This article originally appeared on SMPS Boston’s website.
by Ken Lambert
A trend that has been building for a few years seems to be accelerating due to the COVID-19 disruption in the economy over the past few months. You may or may not be directly aware of it, but I am speaking of “automated” business development efforts on LinkedIn (but not from LinkedIn the company). As face-to-face business meetings and prospecting has dwindled to essentially nothing for months- the truth is that marketing and business development cannot take the summer off.
There are dozens of tech companies out there now (I was just solicited by one a few weeks ago) who are essentially providing a download/plug-in service where they are providing one or more of the following services:
Sending invitations to connect with people (typically 2nd-level connections)
Following 2nd and 3rd-level connections
Sending canned/boilerplate Private Messages (PMs) to said new 1st connections
Forwarding any incoming PM’s from new connections to your email directly and/or notifications of such (these they would likely call “warm leads”)
Endorsing your 1st connections for 1-3 skills that they list on their Profile
Costs for these services vary, with it starting at roughly $40 per month. (Some are $80- $100 per month.) However, additional costs are highly recommended in order to maximize this 3rd party software. Most companies will suggest that you will need to subscribe to one of the LinkedIn Premium memberships. These Premium tiers are approximately $65 per month- if you pay for it all upfront.
So as you see, it can all add up- especially if YOU are paying for it personally and your company is not reimbursing for it.
With most of these companies, you are able to select parameters of the people that you want to connect with or message. Therefore if all you want to connect with are “engineers” from the NYC Metro Area, you can do that- and not bother with social workers from Nebraska, etc.
Does it actually work?
From personal experience from about four years ago, I would say that it does work and it certainly speeds up the expansion of your professional network- at least on LinkedIn. I was a customer of one of these service providers for about a year while I was a national sales engineer. If at least 25% of your role involves prospecting, especially if you have less than 1,000 LinkedIn connections, you might want to consider this option.
Aside from the costs, what are the downsides?
One of the largest downsides is that LinkedIn does not endorse these plug-ins and is not an advocate of automating what they promote as one on one direct networking. Because of this, LinkedIn has several restrictions built into its site that will restrict and potentially halt all of your activity on their platform. Supposedly it is possible that your account and profile could be deleted and outright banned from LinkedIn.
The other significant negative that I found is that I (my automated helper really) was endorsing tons of people for various skills- but these virtual endorsements of course had zero sincerity. Personally I had never really been to their profile, I had no clue who they were, and I did not get to check or vet their published skills.
More than a few times I would get a PM back from someone like this:
“Hello. Do I know you? I appreciate the endorsement for “HTML formatting”, but did we ever work on a project together?”
That could get a bit awkward, but in the end, most people are just glad to get a public endorsement. If nothing else it helped encourage a little small talk.
Working Smarter, Not Harder
These LinkedIn plug-ins are not the end-all, be-all. But they are an option and can prove very effective in growing your network and also increasing 1v1 conversations. Generally, those are good things for anyone in marketing or business development. In the end, it is all about improving your productivity and efficiency. Whether or not you are getting reimbursed for these added fees, it is all about Return On Investment. Does it make sense to pay yourself $50 per hour (or whatever your rate might be), or pay an outside software company what amounts to $1- $2 per hour?
Ken Lambert is a director of industry development and technical services at the International Masonry Institute.