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How to do LinkedIn Outreach…The Right Way – Bill McCormick
Social Agent

How often do you accept a connection request on LinkedIn, only to be immediately spammed with a sales pitch before you’ve even had a chance to look at their profile? Or received a connection request with no explanation or context? Or been told you should connect because “I see we have connections in common”?

According to LinkedIn expert Bill McCormick, there IS a better way. His approach will move you away from the quick sale to a deeper, more valuable, relationship.  

Rich: My guest today discovered the power of LinkedIn and social selling when he and his wife started their advertising specialty company over five years ago. With only a handful of clients, he quickly became a student of social selling, discovering how to find leads and generate sales. Now his passion is to take what he’s learned and pass that on to those in sales, helping them leverage LinkedIn to build stronger relationships, take connections from the digital space to the face-to-face.  today. Today, we’re going to discover how to turn LinkedIn into a powerful prospecting, networking, and sales tool with Bill McCormick. Bill, welcome to the show.

Bill: Hey, Rich. Thanks so much. It’s great to be here with you. Great to talk with your listeners. I’m really excited about the conversation.

Rich: Me, too. I think we come from a similar perspective, so I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to say. Now, you practice what you call the ‘art of social selling’. How do you define that?

Bill: And you can find numerous definitions about social selling. Our definition of social sales is, social selling is about building relationships, providing real value, and being a resource, understanding that the sales will come when the time is right. 

Rich: So not rushing immediately for that sale.

Bill: No, that’s really not social selling. I’m not sure, I think that’s called ‘spam’. I think that’s the right definition for that.

Rich: So I am constantly underwhelmed with people’s outreach skills on LinkedIn. What is your experience being asked to connect on that platform?

Bill: Yeah. So the same, pretty much. What you see is there’s kind of a few different personas.

There, there are people out there who just don’t know how to use the platform. And so they’ll try to connect, they won’t understand that you can send a personal note or they’ll just ignore from doing it. And LinkedIn doesn’t do us any favors here. Let’s be honest. We know that like 50% to 58% of the people accessing the platform are doing it from mobile, and connecting with someone on the mobile platform is different than connecting with someone on the desktop. But that’s a whole other podcast.

But there are those that reach out and they don’t send a personal note, so you don’t know why they want to connect. Then you have the people who are out there that are sending a note. It’s not personalized. It basically is just, “Hey, Rich, I want to sell to you. Can we connect? Can we, Rich? Can we, Rich, can we connect?” You know, and they just don’t know any better. I think there’s probably some people out there teaching it’s like cold calling, you make a hundred calls you’re going to get through to maybe five people. And out of that, you’re going to get one sale. It’s a numbers game. So just throw as much mud up against the wall and hope that some of it sticks. So there’s those.

And then there are the people who get it, and they understand that if I’m reaching out to Rich to start a business relationship, I’ve got to start by at least saying ‘hello’, that I’ve got to give them a reason for why it would be a good idea for Rich to connect with me. And that’s where we come down on. You have to give someone context to connect with you and selling to them is not a context.

Rich: So I’m going to go off script right now. It feels like when it comes to LinkedIn, there’s a couple of different approaches. I’m sure there’s many approaches. One is, I’m looking to connect with somebody because honestly, I want to sell to you at some point. And I’m not even dismissing that because to be honest, I’m a salesperson. I love selling. I’m not going to say that’s wrong in and of itself. It’s what salespeople are supposed to do. And then there are people who would just want to connect on LinkedIn perhaps because there some opportunity to do something together, whether it’s you’re giving money or you’re getting money for it, whatever the case is.

So if we’re just looking to sell, if we’re in this role of sales, what are some of the ways that we can do it that feel authentic or real or just follow along with your approach?

Bill: Yeah, I love this question. And you’re right there. There’s nothing inherently wrong with me wanting to have you as my client. I mean, that’s how sales works. And let’s face it, the country doesn’t grow, doesn’t prosper unless someone sells something. All right. So I’m not discounting that either.

What I’m doing is talking about, let’s connect first and figure that out. You know, LinkedIn really is, I say it’s like an American football team. It’s not one platform, it’s really four platforms, just like an American football team isn’t one team. It’s actually four teams. Right? You have the offensive team, the defensive team, the special teams, and then people often forget there’s a coaching team. And so on LinkedIn, it’s four platforms. There’s the platform where you go to find it. Or if you’re a recruiter you go and find people to work for you. It’s also a market platform where companies use LinkedIn to market their products. And then it’s a networking and business development platform where people find their ideal clients. And then fourth, it’s a network for people like me who teach people.

So it starts with understanding what’s your goal for using LinkedIn? And if it’s to network and sell to business development, treat the people on the other side of the profile the same way you would treat face to face. We’ve all walked into the networking room, back when we used to be able to do face-to-face networking a lot, with these business cards. And I was guilty of being a business card slinger. I would walk up to a group of people and say, “Hey, I’m Bill and I help you do this.” And “I’m Bill and I help you do this.” And “I’m Bill” and everybody gets a card. And then I go to the next group of people, and I go to the next group of people. Was that a factor? No. People put the card in their pocket and maybe if somebody needed what I was selling, they may be open to talking to me, but no one was beating down my door. My phone wasn’t ringing off the hook with people to connect with me and to buy my product.

So what I learned was when I went to a networking event, I would go into a group thing of people and I would say, “Hey, Rich, I’m Bill. How you doing?” And what I do is I find out something about you, right? I would look for a reason for us to have a conversation. And then from the conversation, it may take us having coffee together to find out a little bit more about what we do. And at that conversation, may we find out how we might be able to help each other, or I may discover a need that you have for a service either that I can provide, or I know someone who can provide them. And here’s the thing Rich, that takes time, even on social, that takes time and people don’t want it to take time. As salespeople today, we want an easy button. We want plug and play. We want to be able to hit a marketing sequence and a sales sequence and have emails and messages go out and for people to knock on our door virtually and say, “Rich, I want to buy what you have, please give it to me.” And unfortunately, there are people that are selling that kind of thing, but it doesn’t work. And when it does work, that one sale that you may have made may have been great, but what you don’t realize is all the people you’ve turned off because you’re doing it the wrong way.

We really have to start treating people on the other side of the screen, on the other side of the message, on the other side of the email, the same way we would treat them if we were on the other side of the business table or the coffee table.

Rich: I love the idea of treating people with respect, that goes hopefully without saying. But maybe I’m jaded, but I’m going to play a little bit of devil’s advocate because I would say there is one category of incoming requests that I get that says, “Hey, Rich, I noticed that you do X, Y, and Z. I help companies like that. Can I get 10 minutes on your calendar so I can understand more about your business?” Or, “Hey, I love what you’re doing. I’d love to connect and see if there’s something we can do together. Can I have 10 minutes on your calendar?” And again, maybe I’m jaded. Maybe I’ve been playing this game for too long, but immediately my defenses go up.

So in cases like that, how might you coach somebody? Because the goal of this podcast is not just to poop on everybody who’s doing it wrong but show them how to do it right. So how might you take that person and turn what they’re doing into something that is a little bit more sophisticated and successful, without burning bridges along the way?

Bill: Yeah. And that’s great. And also, listen, I’m kind of going way on the extreme to prove a point. But listen, salespeople are trying to do what they can do. I get that, I know you have numbers, I know you have quotas to make. And so, yeah, and I’m jaded, too.

One of the hardest group of people that sell to are salespeople, right, because we have our antenna up. And so, first of all, when I’m reaching out just to really find out about your business because I want to see how I can help, what that is that’s really about me. And so what we have to do is approach it as, all right, Rich is my ideal client. So what I do is I go and I look at Rich’s profile on LinkedIn. I look at the content that Rich is putting out, and I see is there some content that he’s done that I can engage on? And then I reach out to Rich. Or better yet, I look and see if Rich is a second degree connection. That means that we have some connections in common. Who do I know that can introduce me to Rich, right? That’s the best way to get a meeting and to get introduced.

Rich: But if we use the LinkedIn connection, because I’ve had it done to me, both in the middle position as well as the person, but I’ve never actually initiated it. So how do you leverage that to make sure that you’re getting a positive introduction to the person you’re trying to reach?

Bill: Yeah. So what I would do, and this works great with clients, and it works great with networking partners. So Rich, if you’re my client, if we’ve helped you with LinkedIn training, and so we’ll have follow-up meeting. “Hey Rich, how’s it going? How’s the training been? How’s is your sales team doing? Wonderful. Hey Rich, before the meeting I went on and I looked at your connections and I saw who you’re connected to. That may be my ideal clients. Would you be open to going through a list of 10 names that I could run by you and you can let me know if you think it’s a good idea if I reach out to them?” And so then we go through those names, and you may even, you know, there’s two different ways to go here. You can make an introduction for me. I can even provide you with an introductory paragraph for email or on LinkedIn, and you can do that.

The easier way is permission to namedrop. So let’s say George is an ideal client and you say, “Oh yeah, George would be a good person for you to reach out to.” “Great. Rich, can I reach out to George and tell him you and I were speaking, and you thought it was a good idea for us to talk?” Now, you have to really have that conversation. I have to really have that conversation with you. But when you say ‘yes’, then I reach out to George and say, “Hey, Rich Brooks and I were talking the other day and your name came up and he thought it would be a good idea for us to reach out. Take a look at my profile, do you think it makes sense? Let’s connect.” Now George has a choice. He can look and say, “know Rich. I know he doesn’t steer me wrong. Yeah. I’ll accept the connection request.” And then I can ask for the meeting. If George isn’t interested, he can look at my profile and say, “I know he’s just trying to sell me stuff”, and move on. Okay. No harm, no foul, you know?

So that’s really how you do it. What we see mostly happening with people leveraging connections is, “Hey Rich, I see we have mutual connections in common. Let’s connect on LinkedIn.” Why? And I’ll often come back and say, “Which of those connections do you know personally”, and let me know because we may have 35 connections but it’s kind of not so authentic because what they’re doing is they’re looking for a reason to connect. And the deeper you make that reason, the better the relationship starts off. And a relationship that starts off solid, now you can build upon that and if that leads so sale. But it may just lead to a good networking relationship, or a good referral relationship, or just somebody you can go play golf with or go play tennis with.

Rich: So we should maybe start with the end in mind in terms of we’d like to connect to this person. But the end in mind shouldn’t be, I’m going to close this person within a certain amount of time.

Bill: Yeah, absolutely. And I would say your end in mind is you want to start a relationship. We really don’t know where the end is going to go. It’s like a first date. If you go with somebody fixed it up on a blind date, you don’t go with the ring in your pocket.

Rich: So many people go into this thinking that it’s all about closing something quickly. And really what we’re talking about is we’re opening up opportunities. We’re going to find out what happens down the road. And for those of us like you and me, where maybe our hair is graying a little bit, we’ve been at this game for a long time. We know that sometimes you have to play the long game, but I think what we’re talking about is too many people on LinkedIn, especially in messenger, they’re only playing the short game and they’re burning through all of those connects.

Bill: Yeah. And so we talk about the long game, the short game, and the middle game. On LinkedIn, the long game is attraction marketing. The long game is creating content, putting it out there in the newsfeed, and hoping that some people find it and find it interesting. And somebody raises their hand and says, “Hey, pick me. I’d love to buy what you’re selling.” That takes a long time.

My partner, Brynne Tillman, has been training LinkedIn for eight years. And right now we’re to the point where we have people contacting us through our website or contacting her and saying, “Hey, I’ve been following you for three or four years, I’m ready for some training for my team now, can you come do that?” So that takes time. That is the long game.

The short game is leveraging your network for referrals and for introductions into the people that you want to meet. The medium range game is kind of a hybrid of that. And that’s finding people who you’re connected with who your ideal clients and giving them value and providing a resource for them. So you’re my ideal client, we’re connected on LinkedIn. I know what it is you’re interested in. You’re interested in, let’s say you’re interested in the transportation stuff, the logistics problem right now. So you’re really interested in that. And I find some articles maybe on Forbes about that and I reach out to say, “I realized as a CEO of this company, you’re interested in the problems in logistics right now. I found this great article on Forbes that I’d love to share with you. If you’re interested, let me know.” I’ll share the link and then drop it, right? Because we used to just send the link, and this will be interesting stat for your listeners to hear. We used to just send the link, and then another LinkedIn trainer said, “You’re spamming people.” We’re like, no, we’re not spamming people. We’re sending value. But they didn’t ask for it.

And so we said, you know what? We’ll prove you wrong. So we sent a hundred messages to people where we just sent the link, and 19 people click through the link. 19% is a pretty good turn. So we’re like, okay, now we’ll do a hundred messages, and we’ll say, “Hey Rich, let me know if you’d like the link and we’ll send it.” 69 people asked for the link, and 58 people actually opened the link. So there’s a huge difference there in asking that. And now that opens up an opportunity for conversation. Now I can reach out to you and say, “I’d love to hear your thoughts about that.”

So that’s the medium range goal and the medium game, where we’re reaching out to people on a continual basis, giving them value, knowing what it is that they’re concerned about and giving value based on that. And then following that up for further conversations.

Rich: There’s also a little psychological hack in the fact that when you ask people if they want something, once they say yes, they’ve already said yes to you once. If you read, Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion, I’m not saying this why you did it, but that could have also influenced why so many people who said ‘yes, I’m interested”, actually then went and clicked through the link as well.

So it sounds like you’re doing a lot of this by yourself, but what are your thoughts on automation on LinkedIn using bots to connect with people?

Bill: Would you ever send a robot to an in-person networking event?

Rich: Well yeah, because that sounds really cool. But that does not answer my question.

Bill: So first of all, let’s say let’s put this right out, automation – most of it, almost all of it – 99.9% of it breaks LinkedIn’s user agreement and will get your profile shut down. Any Chrome extension breaks LinkedIn’s user game. Look at Section 8.2 0.2 of the LinkedIn user’s agreement, it says you agree that you will not use any automation or Chrome extensions, you will not scrape any data. Now, the companies that make this stuff will tell you, “Hey, listen, there was a lawsuit and people won the lawsuit and the court said that we could access that data.” That’s right, the company can access the data, but you agreed as a user of LinkedIn that you wouldn’t use any of those kinds of things, so you’re in violation. And if LinkedIn determines that -and they are actively searching for people using these types of automations – they’ll shut your profile down. So there’s that reason.

The second reason is, it’s not authentic. Right? You’re going to the, what I say is you can use automation for information. Don’t use automation to build relationships. All right. We’re not anti-automation. I am anti-automation when it comes to building relationships. And that’s what you’re doing on LinkedIn. And LinkedIn is really watching this because many people are complaining about how spammy LinkedIn is getting. And LinkedIn is cognizant of that. And so just recently over the fall, they really dialed back the number of connection requests you could send per week. People will tell you it’s a hundred, but it’s actually a formula, and it’s based on the amount of outstanding connection requests that you have. It’s based on how many people click the ‘I don’t know’ button when you’ve tried to connect with them, and how many that you’re sending. And you’ll get a note from LinkedIn saying you can’t send any more or you can sign up for our premium service.  

Rich: I in the yellow zone for quite some time early on when I was aggressively connecting with people, but I’ve learned my lesson and the yellow alert went down years ago. I just want to say, even then I was not using automation or anything else, I was just aggressively reaching out.

Bill: And that’s a great point to bring, because you can end up looking like automation, even when you’re doing it yourself. And you know, if you open up 10 profiles in a row to look at them, LinkedIn will look at you and say, yeah, you’re probably using automation. So you have to be very careful in how you’re doing it. And what we always say, what you need to do is slow down your outreach to speed up your outcome. In other words, take your time. Pick five people that you’re going to work on – I say build relationships with – maybe per day or every other day, and work on them. Or whatever number is comfortable for you. But do it slower so that you can really build the relationship. And I guarantee your outcome will be faster because you’re not sending out hundreds and hundreds of messages that you have to weed through.

Rich: All right. I’m curious to know, you probably get a lot of inquiries being well-known on LinkedIn and talking about LinkedIn, so how do you respond to people when they’re reaching out to you?

Bill: So I use Magical Text Expander, which is a great messaging tool. You can put templates in there and have a short code to use. And so I have one message that I send to everybody that connects with me that doesn’t send me a personal connection request. And it’s, “Hey Rich, thanks for the invite to connect. I typically only connect with people I’ve either met in person or have had engagement with here on LinkedIn. Can you tell me how you found me and what it was about my profile that triggered the connection request?” So now I put the ball back in your corner and you have to tell me. And so about five out of 10 just won’t respond because they don’t know why they want to connect with me. They did it because they’re trying to build their network, but they can’t give me a reason. Those folks I’ll ignore. A couple people come back and say, “Well, I wanted to reach out because I know I can help you with your website” or whatever. And to them, I say, “Thank you. No, thank you.” And about three people – maybe that adds up to 10, I wasn’t a math major – will come back and say, “Hey, I heard you on The Agents of Change podcast, that was really great stuff. Would love to learn more.” Great. Okay. Happy to connect with you. So that’s what I do.

If people send me an outright sales message, so I’m a LinkedIn trainer so sometimes I’ll just reach back and say, “Hey Rich, thanks for the invite to connect. As a LinkedIn trainer I’m always curious to know, how is this connect and pitch working for you?” Some of them won’t respond. Some will say, “Well, it’s really not. In fact, I’m really struggling with how to use this, so I could use some help.” And then we start a relationship to help him. Because some people just don’t know, they just don’t know.

Rich: It could be ignorance. You’re going to a new city, so to speak, and you just don’t know what the rules are. And so you’re not sure how to behave.

Bill: Yeah. And I try to come through, you know, it was Covey who said, “We judge ourselves by our intentions, but we judge everyone else by their actions.” And so I try to think, and I don’t try to be, you know, you’ll hear some LinkedIn trainers and they’ll actually post the post terrible spam messages on LinkedIn, without outing anyone, but they’ll say,” This is horrible.” It is, but we have to have some compassion, some grace, and we have to train people and offer help. You know, they may just not know any better because this is uncharted territory for some people.

Rich: Well I’m going to stop doing that now, Bill. You made me feel really guilty about outing these people. Although I never use their name, I always blur everything out. But anyways, okay. We’ll move on. I’m working on civility this month, by the way, so I’ll try to be more civil to everyone.

Let’s talk a little bit about maybe some prep work. What kind of things can we do in the newsfeed or on our profile to increase the chances that someone might accept our invitation to connect?

Bill: Yeah. So it really starts with your profile. What I say, all roads lead back to your profile. It’s the foundation of everything that you do, because if you post content, people will look at your profile. If you comment, they’re going to look at your profile. If you look at their profile, they’re going to get a notification and they may come back. And so we treat the profile as content. And with our profile and with content, there’s five things that we have to get it done. It’s not on my whiteboard here anymore, so sometimes I forget one. But we want it to resonate with our ideal clients. If we’re in business development, we have an ideal client. We have to make sure that when they land on our profile, they know that we help people like that. So it has to resonate. It has to cause curiosity, a lean in moment where they go, “Huh? I never knew that before.” And then it has to teach them something new that gets them thinking differently about their problem that they have that we help solve.

And then the last thing is get more raised hands. Giving them an opportunity to have a conversation with us, a call to action, which is not a call to sell. So if we do those things, and the way we do those things is for example, having great imagery. Our background banner image, which is the area right behind your profile picture, that big rectangle, you should treat that like a billboard. If a company came to you today and said, “Hey Rich, we’re going to view a free billboard for the whole year that’s going to be right next to the biggest major highway in your city”, you wouldn’t leave it blank, you wouldn’t put up a picture of Rocky Mountains or a picture of a sandy beach. You’d put your company up there, you would brand it. So you want to use that for branding. You want to have a really good professional profile picture. When I say professional, it doesn’t need to be a professional studio headshot.  But it should be head and shoulders, looking at the camera. You know, it shouldn’t be you at the bar with your buddies or taking a picture with your cellphone camera, arm’s length away and they can see your arm. But it should be a good, professional headshot.

Your headline, which is the area that runs underneath your name, most people have their job title and where they work. That doesn’t resonate with anyone. You have 220 characters and spaces to use there, who do you help, how do you help them, what are the results you bring in? What it is you do, that will resonate.

If you look at mine, it says something to the effect of helping sales leaders develop more conversation from their connections on LinkedIn, something like that. So you know I work with sales professionals, and the way I help them is to grow revenue by helping them convert their connections to conversations on LinkedIn. And so really your profile needs to be about your ideal client, not about you. It shouldn’t talk about how many awards you’ve won, it shouldn’t talk about how long you’ve been in your industry. No one cares. They will care eventually, but we have to get to the point where they know that we help people like them. Then they’ll care about those kinds of things.

In terms of content, you asked about creating content that helps your ideal clients. And to do that, you have to socially listen, you have to find out your clients, what do they care about? So we often as salespeople create content about what we want to talk about. So I would create content all day long about anti-automation, because I hate automation and that’s what I like to talk about. My clients could care less. So my clients are C-level sales executives, they could care less about automation. They care about pipeline, prospecting, revenue, and revenue and revenue, and a few more revenues. That’s what they care about. So that’s the content that I should be creating.

So you have to find out what is it that your clients care about, your prospects care about, and create content in that way. And understand that it takes a long time. It can take a while for the algorithm to really start liking your content and getting it in front of the right people. So that’s definitely the long game. You have to be consistent in doing that.

Rich: Getting back to making the connection with somebody. What do you recommend after the connection has been made? Because I know I hate when somebody connects with me, they seem like a legitimate person, and then they immediately go into the sales pitch on the very next minute.

Bill: Yeah. So you should have a welcome message that thanks them for connecting. And so what I do is I offer free resources. I say, “Hey Rich, thanks so much for connecting on LinkedIn. Not sure if you’re using LinkedIn for business development, but if you are, we’ve got some free resources at our complimentary content library.” So that’s easy for me. For you, it may be if they’re a C-level executive and you sell to C-level executives, finding a piece of content to offer them that’s not from you, that’s not about anything except other than what they care about. So maybe it’s a podcast that you listen to regularly for C-level executives. “Hey Rich, thanks so much for connecting with me here on LinkedIn. Great to have you as part of my network as a C-level executive. Not sure if you’ve ever heard of this Selling From the Heart podcast, but there’s a great episode about X, Y, and Z. Would love to share that with you if you want. I can send them.” So offering them that, and then that gets you into their inbox.

And now if you take that and you listen to podcasts, maybe I’d reach out in a few days and say, “Hey Rich, just curious, were you’re able to listen to that? Would love to get your thoughts around that.” Right? So you’re looking to have the conversation and you’re not pitching. Because as soon as you pitch, I’m guaranteeing most of the people go and then bow and disconnect from you. And you’ll never know about that. 

Rich: All right. Bill, this has been great. And I hope everybody who tries to reach out to me in the next few months listens to this episode first. If people want to learn more about you, more about your training, where can we send them?

Bill: Yeah. So you can go to a socialsaleslink.com and there’s a number of resources right on our main page. You can sign up and be a free silver member of our community, which will give you access to all of our previous content and our content library. We also have a new product launching soon, first quarter of 2022, called the LinkedIn Sales Accelerator, there’s some information to sign up there if you want more information about that. And look for me on LinkedIn, please send me a note telling me that you heard me here on The Agents of Change podcast.

Rich: Awesome Bill, thank you so much for stopping by today.

Bill: Thank you so much. And thanks everyone for listening.

Show Notes: 

Bill McCormick’s mission is to teach people how to use LinkedIn the right way. Check out his website to see how he and his team are helping others make the most of the platform. And be sure to follow him on LinkedIn and mention you heard him on The Agents of Change podcast!

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.