What kinds of emails from complete strangers do you actually enjoy receiving? And what kinds do you really hate?

If you’re like me, you probably prefer to get emails that offer you something you want, tell you something really helpful or interesting, or suggest a very specific opportunity that you want to follow up on. And you probably get fed up with emails that just try to sell you something or aren’t relevant to you.

Bearing this in mind may help you to make better use of LinkedIn’s own email messaging tool – InMail – to reach out to people you don’t yet know. If used properly, it’s one of the most effective business development tools available in LinkedIn.

InMail is available to premium users only. If you’re not familiar with it, LinkedIn offers a very brief introductory video about InMail.

LinkedIn is about relationship-building first

Don’t think of LinkedIn as a selling tool – think of it as a relationship-building tool that will lead to more business. So when you use InMail to contact someone new to you, make sure it’s relevant to them and offers them something they will want, not something you are selling.

This could be as simple as giving them some ideas for their work, providing timely, relevant information that you know would be useful to them or just suggesting you meet to talk about mutual interests (not just buying your products or services). Once you’ve done that, they may want to connect with you on LinkedIn, and you’ll have started the foundation of a new business relationship which could lead to business being done, future leads and further connections.

LinkedIn changes to InMail policy

In order to send InMails you have to have ‘credits’ – you are allocated some based on the type of premium LinkedIn account you sign up for, and you can purchase additional credits.

To help keep the quality of InMails high – in other words, to control sales spamming – LinkedIn changed its InMail crediting policy just this January. It used to be if someone didn’t respond, you got your credit back (so LinkedIn were effectively guaranteeing every credit would lead to a response); but now you only get your credit back if they do respond. If they do nothing, you get no credit refunded. In my view, this was a good move on LinkedIn’s part. So sending out lots of sales spam is counterproductive.

How to get the most out of LinkedIn InMail

Using InMail effectively involves a number of skills and practices, but there are three key elements:

  • Have a plan. You want to start by thinking about the purpose of contacting strangers. This will help you decide who you want to look for in searches or in groups, and what your basic approach message will be trying to achieve (e.g. build possible high-quality referral sources by aiming to have coffee with them and ultimately connect with them).
  • Craft and personalize your messages. This is a bit of an art, but the key things are to get their attention, personalize it to indicate you’ve thought about them and their interests specifically, be brief and conversational, include your ‘call to action’, and thank them. For more tips, see below.
  • Follow up and monitor. If you are successful, then of course make sure you further the relationship in whatever way you have planned. And if not, you may want to follow up either with a further InMail (be patient though and allow them plenty of time) or have a look over time at which InMails are successful and which or not – you can test various formats and phrases, as well as times of day etc., to see what gives you the best results.

If you get those basics in place, you are going to have the foundation of a valuable and long-lasting approach to building your network by building good relationships with a wider and wider group of other professionals. In the long run, that will help you to be better known, more likely to be referred to potential clients, and generate more revenue through networking on LinkedIn.

Other tips for InMail success

Getting the best out of InMail is also in the detail too. I’ve put together a selection of ideas that you can think about and test for yourself – run some experiments with your own messages to see what works best for your business.

Try various search strategies. As well as searching across all of LinkedIn in the advanced search tool by various criteria, look at various groups and see who’s active and may be skilled networkers with large networks in sectors you are interested in. Find out everything you can about them in LinkedIn and look also on Twitter and Facebook as well as Google if you want to really understand them.

Grab attention and be brief. Have a compelling subject line. Start by offering them some opportunity or idea they will be unable to resist, or complimenting them on something specific they have achieved. Get quickly to why you are contacting them, and who you are, and end with a specific call to action that makes it easy for them to reply. Don’t forget to say thank you, and be polite throughout of course.

Focus on the relationship. Mention what you have in common or what interests or activities you share. Perhaps they’ve posted something recently on LinkedIn you can compliment or follow up on. Or perhaps you have a past school or employer in common. Or maybe you can simply ask for help – worded right, this may appeal to their own sense of reciprocity in networking. If they follow up with an initial no to your call to action but otherwise seem friendly, you may still want to connect with them for the future – you could send them a personalised connection invitation that keeps the door open.

Testing is important. Monitor and improveExperiment with your messages. Save your most effective messages as templates that can be customized for each individual.

If you’d like to practice – please send me an InMail message! If you use the advice above, I’d definitely love to hear from you and find out how InMails have worked (or not!) for you.

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