Hi [firstname]: LinkedIn Message Automation Is the Actual Worst

If you’re active on LinkedIn and you’re in a leadership role, I’ll bet you’ve been getting connection requests like these.

Terrible outreach

They were probably sent by a bot.

There are a number of browser plugins or cloud-based applications that automate activity on LinkedIn. They can “view” profiles, send connection requests, send automated messages to first-degree connections or automated InMails to second- and third-degree profiles. They can also scrape contact information and add it to a CSV file that you can import into your CRM or email platform.

It’s tempting to try this approach, I know.

After all, LinkedIn has more than 740 million users, and over 90 million are decision-makers. For years, it has been the most effective channel available for B2B networking, marketing, and sales. And it’s only getting better. In Q4 2020, LinkedIn reported that sessions increased 30% and conversations increased 48%.

So it makes sense that marketers and sellers would look for new ways to leverage LinkedIn for lead generation. We all tend to immediately want to automate and scale the outreach in hopes of getting faster results.

There are at least a dozen different technologies available promising to do just that. They claim to use AI and machine learning to intelligently send connection requests and messages. If you just deploy their technology, you can just sit back and watch the leads flow in.

Here’s the promise from the website of one of the automation tools (I’ve redacted the company name):

  1. Open your ### account to start automating your LinkedIn outreach within minutes and generate sales leads and opportunities. 
  2. Search for your ideal customers by using LinkedIn Premium or Sales Navigator and then select the level of engagement that you want to initiate. 
  3. Once the campaign has started, you can then expect dozens or even hundreds of hot leads per month, all generated on auto-pilot.

If only it were that easy!

It seems like this kind of technology could make us so much more efficient with our outreach. It could sift through the people who aren’t interested and quickly uncover good prospects.

I understand the temptation. I succumbed to it myself and tried out a few different solutions for automating my outreach. The results? Lousy.

No matter how I tweaked my messaging, I didn’t come anywhere close to the kinds of results I get when I manually send personalized messages. Seriously—the difference was 100 to 1. More on my approach and results later in this article. For now, let’s explore some reasons why this is a really bad idea:

1. It’s spammy

The “best practice” cadence preached by bot providers generally looks like this:

  1. Prepare semi-personalized messaging and a messaging sequence in the bot (similar to the examples I included at the top of this article, you can use fields for name, title, company, industry)
  2. Run a search in Sales Navigator for your ideal prospects
  3. Then launch the bot, which will take the following steps, targeting the profiles in your search results:
    1. Send semi-personalized connection requests
    2. A few hours or days after the connection request is accepted, send a message thanking the person for connecting
    3. A week later, send a message with some sort of content offer
    4. After a few days, send another message with another content offer
    5. A few days later, send a “hard ask” request for a sales meeting or demo
    6. Scrape the email address and other contact information to be uploaded into your CRM so you can start sending automated emails too

This is very similar to the lead nurturing cadences used in marketing automation when someone subscribes to a newsletter or downloads a content asset.

Here’s the problem: Your new connection didn’t do either of those things. They didn’t subscribe to your automated messaging. They haven’t expressed interest in your company, product, or content. They’ve simply accepted a connection request. They did not invite you to spam them.

2. It’s really easy to make mistakes

There are a few more issues that can really mess up a campaign.

These systems rely on the extended search functionality in LinkedIn Premium or Sales Navigator. You run a search for profiles matching your ideal customer, and then the bot can automate profile views and send connection requests to the second- and third-degree profiles in the search results.

But LinkedIn’s search engine has some serious flaws.

For example, open up Sales Navigator and search for the CEO of IBM.

In the example below, I searched for leads where the “current company” is IBM, seniority level is CXO, and current title is “Chief Executive Officer.” On April 5, 2021, I got 193 results. I’ve run this particular search multiple times over the past two years. Once, I got more than 4,000 results. As you can see in the screen shot, only two of my first-page results hold CXO-level roles at IBM. The others worked at IBM in the past, but not in executive management.

Screenshot

There are better ways to do this specific search, but I use it to demonstrate the risks. If my ideal customer profile were CEOs at Fortune 500 companies, how many false positives is LinkedIn likely to pull up? If I try to make my messaging specific to these CEOs, I’m going to send irrelevant messages to most of the people in the search results.

3. It damages your brand

So who cares, you ask? As long as the message gets to the right people, what’s the problem with it also going to the wrong people? Sending irrelevant messages can damage your company and salesperson’s brand.

4. It reduces response rates

Most people work around that messaging risk by limiting the level of personalization in the messaging.

And so they structure a message like this: “Hi {firstname}, I noticed that you’re the {title} at {company} and would love to have you in my network.”

And the bot sends this: “Hi Alain, I noticed that you’re the Chief Executive Officer at IBM Greater China Group and would love to have you in my network.”

This type of message gets at best a 10-20% connection acceptance rate. Then the bot starts sending messages to the new connections with the end goal of getting a sales meeting. Most convert fewer than 3-5% of the connections into meetings. So that means that you’ll get roughly three to five meetings for every 500 invitations. If you have a huge market, that rate might be acceptable. But if your target market is limited, then you’re likely to burn through your list pretty quickly.

By comparison, in the past 12 months, I’ve been getting a 66% connection acceptance rate, and 72% of the contacts whom I wanted to meet with accepted a meeting. So using my process, I’ll get roughly 237 meetings from sending 500 targeted invitations. I’ll explain more about my process below. But first, let’s address two more risks of automating or outsourcing.

5. It violates LinkedIn’s terms of use and can get you banned

All of the automation tools and outsourcing models violate multiple LinkedIn policies and terms of use. If LinkedIn catches a user automating or outsourcing, they will institute a temporary ban for a few days or weeks. If the violation is egregious enough or repeated, they might make the ban permanent.

The bot companies know this. They even publish best practices to help users avoid getting caught.

Additionally, members who click “ignore” on a connection request are given the option to click “I don’t know this person.” If enough of recipients of your connection requests click that option, LinkedIn will require an email address for all future connection requests. Note: LinkedIn doesn’t publish the limits, and it appears to vary based on other behaviors (such as the ratio of connection requests accepted). However, from my experience, the number is pretty low. As few as 5–10 people clicking “I don’t know this person” can be enough to trigger restrictions.

If your sales team is using these automation tools, it’s just a matter of time before they get restricted or banned. For most sales teams, the risk is not worth it.

6. Bots degrade the value of LinkedIn

Human-to-human interaction drives LinkedIn’s value. It’s what LinkedIn’s algorithm rewards. It’s why platform engagement continues to grow.

LinkedIn’s raison d’être is to “connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.” People use the platform to learn, network, and find jobs and economic opportunities.

Bots damage this experience and degrade the value of the platform.

Want proof? Look at a typical LinkedIn group. When users are allowed to send automated updates to a group promoting their content, that group quickly becomes a virtual wasteland of spam with zero engagement.

To protect the user experience, LinkedIn is continuing to develop triggers to identify and ban spammers. I for one hope they get even more legalistic about this. Bots are flooding the network with automated spam connection requests and messages right now. If LinkedIn doesn’t crack down harder, the bots will ruin the platform for the rest of us.

7. Automation is rude

Now this is my opinion, and you’re free to disagree. But I think it’s rude to automate connection requests and messages on LinkedIn.

It’s a place where people expect human-to-human engagement.

If you automate your outreach on this platform, you’re essentially telling your prospect that you’re not willing to take a few minutes to look at their profile and figure out how to be helpful. You’re telling the prospect that they’re just a number to you. Is that really the way you want to start a relationship with a prospective client or partner?

I know this happens with email all the time. But we’ve come to expect it there. We don’t expect it on LinkedIn.

Be human on LinkedIn. You’ll get better results.

If you’re considering automating, stop and think about how your automated outreach is going to come across to your prospects. No matter how much effort you put into crafting the perfect messaging, it’s still a mass outreach masquerading as human-to-human. It’s still a bot. It’s time to start behaving on LinkedIn like we would in person. Be human, start relationships, get acquainted, and understand a lead’s needs before pitching. I promise, your results will skyrocket.

Want proof? Let’s look at my results.

  • From October 2020 to April 2021, I sent 166 invitations to connect, and 110 were accepted. That’s a 66% acceptance rate.
  • From January 2020 through March 2021, I invited 181 of my connections to get acquainted in an initial discovery call. A whopping 72% (130) accepted my invitation for an initial phone or video call. And I get very few no-shows. If your sales team got even half that conversion rate, how would it affect your revenue for 2021?

Your team can book hundreds of sales calls on LinkedIn

My method is simple and human. There’s absolutely no reason why your SDRs and AEs shouldn’t be able to get similar results.

Here’s how your team can use LinkedIn to book hundreds of sales meetings:

  1. Identify a small niche group of accounts to target
  2. Research the industry issues common to this group and understand how they affect your buying committee
  3. Come up with 2–3 relevant business insights that you can share that would be helpful to your target buyers
  4. Pick an account to target from your niche group and review the account’s company page on LinkedIn
  5. Search for your specific buyer personas at the specific account and review their LinkedIn profiles
  6. Send connection requests to each, one at a time, referencing one of the insights identified in step #3 that’s going to be directly relevant to this person based on their role and/or profile. Let them know in the invitation that you’re interested in getting acquainted.
  7. When they connect, respond as quickly as possible (while you’re top of mind). Thank them for connecting, reinforce the insight shared in the connection request, and ask if they’d like to get acquainted and discuss that topic further. (Note: This should not be about your product. You’re not asking for a meeting to pitch them, you’re inviting them to get acquainted and talk about an industry trend or insight you can share.)
  8. If they express interest in getting acquainted, send them a link to your calendar and let them choose a convenient time

Prospecting over LinkedIn isn’t complicated—it’s similar to how we network in person. When you meet someone face-to-face, you probably don’t jump to the pitch immediately (if you do, please stop!). You focus first on establishing a relationship, then you probe for needs as part of the conversation. And then, if there’s a need, you can offer to help.

We’re just shifting this process to a virtual environment where you don’t have the limitations of needing an in-person event to meet people.

Level up your team’s outreach strategy

You can find more information about my methodology and watch a free 45-minute training session on my website. Also, send me a connection request on LinkedIn and let’s get acquainted! But please personalize the connection invitation and let me know you read this article.

Candyce Edelen
Candyce Edelen
President/CEO at PropelGrowth

I’m a seasoned entrepreneur with plenty of road rash earned by co-founding two fin-tech companies, one of which made the Deloitte Fast 50 list in 2004. In 2007, I launched PropelGrowth and enjoyed 10 years of growth from inbound leads based on thought leadership I was publishing and existing relationships in the financial industry. But in 2018, my partner and I decided to pivot to a new target market where we didn’t have an existing network. I didn’t have a big travel or conference budget, so meeting people in this new industry was tricky. But I had to generate new sales quickly (or my team would starve). I hate cold calling, so I researched LinkedIn lead generation techniques. After a bit of trial and error, I landed on a strategy that worked. Within 6 months, I made 500 new connections and booked 125 sales calls, using only LinkedIn and Google. It worked so well, I’ve now created a master class to help channel sales and marketing teams achieve the same results. PropelGrowth.com Master class
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