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.


How I Increased My LinkedIn Message Response Rates

Anyone home? (photo courtesy Mark Johnston)

A simple idea that improved (as in quintupled) my response rates to messages on LinkedIn. It can for you too.

So you are sending outreach messages on LinkedIn and your response rate is abysmal. See if you do any of the following in order to improve your situation:

1. Improve your message writing skills

2. Change your call to action at the end

3. Work on improving your subject lines

4. Try sending your messages at different times of the day

5. And different days of the week

6. Throw money at the problem

May I suggest that before you do anything else you should check to make sure that the person you are trying to contact actually sees value in LinkedIn and uses it regularly.

Let’s say I find someone who nominally fits my customer demographic. I check their profile and here is what I see:

  • They have something like 122 connections.
  • And no activity.
  • No meat in their experience sections, just company, title and years worked there, in other words, the bare bones.
  • They have eight skills listed, each of which has been endorsed by three or four people.

I can see that this person places little value in LinkedIn as a work tool, and that they likely come around every couple months…or less often than that.

It doesn’t matter how good my message may be. If the other person is not there to see it, how can I hope for a response?

The last statistic I saw said that sixty percent of LinkedIn users show up less than once a month. So what percentage use LinkedIn at least once every two weeks? Twenty?

My point is that sending a message to someone who will next come around to LinkedIn around Thanksgiving is not a recipe for success. And my guess is that someone who doesn’t see any value in coming around to LinkedIn that often is not going to carefully go through all the messages and notifications that have piled up since the last time they were here. So my goal is to identify that unresponsive crowd and avoid sending them messages on LinkedIn. For those people I will try introductions or referrals (via email), or Twitter, or cold calls for that matter.

One of the advantages of LinkedIn is you can get a fair idea of who the regular users are – you can see lots of connections or followers, you can see if they are active, and you can see if they have a completed profile with things like lots of recommendations and endorsements. When I send a message to someone who fits in this category I can feel confident that they will see my message, and because they are a regular LinkedIn user who sees value in LinkedIn, at least give me a fair hearing.

Not hard to do. Doesn’t cost a pile of money. And can increase the number of responses you get by two to five times.

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 I am very thankful, especially as this feature’s rollout speed could, at its kindest, be called “stately.”

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 8 Components Of An Effective LinkedIn Outreach Message

I have been using InMail as an outreach method on LinkedIn for years. I am good at it – I usually get a response rate ranging from sixty to sixty-five percent, depending on what I am trying to accomplish with a given program. 

Most people are not good at InMail: they take a couple swipes at it, get lousy – or no – responses, and give up. 

This week, I thought I would cover the eight basics I use for any InMail. These eight ideas are also transferable and usable in your emails. This is not an in depth InMail how-to. When I teach how to put InMails together to a client or a company, it usually takes three Zoom sessions, with lots of practice in between. Some people are put off by that idea, but I make no apologies. A sixty percent response rate takes work. 

If there is one overriding principle behind my InMail teachings it is that you write a specific personalized message for each specific individual you are sending a message. When you send a generic message to twenty individuals you will get a generic response rate, that is, a low one. When you send twenty individualized messages to twenty individuals you will get a very good response rate. Most people are used to getting crappy messages, so that when we send a good one it really stands out.  

Component #1: Send your message to people who will see it

Sounds silly doesn’t it? But this is the biggest single problem I see with using LinkedIn for outreach. As maybe 80% of LinkedIn users use LinkedIn less than once every couple weeks, 80% of your messages are going to people who either won’t see them, or yours is just one more message that has piled up since the last time they used LinkedIn.

If you have a 3% response rate now, paying attention to this idea alone can quintuple your response rate. 

Component #2: A great subject or title line

The role of the subject line is to make your recipient want to read the message. That’s it. 

Component #3: A hyper personalized message

What personalization is not: “Hi <insert first name>, I see you are the <their job title> at <their company.>  Hyper personalization means writing something that shows you have done their research; it means mentioning something that is completely idiosyncratic to them. This involves research, but it is worth it because you want to show the recipient that this message has been written specifically for him or her.

Component #4: Establish your credibility

There are several ways you can do this. The best way to do this is to allude to the specific, tangible results you got for someone or some company that the recipient knows. 

Component #5: Provide the reason you are reaching out to them

Many salespeople are taught that they should hide the “real” reason they are contacting someone. If you do a good job with these InMail components, the recipient will understand why you are reaching out to them and they will be willing to respond. 

Component #6: Focus on their potential results

Always, always, always talk in terms of their results. And there are effective ways of doing this that they will accept and be interested in. There are effective ways of doing this and setting them up so that the only question they have is, “How do they do that?” 

Component #7: Have a call to action that is realistic

Too many people over reach. They ask for a sales call or to set up a demo or a trial in the first message. That’s ridiculous. 

Component #8: Make it short. 

You should aim for 100 words. 80 would be ideal. That’s the real art in an outreach message, whether it is via InMail or Email. Can you accomplish everything I have listed above in eighty or a hundred words? Yes, it absolutely can be done.

If you went back over the last few outreach messages you sent, how many of these eight would be present?