You’re using LinkedIn the wrong way, and I’m not just talking about your personal profile. Used correctly, LinkedIn gives you the perfect opportunity for social selling. But if you do it wrong, you could actually hurt your business.

You’ve probably heard about using LinkedIn for sales prospecting. And why not? It’s the world’s largest digital networking pool, with almost 600 million users—most of them business professionals looking to build meaningful connections. That’s why it’s a natural fit for anyone looking to surface leads naturally and personally.

Yet so many businesses who try LinkedIn fail in their efforts. I’ve seen it happen myself. These companies try their best, but don’t have a mechanism in place to reach out, follow through and build toward a natural and intuitive pitch. That’s a problem, because as a certain rapper said, you get “one shot…one opportunity.” If someone contacts me with a lousy pitch, they blow it—I probably won’t consider their business any time soon. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. Fortunately, it’s an easy problem to fix.

LinkedIn can work to your advantage, if you know how to leverage user demographics and the professional nature of the network to grow your business. You just have to know how to get it right. Let’s dive into the right way to use LinkedIn for sales to help you get your strategy up to snuff.

What Not to Do on LinkedIn

You don’t want to be the person who slides into someone’s DMs out of the blue, with nothing of value. You don’t want to seem dishonest, rushed or unprofessional, either. And you definitely don’t want to push a stranger too hard to achieve your goals. Translation: Don’t dive right into a sales pitch. Trust me; you’ll be better off.

I experience it every day. I get a connection request, immediately followed by a long InMail. That message thanks me for connecting (why thank you!) tells me how much the person values my time (so do I), then skips right to a sales pitch (no, thank you). What makes it worse is most of the time, that pitch is 100% off base and doesn’t meet my basic business needs.

To be fair, how could it be accurate? That person knows nothing about me. Sure, they could’ve scoured my profile (I try to make that as relevant as possible). But that still isn’t enough nuance to actually understand my needs.

You don’t want your audience to experience anything remotely similar. You don’t want to annoy them, and if you do, you’re better off not contacting them at all. Losing credibility is as bad as starting with the unknown.

It All Starts with a Plan

Getting LinkedIn right is simpler than you’d think, but you do need a strategy. After all, what marketing effort doesn’t require you to think it through beforehand? Really, the same goes for any business activity—without a plan, you’re rudderless. You can’t really expect to maximize your opportunities without some planning.

Of course, that brings up the next question: What exactly should your plan include? Try not to overthink it; just start with the basics:

  • Understand the environment
  • Know your target audience
  • Understand motivations and pain points
  • Lean on relationship-building basics

Let’s delve into each of these points a bit more below.

How Well Do You Know LinkedIn?

If you want to sell your business on any channel, you better know that channel well. You need to know what type of people use it, how they like to communicate and where they share their thoughts.

Getting there isn’t difficult. All you need is your own presence on the network and some testing. Build your presence as if you were one of your prospects. Post regularly, engage with others and don’t promote your business at all. This gives you a feel for the platform, which will come in handy later.

How Do You Define Your Target Audience?

You need to know who you want to reach before you try to reach them. At this point, you already know LinkedIn is the right platform for you to grow your business. That provides a solid foundation for everything that comes later in this step.

With the knowledge that LinkedIn actually makes sense for your needs, define your target audience. Narrow it down by demographics, geographic area, education level and other easily-quantifiable factors. You might not think that’s beneficial at first, but it’s essential to understanding the best way to reach people. And this audience profile or persona should be available to anyone managing your LinkedIn efforts, too.

How Well Do You Know Your Audience’s Motivations?

Demographic and geographic information about your audience is great. But let’s be honest: it helps frame your sales pitch and the work you need to get to that point, but doesn’t build the pitch itself. For that, and for any kind of prospecting on LinkedIn or elsewhere, you have to go beyond quantifiable information.

Do you know what motivates your prospects? What drives them to build relationships on LinkedIn and what business problems do they want to solve? Defining these pain points will be invaluable as you build a better social selling strategy.

This part isn’t so easy to accomplish, but WordStream has one approach, focusing on both qualitative and quantitative audience research. You can also infer some motivations with basic industry research. If you’re looking to attract a buyer in the oil and gas industry, for instance, and oil prices are rising, that’s probably a pain point.

What Relationship-Building Do You Need?

Finally, use this opportunity to jot down some ways to build relationships with prospects. I already mentioned that you should avoid diving into the sales pitch, which bears repeating. Instead, it’s a gradual process to build audience trust and credibility, so when the sales pitch comes, it will be much more effective.

Along the way, follow a few best practices:

  • Do initial research. When you do reach out, you should have done your homework to know the basics about your prospect that you can lean on in conversation.
  • Try to find connecting points. It might be a mutual connection, former place of work or topic of interest. Show your prospect that you’re not a complete stranger.
  • Listen. Don’t just talk, but actually listen to what your counterpart has to say. Treat them as an equal, not as someone you want as a customer.
  • Don’t get defensive. If your prospect balks or doesn’t want to talk, don’t push back. Let them be. It might not be the right time, and you don’t want to spoil the relationship forever.

How Do You Get LinkedIn for Sales Prospecting Right?

Enough with the theory, right? Check out a real scenario that I ran into recently:

A sales agent views my profile a few times, then sends a kind and custom connection request based on one or more factors on that profile. After the initial connection, the user follows up with some advice or content recommendation that suits my needs and hits a pain point. And because we’re connected, I also see quality content from them on my timeline. The seller engages with me regularly, but without pushing toward a sale.

At this point, I trust the person and want to engage with them and learn more about their expertise. I might even begin to see them as a valuable resource. Now that we’ve built a rapport, we can start talking about my needs (or even theirs) and potential opportunities to work together.

The difference in that scenario compared to a losing strategy is dramatic. I didn’t feel pushed to do something I’m not comfortable with. Instead, the patience, willingness to do the research and desire to get to know me personally hit the mark and got me to engage. Who knows? I might even become their customer some time.

That’s how you get LinkedIn sales prospecting right. Relationships win over sales pitches, and credibility and trust beat out the charisma of a used car salesman.

Does that take work? Yes. You’ll have to devote significant time and effort to each prospect you want to convert. But in the end, the effort pays off. It lets you build relationships that don’t just turn into customers, but valuable loyalists who will add to your revenue stream for a long time to come.

Get the Perks of Sales Prospecting without the Cost

Does LinkedIn for sales prospecting sound simple? Maybe. Social selling doesn’t need to be complicated. As long as you have a plan and you put in the work, you can get major gains from LinkedIn. And all it costs is your time. Who doesn’t love a free, effective business growth opportunity? For more digital marketing tips, articles and software reviews, stop by my blog.


Jeff Lizik
Jeff Lizik

I am Jeff Lizik, a marketing strategist, entrepreneur, consultant and Owner of the RedShift Marketing Agency in Pittsburgh, PA. Welcome to my personal site – your resource for all things digital marketing. I offer the most recent digital marketing tips, articles and software reviews.