How to build a strong network on LinkedIn

By Anders Björklund

How to build a strong network on LinkedIn

It's tempting to make as many connections as possible when developing a strong network on LinkedIn. But it's often better to focus on the most valuable people who are likely to find your offering relevant.

What connections does a modern commercial user need?

Does a modern commercial user need a lead list and a phone? Or do modern users get all they need from their robust networks? As the business world evolves and becomes more and more complex, your business connections play an outsized role in your sales ability.

All your contacts are important, but your LinkedIn connections represent a valuable resource that you can tap for contacts, leads, knowledge, and insights.

Let's look at why you should prioritise building a strong network on LinkedIn from now on, whom you should have in it, and how you should connect and interact with them.

LinkedIn is your business network, not a target list

To help you understand what your LinkedIn network should look like, you must realise that your LinkedIn network is your business network.

Too many sales reps look at their connections on LinkedIn purely as sales targets, not as individuals with unique challenges and priorities. Then they wonder why sales and sales reps have gotten such a bad reputation!

Your LinkedIn network should be filled with existing and former business relations and customers. Yes, all these people can be potential customers - but only when handled correctly. 

Before reaching out, remember that all your connections on LinkedIn are sick of getting cold InMails from random sales reps. Whether it's seen as a pitch or just as spam, your connections have seen it, are sick of it, and are wary of it. I don't know anyone on LinkedIn to constantly get pitched to by unknown sales reps. So when approaching potential customers on LinkedIn, keep these three "don'ts" in mind.

  • Never try to sell to anyone immediately.
  • Don't automate messages asking for meetings or demos. 
  • Don't send things directly after someone accepts your invitation. 

It would be best to build relations and social capital first – trust is something you have to earn. 

What an ideal LinkedIn network looks like

In a sales role, you regularly interact with people, and one of your goals should always be to broaden your idea of who you can and should be invited to connect with you.

Building a network also means creating your process around connecting with people. For example, if you book a new meeting with someone, look at their profile, and after the meeting, you ask if they want to connect. You can also follow someone that seems interesting, and that follows you. If someone regularly engages with the content you post on LinkedIn, etc. Then you can ask to get connected and have a reason why.

The people you definitely should be connecting with to create long-term relationships that might bring business opportunities are:

Colleagues

One of the best ways to find exciting contacts is your colleague's connections and networks. For example, perhaps your prospect or customer and one of your colleagues worked together at a previous job or went to the same university. 

This is why TeamLink on Sales Navigator is so powerful. Make sure that you connect with your colleagues on LinkedIn.

Customers

The days of getting the deal and never talking to a client again are long gone. More and more companies finally realise that keeping existing customers satisfied is just as important as bringing in new business.

You can interact with your customers, follow their activities, ask them for recommendations, and get referrals. If you aren't connected yet, reach out to check in and see how they're doing and create a connection.

Target contacts 

If you're a B2B company, several people are likely involved in the buying process at your target companies. So be sure to connect with the users, decision-makers, and internal experts at your target accounts or companies.

Knowledge leaders

No matter what you offer, some opinionated people are out there sharing advice, best practices, guidance, trends, and insights related to your industry. If you strive to be on the leading edge of knowledge, these are the people to identify, follow, and connect with to get the content to share with your prospects.

Potential customers

Potential customers are an essential group easily forgotten when building a strong LinkedIn network. I'm often asked: "How should I connect with people I don't know but want to get to know?" I don't reach out and connect with them directly, no matter how interesting it would be to connect. Instead, I follow them to get to know them and see what happens over time.

Traditional LinkedIn sales trainers don't admit that there's not just one way to invite people into your LinkedIn network. But in my opinion, your approach should depend on some variables: 

  • What industry you're in,
  • How active and influential you are,
  • What type of prospect you work with,
  • The complexity of your sales cycle,
  • and more.

There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to sending invites, whether to a friend, prospect, customer, knowledge leader or colleague. But there are best practices, and if you keep in mind that you are reaching out to another person, it gets pretty uncomplicated.

Do you always need to customise your invites? Not if they know you and why you are reaching out. People you know don't require a personalised invite like colleagues or clients. 

If they don't know you or why you are reaching out, you shall always add a note. For example, prospects do need a reminder unless you've already spoken to them. 

You can get a decent acceptance rate without personalising your invites, but if they accept your connection request and don't know you, you can't think of that as a warm connection. You haven't built any social capital or engagement with them.

Personalising your connection requests

When crafting one of these notes, just saying, "I found you on LinkedIn" isn't enough.

If you reach out to someone you don't know, whether a prospect, a partner, or just someone whom you'd like to know better, here's a three-sentence template you can use:

  • Why you are reaching out,
  • Why they should want to accept,
  • Invite them to have a conversation on their terms.

The key here is to be genuine, "We have some shared connections" isn't going to cut it. 

Even if they are a prospect you don't know much about, a generic invite will show that you view them as another target. So, research to find out why a connection makes sense from their point of view.

Build your network – and see the benefits

Modern networking is to build connections and relationships before you need them. Then, you can position them as a resource before they ever need to buy.

If you reach out to someone when you want to get a sales meeting or an introduction to a hiring manager, you'll struggle. 

But, if you reach out to new contacts and find ways to create relevant value, you'll make it easier to get the attention and support of those contacts.

This doesn't replace your existing outreach efforts, but it adds to them. It becomes a powerful complement to the other channels you are currently using to engage with your prospects, clients, and partners.

However, you'll have set yourself up for that success now and in the future. 

If you are looking for more knowledge about social media for business, take a look at our detailed guide - and make sure to download our presentation about how to develop an effective social media plan for your company.

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Anders Björklund
Founder, CEO & Strategist since 2001. Anders provides thoughts and reflections about what and how to think about onlinification and digitalisation in B2B. Asks a lot of questions, and knows what to do with the answers.
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