Successful Customer Outreach Through LinkedIn

Today’s post is from Robert Koehler, Sales Product Consultant for LinkedIn Sales Solutions.

At the county fair a few years ago, the carnie running the ‘knock over the lead pins with the baseball’ booth encouraged me to do better: “c’mon, you’re supposed to do more than tickle them!” In my obsession to win a life-size stuffed animal for my son that would sit unused in the corner of his room for years, I yanked our family over to the basketball area. My line drive shots clanged off the heavily fortified steel rim of the Dixie cup sized basket twenty feet above the ground. The evening degenerated into my screaming for my six-year old to beat the four year olds in the ‘shoot water in a hole to reach the top first’ contest so that I could leave with stuffed animal bounty.

This experience reinforced the following:

  • Some games are rigged; be aware before committing your time, money and effort
  • Select situations where you have a better chance of winning
  • Careful targeting is more effective than brute force and velocity
  • A softer arc and approach can sometimes net greater results

inmail, linkedin, social

I’m often asked by sales teams and sales reps about how to use LinkedIn for effective prospect and customer outreach. Using the lessons of the county fair, here is the first of three key areas to focus on for reaching out to and maintaining visibility with clients through LinkedIn.


InMail, available through individual premium LinkedIn subscriptions and LinkedIn Sales Navigator for sales teams, is LinkedIn’s internal messaging system. When you send an InMail it goes to a prospect or customer’s LinkedIn inbox as well as the primary email address attached to their LinkedIn account. The power of InMail is that you can message any of LinkedIn’s 250+ million members without having a phone number, email address or physical address and you don’t have to be connected through LinkedIn.

However, just because you can pay $5 for 3 shots at the basket doesn’t mean you should. If you have the option, you should always leverage a warm introduction through a mutual friend or colleague before trying an unsolicited communication. InMail shines as a delivery channel for sending a customized, tailored one-to-one message to a prospect or individual. It’s just another delivery mechanism, like the phone or email, for your message. It should be used selectively for prospects and customers that are active on LinkedIn (500+ connections, updated profile, lots of recommendations) or not responding to other forms of outreach. Used as a means to spam or generate mass messages, InMail can do more harm to your and your company’s image than good. Aim carefully and don’t use as much mass force.

Before reaching out to a prospect, look up their LinkedIn profile for insights on their personal and professional interests, business challenges and priorities. This is the critical link to leveraging LinkedIn and InMail for more successful outreach that most sales reps miss. When you do send an InMail leverage these best practices staying focused on ‘what’s in it for the prospect’ and adding value.

  • Have a compelling subject line. A sales colleague of mine recently got a great response because of a well-researched and well-crafted InMail that he sent entitled ‘How is your Porsche running?’ . Vague subject lines beget vague interest.
  • Keep it short and sweet (Jill Konrath espouses the power of 3×3; no more than three paragraphs and no more than three sentences per paragraph- a good principle for your LinkedIn summary as well as any messages that you send. Even 3×3 in an InMail may be more time than the prospect is willing to give to reading your message)
  • Reference a common connection. The power of LinkedIn is in ‘network selling’- using your network to get warmer introductions and do more reference selling. Research over the last fifteen years show that prospects are significantly more likely to respond to your message when you reference a common connection.
  • Make it about them- not you and your product. Practice a softer arc so your message doesn’t clang off the rim. A social selling consultant recently reached out to me asking if I had seen the article about an AT&T rep that had used LinkedIn and InMail to close a multi-million dollar. He was offering me some value instead of touting his services. I responded and now he has me engaged in a conversation since I’m curious to learn more about him and what he does.
  • Offer a clear call to action- do more than just ‘tickle them’. Be specific. As with any sales  outreach have a clear purpose and ask. Throwing wildly rarely helps you achieve your goal.

InMail best practices mirror best sales outreach practices; the basics of sound outreach don’t fade because you’re using a different medium.

Lastly, use InMail or other means, to initiate contact with a prospect or customer rather than a connection request. Sending a connection request after you have initiated some meaningful interaction helps cement your relationships, reinforce your conversations and build a higher quality network. The prize, having a long term, high quality network to do more higher probability reference/network selling will be even more valuable than the life size SpongeBob that I later won for my son at Legoland.


Linkedin, social sellingRobert Koehler is a Sales Product Consultant for LinkedIn Sales Solutions. You can find him on LinkedIn (of course)







Photo of Hoop Shots Game provided by danxoneil

  • Oisin

    Very good Robert, what type of response rate should I expect if i follow your advice?

    • linkedrkoehler


      Thank you for reading the article. Good question. Mileage will vary depending upon the quality of your approach and message. In general if you use the same generic approach using InMail that some sales people do with cold calling and cold email, you’ll get the same response rates as those vehicles. Some data points assuming better or best practices:

      1. Inside has noted finding a significantly higher response rate (as much as 300-700% higher) sending the same exact message via InMail as Email.

      2. One social selling consultancy that carefully tracked response rates found an additional response rate increase of over 8% (went from 12% to 20%) when they combined InMail with Email.

      3. Sales teams and individual sales reps can expect to see anywhere from a 10-25% response rate with InMail. This is substantially higher from the ‘typical’ email marketing response rates that I have seen reported.

      Best regards,

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