These days on LinkedIn, I get 2-3 messages each day. I know, that makes me sound popular, but I'm not. I'm getting messages from people who overtly want to covert me into a lead, not by people who authentically want to get to know me and what I do.
Sigh. I feel like they see me as a walking dollar sign.
After I get over my frustration of being objectified, I realize that these types are missing the point of what networking is, nevermind LinkedIn.
I joined LinkedIn for a number of reasons:
- To stay current with my network and informed of what they are doing
- To build relationships with other professionals and discover their contributions (and how we could collaborate)
- To learn about new methodologies, ideas, and innovations
- To share my resume so people know what I do and how I've contributed to companies
Notice, I never joined LinkedIn to receive advertising or hear about new products or services.
I understand that you need to network to get new business. But great networkers don't network only to get business; they network to meet new people and see how they can help them. They offer information to help people solve a problem. Or they just have a conversation and listen to them, getting to know them as a person.
You could say that networking is synonymous with relationship building.
The motive behind someone networking is completely different than the motive of a sales person. And if someone is purely selling, you can feel the motive right away. Someone who wants to get to know you often says it through actions and words. But if you get 5+ sales emails on LinkedIn each day, I think you lose your sensibility to read between the lines to identify a motive. I mean, it's almost inevitable. You get worn out being objectified as that walking dollar sign.
I used to network often on LinkedIn and at local Meetups and organization meetings. I stopped when I was working on my second Master's. It was difficult to commit to attend an event when I had school work looming in the background of my mind. Usually, school won my attentions. After I graduated, I realized how much I changed as a person and how I view business. I didn't know where I fit in anymore, nevermind how I could help clients. I started working on a book, which was just as time consuming as school, and also prevented me from attending. And considering that I'm still trying to discover where I fit into the DFW area and beyond, I'm hesitant to commit to much. It has been hard, but I'm getting there.
However, before I start to sell my services to anyone I meet, I try to make sure I have some type of relationship with them. I want to know how I could help someone else achieve their goals and see if they can help me in some way too. And if not, I figure something will work itself out in the future so we can help each other. I have a different motive.
If you reach out to anyone cold without a relationship, they probably won't buy your products and services after the first email. Building a relationship takes time. You want to see if there is a fit between companies and personalities. But most importantly, your prospective customer needs to have the problem that you solve. And it is rare that this happens after that cold-call email. What's more common is that you meet someone, you click, and later (3 days, 3 months, or up to 3+ years later) you discover that yes, this is the right time to work together. There's no immediate sale.
A sale right after the first email to a new customer is like a romantic comedy. It doesn't happen in real-life.
I did have two interactions recently where I wanted to talk to the people who Inbox'd me:
- One woman was promoting a remote worker site and she asked to meet with me to see if there were synergies. Yes, she wanted to know who I was and what I was like as a person. And she had an awesome profile picture that was engaging, energetic, and it felt like she was interested to talk - and I wanted to listen. Her product sounds fantastic and she sounds super interesting. So I look forward to that call.
- I got a great email and sales brochure from a company that works on podcasts. It told me the cost, what they do, the value they provide - everything. It clearly showed me how they could help me. And how they got my attention: it looks like you have your sh*t together. That's their target. I'm not ready to work with them now, but when I'm ready to do a regular podcast (which will be soon, after this book), I will be.
I respond to few sales emails these days because they have become noise. It's sad. I really do want to understand what you do. But more than that, I want to know why I should care about what you do. I want to feel the passion of what you do like you and understand the value you'll provide me if we collaborate. Those two emails provided passion. That motivated me to take the next step.
Have I met some great people through LinkedIn? Yes. And we've had great conversations. One in particular was with a great guy working on AI in the midwest. We had an awesome conversation that went well over time because it was just fun. If I'm working on an AI project, I'll call him.
I have sent legitimate networking requests to people to have a conversation and get to know them - like truly get to know them - only to be ignored because they think that I want something. I can understand that perspective, especially in a world where people are sending sales emails to people all day, using the guise that they want to get to know you, only to turn around and sell you something.
I tried to reach out to meet new people last year and one person I tried to introduce myself to told me as much: "I'm unemployed and I have no work for you." I was ready to respond back: "Maybe I could help connect you to find work?" But I decided to keep it to myself because it seemed that she just wasn't interested in talking to anyone new at all and I'd become a troll, and I'm not a troll. I really wanted to get to know this person and see how we could help each other. But alas! I was placed into the ad-bin bucket and I doubt I was going to come out any time soon.
If this trend of LinkedIn becoming an advertising service continues, we're going to lose the great platform it is for networking. Maybe we need more classes to understand what networking is so we all understand how it really works?
Again (for those in the back), networking is about relationship building. That's the motive behind it. It's not selling. It's not "give to get." It's not about people signing up for your services on the first ping. It's not about getting appointments to later sell to someone. It's a way to help people, provide advice, share insights, and discover new ideas. I enjoy networking to get to know other people, understand their passions, and from there, we can see how we can help each other.
This leads to my favorite, yet overused, image that I probably don't have rights to use, but I'll use anyway because it's' great:
So you have been warned: If you approach me to get my business without a relationship and I sense that your motive is purely to sell me something, I'll send you right to this post.
Imagine what could happen if we were all more engaged with each other and understood each other's businesses? No, I probably don't want your product. But if you are curious about what I'm doing and how I am contributing to the business community (because I can guarantee I am curious about your business and how you contribute), I'll be more open to who you are and what you do. And then we can see if we can collaborate on a project, or just be experts together. And then we build a network of our own, together, on LinkedIn.