Tell me if this sounds familiar. Maybe you’ve been hearing about networking for a while, and you feel like you should probably do it…but for whatever reason, you never seem to get into it. Why is this?
You’re probably left wondering what to do.
On the other hand, maybe you’ve tried networking before, and you feel like you’ve got at least average social skills…but for whatever reason, your connections never seem to take the relationship deeper. Why is this?
Did you make a mistake? Are they ignoring your messages or are they “busy?” Do they really even like you that much? Networking can be confusing as hell sometimes, believe me, I know.
Well, there are actually a lot of reasons why networking might not be working out for you right now. Some of those reasons you might not like to hear, but I’m going to give you the real deal here — the truth may hurt, but it will set you free.
Then, after I explain why networking might not be working for you, I’ll explain what you should do about it. So, if you want to eliminate your fear and pick up networking — or fix your current networking challenges so you can create deep, lasting relationships — keep reading.
Why Your Networking Has Been Producing Zero Results (So Far)
If you get anxious even thinking about networking, you’re not alone. Many people do.
There are mindsets that can help you feel more comfortable, confident, and competent in the process.
Beyond the mindsets and looking toward the actual networking process itself, there are a few basic rules and principles to specialize if you want to get the best results possible.
But, to avoid jumping around and losing focus here, let’s talk about some specific areas for improvement you might benefit from when you’re networking on LinkedIn.
Your Biggest LinkedIn Networking Obstacles
There is a limitless list of ways to make mistakes in networking because it’s a social art. And, as with any art, whether or not something is considered a “mistake” is up to the interpreter. Especially in cases of intercultural exchanges, one person may view a social decision as improper or inappropriate while another views it as good and well.
Unluckily, it also doesn’t help that social skills and relationship-building aren’t exactly taught in school. But, that’s what I’m here for. And, below you’ll find the two main reasons most people’s networking efforts fail:
- They rely on non-strategic networking
- They ignore the rules of the social exchange
Both are important to cover here, so let’s start with the first one.
Do you have a sound, proven strategy you can rely on when you want or need to network?
Unfortunately, most people’s answer to this question is “no.” And, that’s a problem because it leads to what’s called “serendipitous networking” (Goldberg, 2013) or we can simply call it non-strategic networking (Littell, 2017).
Let’s quickly go over the two definitions for non-strategic networking as defined by two different networking experts:
Non-Strategic Networking: “You aren’t sure what you both have in common or how you might be able to help each other, but you just believe that you’re both interesting people and givers who would really enjoy meeting.” — Bob Littell
Serendipitous Networking: “You didn’t mean to meet someone, but you did. And, now, there’s a connection.” — Michael Goldberg
Without a working strategy, you’re basically doing either of the above. Of course, there might be exceptions where you implement some networking tips you heard from a few reputable sites along the way. But, generally speaking, if you don’t have a deal flow funnel you’re flowing your contacts through, your networking efforts lack strategy. And, that’s going to cause the majority of your problems throughout your networking experience.
So, what is a deal flow funnel? It’s simply a series of phases your contact moves through until they finally reach the final phase (the final point of the funnel) where they become a genuine connection.
It’s easier to show than to explain, so you’ll see how this deal flow funnel concept works when we go over the main LinkedIn networking strategy that works in 2022.
The Social Exchange
Before we get into funnels though, let’s go over what the social exchange theory is because without it, you won’t make a single solid relationship:
The Social Exchange Theory: “A framework model that looks at social relationships as exchanges among individuals who seek to maximize their selfish interests.”
As explained by sociologist, Lucio Buffalmano, “The social exchange theory starts from the (proven) premise that people prefer relationships that add value to their lives, advance their interests, and generally make them better off.”
In other words, people generally want to build relationships with people who add value to their lives. And, you can know what adds value to them — and give them that value — by understanding “what’s in it for them” (WIIFT).
So, the more value you give them, the higher your chances of getting what you want from them in return and building a collaborative, win-win relationship of equal give and take. And, conversely, if you position yourself as someone who doesn’t add value to their lives, you could come across as a taker and lose opportunities for connection.
The main idea to keep in mind here for following the rules of the social exchange is the “what’s in it for them” rule (the WIIFT rule).
You’ll see explanations later on how to implement this rule to put yourself head and shoulders above your competition in 2022.
Comprehensive Guide to LinkedIn Networking for Your Business In 2022
And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for, we’ll finally get into what you can do to overcome your LinkedIn networking obstacles. And, you’ll learn how to do this step-by-step with the strategy I used to generate over 185 new connections (all of whom were exactly my target market) in only two and a half weeks using LinkedIn.
Step #1: Identify Your Perfect Future Contact
Start by identifying your perfect future contact (PFC).
You can do that by following this process:
- Make a list of everyone who could use your product or service (aim for at least 15 potential audiences)
- Now, ask yourself, out of this list, who would you prefer to serve? Which ones bring you the most joy to serve? Put a checkmark next to those.
- Then, ask yourself, out of this list, who would be the most profitable to serve? Which ones would pay the most? Put a checkmark next to those.
- And, finally, ask yourself, out of this list, who would benefit the most from your offer? Which ones could you get the best results the fastest? Put a checkmark next to those.
- Now, look at your list and circle the potential audiences with the most checkmarks.
- Search for how much opportunity there is for that potential audience on LinkedIn.
That last step might sound a bit confusing. But, let’s take, for example, a social skills product or service. And, let’s say that you think CEOs would be the best for your social skills program because you know that, with more leadership development, they’ll experience more exponential growth in their businesses. Plus, you love helping and conversating with CEOs.
So, you go to your search bar in LinkedIn, type in “CEO,” and hit “Enter.” Then, when you get your results, you hit the “People” button to narrow down your search to people.
At the time of this article’s writing, this is what you’d get:
7.8 million results. That’s 7.8 million people.
That’s how much opportunity there is for that potential audience (and that’s not including any of the CEOs out there who don’t use LinkedIn).
Even 1% of that market could have you smiling all the way to the bank. That’s how you know the opportunity there is good. And, you can do the same for whatever potential audience you settle on after going through the six-step process above.
Step #2: Specify Your PFC For Searches
Next, you want to optimize your PFC so they’re easier to find on LinkedIn when you’re ready to start reaching out to them. And, you can do that by getting specific with what exactly your PFC looks like.
So, to get more specific on your PFC, write down their:
- Company size
The result will make up your specific PFC.
Step #3: Search For Your Specific PFC
Now, you can really search for your PFCs.
Continuing from the social skills and CEO example above, go to your search again and then click “All filters.”
Then, start inputting your PFC’s specific information, starting with their location.
LinkedIn Sales Navigator can allow you to run a more advanced search. You can use their added features to make sure you only get contacts who’ve been active on LinkedIn for the past 50 days (very good information to have to make sure you’re not wasting your time reaching out to someone who won’t respond over that medium).
Also keep in mind that LinkedIn may update their platform to give more search features, options, and benefits to paying customers. So, if you don’t notice a certain filter option, LinkedIn may be experimenting with whether or not to provide it for free, for LinkedIn Premium users, or for LinkedIn Sales Navigator users.
Step #4: Craft Your Deal Flow Funnel
This is what the deal flow funnel that works in 2022 looks like:
The following are some reasons why this deal flow funnel works and how many businesspeople mess it up.
Don’t Be Lazy
Unfortunately, many people give a lazy effort to the funnel.
For example, they’ll send a connection request without adding a connection request message. And, expect their profile headline to be enough to get a connection.
Here’s an example:
Since they didn’t write anything, LinkedIn included its standard, default message, “Hi Ali, I’d like to join your LinkedIn network.”
And, they used their profile headline to outline the “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM). It’s implied I’d be getting help saving money (and maybe some physical therapy on the side).
With this approach, they might be thinking, “When people see what I offer in my headline, they can decide to connect if they’re interested. And, by not writing a connection message, I can use my headline to filter out the people who are uninterested in my offer.”
But, do you know what most people end up seeing instead? A salesman. Most people don’t want to accept a connection request from someone they feel might put them in a sales call to be “persuaded” on why they should part with their hard-earned money.
So, I see no incentives from connecting with this person. And, any incentives I might actually get from getting on the phone with this person are still overshadowed by everything I could potentially lose (time, energy, and possibly money).
A connection request message could’ve helped them come across as looking for a real relationship (and, as a result, less of a salesman), but they left it out. Don’t make the same mistake.
Don’t Be Impatient
Another common mistake is when people try to skip the funnel.
They try to sell people that they don’t know their offer right away — they plug their offer into the connection request instead of building a real relationship first.
Another example of a connection request I got recently:
Reading this, it feels like they’re trying to put me into a sales funnel.
And, it’s not unlikely. One strategy of salesmen is to use LinkedIn to get people to take a look at their video. And, that video might have a link in the description to book a “brainstorm session.”
Now, that’s not necessarily a bad idea if the video is valuable and the brainstorm session is a win-win. But, in this case, I’m being given an order by a complete stranger to do what he wants without knowing if I’ll get anything out of it (that tool could be useless and so could the video).
So, the moral of these stories, when you’re crafting your deal flow funnel, craft messages with attentiveness and intention. Make sure your messages are specific to the people you’re looking to connect with. And, above all, make sure your target contact knows they’ll be getting something out of connecting with you whenever possible.
Step #5: Utilize Your Deal Flow Funnel
Time to put your deal flow funnel (DFF) to good use.
Make sure to take note of the reasons behind why these connection messages work. They’ll be key to helping you craft powerfully effective messages of your own to use when networking on LinkedIn.
Here’s the exact connection request message I used to get over 200 connections in under two weeks:
Why does this work?
- It positions me as only a fellow member on LinkedIn, not a salesman (I don’t mention anything about a business, service, product, or offer of mine).
- It avoids a “me, me, me” fest or “I, I, I syndrome” (by starting with “you”)
- It provides positive context behind the reach-out (their name coming up in my feed)
- It triggers common ground (“we have a few mutual connections”)
- It gives multiple clear WIIFT incentives (offering to help them build their network by being a new connection for them and offering to give them more engagement on LinkedIn by following their activity — both of which are ways of giving value)
- It gives them the power to say “no” (I didn’t tell them to connect by saying “let’s connect.” I shared an observation that “it seems like it makes sense for us to connect” and gave valid reasons why while allowing them the space and freedom to disagree)
- It gives them room to come to me on their own (by closing with “Cheers!” it emphasizes that it’s their choice if they want to connect or not, which is different from what a pushy salesman might do or say)
There’s some more advanced psychology at play here, but you get the gist of it.
The best part is that these WIIFT incentives are independent of what you’re offering.
They may decide they don’t need your offer right now. So, if you would’ve led with that, you could’ve lost a potential connection. But, by leading with these LinkedIn-related incentives, you increase the chances they’ll say “yes” because most people active on LinkedIn want more connections and more engagement on LinkedIn. (And, you should only be connecting with active LinkedIn members to make sure they’ll respond to your messages at all anyway.)
A quick caveat though, don’t send dishonest LinkedIn messages. Don’t say you noticed you have a few mutual connections if you know that you don’t. There are other equally effective ways to influence your target contact to connect with you.
This is the part where, after they accept your connection request, you introduce yourself.
A mistake I made early on in my networking journey was thinking people would eventually start the conversation for me simply because we’d connected. That’s not always the case and, to prepare for the times when it’s not, you need an introduction message.
You’ll also see that even when your target contact starts the conversation for you, it’s still best to have an introduction message to share a little bit about yourself, highlight any other potential WIIFT incentives, and get the relationship-building process started.
Here’s the exact script I used re-crafted into a template you can steal:
Once again, why does this script work?
- It starts with a rapport-building statement (“Great to connect with you…”)
- It smoothly transitions into more honest talk about why you reached out (you think there might be a good collaboration here)
- It underlines the WIIFT incentives relevant to both your business goals (“I work with…to get them…”)
- It filters out the people who would be uninterested in a collaboration with you so you can avoid wasting your time (“If you think so too, please keep in touch”)
- It gives them the space to continue viewing you as a person and not a sleazy salesman (saying “let me know” might’ve leaned more toward implying you only want to know if you can get them on the phone. Saying “please keep in touch” instead implies you’re looking for a long-term relationship with this person that’s more real, genuine, and value-giving)
Introduce yourself as you would at an actual, live business breakfast. Make sure to follow the rule of crafting your LinkedIn introduction message template as if it’s a live, in-person conversation (as you should with all of your messages on LinkedIn, including your connection request message).
From here, you do something that completely separates you from the spammy LinkedIn users and skyrockets your chances of getting them onto the phone.
You wait four to six weeks.
The next message is going to be your conversion message. The message to convert them from someone who’s still more or less a stranger to a relationship by getting them onto the phone with you. So, before you make an ask like that, you want to give them some breathing room so you don’t seem like you’re pushing to get them onto the phone after you’ve just e-met.
The exception here is if they respond to your introduction message, in which case you can send the conversion message right after. Or, if you’ve tweaked your deal flow funnel to give them value that justifies asking for that bigger touchpoint.
But, if they don’t respond to your introduction message and you give no value, wait four to six weeks before sending your lead message. (And, continue following the rule of crafting your lead message template as if it’s a real, in-person conversation.)
After you’ve waited four to six weeks (or you’ve followed either of the exceptions above), send them your conversion message.
Here’s a template you can use:
A few reasons why this works:
- The initial sentence helps you transition from “(Name)” to your reason for wanting to get them onto the phone more smoothly (“How are things going at…?”)
- You make it clear you have an offer and you’d like to use that offer to help them if they’re interested (which avoids making you come across as sneaky for hiding that you have something to sell the entire time. This way, you’re telling them before you get on the phone with them and, if they agree to that phone chat, they know exactly what they’re getting into. So, both people are mutually on the same page)
- Offers to give more WIIFT incentives (such as by sharing some ideas you might have on how you could improve their business over the phone chat)
- You’re mindful of their time (by underlining that it would be a “brief” phone chat)
This is where you might get a lot of people falling out of the funnel. But, don’t despair, this is also where quality over quantity comes into play because the people who agree to that phone chat are also the people most likely to buy from you.
Now that you’ve got them onto the phone, seek a way to collaborate. That could be by selling them your product or another means of reaching a win-win deal.
You might notice that I sometimes alternate between saying “sell” and “collaborate.” Or, that I say “Perfect Future Contact” instead of “Perfect Future Customer.”
Well, that’s because what makes the difference between businesses who see linear growth and businesses who see serious, exponential growth are the types of people they choose to connect with.
Going back to that example of social skills products (such as a course) or services (such as coaching) being sold to CEOs, instead of trying to sell to the CEO directly, why not collaborate with the CEO and give a free training to their team or company? Then, you can:
- Offer your course at the end of the training to potentially tens or even hundreds of their employees (which, if you negotiate the collaboration well, they might even be able to get reimbursed for your course by the company)
- Offer social skills coaching as a separate service exclusively to the CEOs only.
Get creative with how you use networking to grow your business. You might be reading this ultimate guide thinking this is awesome to connect with future customers. But, you can just as easily reach multiple future customers at once by connecting with the contacts who have influence over the large pools where your potential customers hang out.
It’s up to you to decide if you want linear or exponential growth in your business.
Don’t let the relationship end after the collaboration. Keep in touch with the contact and keep the relationship warm.
It could come in handy for increasing their lifetime value (LTV) by asking them for referrals. Or, for simply having a new friend to exchange ideas and brainstorm with in the future.
Networking is our greatest asset. Not all of us are lucky enough to have rich parents who can fund our dreams and help grow our businesses, but that’s okay. We can make amazing friendships and connections — it only takes a little bit of courage and a little bit of strategy.
Ali is one of the few marketers that offers explicit insights (based on social psychology) WHY you should do X, Y, or Z whereas most people offering advice do so from a de facto position of authority. “Just do it because I said so.” Ali makes his advice as easy to understand as it is actionable. Thank you so much!