I Reached Out To 2000 Of My LinkedIn Connections: Here’s What I Learned About Networking

Background

A couple of years ago I had 1500 LinkedIn Connections. Then I started using LinkedIn Publisher and writing articles about using LinkedIn every week. And I started receiving connection invitations. Lots of them. Even accepting well less than half of them, I was adding fifty connections a week. Last year I realized that my connection network was made up of a lot of people I had connected with but didn’t know aside from reading their profiles. So I started a program of reaching out to my connections, sending individual personalized messages one at a time (I refuse to use that automated mass messaging crap) and inviting them to a 15 minute phone or Skype call to find out more about each other.  Over time I sent these messages to 2000 of my connections and wound up having several hundred conversations. Here is some of what I learned.

Networking is undervalued, under practiced and misunderstood

Most LinkedIn members these days seem to have at least five hundred  connections, but never seem to do anything with them once they are connected.  Their networks are more like collections of people than a network of connections. The calls I made and the conversations I had allowed me to get to know these connections better. And that information was what I needed in order to be able to properly recognize opportunities to introduce them to other people in my network. A LinkedIn profile can only tell you so much. When you talk to someone, you can really find what makes them tick and where their real interests are.

Networking sets you apart

LinkedIn is a networking tool, but almost no one networks on LinkedIn. I had people that were kind of boggled that I was doing this. I had people with fifteen hundred or two thousand connections saying “No one has ever asked me to talk with them. Everyone just wants to send messages.”

You need a plan, you can’t just call people for no reason

I am really confident that if someone comes to me and starts to say, “Bruce, do you know someone who can…?” that I will have some good people that I can refer them to. People that aren’t just profiles and a photo but someone I have talked to.

And in return, I think many of them know enough about my specialties that they could recognize opportunities and point people in my direction.

I didn’t do this whole exercise to pitch people. Most of my clients come to me to learn how to use Sales Navigator more effectively. Most of my connections don’t have Sales Navigator and are not prospects for my business. However, each of those connections might know one hundred people who do have Sales Navigator.  

This is the power of networking. I don’t look at my connections as possible prospects, I look at them as possible sales channels. They know hundreds of people that I don’t, and they are in a position to recommend or introduce me to those people. And I am in a position to do the same for them.

There are no guarantees, and you have to be okay with that

Networking is a transaction where nothing may result. Or nothing may result for a long time. And the two people on both sides of this transaction have to be okay with that. No promises. I usually wind up making several introductions or referrals  on LinkedIn every week. And I tend to get several referrals and introductions through my connections every week. But there are no expectations and no guarantees and that’s fine. I trust it to work.

Was this a lot of work? Yes. Several hours every week. Big enough that I had to set aside time every week to do it. Was it worth it? Absolutely. I didn’t spend that time, I invested it.

I will have a couple articles with more about what I learned sometime on the next few weeks.

 

A Path To Success On LinkedIn


It leads through your connections.

If you are an average LinkedIn user, you may have something on the order of five hundred connections.

A few questions to ponder:  

Why are you connected with them?

What is the purpose of your connections?

If you have five hundred connections, does that mean four hundred is bad and six hundred would be better?

What do you want from them?

What do they want from you?

How much do you interact with them?

What do you know about them? “My connection Bob Smith is an engineering consultant.” Great. What type of engineering? What’s his real specialty?  Who are his typical clients? Industry? Local? National? Big companies? Startups? What’s that? You say you don’t have time to find all that out about him. I see.  And why are you connected with Bob then? Because he may refer clients to you? You want nothing to do with helping him but you hope he helps you? Well, good luck with that.

Many LinkedIn users seem to have connection networks that are a mile wide and an inch deep. They collect connections but never talk to them. These connections are assets. These are the people that have the ability to open doors for you. Ignoring them isn’t an optimal strategy. You will notice I said “they collect connections but never talk to them.” I used the word “talk” for a reason.

Not automated messaging, not bots, not templates.

Not LinkedIn messaging, not text, not email.

Talking.

I have conversations with a lot of my connections, especially with people I have not met prior to meeting them through LinkedIn. Want to know what the first thing is they usually say to me when we talk via Skype or phone?

“This is the first time I have had one of these calls. No one does this on LinkedIn.”

Think about that statement for a minute. What does it say about LinkedIn and LinkedIn users when a LinkedIn member is surprised when one of their connections wants to talk to them?  

LinkedIn is supposed to be about professional networking, yet it seems hardly anybody does. When did connections become something to be collected and pulled out and admired from time to time like old baseball cards? A LinkedIn network isn’t numbers, it’s people.

I set aside time time to have calls with ten or fifteen of my connections  every week. Every week. Just fifteen minutes each. But in that fifteen minutes I find out what their real specialties are. What they are passionate about. And that helps me help them. In January I introduced twenty-four of my connections to people I thought might be a good fit for them. And a lot of the connections I spoke with referred people to me. The result is new connections and new business, for both my connections and myself.  

If you are like most LinkedIn users, you come to LinkedIn, read a couple of articles, add a like or a comment, follow a company or two, and call it “networking.” Instead, invest just a little effort in talking to a few of your connections. You will stand head and shoulders above their other connections, because hardly anyone networks on LinkedIn, and almost no one networks effectively.  

Why Asking Your Connections For Help Often Doesn’t End Well On LinkedIn

About once a month someone will ask me for help because they are sending a message like this one to all of their connections and getting no response:  

Subject / headline:  Looking for your assistance

My new (insert one of: product/service/revolutionary device) is almost ready. Do you have any connections who are CEO’s of small companies who could use my product? If so, I would really appreciate it if you introduce me to them.

Thanks!

So why is this approach is doomed to failure?

1) The headline alone dooms it to failure. In a world that seems based on “what’s in it for me?”, a headline that says this is all about you is a non-starter.

2) You are perceived as asking your connection to do all the work for you. Many recipients of this message will translate it as “please go and do my prospecting for me, and then qualify those prospects, and then bring them to me.” This doesn’t sound like a favor, this sounds like you want them to do your job for you.

3) It looks generic. If your message isn’t personalized, it looks like what it probably is: a cattle call you sent to a lot of people. Half the people receiving this message will be insulted to receive a generic message and not respond. The other half will  figure it was sent to a lot of people, assume that someone else will help you…and not respond.

4) It’s too open ended.  How many prospects does he want? Is two okay? How about five? He doesn’t want ten does he? Fifteen? Good heavens, he isn’t expecting me to find fifteen prospects for him is he? I don’t have the time to find fifteen prospects, forget it.  

Is such as approach ever appropriate? Sure. When you have scads of credibility with the other person, they know and like you, and unquestionably would want to help you. (hint: start with your mom and expand from there. It won’t be a big crowd)

The other time this approach is appropriate is if you are already a LinkedIn Influencer, have thousands and thousands of followers and can depend on LinkedIn to promote your post and get it in front of thousands of people. Unfortunately, the last time I looked, you and I weren’t part of the LinkedIn Influencer Pulse-opoly.  

It all boils down to being not specific enough: you should be asking a specific connection for help with a specific company or person.  This translates as “I am coming to you because I think you are the only person with the unique knowledge of this company (or person) that can help me.”  

There is nothing wrong with asking your network for help. Just don’t ask your network, ask the individual people in your network one at a time, and ask them for specific help with a specific person or company.