People Before Pipeline: Why People Said They Responded to Me
I’m prospected on a daily basis, but have always wondered what it must feel like to be prospected…by me, and my approach. I’ve prospected thousands of people in my sales career, and in turn, am prospected by others daily. With this back and forth, being on both the giving and receiving end of prospecting, I thought I’d reach out to dozens of people I’ve prospected in the past and get some data. In particular, I have wondered what it feels like to be prospected by me, my approach, and why it has been so successful thus far.
My hopes for you in reading this article are twofold: 1.) I want to help you understand a prospect’s point of view in why it is important to take time to remember you’re reaching out to people, not pipeline (so treat them like people), and 2.) to illustrate a way of using LinkedIn to prospect in a way you may not have considered in that past that has consistently worked for me for 5+ years.
Note I use the term ‘prospect’ to define leads / potential customers because that’s how we define our CRM environment; prospects and customers. I also asked every person interviewed for this article how they felt being called a ‘prospect,’ and no one was offended by it in the slightest; they realize it’s a simply terminology on the sales side.
Cold Connection Requests versus InMails:
100% of the people I surveyed would prefer an InMail outreach versus a cold connection request and then immediately getting a message (or, in their words, ‘ spammed’).
Bill Aicher, CMO at MusicNotes.com, said “if you want to sell me on something, InMail me first … don’t just connect and then pitch.” Bernie Fussenegger, Director, Digital Marketing at Papa Johns, also chimed in to say that “[getting spammed] typically happens 10 times a day; [he] will accept the request but then remove the connection within minutes if [he] get the ‘sales pitch.’” Lareen Strong, a VP Marketing, says she immediately removes the connection, partly because of spamming, and partly because “[she] loses respect for the company that won’t pay a little for their sales force to us InMails rather than doing it ‘free’ via connections.’”
Bottom line: consider sending an InMail before a cold connection request. In my experience it goes a long way to build a relationship via InMail first.
Quality over Quantity:
A lot has happened since my post a year ago about achieving a 50% Return on InMails. People are adopting InMails more, and I wanted to know how the data in that article has changed since its original publication in June of 2015.
Collectively, the people I surveyed are getting around 13 InMails per week, and continue to get hundreds of sales emails per day. There is still a huge opportunity to get their attention with InMailing, but take the time to do your research.
Bill Aicher said that he responds to “InMails [where] people researched [him] somewhat and made the message personal, as [he knows] they took some time to do it.” He goes on to say that even if it isn't a fit, he responds and says “thanks but no thanks usually (so at least they don't get their InMail credit used up on [him]).”
Steve Lamb, Director of Marketing and Ecommerce at Chico's, also commented that he believes sales professionals are still not using LinkedIn the right way. Steve suggested that “InMails are a better approach and with using an InMail [he] can get a better sense of what you are offering and if it is the right fit.”
Bernie Fussenegger said he’s more inclined to respond to InMails over Emails. He claimed “those sending InMails seem to have taken the time to research what [his] responsibilities actually are, are a little more personal and have done research on [their] brand.” Bill Aicher also agreed and and noted that when he’s going through email, he sorts through massive amounts of junk (getting over a thousand emails per day), and that anything not important gets skipped or deleted. He mentioned that when he’s on LinkedIn there isn’t a lot of “noise” coming in, especially since it ‘costs’ to get into his inbox there, so when he goes through messages on LinkedIn he’s not in “mass-delete mode.”
Lareen Strong said she responds to InMails more than Emails because they are quick and emails clog up her inbox, and she has to “sort them out from day to day just to find her colleague’s emails.”
Bottom line: Take time personalizing your message, it will go a long way. Think about being the 1 in 13 InMails, or the 1 in 500 Emails. Which one do you want to be in?
Persistence and Professionalism:
I consistently preach a specific cadence between Emails and InMails, and from the people I surveyed, they thought it was ‘just the right amount of persistence.’
Bernie Fussenegger remarked that he had a “good experience – an experience that others should follow that are in sales…” Lareen Strong mentioned that she didn’t even realize at the time that I was prospecting her, and that I was respectful of her time, and the “approach was more of a conversation than a sales pitch.”
Steve Lamb commented that he felt his connection with me was positive, and that I was “genuine and just the right amount of persistence.”
Brian Schultz, Director of Ecommerce at Crate & Barrel, thought it was “just the right amount of persistence” and “it didn't hurt that at the time [they] were looking into products similar to [mine] at [his] organization.”
Bottom line: Be persistent, but professional.
Advice to Sales Professionals from Your Prospects:
Lareen wrote an entire article called “Eight Ways to Lose a Deal in Under 60 Seconds” (which I encourage everyone to read) and the most crucial part she wanted me to share in this article was #8: Assume that talking to you is my number one priority.
“You may be a lovely person, a motivated, successful, ethical professional who works with a stellar organization with a perfect product. But honestly, you are not my number one priority. My priorities are happy, highly productive employees; great revenue and cash flow; stable SG&A expenses; maintaining and growing a highly respected brand. And yes, you and your product or service may help me with my priorities. But I will never know that if you approach me as if you feel you SHOULD BE my number one priority. So from the perspective of your potential customer, me, the key to using LinkedIn effectively? Make social selling a partnership, not a sales pitch.”
“Be understanding; there is a lot of noise out there. Keep your original medium of contact instead of reaching out via corporate email or phone (or God forbid personal cell number). Don’t get frustrated if you don’t hear a response. Don’t send me stuff…I can’t keep it anyhow.”
“Get my name right! Instead of comments like ‘give me 10 minutes on the phone to see if we’re a ‘fit’, why not tell me why you already think we’re a fit. Also, there is no such thing as a 10-minute introductory call.”
“Personally I would prefer an InMail message instead of connecting and then getting messaged within minutes of connecting. With my role and how we do planning, we have the vendors/partners, tools and budgets set for the year and in some cases it is multi-year agreements. If it is really compelling and applies to what m team is responsible for, then I will have the necessary conversations to see if there is a fit for it in the future.” He also noted things that drive him crazy: “when someone is pitching their product or business on LinkedIn and still using a Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo account instead of a professional email address” and “someone without a photo, or using a logo instead of a professional photo.”
“If you ARE going to pitch, research me first. Don't just blind send to every person you find who's in my position. Our businesses are all different.”
In summary, take time to research, personalize, and build a relationship with your prospects. Humanize your outreach to them, and treat them like people, not just your pipeline.
Thank you to the dozens of people that helped me obtain this data, and to the people who allowed me to use your names and quotations in this article, I appreciate each and every one of you!