How To Delay Hitting The Commercial Search Limit On Free LinkedIn

(caption: some search tools are more expensive than others)

My last couple newsletters have revolved around Sales Navigator as a tool for salespeople, and I subesequently received a few messages along the lines of “hey, I can’t afford Sales Navigator. What about us poor Free LinkedIn users?” This one’s for you.

When LinkedIn sees you making a lot of searches on LinkedIn, they (usually correctly) infer that you are doing so as part of your job. And if you are using LinkedIn search for business, LinkedIn would like you to pay for the privilege of doing so. So in order to encourage (extort?) people into upgrading to Premium subscriptions, LinkedIn instituted the Commercial Search Limit (CSL).

So just what is the CSL and how is it measured?

Once you have hit a certain number of searches in a month, LinkedIn will send you a message saying something along the lines of, “It appears you are using Search for business reasons. This requires a premium subscription. You have hit your limit for free searches this month, and will be allowed to use search again next month.”

And here is the sneaky part: LinkedIn won’t say what the actual number of searches is. Heck, Linkedin won’t even say how they define a single “search”, that thing you apparently just did too many of. I have heard people say it is two hundred searches in a month, and other people say it is eight hundred searches in a month. I am suspicious that LinkedIn has some pretty smart algorithms, and if they see you searching “x” times this month, they just redefine the limit as ninety percent of “x” next month, and keep dropping it lower and lower until you finally succumb to an upgrade.

That being said, most LinkedIn users are their own worst enemy.

While LinkedIn may be the villain in this morality play, we users need to shoulder some of the blame, as we are the ones who largely put ourselves in this position. How? By searching badly. Most LinkedIn users will approach making a search on LinkedIn in a haphazard manner.

They will think, “I need to find all those prospects making ventilators.”

So they search for “ventilator” and then choose “companies”. They find over 1,500 companies making ventilators.

Okay, that’s too many, that didn’t work too well. How about ventilators, but choosing “people” instead of companies? Hmm, still 40,000.

Oh, how about just in the USA? 28,000 people.

Wait, I will add a title: “purchasing”. Heck, only 12 search results….and one is unemployed, another buys ventilators, looks like three of them used ventilators in a previous job, this is going nowhere.

This user just made four searches – every time they recalibrated what it was they were looking for, or refined their search terms and hit enter, that’s a new search. And I would argue that they aren’t really any closer to the results they wanted. So what can they do? There is no way you can avoid the CSL in the long run, but you can surely get more mileage out of your free searches.

Here are 7 ideas you can use that will help you delay hitting the CSL

1) Be absolutely clear what you are searching for.

The better you can define your search up front, the better your results will be. Defining your search up front will also help you get your search right the first time. Every time you adjust your search parameters and hit “search” or “apply” you are adding a search to your total. And the algorithm is keeping track. The rest of the ideas that follow will help you with this.

2) Use Boolean operators

These are terms such as “OR “. For example, purchasing OR buyer. The OR tells LinkedIn to look for one or the other.

3) Never put titles in the keyword field

Use the title field and use Boolean there too. The difference is huge: when you look for an expression in the title field, such as “Purchasing manager”, that’s where LinkedIn looks for that phrase, in the work experience titles of LinkedIn profiles. If you put the phrase “purchasing manager” in the keyword field, LinkedIn looks for that expression anywhere in a LinkedIn profile. So if someone says that in their job they worked with the purchasing manager, they are going to show up in your results. Not optimal.

4) Use connections carefully

You can choose to just search for any combination of first, second and third level connections. As LinkedIn will usually show you your search results in roughly that order anyway, this isn’t really necessary. I use connection level searches when I am specifically looking for introductions, and that’s a different search.

5) Use the company name filter if you are looking within a specific company

So by all means if you are looking for the purchasing people at Microsoft, use the company name filter.

6) The industry filter can be very useful

The industry filter is something that as usual, most people don’t understand and LinkedIn doesn’t bother to explain. I would encourage you to experiment with the lists here. In some cases you can hone right in on say, Medical Devices. But if you are looking for Manufacturing, you will need to pull together the twenty or so industries that could qualify as different types of Manufacturer (the last time I compiled the list there were 147 industries in the industry filter).

7) Use broad geography right away, then use it to refine your results

The first thing I want from my search results is that I found the right people. The second thing is that I want a manageable number of people in those results. This is where I use the geography filter to get a workable number of results to start with. If I ran a search of North America, and got 800 results, that’s too many to work with. So I might start with just California, or maybe the Great Lakes states. What I want is to have several dozen profiles to review, and then I will come back and slightly redefine my geography to get another several dozen.

Parting shot – if you still run into the Commercial Search Limit, and it is blocking you from getting the results you want, it’s time to think of getting a Sales Navigator account. But be smart about it, sign up for monthly until you’re sure it is worth your while.

Do you have any tricks you use to avoid the CSL? Or have you given in and upgraded to Sales Navigator?

The obligatory disclaimer: I do not work for or have any association with LinkedIn, other than being a user who pays them for his Sales Navigator subscription every month. I was an early subscriber to Sales Navigator and have probably forked over three or four thousand bucks for the privilege over that time. And it has been worth every penny.

Want more like this? (the newsletter I mean, not the disclaimer) I publish a weekly email newsletter on using LinkedIn effectively for Sales and Marketing. Each newsletter typically contains two or three articles like the one above, it’s free, and you can unsubscribe anytime. Here’s a link to the sign up page:

Three Features That Make Sales Navigator Worth The Money

Yes, I agree that I am always harping away about how great Sales Navigator is as a tool for salespeople. But as LinkedIn sure isn’t paying me anything to say this, I am fairly unbiased and as I know Sales Navigator is going to cost you upwards of a thousand bucks a year, you know that I think the ROI is compelling.

Here are three of the features that contribute to that ROI.

Feature #1: Search Filters That Allow For Depth And Breadth 

The key word in talking about search capability in Sales Navigator is “more.”  Sales Navigator has over two dozen additional search filters, including better granularity in geographical searches.

Let’s start by comparing filters we would use to search for companies on LinkedIn.

Company Filters on Free LinkedIn:

  • Location
  • Industry
  • Company Size

Additional Company Filters in Sales Navigator: Aside from the three above, there are quite a few more. Here are the ones I like:

  • Senior management changes in the past three months. This is a terrific filter for finding companies where new executives may want to put their stamp on things and may be more open to hearing from new vendors and new options.
  • Annual revenue
  • Company Headcount Growth (user definable)

Now let’s compare the search filters we can use for looking for individuals.

People search filters on Free LinkedIn include:

  • Connections. Search via first degree connections, second, and third.
  • Location. Basic geography filter. A lot better than it used to be, this is quite useful now.
  • Current company.
  • Industry
  • Multiple keyword options including first and last names, and job title.

Additional Sales Navigator people filters include:

  • Seniority level – CXO, VP, Director, Manager etc.
  • Function – Engineering, operations, sales, admin etc.

I use the two above in combination a lot in order to find the top execs in different departments.

  • LinkedIn groups. Search for people who are members of specific groups.

You can send free messages to fellow group members. This is really useful for supplementing your InMail credits for the month.

  • Years at current company
  • Years in current position
  • Job title. Yes, this is also available as a keyword in free LinkedIn, but there is a lot more flexibility in Sales Nav as it will suggest job titles when you start typing.

To be fair, there are a bunch of filters I have never used – schools people went to, profile language, how long ago they became a member of LinkedIn (actually that last one is good for help identifying fake LinkedIn profiles), and so on.

Special after the fact filters: there are five filters that appear after you have run your people search. They are under the heading “Spotlight” in the left hand re-filter column. These include:

  • Changed jobs in the past 90 days
  • Mentioned in the news in the past 30 days
  • Posted on LinkedIn in the past 30 days
  • Share experience with you
  • Leads that follow your company on LinkedIn
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I make particular use of the first and third ones in this list. As I mentioned above, executives new to their jobs often want to make their mark and shake things up a bit, and can be open to new ideas. Nothing may come of it, but I find these people more approachable. If I have a hundred people in my search results and three of them fall in this category, I am looking at them first.

Posted in the past 30 days can be an indicator that someone uses LinkedIn on a regular basis.  I will also check these people first. Active members are more likely to see outreach messages.

A couple other interesting aspects of Search in Sales Navigator:

In the original People search page where all 24 filters are available, as you add filters to your search, Sales Nav will update the number of results for that search on the fly.

Sales Navigator users have the ability to re-filter search results, in other words, the ability to make endless subtle alterations to their search filters to see what effects these changes can make to results on the fly.

Feature #2: Unlimited Search

On free LinkedIn, you run the risk – and it’s a big one – of hitting the Commercial Search Limit. If the LinkedIn algorithm “sees” you making multiple searches, LinkedIn will assume you are using search for business purposes and they will want you to pay for that privilege. Once you reach a  certain number of searches – that LinkedIn won’t specify – LinkedIn will cut off your search privileges until they “reset” at the beginning of the next month.

Sales Navigator users don’t have to worry about any search limits anymore. There are four main benefits to having unlimited search capability:

1) It makes search forgiving.

You can experiment with different filters and combinations of filters (I do this a lot with Seniority, Function and Job Title). You can make mistakes and hit the “search” button twenty times and you’re okay.

2) It makes parsing your search results into workable chunks possible.

I will often come perform a search that yields 400 results. I am not going to work through four hundred results in one sitting. So I will subsplit it (for example) by company size, looking at all the results that fall under companies with 51-200 employees, and going back and looking at the results for 201-500 employee companies etc. I have the luxury of doing so because the search limits are gone.

3) It makes searching flexible.

LinkedIn allows different kinds of searches – people, companies (also referred to by LinkedIn as accounts), events, posts, and hashtags. Unlimited search capability really makes these searches viable. If I am looking for people that use a certain coding language for example, aside from the usual suspects – people and companies – I can also look for that coding language in the aforementioned events, posts and hashtags.

4) It makes research viable

Researching prospects and companies is one the base tenets I teach my students and clients. All that research I have talked about is made possible from being able to parse through a lot of profiles and company pages without having to cut corners or dial back my research due to limitations imposed on me.

One caveat: I have had people come to me and say that LinkedIn has gone after them and that there is a commercial search limit in Sales Navigator. Invariably further discussion leads to the admission that they are using automated tools that find and look at three hundred profiles an hour. And LinkedIn caught them using tools that break the user agreement.

Feature #3: Saved Searches 

Sales Navigator allows you to save searches which can be a lifesaver. Here are some examples:

  • I have a saved search that I used to find process engineers in parts of Southern California. There were specific counties that I needed to search – seven of them – and saving the search allowed me to go back and review the results later without having to go and select and load all those counties as filters all over again.
  • I had another search that I helped a client with who wanted a list of companies purchasing from China who might want to consider “coming home.” The search mask included specific states, company sizes, functions, a variety of job titles, and a boolean text string. Around twenty individual settings or filters.
  • I had a steel company looking for construction project managers in a specific city. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? One industry, one title, one city. Except I found that there were a dozen titles, all of which I had to enter. So I saved it just in case. Six months later my customer was so happy with the results that he asked me if I could replicate the search for another city close by. I was very happy to do so.

A word about Saved Search Alerts:

This is a cute gimmick, but I find it of questionable utility. Once you save a search, you can set Sales Navigator to alert you either weekly or monthly when new people meeting your search criteria are found. It’s actually a good idea, but LinkedIn seems to consider people that have already been part of the search results that make changes to their profile to be “new” results. In my experience, you get a lot of false positives. You go to review your list of new results and find a lot of them are old results.

There are other Sales Navigator features that I think make it worth the money – saved leads and InMail are definites, things like expanded Who Viewed Your profile and being able to set yourself as Open profiles are nice-to-haves, but being able to really use LinkedIn’s Search capabilities to sort and make sense of the 800 million users? That’s the value.

The obligatory disclaimer: I do not work for or have any association with LinkedIn, other than being a user who pays them for his Sales Navigator subscription every month. Sales Nav gives me an unfair advantage over free users and I like unfair advantages.

Want more like this? (the newsletter I mean, not the disclaimer) I publish a weekly email newsletter on using LinkedIn effectively for Sales and Marketing. Each newsletter typically contains two to four articles, it’s free, and you can unsubscribe anytime. Here’s a link to the sign up page:

Optimizing Your Use Of LinkedIn Can Increase Your Sales By 5-10%

Some search tools are better than others.

I thought that headline would get your attention, but a 5-10% increase is actually a pretty modest expectation.

How good is LinkedIn as a prospect database for B2B? For starters, I think I can find ALL the prospects for almost any B2B company using LinkedIn. Let me use some real life examples to show you what I mean.

A few years ago I was working with an electronics manufacturer based in the northwest. I was telling them how good Linkedin was. They were sceptical. So I challenged them to test me. And they did. They asked me to find all the companies in their city involved in designing and building prototypes that used their type of electronics. I asked them some questions to get a handle on these target companies and then I went to work. The next day I sent them a list of eleven companies in their city. It matched their list. Exactly. They had compiled their list from years of building a network in their hometown. I compiled my list in two hours using LinkedIn from three thousand miles away.

I had another company tell me that they had “talked to every prospect in North America for their products, and they had exhausted all the possible prospect avenues.” Needless to say I thought their pants were on fire so I put it to the test. I told them I would compile a list of prospects for their products in the State of Arizona. They had a sales team in Arizona, so I thought this was fair. The next time we talked we compared lists. Their Arizona list had a little over sixty companies on it. Mine had a hundred and five. When they looked at my list there were lots of comments like “The rep said that company had moved!” and “I thought these guys were about to go out of business two years ago” but in the end they grudgingly admitted that there was a lot of  ground – and opportunities – that they were not covering in their own backyard. And when I mentioned in passing that I thought the total market for their products in North America was 17,000 prospect companies their jaws hit the floor. But as I like to say, LinkedIn is a database that updates itself and the database doesn’t lie.

Here is a final example: I was contracted by a company to find prospects for them. I was talking to their sales rep in Denver. I asked him if he had been to see a company that had a major presence in Denver.

“Yeah, I’ve been to see them.”

Me: “Which facility?”

“What do you mean which facility? They are in Aurora.”

Me: “I know. But they also have a small R&D group in Englewood.” And I told him what they were working on – it was on their LinkedIn profiles – and what appeared to be the division name so he could look them up online.

He called me the next day.

“You were right! I have lived here for twelve years and I have made sales calls on the company in Aurora for over half of that time. I never knew of this other group. They are a legit prospect. Thanks. And don’t tell my manager about this, okay?”

With respect to B2B, if you can articulate who you want to find, you can find them on LinkedIn. You can find virtually every prospect in your market. Now, to be fair, there are jobs where you know all your prospects – if you sell commercial jets, it’s not hard to figure out who all the airlines and cargo companies are. But for most of us, we don’t know who all of our prospective customers are and that’s where LinkedIn comes in.

If you’re in sales, you should always think of LinkedIn as a prospect database, first, second and third. Most companies should be able to find a lot more prospects just through intelligent use of LinkedIn search. But as I alluded to, search is only half the story. The second, and often overlooked part, is research.

I see this scenario play out over and over on LinkedIn: I will be working with someone and once we find a prospect, they get all excited about sending them an Email or an InMail and hitting them up, which usually fails, and they blame LinkedIn.

Well I am sorry, but if your painting didn’t turn out that well, it usually isn’t the paintbrush’s fault.

What these people miss is the opportunity to use LinkedIn for research. There is often a ton of information available on LinkedIn, really useful stuff they can use. They should be taking advantage of this including asking themselves:

What does that person’s profile say about them?

  • What do they emphasize and what do they de-emphasize?
  • What are their accomplishments?
  • Where else have they worked?
  • What is their career path like?
  • And in particular: What are they proud of? (for example, sometimes the way someone lists their skills on their profile – and in what order – can tell you a lot.)

We are looking to obtain information we can use in our outreach, and also in that important first conversation, whenever that does occur.

Is this overkill? Not if it works. And it does work.

But what if they have a “profile lite” – just headings for example? Easy. Look at their peers and look at…well, let me illustrate with another story.

I was interviewing for a contract job as a Sales Consultant about ten years ago and when I went for my interview they gave me a tour of the plant. After we got back from the tour I told them that based on what I had seen on the plant floor that I figured their sales were somewhere in the neighborhood of $22-24M a year. I could tell from their looks of semi-astonishment that I had scored pretty close to the mark. They could see I had a finely trained eye for manufacturing and operations.

Of course all my finely trained eye had done was research them on LinkedIn, where I found their recently departed ex-VP of Sales – and you should see this coming by now – and he listed as one of his accomplishments getting their sales up to…$23M a year.

So look at ex-employees too.

Your prospects are researching you and your company. Research them right back. I can’t tell you the number of times that LinkedIn profiles and people’s behavior on LinkedIn has given me or my clients the clues we needed to put together dynamite outreach messages.

Two other things: doing your research separates you from your competitors who just send a cookie cutter message, and it shows your prospect the respect they deserve.

So if you optimize your LinkedIn search skills and find more prospects, and you can use LinkedIn to research those prospects resulting in more effective outreach messages and more initial conversations, how can your sales not go up by five or ten percent?

Obligatory boilerplate: I do not work for or have any association with LinkedIn, other than being a user who pays them for his Sales Navigator subscription every month. And as you may have gathered from today’s newsletter, I make really, really good use of it.

Want more like this? (the newsletter I mean, not the boilerplate) I publish a weekly email newsletter on using LinkedIn effectively for Sales and Marketing. Each newsletter typically contains two to four articles, it’s free, and you can unsubscribe anytime. Here’s a link to the sign up page: