I’ve started networking without the empty calories, to make sure you’ve got a great LinkedIn profile. Now it’s time for the virtual meet and greet. How do you connect with the right contacts on LinkedIn? It’s time to start searching for connections. You’ve got two options:

  1. Basic LinkedIn search: its one advantage is it’s free. Of course, you get what you pay for – it’s very basic. If you know the names of your target contacts, then you’re in luck. Once you get past that, you’ll pay one way or the other: either wasting a lot of time manually sifting through your searches, or by paying up for…
  2. Sales Navigator: it’s the price of admission if you’re serious about building your qualified network of relevant connections. It’s $80/month or $800/year, and lets you build complex searches based on roles, industry, company, headcount, and more.

Your goal is to find the same people you’re hoping to meet at a networking event, except now you get to choose who shows up!

Connection Campaign

If you’re using LinkedIn as a marketing tool, then you need to actually be open to building a larger network. If you only make or accept connections with people that you already know well, it would be like going to a networking event and not talking to anyone or refusing introductions from your colleagues. The way I build a larger network is to run a connection campaign: regularly and consistently sending out new connection requests, every single day. I also recommend keeping your requests under 100 a day to avoid looking like a bot exploiting the system. At boomtime we typically send 30-50/day because most people have trouble keeping up with any more conversations than that generates.

Target the Right Audience

The first step is to find the right connections. Let’s say you’re an attorney who works in IP and you’re looking to connect with technologists and startups in Denver, CO. Your search could focus on “Founders” or “Owners” in the tech industry in the Greater Denver Area, with company sizes between 11-50 that are 2nd Level connections, and Sales Navigator would produce a focused list of results that you can start pursuing.

2nd Level Connections

I recommend only reaching out to 2nd level connections, which means that you have at least one connection in common. With Sales Navigator, you can find and connect with 3rd level connections, but your acceptance rate tends to be much, much lower. It makes sense — one of the first things you look at is who you know in common.

High Acceptance Rate

The goal of running a connection campaign is simple: a high acceptance rate. That means you’re reaching out to the right people with the right message. If you randomly send out connection requests, you’ll get about a 15% acceptance rate. With a profile optimized for your target audience, reaching out to the right people with a personal message, you might achieve a 30-35% acceptance rate. With refinement, that can be as high as 45-50%.

Invite Message

Just hitting the connect button isn’t enough. Be personal, be human, and include something about why you’re reaching out. We’re long past the age of “I’d like to add you to my professional network.” For example, last year I ran a connection campaign to business owners in Phoenix at companies with 11-500 employees. An example connection message:

“Hi Jessica, my passion is helping businesses grow, and I always want to connect with others doing the same.”

boomtime’s partnership with Sales Xceleration, a national company that provides outsourced sales consultants, resulted from a connection from that campaign.

Start Small

What if you don’t have a large network to start with, or you’re branching out into a new industry or geography? Start with easier connections first, building up 2nd level connections before going after your highest-value targets. I started my campaign in Phoenix with business owners with 11-50 employees before moving on to larger companies. By the time I was targeting CEOs at companies with 200-500 employees, I already had more than a thousand connections with business leaders in the area.

Following Up

Once your connection request is accepted, that’s the time to start a conversation. My follow-up message will be something like:

“Hi Jessica, thanks for the connection! I’m the CEO of boomtime, the Word of Mouth Marketing company. Please reach out if I can ever help you.

I recently wrote an article, The #1 Marketing Mistake That I See Over and Over Again: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/1-marketing-mistake-i-see-over-again-bill-bice/”

You’ll get responses from the initial connection request, but by sending a follow-up message, you’ll see 4x more response.

No Hard Sell

Remember: you’re networking, not pitching. When you meet someone at a networking event, you tell them what you do, but you don’t immediately launch into a pitch for your company. You build a relationship first.

The best thing you can do is provide value. At boomtime, we often included a reframing article in the follow-up message, which helps your new connections see your area of expertise in a different light. Once again, you’re not selling – instead, you are providing value. Your connections should be in a better place because of what you’ve shared with them.

Next Step

Having a great profile and building out your network just gets you in the game. If you go home after a networking event and don’t follow-up with all of your new connections, you’re not going to get much value for your investment. Learn how leverage your LinkedIn network in our podcast episode, Increasing Your LinkedIn Engagement.

Don’t have time to build out your network? We’re experts at using LinkedIn to drive great results for B2B companies..

All the best,

Bill Bice

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