How Sales Prospecting on LinkedIn Is Like Dating

Over 467 million people use LinkedIn. That’s a pretty big ocean, and if you’ve noticed that LinkedIn is full of ideal prospects for your business, you might be thinking about testing the waters.

You wouldn’t be alone. Increasingly, people all over the world are making moves on the site, and not just career moves. Over the years, the platform has turned into a great place to develop valuable professional relationships — as long as you know what you’re doing.

It might sound funny at first, but if you think of prospecting on LinkedIn like dating, or like using a dating app such as Tinder, you’ll be miles ahead of your competitors.

The Rules of Engagement

Relationship building, regardless of your motives, usually follows a set of unspoken rules. First, there’s a number of things you shouldn’t do.

For example, imagine how low the response rate would be if you started every outreach on a dating app with a line like, “Could I interest you in a visit to my bedroom?” Likewise, if you start every interaction with a potential prospect by asking, “Hey, do you want to buy my product?” you’re not going to close many sales.

In general, people understand that you shouldn’t ask for a date in the very first message. But even if you manage to avoid this pitfall and do get a response to your initial outreach, don’t assume that your crush is already interested in meeting you. It’s up to you to get to know him or her to see whether there’s chemistry between you. Selling a product or service is no different.

Whether you’re looking to close a deal or to find a soul mate, it starts with relationship building. No matter the arena, the rules are generally the same. Rather than harp on everything you shouldn’t do when trying to spark a professional relationship on LinkedIn, let’s talk about five things that you definitely should do.

1. Choose a picture that would attract your audience.

Before you do anything, you need to make the most of your one chance to make a good first impression. Terrible picture? No dice.

Choose a high-quality profile picture that’s not only professional (no pets or significant others included), but also one in which you look approachable. Smiling helps in this regard. Just be sure to add a photo — you’ll receive a lot more messages and profile views.

2. Have your friends set you up.

After you identify a lead, the next step is to see what connections you have in common, and then think about how you could leverage those.

To illustrate, in the world of online dating, response rates improve dramatically when two people have a mutual friend on Facebook. The same is true when it comes to prospecting on LinkedIn. According to HubSpot, being introduced to a sales rep by a common connection wouldn’t bother 65 percent of people surveyed.

3. Find common ground.

Many salespeople rely on an opening message that looks something like this: “Hey, I see you went to school at Clemson … great game last weekend! So anyway, let me tell you about my business …”

That’s not what “getting personal” means. While that is better than nothing, the more thought you put into personalizing your messaging for individual prospects, the better your outcomes will be. Maybe they have experience or knowledge that interests you.

Demonstrate that you think they have something of value to offer you, other than their money. For instance, mining the personal data on a prospect’s profile page could help you craft a message that looks like this:

“I am looking to get to know other IT leaders and noticed you have some noteworthy experience as the [title] at [company]. I would love to hear more about your experience to find out if there are ways we might benefit each other.

How does next week look for a brief phone call?”

After four months of lead generation for one of our clients, we generated 51 very high-quality leads for him by using a similar message that simply incorporated some of the personal information we found about his prospects on LinkedIn.

One of the best things you can do is to find some past business experience or problem that a prospect has had, relate it to an experience of your own, and then ask a question about it. This technique not only helps you to establish a personal connection, but it also keeps the conversation professional.

4. Get a prospect involved with you organically.

Another way to develop a relationship with prospects on LinkedIn is to ask them to participate in interviews. Similarly, you could tell them you’re putting together a case study, white paper or new blog post featuring leaders in their space. Let them know that you’d love to get their input on a few things to feature them in the article.

Conversations like this provide a natural way to open doors and build relationships. Whenever you can offer a prospect something of real value upfront, he or she will be much more inclined to pay attention when the time for you to tell them about your product or service finally arrives.

5. Nurture first; ask for a date later.

Whenever you get a positive response to a prospecting message on LinkedIn, view it as an opportunity to start building a relationship. As researchers at Forrester have shown, leads that are nurtured result in 20 percent more sales opportunities than those that aren’t.

If you’re not sure how to do that, think about some of the ways you might build rapport with a potential date: Tell a story that resonates, keep it informal, and show a sense of humor.

Just like you’d want to give it a little time before asking someone you met online for a date, save your sales pitch until you’ve gotten to know your prospect a bit. Once you feel a connection, you’ll be able to make your pitch with friendly confidence.

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