Confession: This post was originally drafted as a venting mechanism.
On any given week, I receive dozens of unsolicited messages. Senders vary, and the contents span everything from relentless sales reps promising me the world to shady text messages promising me dangerously extreme weight loss.
At the time this post was drafted, I had just cleaned up a combined 167 notifications from the last five business days alone. That’s after aggressively adding unwanted email addresses and phone numbers to my blocklists, setting up advanced filtering to mark unwanted emails as spam or simply read, and my more recent commitment to forward unsolicited text messages to Verizon’s spam reporting service. I know I’m probably typing to the choir.
But not all messaging platforms are created equal. While Google makes it almost pleasurably easy to configure one’s inbox to bypass unwanted solicitations, other communication platforms have some catching up to do.
For example, LinkedIn is the de-facto platform for professional networking, recruiting, and career development; but its premium messaging feature, known as LinkedIn InMail, leaves something to be desired.
Rather than staring into the abyss of unopened InMail messages, I’m blogging out my frustrations. Without further ado, here’s my unsolicited list of ways to avoid being labeled as “that unwanted InMail message sender.”
1. Skip the Fake Personalization
As someone who knows how sales and marketing outreach pipelines work, I find it highly unlikely that you just happened to stumble upon my profile, my article from three years ago, or my work with XYZ project. Let’s assume we’re both intelligent professionals. Outreach on LinkedIn is almost never a coincidence.
You have a job to do, and something about the work I do presents an opportunity. Make your pitch with confidence, and cut the fluff. And then allow me the chance to determine whether your proposed opportunity is also of value to my business and/or professional goals.
2. Be Transparent and Respect My Time
Let me preface this one by saying I wholeheartedly understand the goal of getting someone on the phone. Emails and cold outreach messages are easily overlooked or deprioritized, and it’s hard to communicate the value of whatever you’re proposing when limited by a stranger’s attention span for unsolicited email content.
That being said… Do not assume your value proposition is actually worth the 30 minutes of the recipient’s time that you’re asking for. Let us, as your collective recipients, be the judge of what’s worth our time.
And please delete vague phrases, such as “see if there’s collaboration potential,” from your outreach vernacular. That sounds like there will not be an agenda for this meeting. And if there’s not an agenda — one that makes it clear why a meeting is warranted instead of an email — I’m not accepting the calendar invite.
Shoot your shot. Make your business proposition, including what you’ll be asking of me, crystal clear. Then let me be the judge of whether your opportunity is worth prioritizing amidst my crowded calendar of meetings, handling emails from people I already know and work with, and putting out whatever operations fires happen to be going on at that time.
If the opportunity is actually as juicy as you believe it is, I’ll recognize it. Depending on my personal availability and communication preferences, I’ll choose to either continue the conversation electronically or ask for the call myself. This could be the start of a beautiful working relationship. Don’t ruin it!
For more information, please see the popular meme: “This meeting could have been an email.”
3. Understand I’m Not Required to Respond
This is a new one. Maybe it was the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting rise of virtual workplace operations but, suddenly, I’ve seen a spike in downright entitled outreach emails.
- “Since I haven’t heard from you, I assume increasing revenue isn’t a priority.”
- With no greeting or context, “What time should I call you this week?”
- “Let’s not waste any more time. Please send your available times for a one-hour call tomorrow or Thursday.”
The thing is, no matter how entitled, aggressive, or even offensive you get in your message, I still have no obligation to respond. I’m not required to respond to your initial outreach, and I’m not required to respond to your follow-up message if I don’t respond to your initial note. I’m also not required to respond to your second follow-up message, your third, or your fourth.
I sympathize with your lead generation and outreach goals and the pressure they surely create. But don’t burn a bridge before our relationship even takes off.
4. Keep Your InMail Short and Concise
Sources overwhelmingly agree that short-and-sweet messages yield the best response rates. This applies to email, text, and InMail.
The average daily content consumption for adults in the United States doubled in 2020. Please don’t give your recipients 500 more words to ingest. There is beauty in brevity.
Here are some actionable tips for cutting down your InMail word count:
- Look for flowery or vague language to eliminate (e.g., “explore potential opportunities” or anything with “synergy”)
- Delete unnecessary words (e.g., “we should be able to help” –> “we can”)
- Replace descriptions of your past projects with links to specific examples
Once you’ve articulated your message clearly without unnecessary fluff, hit “SEND” with confidence.
InMail Messages Can Work
Well, I feel better. Please remember this post contains my personal recommendations for getting my attention on LinkedIn. Other marketers have compiled noteworthy data on how to optimize your InMail usage for improved open and response rates — including subject line, follow-up cadence, and even the date of the week and time at which you send a message. LinkedIn is actually a great resource for these types of insights.
However, not every InMail message I’ve received left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Just as the loudest voice in the room is often negative, the most memorable InMail messages are often obnoxious.
InMail senders who have successfully caught my attention (and elicited a response) were clear, concise, and effective at communicating their intentions and expectations. They recognized my time, energy, and attention as valuable, and they didn’t waste them.
As Brene Brown so beautifully and succinctly said, “Clear is kind; unclear is unkind.” Be clear in your messaging, and an unsolicited outreach may actually turn into a fruitful conversation (instead of a disgruntled blog post).