How to Use LinkedIn to Build High-Value Relationships

Sales Development

“A bigger following means more sales.” It’s a common idea in sales, but it’s a big mistake on LinkedIn.

I’ve grown my LinkedIn following by 185% in the last 2 years (from about 7,000 people to 13,064 as of the writing of this article).

But by itself, that’s just a vanity metric.

Having a large audience is nice, but it shouldn’t be your true goal. Making meaningful connections with the right people is what you should be aiming for.

I’m going to show you how to use LinkedIn to build high-value relationships that will drive sales and lead to more high-value connections.

Social Selling vs Relationship Building

Many think that because there are buyers and potential clients on LinkedIn, it’s is a place to “sell” (social selling, right?). After all, 84% of C-level and VP-level buyers use social media for purchasing.

But it’s not — it’s a place to build and maintain relationships. In fact, that’s why LinkedIn was created.

If you want to sell to your market successfully on LinkedIn, you have to build a credible relationship first.

Since most buyers are there looking for help, that’s where you start.

Simply put, your goal on LinkedIn should be to be known as the most valuable person in the room, the one your buyers can turn to with their questions. For that, be helpful.

You’re trying to build a brand and build relationships

I’ve used this approach in my own LinkedIn strategy, and it’s led to clients and prospects seeking me out.

 

This approach will help you hit your numbers quarter after quarter, and with a network full of powerful people who see you as an expert, it will also set you up for a long and prosperous career.

Now the big question is how do you do it? How do you use LinkedIn for real results?

The Do’s and Don’ts of LinkedIn

Don’t use automation.

LinkedIn exists to connect real people and build real relationships. Unfortunately, as with many things on the internet, people have figured out how to automate likes, messages, comments, and connections.

There are even pieces of tech that will auto-endorse people… how nuts is that?!

Using automation to build “relationships” automatically leads to weak, surface-level connections that don’t really bring you much benefit.

Authentic, relevant comments can’t be automated, and when you try, it’s easy to spot.

When people realize that their connections and conversations with you are automated, they stop paying attention. They stop interacting. You risk poisoning that relationship forever.

Plus, LinkedIn doesn’t like it. If you’re not careful, you could end up in “LinkedIn Jail” (suspended from the platform temporarily or permanently).

The risk of automation simply isn’t worth it on LinkedIn, and the benefits are very short-lived.

Do personalize every connection.

Most salespeople are trying to connect with prospects with something like this:

 

Buyers can tell that this is an automated or templated message from a mile away. That’s why personalization is the secret to breaking through,

Here’s how I personalize my LinkedIn connection requests and get a response almost every time:

Have a compelling reason to connect. If you’re not connecting over something they care about, what’s the point? Your prospects are busy. If you don’t have a good reason to reach out, don’t. Wait until you have a reason they’ll care about.

Nail the timing. Keep tabs on what’s happening in their world, and make sure you’re reaching out when they’ll be most receptive. I do this with Nudge.ai.

Individualize your message. The person receiving this connection request should always feel like you’re speaking to them and them alone. Otherwise they’ll be quick to write it off as an automated message.

You can learn more about my approach here.

This approach signals to them that they’re not just another face on your hitlist. It tells them that you actually care about them and their unique problems, and that you might be someone who can help them solve those problems.

Don’t copy other people.

If something captures your attention/interest or speaks to your soul, it’s tempting to want to copy and paste to piggyback on that success.

Don’t do this. Someone will notice, even if they don’t say something. Even if you changed a few words around. If you’re just copying content, people will notice.

It might get attention, but it does nothing to build trust or credibility in the eyes of your prospects.

Instead, use it as fuel to inspire your own spin on the same topic.

Use your unique perspective and experiences to make it your own. Your voice and perspective is your advantage. It’s what helps prospects remember you among a sea of salespeople doing the same thing.

Do speak from real experiences.

There are far too many people who are obviously “faking it till they make it” on LinkedIn. Don’t be one of them. If you can establish yourself as a credible, authentic person with a real point of view, you’ll stand out very quickly.

You do that in two ways.

First, ensure that each of your posts, comments, and shares is founded on what you’ve actually seen, experienced, and accomplished.

Second, be vulnerable.

“Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.” – Brené Brown

You have to be vulnerable, and have good emotional intelligence to really connect with people. Share your struggles and successes with your network — chances are, many of them are going through similar things, and they’ll be attracted by your authenticity.

Even just a little bit of authenticity goes a very long way. If the thought of putting yourself out there scares you like it did me at first, just take small steps.

If you see a post you connect with, leave a comment and share why. You could also post about it yourself, and then share it with your network.

Remember, no one has all the answers. Don’t be afraid to be wrong. And above all else, treat it like a discussion and thoughtfully engage!

Don’t connect and pitch… ever!

Buyers (and especially enterprise buyers) are on LinkedIn for help with their problem, not just to spend their money.

But when you connect and immediately follow that up with a sales pitch, it sends the message that you only care about them for their wallet.

In fact, when this happens to me (almost daily at this point), my first thought is usually:

“Another person who doesn’t care about me, just themselves… buh-bye!”

And then I disconnect from them.

This gives you a reputation as someone who is self-serving and not valuable to know. That’s the opposite of what you want.

Do be helpful.

LinkedIn has no shortage of people who are out for their own interests. One of the best ways to stand out is to establish yourself as the opposite.

People like people who are helpful. Simple as that.

Make sure that everything you post, comment on, and share comes from a desire to help your network (the prospects) achieve their goals and solve their problems. Your focus shouldn’t be on promoting yourself (or your product), at least not directly.

Justin Welsh is great at this. Look at what he has to say:

 

It’s a simple mindset shift, but it’s a much better way to get on your buyer’s radar rather than self-promoting.

Don’t self-promote without adding value.

Celebrating your wins is ok, but make sure your feed doesn’t become all about you.

People follow you on LinkedIn because you provide some benefit to them or have something of value to add to their work/lives, not just to hear a list of your achievements.

Even when you do share about your success or promote something, try to make sure you include some value for your followers, like this:

Do give more than you ask for.

A quick way to burn a bridge is to always be asking for things from your connections. You can’t build a relationship that way, and you definitely can’t maintain one if you’re treating them like your personal genie.

You need to give more than you get. Look for ways to help them. Invest in the relationship.

Like this video says, “Think of your relationships and connections like a bank account. If you’ve never made a deposit, how could you ever ask for a withdrawal.”

Some of my favorite ways to make “deposits” on LinkedIn are by:

  • Sharing their content with my network to give them increased visibility
  • Connecting them with a person they would benefit from knowing
  • Sharing a piece of content they would find helpful and useful (whether it’s mine or not)

However, I’ve also done things as creative as sending an airplane repair guide to a CRO who was a pilot and had just bought a plane. It got my foot in the door after 6 months of knocking.

Get creative, and always be on the lookout for opportunities!

Be as helpful as possible. The more valuable the “deposit,” the more you can “withdraw” later.

Don’t comment just to comment.

LinkedIn “experts” will often tell you to just drop a quick “awesome” in the comments of someone’s post for the exposure and engagement.

But this can actually work against you. It sends the signal that you:

  • Didn’t actually read the post
  • Don’t have anything important to say
  • Don’t really care

It makes you look kind of mindless and has the opposite effect of what you want.

My rule on LinkedIn is this: If you’re not going to contribute to the discussion with a deeper thought like the one below, then you’re better off simply liking a post and moving along.

 

Comments like this make you look authentic, interested, and intelligent. That’s what you want.

Do prioritize thoughtfulness.

It doesn’t matter what tool, tactic, or approach you’re using, it doesn’t matter whether you’re creating a post, commenting on an article, or sending an InMail, it’s not going to hit home unless it’s fueled by thoughtfulness.

Thoughtfulness is how you cut through the BS, and come across as a breath of fresh air to your prospects.

The best news?

The recipe for it is simple. Do your homework, and look for ways to connect the dots. Be helpful.

The bad news?

It takes work. Here’s how I do it:

What are they talking about/publishing online? Check LinkedIn, Twitter, their company blog, industry blogs, and where they’ve been mentioned/tagged.

What kind of stories are their online reviews telling? Check things like G2Crowd, Capterra, etc., to see what kinds of things their customers are saying about them.

Do they have investors? This will give you a clue about where they’re growing and what their plans are for the future. Stay on top of their exit and investment strategy with tools like Pitchbook, LinkedIn, and more.

What’s going on with their industry, marketplace, and competition? Industry blogs and news channels are great places to learn more about what’s on their mind.

What business challenges are they facing? Tools like Owler, Crunchbase, and the like, make it easy to see who the players are in their industry. Take that and dig in further to identify the goals they all have in common, or how they want to stand out.

Some Extra Tips

Respond to every message.

Social networks exist for social interaction. This is the business we’re in as salespeople. What’s the point of being connected if you’re not going to actually interact?

This ties back to that mindset of more connections means more sales, which I mentioned above. Having a bunch of fluff connections may boost your ego, but unless you’re interacting with them, then it’s just that — fluff.

It’s a lot of work to keep up with everyone when you’re busy. That’s why it’s best to limit your network to just the people who really matter!

Most importantly, you always want to be remembered as someone who is helpful and genuine.

Be consistent.

Winning on LinkedIn isn’t about hacking your way there. It’s about doing the right work day-in and day-out with the right people.

 

Doing the 6 previous things day-in and day-out is the single most important part of my success on LinkedIn in the last 2 years.

Remember, you’re building a brand. That takes time and commitment!

Final thoughts

This approach to LinkedIn takes time. It’s a long-term plan that has some short-term benefits, but it requires consistent work.

At the end of the day, this is about being human and celebrating the Golden Rule:

Do unto others what you would have them do to you.

Your focus should always be on bringing value and making a real connection.

Relationships are hard, and they take time to develop, but you will find that if you make the prospect’s success the priority, then your success will follow.

Amy Volas has been a sales fanatic, recruiter, and entrepreneur for 20 years, working both for and with household brands like ZipRecruiter, Indeed, Yahoo! and Jacobson. Currently the Head of Avenue Talent Partners, she spends her working hours growing startups through one of her clients’ most valuable assets—salespeople. When she’s not working, she’s spending time with her cat, dog, and husband—in that order (jokes).