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Social Selling with LinkedIn, Part 1

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
17 min read

Social selling is a tool that can help you out, sure, and LinkedIn’s the place to do it. But at a minimum, you should be using LinkedIn to prospect and research target accounts and people you’d like to know.

In Part 1 of a short series on LinkedIn, I’ll cover the basics of how you could be using LinkedIn right now.

In this episode, you’ll hear how LinkedIn can help you with:

  • Prospecting and building lists of the absolute best people to contact
  • Connecting with anyone
  • Using LinkedIn’s messaging feature to start chatting immediately
  • Downsides of LinkedIn features, and what to use instead
  • Finding signals that certain contacts and prospects may be ready to start a conversation
  • Advanced searching techniques to make your lists top notch
  • How to distribute content on the platform for maximum impact

To request specific topics about LinkedIn, or anything else I covered on the podcast, drop me an email at

For more information on remote selling and a complete list of links mentioned in this podcast, visit this remote selling article on our website.

Social Selling with LinkedIn, Part 1:

Full Transcript

Hello and welcome to the show. I am Liston and I am here to help you build a better agency, build a better consulting business, build a better professional services firm. And in today’s episode I’m going to be talking to you about LinkedIn. Specifically, I keep getting asked, how am I using LinkedIn? What are the ways that it could be used beyond just going and mindlessly scrolling through the newsfeed? So in today’s episode, I’m going to cover some of the major ways that you can use LinkedIn. I can’t cover it all in 30 minutes, so I am titling this episode part one. I fully intend to dig a little bit deeper into each section and to cover some things I don’t have time to cover in today’s episode, I do want to ask you if there’s something that I didn’t cover today or there’s something you’d like to learn more about. I’d love to hear from you. Just email me, Liston, and I would love to know what’s on your mind about LinkedIn, because it’s something that I get asked about quite a bit.

So one of the problems that everybody has in sales is finding and connecting with the right people. That can be really difficult. With all of the tools available now, it’s becoming less and less difficult, it’s becoming almost too easy in some ways, and that’ll be part of what I talk about today on LinkedIn. But the nice thing about LinkedIn is that it allows you to find and connect with the right people pretty much instantly. Now, this really helps if you have a sales navigator account, which at the time of this recording I think is like 80 bucks a month or $800 a year if you pay annually. It’s in terms of selling tools, relatively inexpensive to buy sales navigator.

And what that’s going to allow you to do is much more in depth searches and prospecting. So that is the first thing I want to talk about is prospecting. But just to give you an overview of where this is all going, I have kind of five chapters that I’ll be covering in today’s episode about LinkedIn. Number one is how to use it for prospecting. Number two is how to use it to connect with just about anybody. Number three is how the messaging platform works on LinkedIn and how you might use it and some of the major problems with it. Number four, I’ll be talking about finding signals, so triggers that may indicate that it’s a good time to talk to someone or reach out to someone about your service or whatever it is that you do. And the fifth one is using LinkedIn as a content distribution platform. Kind of the pluses and minuses of that in some ways that you can think about using it.

So let’s start with prospecting. When it comes to prospecting on LinkedIn, it is an amazing place to find lists of accounts and find lists of people. So basically any information that people volunteer to LinkedIn is directly searchable. And then there’s also additional information that you can find that is sort of the product of people being on the platform and we’ll start to build a richer picture for you about your prospects. So let’s start at the account level. If you are targeting certain types of companies, certain industries of a particular size, public or not public nonprofit, in a particular location, all of that is readily available for you to find on LinkedIn. So you know I have a client now and they’re looking to target companies in professional services with 200 to 500 employees and they have at least one person in HR, managing HR. That account list would be relatively easy to create and build within LinkedIn.

The sky’s the limit here. It’s not literally unlimited, but if you understand the different parameters you can use to find accounts within LinkedIn, then the type of list you can build is really extraordinary. It’s a great, great place for information. I don’t want to get too nerdy on you, but across all searches that you perform on LinkedIn, you can do what’s called a boolean search. So you can use operators like and, or, not, in order to expand or constrain the pool of people that the search returns. Once you start getting into searches like that and you start making searches like that, you’re going to start to develop much better lists whether it’s on the account level or it’s on the individual person level, so that’s something that you’re going to need to do really to get the most out of the search function because on the one hand, LinkedIn is a social network, but it’s also a database.

People go in, put in their information, their first name, last name, email, what company they work with, how big that company is, on and on and on, right? So you get to search that database. Again, particularly if you have a sales navigator account, this tends to work a lot better. But if you’re looking at the account level, you can also look for things. Let’s say you’re an agency and you have a unique content solution. If the marketing department at a company changes in size, you can use that as a filter. You can say, look, if the marketing department is shrinking, maybe that’s a sign that they may be outsourcing more of their content work, right? Or more of their work to agencies. They want to offload employees onto agencies essentially and then outsource that work so they don’t have the liability of employees on the books.

That could be something you look at. There’s also annual revenue. There’s also fortune ranking, so if you wanted, you could search just Fortune 50. One other thing that’s worth noting is you can detect, or I should say LinkedIn can detect certain technologies that are used by the company. And it’s not clear to me exactly how LinkedIn knows this, but my guess is any code installed on a website that can be read publicly will show up in the technologies used section, any code that they can detect and understand what it is. Again, if you’re in marketing, Hubspot, Google analytics, Shopify, I’m going through the list right now. All of that stuff will show up. If you’re looking for something on … if you’re a developer, you can see if they’re on Drupal or if they’re on WordPress or Magento or if they’re using Jquery or Python, all of that stuff can be detected.

It’s indeterminant how good it is exactly, it works exactly the same way as say a BuiltWith or a Datanyze. So if you really want to get into the weeds on companies that use particular types of technology, LinkedIn is a place where you can do that. I should note that it only works on the account level. So if you have an account strategy where you’re going to go after a hundred accounts that perfectly fit your ideal client type, what I would recommend is run your search on LinkedIn at the account level, find the accounts that fit the bill the best, and then you go in and start finding individual leads for people at those companies. Which leads me into the next part, leads. You can easily create lists of people on LinkedIn and works exactly the same as at the account level, except that you have some more parameters that you use.

And I think the reason is individuals give up more information than companies do, but things like school, geography, seniority level. So their position you can look at, their title you can look at, what functional department they’re in, accounting, marketing, business development, engineering, HR or whatever. You can find all of that stuff. One powerful thing is you can include or exclude people who you’re connected to or not. So if I wanted new people on my list, I could look for only second and third degree connections, meaning people who I’m not directly connected with now, or I could go through all of my existing connections and start to look for particular people who I am connected with and maybe restart a conversation with them. One thing that I want to know about lead lists is LinkedIn used to let you export all of your first degree connections including their email addresses and because marketers have abused it so much, LinkedIn has discontinued that feature.

So you can still export all of your contacts, first, last name, I think company name, maybe their LinkedIn profile URL, but it will not give you their email address anymore. And the reason is because the system was becoming a little bit too spammed and I suppose it was to be expected because marketers start to ruin everything. On the prospecting side, another thing that you can start to think about is if you are looking at the account level when you browse through their employees using the search results within sales navigator on the left hand side, I know this is radio, you can’t see it, but trust me, you can go in and look at how many people are in each department and there’s also intelligence on company. So you can see how the company is distributed and you can start to get a picture of out of a hundred accounts, which companies are sales heavy, which companies are marketing heavy, which companies are engineering heavy, which companies are trending up or trending down.

All of that stuff you can figure out on LinkedIn and you can actually figure that out with just a premium account, not a sales navigator account. And for some odd reason, there are analytics for accounts that are available in the premium version, but not in sales navigator. I don’t know who’s in charge of product over there, but there’s some real strange things about the way LinkedIn is set up. But you can get a sense of how fast the company’s growing or shrinking. And also one interesting thing is the tenure, average tenure of an employee, which you could use to start thinking about if someone may be termed out, well termed out is probably the wrong way to say it because the average tenure doesn’t necessitate that they would leave at a certain point, but it may give a hint as to when that person might leave.

So there’s all kinds of things that you can look at and learn about companies in a really rich way and kind of a full picture that you wouldn’t be able to learn in any other way. And I think if you take one thing away from this episode, it’s that LinkedIn is the best source of B2B data that I personally know of. Now, it’s not going to have all of the contact data and there are ways to get that, that are fairly easy and fairly reliable, but in terms of just building your prospecting lists, I don’t see a better way to do that then on LinkedIn. So definitely keep that in mind. The next thing you should know is the social network part of LinkedIn. So there’s something called a connection request and there’s levels of relationship in LinkedIn. So if you and I are connected and if we’re not, I’d love it if we were so connect with me on LinkedIn.

I’m the only Liston Witherill on the platform I believe. Maybe my grandfather’s there who’s now deceased. Well you can figure that out on the younger of the two Liston Witherills. You can connect with people on LinkedIn and when you connect with them you can send a message to them. So you can add a custom note that says something about why you want to connect with them or what caught your attention or maybe a little bit about yourself. I find that more innocuous, more generalized connection requests work a little bit better. And I find that somewhere on the order of very lightly personalized or even not personalized connections, somewhere on the order of like 30% of them get accepted. And there are a couple of reasons for that. So the reason you want to connect with someone is you’ll be able to learn more from their profile once you’re connected.

If you’re not connected, it kind of holds back on some of the information that they’ve given LinkedIn, but also if you’re not connected, it’s unlikely that they will see your content that you publish and I’ll get into distributing content. That’s the last chapter of this episode. But if you are connected, there’s a good chance that they will see the content that you publish, which is a vote for publishing content obviously. That’s something that’s important to extend your reach on LinkedIn. Now I mentioned that only about 30% of my connection requests get accepted and maybe that’s something to do with me. It’s possible. I’ve talked to a lot of other people and they seem to range between like 20 and 40 or 50% connection acceptance rates. What I would say is that people who are pushing 40, 50% or even higher, they’re sending out less connections and they’re sending out more personalized connections, and that’s definitely going to get you more acceptance of your connections.

But it’s also worth noting that of the, I think it’s 500 million users on LinkedIn, only about half are active at least once a month and a small subset of them are active once a week and then a smaller subset of them are active daily. So when you send a connection request, and let’s assume at this point, important people, the people we want to talk to and the people that we want to sell to, if there’s a fit, let’s assume that they’re getting a lot of connection requests. So if they’re not going there on a regular basis and they don’t have an assistant or someone else helping them out with the account, it’s unlikely that they’ll even see your connection request unless they’re going on a regular basis and clearing out the connection requests that are waiting for them. Now, me personally, I accept most people who connect with me because I want them to see my content in the future.

I don’t know what the number is exactly. I probably get like 30 to 50 connection requests every week coming to me. I don’t know what it looks like for other people, but it’s definitely a significant number. If I’m sending and only receiving 30% of my connection requests accepted, I think it stands to reason that some people just aren’t using their LinkedIn accounts, some people are not accepting requests from people that they don’t know in real life, and others may just be sort of picky at a different level, right? They’ll accept connection requests, but only if they think it’s extremely relevant. That’s something to think about if you’re using LinkedIn to connect with people and I really recommend that you do that. You shouldn’t have the expectation that everyone’s going to accept and it’s not a big deal if they don’t. Just keep that in mind. Once you’re connected with someone, you can message them.

So messaging is a big part of every social media platform. Messaging is a big part of LinkedIn. The upside of messaging on LinkedIn is that it can be a really low friction way and lower pressure way to communicate as compared to email. But I do think there are bigger downsides to using the messaging system on LinkedIn than there are upsides. There are really two big downsides; one is related to what I was saying about connections. People just aren’t on LinkedIn nearly as much as they’re in their inbox. So if to use round numbers, let’s say one in five people are checking LinkedIn once a week, you can bet that five out of five people are checking their email inbox probably more like 10 times a day. So the nice thing about messaging on LinkedIn is it allows you to have a synchronous conversation if you catch someone at the right time. And there are ways to see that and do that.

The downside of course is most people just aren’t on there. You’re not going to catch them at the right time. And also the way the platform treats messages kind of sucks. So it’s hard to see who’s left you a message and your connection requests when they get accepted, they end up in your messaging inbox, which is fairly mysterious to me. And so it’s really, really easy to miss messages for you and for the person you’re trying to communicate with in LinkedIn. And they’re just not there as much as they would be in their inbox. So I think that, that’s a really, really big downside of messaging on LinkedIn. This is related to prospecting, but chapter four of this humble LinkedIn episode is about finding signals. So LinkedIn is a great place to find signals and using sales navigator, there are a couple of signals that I think it’s worth noting.

For instance, now I’m going in and a search for all of my first degree connections, meaning everybody I’m connected with on LinkedIn right now. And what I find is a bunch of people who’ve recently changed jobs, a bunch of companies that have recently been in the news. I can see what people are posting on LinkedIn if I want to take the time to go through and see what my best leads are saying. So let me tell you about that for a second. One of the problems that LinkedIn has, that every social network has is there’s an absolute flood of information on the platform. And if you look at your newsfeed, what you’re going to see a are posts that were put up by your first degree connections or posts that they commented on, which means, for me at least, there’s a bunch of shit in there I don’t care about and I really don’t want to see.

And so I find it difficult to have the news feed be useful or valuable to me personally because I have close to 9,000 connections now and growing. By the end of next year, I would expect to have close to 20,000 connections and there ends up being a lot of junk in there that I just don’t care about. So on sales navigator, I have the option of identifying my top prospects. Let’s say it’s a hundred people and only seeing the updates that they’re posting, and only seeing the updates from their companies. That is pretty valuable. So if I’m looking for signals, if they’re talking about hiring or a new initiative or a new earnings report or there’s all these kinds of things that for you could be signals that a company is ready to bring on a service like yours. Let’s say you did employee engagement training. If a company is going on a major hiring spree, let’s say they’re opening a new location where they have to hire 300 people and all of a sudden they’re going to double in size over the next two years, culture’s probably on their mind at this point.

So they’re going to want to think about employee engagement and culture, and that might be a company that I would want to reach out to and just introduce myself and start maybe turning up the frequency of contacting them because of that. Another thing that you can look for are job postings. So companies will go on LinkedIn and pay, I think it’s like 300 or 500 bucks to put a job posting on the platform in order to recruit candidates. That may be a signal for you that it’s a good time for a company to bring on your services. So if you’re selling into a particular job title on a regular basis, if the company is recruiting for that job title, it may be a good time to track that company, reach out to them and reach out to the new person once they actually get the job.

So those are signals. There’s lots of other signals that we could have covered that I haven’t, but in the sake of keeping this relatively short and compact, I want to move on to the last one, which is a really, really big topic and that’s content distribution. So I could probably do a two hour or even a four hour podcast on content distribution on LinkedIn. Don’t worry, I will not do that to you, but I do want to cover it because this is one of the best ways to use the platform in my opinion. So as a consultant, someone who sells their expertise, you really need to develop your expertise in the mind of your prospect. And you don’t have to do that on LinkedIn. There’s all kinds of other ways to do it. A lot of people do it through speaking or writing or podcasting or whatever.

But no matter what you’re doing, you need a distribution channel to get that thought leadership out. So if you’re speaking at an event, your distribution channel is the air and the room, right? There are butts in the seats patiently waiting to hear what you have to say and you’re delivering it to them right on the spot. But if you have a book or an article that you write, or a newsletter or a podcast, I may want to go get that in front of an audience that’s relevant to what I’m doing. And that audience already exists on LinkedIn. And so one of the arguments I would make for accepting all of your connection requests and posting content regularly is that more people will be exposed to your content and like I told you about the algorithm in the newsfeed, if one of your connections who may be isn’t a perfect connection for you but you accepted them anyway, if they see your content and engage with it, they like it or they comment on it, their first degree connections now we’re going to see it too. Or at least some subset of them will.

So it’s a really powerful way to distribute your content. As you grow the size of your network, more people have the opportunity to see your content on a regular basis and there are lots of ways to game the system in terms of content distribution, but the key things that I would recommend to you is use your status updates as text-only posts with no outside links in the body of the post, that will be exposed to more people on average. If you can do video, if you like to do video, video performs pretty well on LinkedIn. Overall, it tends to perform less well than just a text post, but I’d say on an average week, I’m getting something like five to 10,000 impressions of my content on LinkedIn, and I’ve had a video that had over 175,000 views. Shout out to Ahmed Munawar, who this week got a video with over 100,000 views.

But that’s sort of the outlier, right? I’d say on average a video that I post gets one to 5,000 let’s say, and probably more like one to three on average, but it’s still a lot of people. If you think about that many people sitting in a room consuming your content, that’s crazy. Those are crazy numbers. So if you’re working on a content distribution channel, and especially if you’re already producing content, posting it on LinkedIn in an interesting and engaging way is a great thing to do. And it also gives you an excuse to reach out to people who you’re connected to and let them know that you’ve posted something and you’d love to hear their opinion about it. Something like that can be really powerful. There are lots of other things I could cover about LinkedIn. I’ve been talked about running any campaigns, I’ve been talked about driving traffic off of the site and onto your other properties that you own, like your email list or something else or onto your website. And I haven’t talked at all about a major, major thing on LinkedIn, which is advertising.

Unfortunately I don’t have time for those things, but everything that I covered today you can do relatively easily. There are also a variety of tools you can use to pull information off of LinkedIn, but I don’t have time to cover any of that unfortunately. So if any of that sounds interesting to you or some of it sounds interesting and there’s something in particular you want me to cover, I’d love to hear from you. Just email me. I wanted to thank you so much for listening. If you’re getting something out of this podcast, it would really help me out, it would help out the community, it would help out maybe someone you know if you just told them to listen to this episode or one that really stood out to you. I’d really appreciate it and thank you so much for listening. Thanks for being here and I hope you have a fantastic day. Bye.

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