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:

The Most Important Search Filter On LinkedIn

Here’s where I get in trouble, making a statement like that in my title, but hear me out on this one, I think I may be able to bring you around. 

The bad news is this search filter is in Sale Navigator. You can’t access it using free LinkedIn. The good news is that it is a very powerful one, especially in today’s volatile job market. 

For people searches, Sales Navigator has a couple dozen filters. Some are really important and get used in almost any search, things like keywords, title, and geography. Others are more subtle such as industry that can be used in some cases, but in those cases it can make a big difference. And some are pretty marginal, things like company type, or when the people you are searching for joined LinkedIn. 

With judicious use of all these filters you can find almost anybody, and even better, you can change the filters after you have done your search, effectively fine tuning it. 

But there is one special filter that can change the quality of your LinkedIn outreach. Notice that I say “the quality of your outreach” and not “the quality of your search” because this filter is only accessible after you have performed your initial people search. It is buried in an innocuous section on the left hand side of your search results screen.  

Notice that the search results pictured below originally yielded 8,000 people. What I will do next is apply the secret filter that is buried behind the “Spotlight” heading in the left hand column of my screen. 

The filter is “changed jobs in the past 90 days”. Here is what happened when I applied it to my search results – I got 78 results. 

There actually is another filter on Sales Navigator that selects people who have changed jobs, but it’s finest granularity is changed jobs within the past year. This one is within the last 90 days. 

Why is this important? 

New people are often open to new ideas. They often want to bring in fresh vendors. They are interested in putting their stamp on the new job. Which means opportunity for us. In the first pass of the search above I came up with eight thousand people. If these were prospects and I can see that seventy-eight of them in particular are new to their jobs, guess who I am reaching out to first? And because they are new I have something to use when I message them. 

Here’s an idea I use when I reach out to new people like this. I usually don’t ask them about some aspect of the new job because that’s an obvious question that everyone has already put to them in congratulating them on the new job. What I will do instead is ask about some aspect of the new job and how it is different from their last job. I have found people will open up on that topic. 

Take advantage of this information. 

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. But I was an early subscriber to Sales Navigator and have a grandfathered subscription with less InMails than most Sales Navigator Pro users have. But it’s still pretty awesome, and 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 to four articles, it’s free, and you can unsubscribe anytime. Here’s a link to the sign up page:


How I Decide When To Use LinkedIn InMail 

Knocking on doors when no one is home? Not a recipe for success.

LinkedIn InMail gets a bad rap. “It’s all spam.” “No one answers InMails.” and so on. But I think a lot of that comes down to a poor understanding of what InMail really is and how it can be used.

LinkedIn InMail is an in-app alternative to email. That’s it. It’s just a tool. Saying it is better or worse than email is like saying a Phillips screwdriver is better than a Robertson screwdriver. They both have applications where one may be better suited than the other.

But because of the way LinkedIn works, there are instances and places where I much prefer InMail to email. Here are three aspects that I like about LinkedIn InMail and that play a role in my deciding when InMail could be more effective.

Closed system 

LinkedIn is a closed system where you have tacit permission to send messages to people you do not know. LinkedIn users can turn off InMail anytime they like to keep from receiving messages from people who they are not connected with. 

While I receive as much and likely more spammy crap InMails than other people, I have no problem with being sent and receiving InMails…it’s the spammy crap aspect I don’t like. 

The research capability 

One of the great aspects of LinkedIn and Sales Navigator is that you can research people and come up with clues as to how people fit in their organizations. 

When I am going to send someone an InMail, I am doing research in three places: that person’s LinkedIn profile, the profiles of his or her obvious company peers that I have found using Search in Sales Nav, and their LinkedIn company page. In all of these areas I am looking for information I may be able to use in my message. For example, I will see something on their company page such as their headcount is way up in the past year (or way down!). Either of those two extremes can give me guidance as to what to say in my message, talking about their growth or their need to watch their costs. 

These things don’t always jump out at you, but there is often something there you can use. 

While the information you glean about someone in your research can certainly be used in an email, I will prefer to use InMail where it makes sense, which brings us to…

The user who is more likely to respond

I have found that LinkedIn users who use LinkedIn a lot are more likely to be open to receiving a message from a stranger, which makes sense. So I wondered how I could identify those people and it turned out to be pretty easy. I just look for people with lots of connections  – which I can see on their profile – and even more so, I look for people that are active on LinkedIn – which I can also see through their profile.  

If I find someone with two thousand connections who shows up on LinkedIn once or twice a week and comments on posts or shares other people’s posts, I like the odds that if I send him or her a message that they will read it. But if I send a message to a LinkedIn user who has two hundred connections and doesn’t look like they have been on LinkedIn for months, well that person doesn’t “get” LinkedIn and my odds of them ever even seeing my message let alone responding to it are awful. 

This is my not so secret InMail weapon, in that it is kind of obvious when you think about it. I only send InMails to people that I think are likely to actually open and see my message. You sure can’t get clues like this as to whether someone is more disposed to opening your cold email message. 

My experience is that when I send outreach emails and outreach InMails, the InMails sent to active people on LinkedIn get a higher response rate (14% higher in a program for a client who used both, for example). And that makes the effort worthwhile. 

While finding people more disposed to opening and reading my InMail message is one thing, it all comes down to the quality of your message when they do read it. Writing really good outreach messages, regardless of whether you are using InMail, Email or writing on coconuts being delivered by African swallows is hard work. I have found that I can write four and sometimes five LinkedIn InMail outreach messages in an hour and while many people would balk at that level of time and effort invested I have found that my results merit that effort.


If You Aren’t Measuring Your Results, Maybe You Shouldn’t Be Doing It 

I see this all the time. Someone will tell me about their great habit of finding content to share on LinkedIn, or commenting on posts, or publishing posts, or participating in LinkedIn groups or any number of LinkedIn related activities. 

And I will ask them what their goals are in performing these activities. 

“To generate sales leads.”

“Great! How many leads have you generated, and how many do you expect to generate over what time period?” 


Exactly. They have an idea of what they would like to do, they are putting lots of work in, but they aren’t measuring the results coming out. Are their results commensurate with the effort they are putting in?

If you or your company are in this position, let me offer a couple suggestions, using my early days as a content creator on LinkedIn as an example (this was back before “creator” came with a capital “C”).

  • Have a specific goal in mind. 

Back when LinkedIn first granted publishing abilities to us users, I figured I could write content that would generate leads. I didn’t know if generating leads was possible, but I thought that if I posted regularly I would be able to devise a way of tracking the response to my content and turning that into a lead generation system. I figured if I could generate ten leads a month, I could convert one or two of them into steady customers. This was just my hypothesis though, and as writing content can be fairly time consuming, I was going to track and test everything I did.

Back in those days (six years ago), articles seemed like the best type of content to use, as I could write longer pieces if I wanted to, and there were more formatting options than with posts. So I started writing and publishing one LinkedIn article every week. 

  • Track what you are doing

Whenever I published an article, I measured everything – views, likes, comments, new connection invites, new followers, the number of people who visited my profile – you name it, I tracked it. Spreadsheet madness (and I hate spreadsheets).

  • Figure out what is meaningful

Over time, I came to understand that there were people buried in all these statistics that could be prospects. How did I find that out? By reaching out to them. I made a habit of reaching out to all of the people I could identify that interacted with my content who appeared to fit my ideal client profile and I sent them outreach messages. If they were amenable I would connect with them and see where things went from there. I found that people that fell within certain categories were more responsive than others – for example, I found I could get a response from upwards of seventy percent of the people that commented on one of my articles, but a less than fifty percent response rate from the people that liked my articles.

An unexpected benefit from all this outreach was I got pretty darn good at writing outreach messages.  

  • Apply what you have learned and narrow your focus

In my case, I set about developing a system that went after the commenters and followers that fit my client profile. By that time there were a lot of people publishing on LinkedIn talking about new features and changes to old features, so I tried to focus on writing content that was interesting and novel in the way I looked at using LinkedIn. This helped to gather followers and comments from the type of people I was looking for. 

Here’s the key to this whole endeavor: after a few months I found that I could predict pretty accurately how many leads I would generate from an article by late in the same day I published it. 

Note that the one thing that most people measure – views – is the one thing I discarded almost immediately as being worthless to me. I wanted to be able to contact people and I couldn’t tell who my specific viewers were.

How I personally use LinkedIn continues to evolve, both as the platform changes and my needs change. I am constantly experimenting – there are LinkedIn engagement metrics I still monitor every day, and I am tracking another idea with this Newsletter – and measuring the results of those experiments.

So that’s today’s message: there are multiple ways you can use LinkedIn. Once you have figured out what you think you can use LinkedIn to do, figure out how you are going to do it and especially how you are going to measure your results. And even when you find success, keep measuring to ensure you are on the right path. 


Is LinkedIn Throttling Back Our Content Distribution?

Is LinkedIn barring the door to wider content distribution? I don’t think so.

I have been hearing a lot lately from LinkedIn users complaining that they are not getting the same number of views that they used to get on their content, and that LinkedIn is throttling back on content distribution; the upshot being that LinkedIn is not as good a place as it used to be for publishing content and should we be putting the effort in and so on.

So why does content distribution seem to be growing smaller and smaller?

Some people are gravitating to the theory that LinkedIn is limiting distribution in order to make everyone pay for enhanced distribution, and indeed LinkedIn is offering a “pay for post boost” feature for company page content.

But I think there are several factors that, taken together, offer a simpler explanation.

New feature experiments

Think of all the new content oriented features that LinkedIn has introduced over the past two or so years – videos, LinkedIn Live, polls, newsletters and so one. Every time LinkedIn introduces one of these, the algo gets tweaked to feature these and get us users interested in them. I know that for a while last year all it seemed I saw was LinkedIn Live, and then this past summer that changed to a blizzard of polls in my feed. And if LinkedIn is pushing polls to the forefront, all other types of content are being pushed further back in the queue.

More paid content in the feed

More sponsored content and now, more boosted content from companies. Every time one of those shows prominently in our feed, something else has to be moved out of the way for it.

More people are publishing 

Using my Sales Navigator account I can get a good idea of how many people are posting on LinkedIn. Over 17 million in the past 30 days. And that’s just people’s posts, that does not include companies.

So it’s also just plain more competitive out there.

The net net here is that I agree it’s tougher to get noticed but I don’t think LinkedIn is purposely throttling back. After all, LinkedIn keeps offering these new posting features like polls and video in order to get more people involved. Getting them involved and then immediately cutting them off would be weird.

So what can we do about all this? May I suggest that you stop thinking in terms of reach or views? That’s because I think focusing on views misses the point. I think the big opportunity is in writing content that will be discovered when someone comes across your profile or searches for a topic or hashtag associated with you. For example when someone goes to my profile they can see three things – I have featured content I have written, they can see my activity and what I have written and they can see I have a newsletter and can read my back issues.

Let me put it another way. Which would you rather have: someone by chance seeing that post you wrote appearing in their feed. And “someone” could be anyone. Or… someone visiting your profile and seeing what you have written. That person has found you and your content by intent, not by chance. They are looking for more info on a topic, or have heard of you somewhere and want to know more.

I will take one of the latter over twenty of the former any day.

That’s who you are writing for. Not the possible ten thousand largely random people chosen by LinkedIn who could have viewed your post, but the few dozen who chose themselves to come to your profile.

Write for your ideal reader, not for the masses.

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.

Want more like this? (the newsletter I mean, not the disclaimer) I publish a weekly email newsletter where I don’t talk about “levelling up” or “surface new ideas”, just about 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:

More and more people have LinkedIn Newsletter privileges these days. Thanks for choosing to read this one.

Connecting vs Following On LinkedIn (part 2)

I wrote one of my newsletters a few weeks ago (October 6th) about how LinkedIn seems to be gently pushing us towards a “Follow First” strategy instead of just connecting with anyone we come across. I received some comments and messages pointing out that for all practical intents and purposes, following is just as good as connecting.

While you may not think there is much of a difference, there are some differences you should consider in whether you would rather be a connection or a follower.

Some interesting characteristics of connecting and following:

  • In order for me to connect with you, you have to accept me as a connection. Following someone does not require such permission. I can follow you and there is nothing you can do about it. Oddly, as the follower, I am in control of our relationship (such as following constitutes a relationship).
  • As a follower, I can’t send you messages. If we are connected, I can send you a message. Whether you welcome that message and wish to respond to it is another story. These days, having messaging privileges is a double edged sword. People accept connection requests more easily these days than five years ago on LinkedIn, but being connected does not mean you have a collegial relationship with your connection. You still have to establish that.
  • In most cases, you won’t even know that I am following you. You can see a list of your followers by clicking on the number of followers when you look at your activity. Most LinkedIn users don’t ever have a look to see if anyone is following them
  • You can’t search your followers. I search my connections at least once a week. People are always asking me if I know someone with a certain skill or experience. I have over five thousand connections so out comes the LinkedIn Search tool. I also have around five thousand followers. I can see a list of them, and scroll through them one by one, but that list can’t be put in any order and is not searchable.
  • Another aspect of this that is kind of backwards is what we see in our homepage feeds. Typically, you follow someone in order to see their posts and content. And LinkedIn has talked about this. But there is a difference between appearing in our homepage feed and appearing prominently in our homepage feed. At any given time you or I will have hundreds of posts of all types in our feed. What’s important is what is at the top where we are more likely to see it. LinkedIn tells us what we see featured prominently in our feeds is largely based on our Connection Strength Score, which is based on the interactions we have on LinkedIn with our various connections. To my knowledge, there is no Follower Strength Score. And how would you measure it?

The bottom line? If you want to see the person’s content, follow them. Following tends to be a one way street. The person you are following sends information your way. I say “tends to be a one way street” because you can always comment on their content.

If you want to connect with someone on LinkedIn, then by all means do so. But realize that in order for you both to benefit that you will need to put some work in.

And a suggestion for LinkedIn: get a move on with the implementation of the LinkedIn Newsletter to everyone. If I subscribe to your newsletter, I know I will be notified when you publish your next issue. Following is nice, but I think subscribing is better.

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. For some reason LinkedIn gave me early access to the LinkedIn Newsletter. I have no idea why, but thanks for reading.

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:

Embrace Your Inner Sherlock Holmes On LinkedIn

I have been a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories since I read “The Adventure Of The Dancing Men” back in high school. In that short story, Holmes resolves the mystery behind what appear to be children’s drawings that start appearing in the garden of a client who retains him. What is obvious to Holmes – that the series of dancing figures are in fact messages – eludes everyone else involved.

In the short story, “A Scandal in Bohemia” Holmes utters one of his most famous lines to Doctor Watson, “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.”

That is the way most users are on LinkedIn. They take what’s presented to them at face value, and don’t think of what could be behind what’s happening or of the cause of what is happening. And this is a shame, because if people saw all the information presented to them and stopped to ask themselves what that meant they would make much better use of LinkedIn.

Let me illustrate what I mean with a couple examples.

A LinkedIn user goes to the profile of someone who is a prospective customer. He sees that the prospect has the right title, though no additional information about their current responsibilities is listed, just the title and years in that position. The same holds true for their previous jobs. The prospect has a couple hundred connections, a smattering of skills, and the other key sections of their profile filled out.

Using what little information he can glean from the user’s profile, our sales person sends the prospect an outreach message via InMail. He uses a solid message format that has been very successful in the past.

And receives no reply.

Does it take Sherlock Holmes to see that the prospect in question was a poor candidate for this approach? The low number of connections, the spartan profile, and the absence of activity all point to someone who places little value in LinkedIn and does not come around that often. How can a person who doesn’t show up see our salesperson’s outreach message?

The better approach would have been to try this person through an introduction if possible, or via email, with a direct LinkedIn message being the last resort.

Our LinkedIn user had all the evidence he needed to decide on this better approach. He saw but did not observe.

A second LinkedIn user is looking at a competitor’s LinkedIn Company Page.

She sees that the company in question is publishing to their Company Page on a regular basis. This competitor has many more followers than her company does. It appears obvious that regular publsihing to a Company Page leads to more followers.

Thus inspired that company pages do work for companies in her industry, she goes back to her company page and starts publishing posts about her company’s capabilities. But nothing much happens.

What our second user has done is seen that a company page can be a success, but not really examined her competitor’s Page to see why it was a success. Closer examination would have shown her that the competitive company is publishing content their prospective customers will find valuable – case studies, white papers, technical articles, how-to lists – and the competitor is publishing this type of content on a regular basis.

Our second user saw the regularity of the posting, but did not observe the type of posts being published.

When you see something on LinkedIn, ask yourself, what does this information really mean for me?

Look at the data that LinkedIn has presented you with. There is a lot more there than you would think, things like that little “2” beside someone’s name, meaning they are a second degree connection and you know someone they know, or that all of their activity is date stamped so you can infer when they are using LinkedIn and how often.

Taking an extra moment to look for these things will in the end save you time and you will use LinkedIn more effectively.

Wearing a deerstalker cap while doing so is optional.

And an update:

A couple months ago I published a newsletter where the subject was fake profiles on LinkedIn. LinkedIn’s Trust and Safety people clamped down on several hundred fakes I identified, but as soon as they get rid of one batch another seems to spring up. One company that I am monitoring had 700 “employees” with LinkedIn profiles a month ago. They now have 1600. I am not sure LinkedIn is winning this battle.

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 going to write this disclaimer using the Dancing Men code, but after seing how long it would take, I decided some ideas are better off just left as ideas.

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:

Connect on LinkedIn…Or Follow?

“Dude, you look familiar. Aren’t we connected on LinkedIn?”​ (photo courtesy Mark Johnston)

“Dude, you look familiar. Aren’t we connected on LinkedIn?” (photo courtesy Mark Johnston)

LinkedIn seems to be pushing the idea of following as an alternative to connecting lately. It seems like we may be headed for a “third era” of connecting on LinkedIn. But to understand what this may mean, here is the abridged Bruce Johnston history of connecting on LinkedIn:

The early days of Connecting on LinkedIn (pre – 2018)

In the early days, say up until around 2016 or 2017, the mantra on LinkedIn was to “only connect with people you know well and that in turn know you well.” There was lots of talk about having tight, close networks of “trusted connections.” People would cite the Dunbar Number as proof that connection networks were impossible to maintain over a certain level.

Oddly, in the middle of all this talk about close knit networks and only connecting with people you know well, LinkedIn had an upper limit of 30,000 connections on any one individual’s network.

The permissive era of Connecting on LinkedIn (2018-2021)

Sometime around three years ago, a trend emerged where people started connecting more easily, and the trend has accelerated into this year. Whereas in the “old” days people tended to establish a relationship or at least trade messages before connecting, over the past three years LinkedIn users have just started sending connection requests to anyone who looked interesting. And to a large extent, those requests have been readily accepted. But the problem with this new loose concept of connecting was that the relationship still needed to be established.

This idea can easily be seen if you have asked a connection lately for an introduction to one of  their connections. The answer that often comes back is “I really don’t know that person that well and wouldn’t be comfortable introducing you.” Of course what they could also add is “…and to be honest, I don’t know you that well either.”

A third era?

Over the past six months or so, I am seeing more and more of LinkedIn pushing following over connecting, such as prompting users to put a “Follow” button instead of a “Connect” button as the default on their Profiles. And LinkedIn has talked about people complaining they are receiving too many invitations to connect.

What LinkedIn doesn’t talk about is all the spam messages from those connections we all so easily accepted. Because my guess is that one of the unintended side effects of this easy-connecting second era is that it has seeded the ground for automated tools on LinkedIn. Automation on LinkedIn five or seven years ago largely consisted of scraping tools and profile viewing tools. But these days the new tools take advantage of the new enthusiasm for connecting. Apps have been introduced that can send hundreds of connection invites and then hundreds of spam messages to those new connections. And those tools are not good for LinkedIn because if users see LinkedIn as a spam fest they will stop coming to LinkedIn. If that happens LinkedIn can say goodbye to all that lovely advertising revenue that Microsoft was highlighting in their last quarterly report.

There are things that LinkedIn can do – limiting the number of invites users can send is a good example. And LinkedIn could apply the algorithms to see if people are sending lots of the same generic message to connections, or checking to see that messages to connections actually are getting responses, or even limiting the number of messages users can send (I am an extremely active LinkedIn user but I do not initiate a hundred conversations with my connections every week). But what they really need to do is change user behavior. And one way to do that is to put the idea front and center that the default should be to follow someone instead of connecting with them.

Following could also be made more attractive if LinkedIn placed the content of people we follow more prominently in our feed. Typically, you follow someone in order to see their posts and content. And LinkedIn has talked about this. But there is a difference between appearing in our homepage feed and appearing prominently in our homepage feed. At any given time you or I will have hundreds of posts of all types in our feed. What’s important is what is at the top where we are more likely to see it.

LinkedIn tells us what we see featured prominently in our feeds is largely based on our Connection Strength Score, which is based on the interactions we have on LinkedIn with our various connections. To my knowledge, there is no Follower Strength Score. And how would you measure it? One alternative would be more subscriber type content like LinkedIn Newsletters, but that roll out is more of a crawl out.

Where do you stand in all this? Are you a fan of following or connecting? Has your idea of connecting versus following evolved over the past twelve months?

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. And in the spirit of transparency, I did not know several of my five thousand connections well before we connected. I won’t say which ones. Don’t tell LinkedIn.

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 articles like the one above, it’s free, and you can unsubscribe anytime. Here’s a link to the sign up page:

A Sales Story: An Inadvertent Lesson In Crowdsourcing 

Many moons ago I was a Regional Sales Manager based in Atlanta. There was another RSM named Ed that occupied the cubicle next to mine. We both spent eighty percent of our time out of the office in our respective territories, so we were only in the office at the same time two or three times a month. 

One afternoon, I could hear Ed on the phone next door to me, and I could hear him getting more and more exasperated as the call went on. He finally hung up, wheeled his chair back around the divider so he could talk to me and we had the following conversation.

Ed, “I have been searching for the key guy for our products at IBM. I have been looking for him for months now.” 

(this was pre-LinkedIn of course, and actually pre-Internet. You had to do everything by phone and networking)

“So I was just talking with your brother.” 

(my brother was a product manager at our offices in Toronto)

“And it turns out that your brother knew who the key guy was all this time!” 

Me, “You mean Henry Steinbecker?” 


Me, “Well yeah. He’s in their offices in RTP, off Six Forks Road. I went to see him back when I was selling our catalog products. I think it was maybe two years ago. Want his phone number?”

At this point Ed’s face turned a rather alarming shade of red, and he proceeded to use a lot of words I am quite sure his mother did not teach him. 

But here’s the thing. The information Ed so badly wanted – for months – was four feet away. All he had to do was mention it to me. 

So what does Ed’s predicament thirty years ago have to do with us and LinkedIn? Just this: with LinkedIn you have two huge avenues to crowdsource for help with your problems. The first is your connections. Your connections are a searchable database. Anything you need help with, information on, or opinions about, can likely be found among your connections. I have asked my connections for advice on tools, ideas, approaches, you name it. And I am happy to share my experience and knowledge back with them. This avenue in particular would have saved my colleague Ed a lot of time and trouble.

The second avenue is, well, all of LinkedIn. If you are searching for a new CRM to use, why not put together a post about what you are doing and what you need and publish it on LinkedIn? Yes, you will get a pile of salespeople, but you will also get a lot of good opinions, advice and you may meet some people that are worth connecting with.

Crowdsourcing: An under utilized – but valuable – use for LinkedIn