By Jeff Molander,  Communication Coach, Speaker & Founder at Communications Edge Inc.
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Reaching out on LinkedIn to earn a sales meeting, job interview or any professional outcome is common. And that's the problem. Here's the rub: Since everyone has the same goal, we tend to use the same outreach templates -- sourced from blog posts or LinkedIn itself.

Result: We blend in with the spammy noise.

Earning meetings used to be as simple as explaining your value. Trouble is, being direct and clear about what you offer isn't engaging decision-makers like it used to.

Instead, we're learning how effective outreach provokes curiosity by implying value. And using a first message to provoke a, “can you tell me more?” from a buyer earns more engagement.

Avoiding sharing value. Instead, hinting at it. Teasing it.

After researching, I'm noticing how top performing sellers are changing their goal. Literally. Instead of trying to book meetings they're seeking conversations. They're avoiding educating, informing, selling themselves -- or any form of persuasion.

Instead, they're sparking curiosity, creating intrigue.

And instead of calling on as many leads as possible they're only calling on high probability suspects.

The game has changed.

The trouble with connection requests

Here is what I’ve learned from our customers. Avoid asking for LinkedIn connections. And certainly don't ask for appointments or meetings.

Instead, use an email message to spark curiosity. Provoke. Just enough to earn a short email discussion.

Then, structure conversation (via email) to create an another urge in the prospect... to ask you for the appointment. 

Then connect. Because connections are more useful at nurturing existing conversations.

Sound crazy? I'll explain.

Connection requests are not effective as a 'first touch' outreach strategy lately. Plus, they're risky. 

If your connection requests are not accepted by prospects often enough LinkedIn will remove your ability to make requests. This is just one of a long, growing list of reasons to not make your first attempt using a connection request.

Here's another: Once connected 97% of sellers I work with aren't getting response ... post-connection.

There are reasons why customers aren't replying.

Decision-makers are accepting fewer connections—because they are immediately spammed after accepting requests.

They've been trained (via their experience on LinkedIn) to expect spam. 

LinkedIn's interface encourages the active ignoring of personalized messages. Often sending false positives to sellers. Result: "They accept and then ignore me. Why would they do that?!" (because they never truly accepted based on your message)

Other than InMail, it is best to initiate contact off of LinkedIn first—then connect on LinkedIn to nurture the conversation forward.

This takes full advantage of what connections give you. It also avoids risk of being punished by LinkedIn.

The challenge with outreach messages

It seems nonsensical. Or even contradictory. But it's true. When courting another person being direct about what you want doesn't create curiosity in you. It's too self-centered. It doesn't pull them closer.

Being clear about what you want tends to push away potential customers. Thus, beware of using:

  • a subject line or message framework telling the reader "what's in it for them;"
  • a call-to-action in the message (telling the reader what to do).

Because guess what everyone else is doing on LinkedIn? That's right. Exactly the same thing. Customers are conditioned to be on the lookout for this kind of message pattern.

Instead, the best LinkedIn InMail or direct messages create nominal confusion... a lack of clarity. This creates tension, intrigue. Curiosity. That provokes response.

Think about it like an itch. You want to take the customer's itch and scratch it -- but just a little. Over-scratch it and they won't ask for more scratching. Under-scratch and they will ask for it.

"Ever noticed how Lone Wolves who act like douche bags, tend to score a ton of big sales? I knew one nicknamed the Honey Badger that would just send contracts, no proposals - nothing. Incredibly, it worked!" says sales expert, Tony Hughes.

During courtship, "You can't be a golden retriever running at a frisbee," says Tony. You cannot look overly enthusiastic without looking like you need the other person too much.

For most, reaching out on LinkedIn translates to begging for meetings -- or attempts to persuade the other person to do what YOU want them to do.

But there is another option. 

LinkedIn outreach is courtship

The more interest you show in others the more repulsed they become. Just like when pursuing a life mate. The more you show active interest -- the less interesting you become. You push them away. Yet there are ways to facilitate conversations in a neutral, less selfish and more attractive manner.

You'll pull rather than push. 

Will you agree? It's not possible to persuade others -- by persuading them. Sounds obvious. Yet that's what many do. Daily. Unknowingly.

We try to persuade people to meet -- knowing they have an active disinterest. We call it persistence, diligence. Grit.

Pitch slapping

"The big push on 'social' selling has turned a lot of SDR teams into 'send a LinkedIn invite then try to sell them 5 minutes after they accept.'"

Mike Andersen

Senior Sales Dir, Remind

how to reach out on linkedin in 2023

But when does positive attitude cross the line -- into making you look desperate? At what point are you a LinkedIn stalker?

Bottom line: The act of reaching out, from cold, already places you beneath the other person -- in the their eyes. So it's your job to avoid amplifying that lower status.

Avoid anything sounding or feeling like persuasion.

"You must radiate confidence that you don't NEED the business. You must educate in a detached fashion before you persuade," says Tony Hughes, who coined "The Law of Principled Disinterest."

He says the best salespeople are not desperate but genuinely curious.

That's why we see so much fake curiosity in cold emails. The words, "just curious..." and "I love what you're doing..." have become spam triggers!

Tony says to be like a masterful lover -- until the customer is warmed up. Early on, he says to "entice, wait, entice again, tease and wait… until the other person is screaming for it!

Communications expert, Doc Kane says, "Somewhere, someone, taught us we need to sound 'professional' when we write... that we need to adopt a persona that's different than who we are. The complete opposite is true.

Sales is courtship. And courtship is attraction. Attraction requires confidence.

Doc says, "Imagine how difficult it is to gain the interest of someone we are truly matched with if by adopting the words of another... From moment one, we're someone else. We're lying."

The answer? With training and constant iteration that produces small wins (not just self-editing) Doc says confidence soars.

It's like dating

Ever go on a date where the other person started posturing? You detected it instantly. 

Remember back in time. Your date showed you—he/she was attracted to you. But you weren’t sure. Yet. Then, suddenly, you were.

This person was not a match.

Maybe because they started caring about earning your attraction—too much. They were trying too hard.

Meeting a customer for the first time is the same. Subconsciously signaling “I want you to respect me” is the kiss of death in business.

The moment you start caring too much you risk being seen as desperate or needy by prospects.

It’s the same with your cold email outreach, reaching out on LinkedIn, making connection requests, sending InMails and leaving voicemails.

The best connection request is no request. The best meeting request is no request. Give it time. Create an urge for the prospect to want it... for their own selfish reason.

Sales is courtship. Nothing screams “I’m trying to persuade” you louder than trying to establish credibility. Posturing to impress.

The problem with persuasion

A stranger tells you what to do. Do you do it -- or do you resist? We usually resist -- even when we know the person making the command. 

Because when I tell you "do this" I assume your ignorance. In making a call-to-action (CTA) I assume you need direction. That's why people resist. We hate those who try to persuade us. We resist.

"Using a call-to-action is moronic in this day and age -- because we have done nothing to earn the right to ask the other side to act," says Vincent Messina, CPA.

Vincent says piquing curiosity is, "An easy ask requiring nearly ZERO commitment from the target."

The other person only has to feel a little curious... want to learn more. When they become curious, they naturally ask for more contact.

Speaking becomes their idea. 

Yet so many continue to use calls to action in sales outreach. Because that's all they know. More people need to discover the power of curiosity.

For those who are open to experimenting they're eager to throw CTAs out. But it ain't easy. We like to tell ourselves it is. But change is difficult. Worse, we often THINK we're changing when we're not fully making the effort. Or we are making the effort -- but we cannot see our own blind spots.

This is why I can share examples of "what works" with you, you can copy it and FAIL. Context matters.

Plus, having another person review your work (in context) can make or break your effort. Sometimes a 100% complete revision of how you're communicating is needed.

So I challenge you: Create better LinkedIn outreach habits. Push yourself. Get the communication skills needed. Then make them unconscious. When good, working tactics eventually fail, confidently pivot. Fall back on what we know to be true about humans. "Behavioral laws." Then, invent a new way.

The game has changed to curiosity

Buyers are defensive. They see offering help, adding value, building rapport etc. as a sales gimmick. Result: Sellers aren't trusted, marketing leads are worthless.

It's not your email template, nor your phone script. It's you. It's how you think about communicating.

Persuasive strategies are killing sales outreach and brands.

The game has changed to provoking curiosity.

Empowering people to convince themselves is the future.

Because customers are experiencing “I’m here to help” as "I'm here to sell." This repeated pattern creates distrust.

Don't see it? It's ok. They do! It's your blind spot.

The problem is persuasion.

It's what causes potential customers to run the other way -- even when they do need help.

New rule: Never try to persuade anyone of anything. Today's customers prefer to convince themselves. So... the key to engaging them is facilitating an urge -- to begin that process.

It starts with getting them curious. Pulling, creating intrigue.

Customers instinctually value more what they ask for -- less what is freely offered.

Offering help, your freebie, ebook... whatever it is you're giving away. Your desire to "build a relationship first." It's all seen as bullshit.

It's persuasion. Persuasion is a push. Curiosity pulls, attracts.

Instead, let the other side convince themselves to go forward. Customers prefer to convince themselves to act. Especially on LinkedIn where EVERYONE is pushing.

Sparking curiosity engages. Curiosity pulls, persuasion pushes.

It's time to think differently about how you're communicating. You may not see it. But the message behind your message is clear.

About the Author

In 1999, I co-founded what became the Google Affiliate Network and Performics Inc. where I helped secure 2 rounds of funding and built the sales team. I've been selling for over 2 decades.

After this stint, I returned to what was then Molander & Associates Inc. In recent years we re-branded to Communications Edge Inc., a member-driven laboratory of sorts. We study, invent and test better ways to communicate -- specializing in serving sales and marketing professionals.

I'm a coach and creator of the Spark Selling™ communication methodology—a curiosity-driven way to start and advance conversations. When I'm not working you'll find me hiking, fishing, gardening and investing time in my family.

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