Chapter 8: Connecting with 85 Million Professionals Via LinkedIn
LinkedIn is based on the idea that everyone on the planet is connected to everyone else in six or fewer steps. I know Jim; Jim knows Sue; Sue knows Bob; therefore I am three degrees away from Bob. And three degrees is as far as LinkedIn pushes it.
Still, the math is impressive. Recently, I had 674 direct LinkedIn connections. Factoring in all of those associates’ connections, I could reach 99,500 business professionals via a direct introduction (two degree connections; asking Jim to connect me with Sue). That’s 150 times more people than I know directly. If we consider three degree connections, I can connect to 5.9 million business people through a friend of a friend (three degree connections). Even without knowing anything else about LinkedIn, you can appreciate its geometric power.
Before going further, there is one extremely important concept to keep in mind when using LinkedIn and that is:
Request and accept direct connections only with known and trusted business associates.
Your network will degrade to useless (or worse) the more you connect with people you don’t know and respect. In building connections, ask yourself “Is this someone that I’d recommend, or that I’d introduce to a respected colleague?” “Is this someone I’d want to associate myself with?” If the answer is no, decline the connection request. (If you’ve already made this mistake, see the advice on unlinking at the end of this chapter.)
To eliminate concerns about declining connections, with LinkedIn a requester will not know that you declined his or her request. There’s no explicit notification or slap in the face. Still, if you have lingering doubts or if you may want to change your mind about that connection in the future, simply archive the request without acting on it. That is a little bit friendlier.
OK, I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Let’s get started by signing up. Go to www.LinkedIn.com and you’ll see a very simple sign-up form. Provide your name, email address, and chosen password and you’ll be on your way.
Next, Linkedin will ask you for some basic employment information to start building your network. It takes less than a minute to provide this information.
Next, you’ll be asked to confirm your email address, and then to sign in again.
Finally, you’ll reach a screen to “Find contacts who are already on LinkedIn”. I highly recommend importing a contact list from your mail application (Outlook, Apple Mail, Gmail, etc.) as this is the fastest way to jumpstart your network.
It’s also a good idea to click the yellow “Find” button on this screen to locate “Current and past colleagues”, another great source of connections.
If desired, go the full nine yards and find former classmates as well. Then you’ll be ready to get started networking.
Over time, be sure to complete the rest of your profile (LinkedIn will remind you periodically). Why? According to the company “Users with complete profiles are 40 times more likely to receive opportunities through LinkedIn.”
Using Your LinkedIn Network
There are a variety of ways to use your LinkedIn Network including:
- Networking and prospecting for sales
- Gathering competitive information and developing insights about customers and prospects
- Recruiting and reference checking (this is also a great way to find your next job but that’s a topic for a different book)
- Participating in “Industry Groups and Discussions”
Networking and Prospecting for Sales
You’ve probably heard the expression that a warm introduction beats a cold call. You’ve also probably heard that trust is fundamental to selling. LinkedIn is the ideal vehicle for getting warm introductions through mutually trusted associates. Here’s how:
When signed in and on your home page, click the “People” link in the upper left area. This will put you into “Advanced Search” mode. Notice that you can search on virtually any combination of the following dimensions:
• First name
• Last name
• Company (current and/or past)
• Location (within any specified distance of a given ZIP code)
• Title (current and/or past)
• and more…
Your ability to find someone in the LinkedIn community is limited only by the combinations you’re willing to try. I strongly encourage you to experiment with this… and prepare to be amazed.
For example, using my own network and searching for “CEOs” within 50 miles of my current location, I find 1,808 matches. If that’s not an impressive result, you must know magic that I’ve never seen.
To connect, hover over any name and then click the link labeled “Get introduced”. If you have more than one possible mutual connection, select the person that you believe is most likely to go to work for you, or submit your request through multiple parties.
On the resulting “Request an Introduction” screen, provide both your email address and phone contact information along with a concise “elevator pitch” crafted for your target person, along with a friendly note to the associate(s) who’s making the introduction (“Thank you in advance for your endorsement & introduction to…”).
Now for some important expectation setting: LinkedIn has 45 million members but in a typical month less than one-third of the members visit the site. Probabilistically, that means at best just 33% of your first-degree (AKA direct) connection requests will complete in a given month. For two-degree connection requests, at most 10% will work. For three-degree requests, only 1-in-28 will work. Which brings us to the following point:
Tip: LinkedIn is amazing strong for discovering connectivity, and amazing weak for creating connections. If a LinkedIn introduction request fails to consummate, use your new found “social graph knowledge” (who is connected to whom) to send direct email message(s) outside of the system! It’s a powerful work-around.
Don’t be afraid to be creative – you will be impressed with the caliber of folks to whom you can get a warm introduction.
Competitive Information and Customers Insights
In my entire professional career, I never found anything more valuable than this technique. I ask you, would it help to get the “inside” scoop about a competitor, customer, or prospect? What if you could connect with a former employee and “just talk”, without violating any confidentiality rules of course.
In April 2005, I was starting a new company, www.TalkShoe.com. After a few weeks of market research, we discovered a competitor that had launched more than five years earlier, that had raised ten of millions of dollars in venture capital, and that was still alive but had failed to make it into orbit. The company was only marginally profitable despite a massive investment over many years.
After considering a rapid exit from the space (just briefly; entrepreneurs are nothing if not persistent, sometimes to a fault), instead I went to LinkedIn and searched for former employees of that company. Even with my smaller network at that time, I located nine ex-employees. After a LinkedIn introduction by a mutual trusted associate, Barrie “A”, their former VP of Business Development living in the UK, agreed to talk with me for 30 to 60 minutes.
I opened the conversation with “Thanks Barrie. I need your insights and advice, and please don’t share anything that is company confidential or proprietary.”
In the next hour, I was able to learn from his five years of experience what the company had done right (most things) and wrong (two critical issues). The specifics are not important to this story. Rather, these insights would have taken me perhaps 24 months to discover on our own; instead we baked them into our service on day one and by the end of 12 months had far surpassed this more established competitor in total number of customers.
What would you like to know about a key customer, competitor, or prospect? There is nothing to limit you here but your own imagination. Use LinkedIn “People Search” to find a former insider who is willing to share his or her priceless insights and guidance.
Recruiting and Reference Checking
I’ve hired dozens of high-priced salespeople in my career ($250K+ total compensation) and found that they have just one thing in common. Whether they’re god’s gift to selling or the worst thing since the Edsel, they’re all masters at selling themselves. If you combine that with the fact that the best people never have their resumes on Monster.com (they find the next great opportunity from the safety of their current position), your chance of success using traditional hiring methods approximate those of a glue horse in the Kentucky Derby.
Perhaps that’s why a reported “80% of companies are now using LinkedIn as a primary tool to find employees .” While I find this statistic to be incredible — it’s worth bearing in mind that 73.2% of statistics are made up — it’s likely to be in the right ballpark.
That said, here are two great techniques to locate and vet potential employees:
When looking to hire, ask your first-degree (AKA direct) connections who they know that might fill the bill. Explain that “it’s OK if the suggested person might not be looking for a job; that’s probably a good thing.” You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the quality of candidates that surface.
Make your request in two ways. First, from your LinkedIn home page, type the question into your “Status” box (AKA, “What are you working on now?”). This will post it as a “Status Update” to all of your followers.
In addition, click on your “Connections” link (in the white box in the upper left, under “Contacts”), then click on individuals that you’d like to query directly, and then “Send a message”.
For vetting potential hires, things get even more fun. First, tell me if you’ve had this experience? I strongly believe in reference checking before hiring someone. But of the literally hundreds of references I’ve called (as listed on people’s resumes and reference lists), I’ve never, ever, ever had someone give me a bad reference. Direct references are guaranteed to be good, even for serial killers. And don’t try calling the prior employer’s HR department. I can already tell you that “the employee left on good terms.”
Instead, go to LinkedIn, click on the “People” link, and then on the tab for “Reference Search”. This will likely give you numerous second-degree references who have NOT already been coached to lie through their teeth. One good connection could save you the typical $100,000+ cost of a bad sales hire.
Industry Groups and Discussions
Of all of the amazing things that you can do with LinkedIn, these days I spend more of my time in Industry Groups and Discussions. When signed in on your home page, click the “Groups” link in the white box in the upper left area.
By participating in these Groups with professional birds of a feather like yourself, you can build your reputation by answering questions, and you can get answers to virtually any question by posting it to dozens, hundreds, or possibly thousands of professionals and experts in your space.
As a social media guy, I participate in the groups “Social Media Today” and “Social Media Marketing” to interact with literally tens-of-thousands of other industry professionals.
Click the button to “Find a Group” and then jump in with professionals in your industry. On the small chance that an appropriate group does not already exist in your space, you have the opportunity to position yourself as a thought-leader / expert in your industry by clicking the “Create a Group” button and taking the lead.
Talk about accelerated learning! Whatever you might want to know, a “mastermind” group like this will provide the answer. It’s the wisdom of crowds; very smart crowds in exactly your area.
If along the way, you’ve made the mistake of linking to other than trusted, known associates, unlinking is an important task. Per LinkedIn’s own instructions, “to remove one or more people from your list of connections take the following steps below:
- Click ‘Contacts’ in the left navigation bar of the homepage.
- Click on the ‘Remove’ Connections’ link in the upper right hand corner of the ‘Connections’ view.
- Select the people you’d like to remove from your ‘Connections’ list by clicking on the box next to their names.
- Click on the ‘Remove Connections’ button.
Connections will NOT be notified that they have been removed from your connections list. Instead, they will be added to your list of Imported Contacts just in case you want to re-invite them to connect at a later date. Only the member that breaks the connection can re-initiate that connection.”
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Dear Dave, great post and great info for those new to Linked In. A bit of important context: As Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in The Tipping Point, “six degrees of separation” is far more than the best connected in business and society need to create a connection. One of the reasons LinkedIn is effective at only three degrees of separation is, as Gladwell put it in his book (p. 36-37), “Six degrees of separation doesn’t mean all of us are linked to everyone else in just six steps. It means that a very small number of people are linked to everyone else in a few steps, and the rest of us are linked to the world through those special few.” This is the power that LinkedIn seeks to tap — the power of the “special few” whose nuclear connection skills power networks of people.