Cold Contacting People You Find Through LinkedIn (or anywhere else)

January 15th, 2013

I got a great question from a JibberJobber user/reader:

I have identified (on LinkedIn) more than 100 names of people that I would like to connect within my industry in order to network with and expand my personal connections.

I am struggling with how best to connect with them. I have not met any of them. What do I say to make it sound a little more personal and hopefully get a positive response?

The textbook thought is “get an introduction.”  But I know that is not always possible (timeframe, weakness of relationships, non-priority by others, etc.). And, getting introductions to 100 people could become a management/organizational nightmare (of course, you would use JibberJobber to help with that, right??).  Let me throw out some ideas on how to cold contact people you find on LinkedIn (or any other database system). Note these are not necessarily to ALL be one in one communication, but some of them might help construct an outbound message to one of those contacts:

1. Be Honest

“John, I found you on LinkedIn while looking for experts in the automotive industry.  In your Profile I see______________________…”

This approach puts your cards out on the table without any question. I hate getting messages from people who act as if we are BFFs, but I have no idea who they are… have we met before?  Just letting me know that you found my Profile while doing research I think is a good approach.  Honesty is always good.

2. Give Relationship Context.

“We are both connected to a few other people in our industry, including Sally Doe and James Finley.  Do you know them well?”

OR,

“We are both members of a few Groups on LinkedIn, including Automotive Daily and Automative Nerds…”

This helps people know that you have a legitimate reason to reach out to them.

3. Give Message Context.

“I want to talk to you because of what’s happening in our industry, and to get your perspective.  I’ve been in this industry for 20 years but haven’t seen these types of changes for a long time. I have some ideas and would really like to hear what you think.”

This helps them know that it isn’t just a “pick up the phone and jaw” thing… you really have a purpose, AND you respect what they are bringing.  If you don’t give message context I think many people would be inclined to ignore your message.

4. Give Next Steps.

“Can we get on a phone call in the next week or two?  I would like to talk for 15 to 20 minutes about this.”

I also give the option of doing it over email, and I give my office line and my email address in this message. Notice I put in two time elements here: one is to show my sense of urgency (sometime in the next couple of weeks), and one to show how much time they would commit to (just 15 minutes).

5. Critical: Keep it CONCISE.

All of this should be done in one or two short paragraphs.  The purpose of the initial message is not to tell them all about you, or your ideas or philosophies, or to go too deep.  The purpose is to get to that next step… a phone call.  Keep this message short and on-task or I am not going to read it, or it might be too complex to respond to.

What do YOU think? Does this feel right to you?  What would you do different?

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8 Responses to “Cold Contacting People You Find Through LinkedIn (or anywhere else)”

  1. Jason,

    I love this idea, and have used this method myself when reaching out to others. However, when you ask someone to connect on LinkedIn, you are restricted to 300 characters, including spaces. That only gives you room for about 3 sentences. If you have the email address, do you recommend simply sending an email with all of the above and send a shorter request to connect on LinkedIn?

  2. Jason Alba says:

    Ginger, this is a VERY good question. I didn’t address the medium at all.

    In general I do not like messaging people through LinkedIn. I don’t like using invitations to connect to do much of the above, and I don’t like InMails (premium feature).

    In every case I would first try to get their email address (which might not be as hard as most people think), and a close second would be sending them a message because they are in the same Group as I am (which doesn’t have the length restrictions you talk about, nor does it have restrictions on putting in URLs or email addresses).

    One final thought: the purpose of the communication is to start a relationship which can be nurtured. I think that going to “let’s connect on LinkedIn” at the wrong time, or in the wrong way, can lead them to believe that the connection is the end goal… IT IS NOT! I would hold off on asking about connecting until the right time. But don’t let that get in the way of the initial (and maybe even second and third and fourth) conversations…. when you relationship is more established.

    Thoughts?

  3. Wayne Gillespie says:

    Ginger, thanks for clarifying my question to Jason and pointing out some of the restrictions using LinkedIn as well as the follow-up queries.

    Jason, your response to Ginger is exactly what I am looking for. I have been afraid to simply ask for a connection on LinkedIn in the past from a stranger as it can come across as cold and quite frankly, lacking in etiquette. My goal is to find ways of getting in front of people, not sending them to the exits

  4. Hi Jason,

    Wonderful tips! I certainly plan to share them with clients and colleagues. And, I *absolutely* agree with your recommendation/comment above that people send someone an email or message, rather than starting by asking the person they do not know to connect on LinkedIn (especially before they’ve even had a conversation — online or off — with them).

    Thanks for always sharing valuable information!

  5. This is a great reminder about the difference between invitations to connect and requests for conversations.

    Jason, I do have a question for you — you say you don’t like InMails and I’m curious why? Is it from the user standpoint (too expensive if you’re at the free member level…need to be used sparingly at the paid level…) or the recipient standpoint?

    I caution my clients about sending “cold” emails — unless you can say something like “At the suggestion of Joe Blow” in the subject line, they tend to be ignored or lost in the pile. I think LI messaging gets a better response, yes? And you can send messages (not “wasting” InMails) to fellow Group members, yes?

  6. Jason Alba says:

    Christine, thanks for the questions…

    I don’t like InMails for a few reasons, one is because you have to upgrade, which doesn’t give you enough value for the price (for most people, especially job seekers).

    The other is because your InMail might end up in the recipients spam box. Go look at your own junk/spam box and see how many messages from LinkedIn there are. Not LinkedIn’s fault, but it’s how it is.

    Another is that I’ve never really bought into LinkedIn’s marketing pitches about InMails being more effective than emails. When LI comped me a year premium I sent InMails and didn’t feel like they were effective at all (little response).

    I think if you write an email effectively (like you suggest, with that smart subject line) you can get as good or better response. I have a video series on writing better emails here: http://www.jibberjobber.com/videos.php#22

    And finally, yes, you can send fellow group members messages through LinkedIn (they don’t call it “InMail”), and that doesn’t impact any InMails you might have. This is a great feature, but LinkedIn has taken steps to “hide” this feature from users over the last couple of years. It’s still there, if you dig :)

  7. Jason,
    I think these tips are right on target. I’d like to add one thing NOT to do…because someone recently did it to me.

    We have a loose connections through several common connections so I accepted the invitation. That was promptly followed by a request for a meeting to “discuss a business opportunity” that would help me. I’m not interested in MLM solicitations so I replied that I would need some additional details about the agenda for this call before scheduling it and if it was a solicitation, I thought it inappropriate.

    Wow! That set off a flame-thrower response from this guy, which only confirmed for me that this was probably what I suspected. I took him out of my network immediately.

    It’s wise to think about giving before asking!

  8. Wayne Gillespie says:

    Marti,
    I’ve had a couple of those myself although the most recent was around Endorsements – a subject all on it’s own!
    Since I am in an employment transition, my goal is to meet with senior people, within my industry, on a face to face basis so that I can exchange industry ideas, gather information, obtain advice etc. and expand my network properly. As you know, my initial contact needs to be done as “warmly” as possible. Jason’s e-mail idea, outlining my reason for contacting people and with an appropriate heading, may be my best option.

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