Thursday, October 11, 2007

Technology Tools for Client Development, Part 1: LinkedIn

Finding Time
The most frequent complaint that I hear from professionals trying to improve their client development impact is that they don’t have enough time. They are so busy executing client work that they have no time to build new relationships or to rekindle old ones. Together, we search for ways they can gain leverage and the conversation almost always turns towards technology. Nothing will ever replace hand-to-hand, face-to-face relationship and trust building. And, many of the available technology tools that can help with client development are yet to be proven. Some client development technology can create as much stress as it relieves. Still, if you want to break free of your time-constraints and discover ways to market even while you sleep, you’ve got to at least explore technology as a source of marketing leverage.

Digital Connections
Consider, for instance, whether you can save time and gain leverage by networking online. The Internet is all about connections: each individual computer on the grid is connected to the others by a common language and agreement, in certain cases, to share data. Since the system’s inception, Internet users have sought to increase both the quantity and quality of their access to others on the network. Online business networking is the current incarnation of this quest. Services like LinkedIn, Ryze, Spoke and myriad others seek to make visible their members’ contact lists in order to facilitate business introductions online. These systems also inventory the skills and resources you have and those you want and try to match you with kindred spirits who have what you need and want what you’ve got.

LinkedIn’s Promise
To what degree have these services lived up to their promise? Stephen Fleming, an Atlanta-based technology investor and venture catalyst says, “They are not yet there…but it’s early yet.” Fleming prefers LinkedIn ( because it “allows you to control referrals effectively and it seems to have a good base of business users as opposed to twenty-somethings looking for a date. I've made some financial contacts that promise to be useful, and I've introduced a couple of people who are now doing business together. Nothing magic, but not bad.”

My experience has mirrored Stephen’s. I was invited to join several online networking systems and LinkedIn is the only one where I have witnessed any action. I have over 200 connections listed under my name but almost all of them are people I knew before joining LinkedIn. I can look into the networks of others and ask them for referrals but I haven’t found any that I wanted yet. A few people have asked for referrals from me to others I know in the system but the approach seemed somewhat random, flat and impersonal. Why not just do this connecting in the real world? But, maybe that’s why so many people are attracted to online networking - it feels “safer” to reach out to others you can’t see. It doesn’t seem quite so “real” so any potential rejection is likely to sting less. LinkedIn claims to facilitate over 1,000 referrals per month and 75% of all referrals get accepted by the intended recipient. So, maybe I have just been missing something.

Still trying to figure out the potential of these services, I checked in with my genius friend, Moses Ma. Moses runs a venture accelerator located in San Francisco that is focused on breakthrough innovations. He publishes a regular newsletter called “The Next Big Thing.” (check out and Moses says, “We’ve lived in social tribes for hundreds of thousands of years, and have evolved very sensitive and accurate human technologies and social rituals for developing friendships and alliances. The more faithfully these software systems can model complex and unarticulated human processes, the more likely they will be adopted and successful. These systems must understand the power of trust, the use of social capital and the ability to manage inter-personal political tensions.” Considering that 70% of interpersonal communication and trust building is nonverbal, that’s a tall order – and not likely to be filled any time soon.

I still wasn’t sure I understood how to use LinkedIn effectively. So, I decided to take a look at the contacts within my LinkedIn network and see who seemed to be a “power-user” of the system. Those who had more than 500 contacts must know more than me about online networking. So, I e-mailed them and asked for the LinkedIn secret recipe for online connecting success. Here’s a sample of what I got in reply:

“Well the 500 contacts I have really comes from letting LinkedIn comb through my Outlook address book a few weeks ago which did re-unite me with a number of old friends. I've used LinkedIn to do back door reference checks or gain introductions to VCs. I don't think I've really tapped it for its full potential though.” – CEO of a venture capital backed company.

“How do I use LinkedIn? Originally, I used it for networking (4 years ago). Then, for two job searches (incredible results). Then, to meet folks when we were moving to a new city (incredible results). For the last 1 ¼ years, LinkedIn has been my # 1 new business tool for my consulting firm.” Word of Mouth Marketing Consultant

“I have found that using LinkedIn in combination with Plaxo is a great way to stay connected and also keep all of your contact info up-to-date. I will also often look to my network to make connections for reconnecting with old colleagues/friends, checking references on potential candidates, getting introductions to people, etc. I have not been using LinkedIn for directly marketing my business by advertising or participating in the Q&A dialogues – so I can’t speak for how much that pays off in terms of driving business.” CEO, Strategic Consulting Firm

“LinkedIn is just a tool and like any other tool, it’s only as good as the person using it. My list, as you can see, is rather extensive and I keep it private. I reject most invitations, only accepting those from people I know and those that can provide a requisite business value. My business – both past and present – relies on a great deal of networking and accurate network list management is critical. LinkedIn solved the list accuracy problem while also allowing people to find me.” Chief Marketing Officer for a mid-size company

“On LinkedIn, I just uploaded my contacts once and spend less than 20 minutes month on responding to requests. Most of my contacts either reach out to me or want to connect to someone else in the network. We plan to use this extensively for recruiting going forward. So far it has been about relationship management and goodwill. Several folks have commented to me that it has been a great tool for finding employment.” Entrepreneur

“I am on our Global Services team but more importantly I am interested in the success of our Sales Reps. I will regularly review our Sales Reps active deals and determine the specific individuals they are working with at the prospective clients. Then, I’ll see if I know any of these individual executives. Then I’ll go into LinkedIn and see who else I know at these prospective clients (I usually only go to 2nd Degree … otherwise it’s too far away). I’ll see if my contacts know any of the individuals our Sales Reps are working with and gather as much intelligence as I can and pass it on to our Sales Reps and set up an intro if appropriate.” Engagement manager, global services for a leading CRM software company.
OK - so, good for those guys. As for me, I was still uncertain about LinkedIn's value. Maybe, I figured, if I paid extra money for some of LinkedIn’s special features I could unlock the system’s magic. Maybe then I could reach beyond my own network and connect to new folks who might bring friendship and riches. For a fee, LinkedIn’s InMail program promised connect me through private messages directly to LinkedIn users who are not in my immediate network. $10 per InMail sounded a little stiff to me. So, I looked at upgrading my account for between $19.95 per month and $200 per month. I started at the cheap end and go the right to request 15 introductions at a time (instead of 5 for free) and 3 InMails per month. Long story short: I gained no positive results from the extra features even though I used every element that I paid for. My InMails, for instance, yielded not even a word of reply. Not even a, “Hey bozo, don’t reach out to me anymore.” And, frankly, why should they…this approach may be worse than a cold call. After a few months I tried to cancel my premium subscription but I could find no way to quickly and directly contact LinkedIn to do so. I couldn’t find a way to cancel in the “accounts and settings” section. They only allow e-mail contact with customer support via their website and whoever was on the receiving end apparently didn’t care to respond to someone who wanted to stop paying. I finally tracked down the phone number for LInkedIn’s corporate office in Mountain View, pinpointed a live person and cancelled my premium subscription.

Lesson Learned
The best LinkedIn lesson I learned came last week. I have often been skeptical of forwarding on a LinkedIn request to connect with someone I don’t know well…when the ultimate connection is far removed from the requestor. Often, I just ignore the request and sometimes I’ll flat out deny it though this always feels lousy – I feel, at the same time, imposed upon and obstructive. I got one of these requests last Friday and decided to just forward it anyhow. The intermediary to whom I forwarded the request (for further forwarding) e-mailed me back, “Did you think about making an introduction to him for me first???” Ummm, no I didn’t but that’s a good idea. Why would she risk making a blind introduction just because I asked her to do so? Once she knew my contact, she would feel more comfortable connecting him to hers.

LinkedIn, it seems, is not so much a way to meet new people through impersonal online introductions as it is a system of organizing and reconnecting with those you know or knew.


Andrew Dietz said...

Here's another online article about LinkedIn for professional service firm marketing.

Anonymous said...

I actually think LinkedIn is a better tool than you think. How you approach people via LinkedIn (e-mail tone, verbage, intent) are all critical factors. Your profile also has to be completely filled out and really say a lot about you. Keep at it...