Using LinkedIn for Outbound Sales Prospecting
Michael has nearly a decade of experience as a serial entrepreneur across a variety of industries, ranging from media and financial services to marketing services.
As the founder of Linked Conversions, he helps B2B companies leverage LinkedIn’s platform to generate more customers and lower their cost per customer acquisition, serving clients from fast-growing startups to Fortune 500 companies.
Cold email is a great way to generate opportunities for your sales pipeline, but you shouldn’t rely on a single outbound sales channel to engage with qualified leads.
By combining a social channel like LinkedIn with your emails, you can consistently build trust, add value, and influence your buyers in an environment outside of their email inbox.
Many companies adopted social selling with the mindset of using it as a direct sales channel. With the rise of LinkedIn marketing tools, it was possible to automate activities and scale outreach to large volumes.
However, Microsoft has been pushing to increase genuine engagement on LinkedIn, which has made it harder than ever to automate direct selling on the platform.
It’s still possible to use LinkedIn automation. However, you need to have the right best practices and avoid the mistakes that companies commonly make with automated outreach on social.
Using LinkedIn for Sales: Before You Start
It’s important to understand where Microsoft is going before using LinkedIn with your cold emails.
To increase genuine engagement, LinkedIn is improving its algorithm to detect automation better and shut down accounts that overuse or abuse social automation tools.
These changes to LinkedIn has made using automation much riskier than in the past. Once your account gets shut down, you lose all social capital and have to start from scratch.
However, LinkedIn automation is not necessarily out. It’s just being used the wrong way.
For example, you likely get impersonal messages from people pitching their product or service right after sending a connection request. These accounts are being shut down because they generate too many spam reports or don’t engage users enough.
If you’re using automation improperly, it’s challenging to create the type of engagement needed to stay off of LinkedIn’s radar.
Instead of using LinkedIn as a platform for mass sales outreach, use it to build context around your brand, add value, and create relationships to empower your cold emails.
Targeting on LinkedIn for Social Selling
LinkedIn wants relevant, personalized engagement, so you should focus on specific audiences. Unfortunately, getting granular with LinkedIn targeting is something many people don’t do.
Instead, marketers often pull a list of contacts with the same role and then send the same message to everyone regardless of industry, size, or geography.
Not only does this increase your chances of getting flagged by LinkedIn, it also decreases your chances of making a good first impression.
Rather than blasting mass outreach to a broad persona, it’s much more effective to hone in on smaller batches with specific types of people and companies.
For example, you can hone in on CEOs of software companies with 1-10 employees in a specific city instead of just targeting CEOs.
Targeting smaller batches helps you avoid automating too much on LinkedIn while giving you the ability to generate higher conversions than mass outreach.
LinkedIn Messaging Strategy for Outbound Sales
Once you’ve found the right prospects, you should use LinkedIn to warm them up and build rapport before moving them to a cold email campaign.
The conversations you have on LinkedIn should not be a sales discussion up front.
Instead, focus on what LinkedIn wants: creating genuine engagement and building positive relationships with your buyers.
To separate yourself from the automation tools, you need to share the right context so prospects know your outreach personalized and sent from a real human being.
In addition, prospects need to understand what you solve, how you’re best positioned to help them, and what value you can offer.
You should engage with prospects on LinkedIn before cold emailing them straight away by sharing content, posting on your feed, and interacting with them on the platform.
Once you’ve interacted with prospects on LinkedIn enough so that they understand who you are and how you can help, then you can move them to a prospecting campaign with an outbound sales channel like cold email.
LinkedIn Social Selling with Cold Email
With specific audiences in mind, you should start by building your network with connection requests.
Connection requests should be personalized to the prospect and include messaging about why you’re reaching out in the first place.
You can connect manually or with automation tools, but be careful about your volume. A major trigger LinkedIn monitors to spot automation is your daily volume of connection requests and how users react to your requests.
Once those prospects have accepted your connection request, you should focus on making a great first impression instead of pitching or selling to them right away.
Deliver value up front. Share a pulse article, interact with their feeds, or shout out their company out with a kudos. With the right first impression, your prospects will engage with you and cause LinkedIn to show more of your status updates and content on their feed.
From there, it’s about consistently creating and redistributing content to keep you top-of-mind. Not all prospects will be in-market, so plant seeds, educate, and generate interest over time.
After you’ve warmed up and engaged your prospects, you can then use your interactions and LinkedIn data to start conversations with them via cold email.
If your prospects connect and interact with your content, they’ll feel more compelled to get back to you than they would with an automated email message.
When you reference your conversations on LinkedIn, engagement skyrockets and you generate better responses because of the social accountability you create.
LinkedIn Audience Network
One advantage of using LinkedIn for social selling is their relatively new advertising platform.
With the Microsoft acquisition of LinkedIn, one of their focuses has been revamping the LinkedIn Audience Network with new features and functionality.
There is a unique advantage to new ad inventories: they generate higher engagement than other advertising channels because users aren’t yet familiar with the ad placements.
In contrast, Facebook’s ad inventories have been around awhile. Users are used to it, so ad viewers tend to have a blindness to Facebook’s advertisements and know to scroll by them.
One great approach to LinkedIn advertising is focusing on social proof.
Rather than doing the selling yourself, you can use customer stories and testimonials to showcase your value to prospects in ads while you’re reaching out to them with emails.
Not only is LinkedIn’s ad network a great way to generate higher conversions, but it’s also perfect for retargeting a cold email audience.
Your retargeting performance will be better because prospects have already been warmed up by your previous LinkedIn interactions and through reading your content.
Just Getting Started with Social Selling and Cold Email? Here’s Michael’s Advice:
First Get in the Mind of Your Target Prospects
Think about your buyers. Write down their pain points, why they’d be searching for your solution, why they’d look at competitors, and why they should specifically get back to you.
These are some of the hardest answers to process because you have to be thorough. You can use these insights as a framework to build the right positioning with your messages on both LinkedIn and cold email.
Focus Content on Thought Pieces
A great way to make an impact with content on LinkedIn is focusing on future pains, opportunities, and situations rather than tips or inspirational content.
An example could be the future of your prospect’s industry or an emerging solution to a problem they face.
Even if the prospect understands their current problem well, this type of content can resonate by identifying unforeseen roadblocks or opportunities they could potentially face down the road.
Engage on LinkedIn Before Transitioning to Outbound
Even if it’s sending them thoughtful pulse articles or interacting with their posts, you should make yourself known on LinkedIn before sending cold emails. With so much outbound outreach out there, companies need to be recognizable to keep up with today’s buyers.
Warm-up your prospects enough so that they remember your brand and then move them to an outbound campaign.