them on Instagram, Twitter, and other social networks.
No email? LinkedIn makes it easy to find other people who work at the same company as your target prospect. Your target prospect may not list an email address in his or her profile, but coworkers might list theirs and, in most cases, companies follow the same convention for assigning email addresses. Maybe the company you are targeting assigns email addresses as FirstnameLastInitial@companydomain.com. Or FirstinitialLastName. Or just Firstname or just Lastname. Once you know the convention, you can likely use that to guess your prospect's email address.
Not interested in spending the time looking at coworkers' profiles to figure out the model for that company's email addresses? Fine. Then just guess. Send an email to Firstname@companydomain.com. If that email doesn't exist, you should get a "message undelivered" notification from the company's email server. That lets you know you can move on to the next try, perhaps FirstnameLastinitial@companydomain.com.
Be careful, however. Do not send one email with all of the combinations on the To line (or for that matter, on the Cc or Bcc lines). You don't want it to be obvious to the recipient that you were just guessing his or her email address. Try one email address at a time. Also, do not send one attempt right after another. You don't want the recipient's email server to interpret your message as spam and block or filter your messages. Try one today. If you get a bounce back, move on to another prospect, and then come back to your next attempt for this original prospect in a few days.
Remember, This Is Sales and Marketing
Despite these suggestions, you are still not going to get responses to the majority of your InMails. You need to keep in mind that this is marketing and, despite all of our best efforts, marketing is still a numbers game.
Chances are, you are not going to go from a 10-percent response rate to a 60-percent response rate. But, going from 10 percent to 20 percent still represents double the efficiency of your efforts, and my guess is, we would all love to see our efforts be twice as efficient.