Business development using LinkedIn – etiquette & results

LinkedIn has been around for donkeys years. There aren’t too many business people out there who don’t know about it and don’t use it although sometimes I do find both!  As with any social media platform with an intention to enable networks to connect and share there are both good and bad attributes. And both good and bad users. 

The same for any solution so we look here at effective business development using LinkedIn.

Networking and business development

From a business development perspective – and from the experience of using LinkedIn for independent business development – this is a treasure trove when used correctly. 

Firstly, let’s explain what we mean by ‘properly’.  There are lots and lots of companies now popping up offering specialist training in ‘How to use LinkedIn for maximum value’ and many other similar titles. 

Most of this is common sense. The rest of it is about common decency, strategic process and just using LinkedIn as an extension of our normal human networks.  The difference being that when we meet someone face to face we can tell very quickly if they are interested or if we have annoyed them.

There’s very little difference to the process used in starting up a conversation with someone on LinkedIn for the first time as there is when meeting someone over a breakfast networking session or in the pub waiting to be served.  You really don’t need to get too hung up about it at all.

Being authentic

LinkedIn and any networking is about being natural and being honest. 

If we follow the advice that no-one really like to be ‘sold to’ but they do like to ‘buy’ then we are getting closer.  The ‘hard sell’ that sometimes tars business development and sales industries like a big wet smelly brush doesn’t help one iota. 

In fact, just think back to the last time you received an email, a LinkedIn note, a phone call or someone on your doorstep pushing their wares upon you and not seeming to mind that you weren’t in the slightest bit interested.  There’s no real difference when this is done through the medium of LinkedIn, it still stinks, it’s just that you don’t get to see the whites of the eyes of the poor recipient. 

But they will just ignore you. And that’s no good.

Key points

There’s no hard and fast rules here. It might be useful to have some guidelines though based on what’s worked well over the years (and perhaps some of those that don’t work so well…)

  • Be selective in those you approach especially if you don’t know them and you have no previous connections or contact with them. Oftentimes the approach will be to a large organisation where there could be five, ten, fifteen account managers or senior staff that you would like to speak with.  Don’t hit them all with a message because guess what it looks desperate, it’s rude and it won’t work anyway.  People in teams talk with each other and if Account Manager #1 knows you’ve also sent the same ‘personalised’ note to 14 of his colleagues then it suddenly isn’t that personal is it?  Choose the person you have most in common with, that might be a good start especially if you have shared connections.

  • Ask permission from those you are contacting. Usually the first approach will be by InMail where the recipient knows that you’ve spent money on the approach and therefore you’ve (hopefully) put more thought into it than just sending loads of ‘add me to your network’ notes.  Even so, the InMail will usually be a short and succinct note to ask their permission to send through more detail so as a basic courtesy you should be asking them if it’s okay to send information through.   This is where it becomes really important that you’ve done your homework and what you are approaching them for is directly relevant to them and/or their position.  If it’s not relevant then it’s not going to get picked up and you shouldn’t be contacting them anyway. The initial note will usually provide a non-salesy (never, never) note saying why you have chosen them, what you would like to explore and to ask permission to send through information.  Nice and polite, short, succinct and to the point.  Then it’s in their hands as to whether they see the same relevance as you.

  • Remember you are not selling but you are positioning a conversation. People don’t like that feeling that they’re being sold to.  However, it’s a different story when someone contacts us and they’ve clearly spent the time looking at what we do and researched some of our industry challenges.  When that note comes in and says they feel they have something that might be able to help us with these challenges and please contact if you’d like more information as they don’t want to assume we’d be interested then it’s much more likely we’ll accept and provide that permission.

  • Once you have this permission don’t screw it up by the suddenly becoming *that* person who was all nicey-nicey and then becomes the salesperson from hell.  That’s just not on.  It doesn’t work so nobody gets anything from that kind of relationship.

  • It’s often a good thing to ask for directions too or to ask for a signpost so if the person you are contacting is not actually the best placed to answer your enquiry then they can put you through to someone else who is. Again, this works well because you are asking for advice and not presuming that this person will be interested.

Business development using LinkedIn checklist:

1. Check you are making an honest and authentic approach – does it sound ‘spammy’? Are you being genuine in what you are asking for? Does it read like a sales brochure? Keep it simple.

2. Do you state clearly what it is that you are asking for in as clear and succinct a way as possible? Avoid waffle at all costs, cut out any fat and just stick to the point whilst remaining polite.

3. Have you made it easy for the person to respond and help you? It’s really good to try and cover both bases here so you get a reply of some kind even if it’s to say that they can’t help you. Firstly, this means you get a yes/no reply and, secondly, you might get your InMail credit reimbursement from LinkedIn.

4. Is it the kind of note you wouldn’t mind someone else sending to you? If it’s not then why are you sending it? Treat others as you’d have people treat you. Don’t spam.

5. Have you made assumptions that this person knows what you do and what you are interested in? Some will take the time to look you up and others won’t so don’t assume that they know anything about you but equally we don’t want your life story thrust upon them. Again, be succinct.

6. Have you made presumptions on this person’s time? Including links, URLs and information they have not asked for is not ideal and just think what it feels like when somebody does it to you with a message scattered with information and external links.

7. Have you asked for permission? Remember, people do like to help but they don’t like having loads of stuff thrown at them. It’s good practice to send the bare minimum and then ask for their permission to send more information if they would like to know more. Again, don’t take this permission as an all-out sales fest the next time you correspond! Don’t succumb to the ‘Trojan horse’ style and hit them with the hard sell just because they’ve been kind enough to respond.

8. Does your approach stack up with your public profile? If your profile describes you as a Finance Director but your request is about software development you may need to explain otherwise it won’t sit well. Just think about how it will be interpreted, is it congruent?

9. Does your approach read like a sales script? Remember to be genuine and scripts are so clunky and spammy, they stand out a mile and leave the reader feeling like just another number.  Don’t fall prey to the temptation to send out the same message copied and pasted to all. It’s so easy to spot these approaches, it’s lazy, it’s disingenuous and shows a lack of understanding.

10. Have you checked to see who else you are mutually connected with on LinkedIn? It’s a great tool to use but again only if you are being genuine. If you have a close and trusted mutual acquaintance then it can be really good to put them in there and suggest your contact can ‘vet you’ through this 3rd party if they want to check you out. This works really well but like all references make sure you know your reference will help you and not throw a spanner in the works. How well do you really know them? Might be worth asking them first?

Give it a go

It’s not hard science and mostly your gut feel will tell you if you’re on the right track. When sending InMails perhaps just run through this checklist before hitting ‘send’.

Connect to i-BDM using the LinkedIn Company Page

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