Should you remove a LinkedIn connection?

Posted on August 17, 2017 at 3:17 PM Comments comments (8484)
The most effective networking relationships are reciprocal. Both individuals gain substantial benefits from the relationship. Unfortunately, some professionals view networking from one of two extremes, either they cynically ignore the effort, or they pursue their goal with Machiavellian tactics.

But what of the majority of us that fall between the extremes? We show up for the dance, but spend a fair amount of time observing from the sidelines. Of course there is nothing wrong with some observation. After all, we don’t feel compelled to be on the floor for every single song. You may even discover that some of your connections do not actually care for the same music as you do. What then? In most cases I let those connections linger. Who knows, perhaps circumstances will change and we’ll find a common beat in the future. But have you ever taken the step to remove a connection? I know, in today’s politically charged world it feels like unfriending, unfollowing or unlinking would be a dangerous move. It doesn’t happen often, but on occasion I have removed connections. I remove connections based on the following formula:

In short, I just don’t feel a high enough degree of trust to keep moving forward with the relationship. So, how could a person grow my trust?

I know it looks like some type of Pythagorean Theorem, but it’s not. For me, the key to creating a large trust number is to build rapport, build credibility, and reduce risk. If all three factors can be shifted in the right direction my trust is bound to grow. Let’s take a high-level look at each.
Rapport:  A relation of harmony, conformity, accord, or affinity.  We have a sense of shared understanding.
· Being contacted appropriately by the method that best suits the nature of our relationship.
· Being treated with respect.
· I actually like you.
Credibility:  You are worthy of belief or confidence.  Your actions and words are in congruence.
· Being offered services or products that are truly relevant to my desires.
· You are transparent in how you deal with me.
· You clearly answer my “What’s in it for me” question.
Risk:  Exposure to the chance of injury or loss; a hazard or dangerous chance.  My safety, security and social capital (reputation) should not ever be at risk.
· What are you going to do with my personal information?
· How do you want to use my social capital?  How does that benefit me?
· How does our relationship impact my personal brand?
I’m guessing each of us approaches our networking connections from a different perspective, and that’s fine. But if you are taking time to increase rapport and credibility while decreasing risk I’m sure the strength of your network is growing like crazy.

Why your lead generation program is damaging your brand

Posted on May 3, 2017 at 6:37 PM Comments comments (22)

“Thanks for following! Let me know if I can help!”
It appears to be a friendly welcoming, offering help to the receiver of the message, but it’s not.  In fact, if you are using those ten words at the front end of your lead generation campaign then you are actually damaging your brand.  Here is why:
1. You delivered it through a direct message automation application didn’t you?  I thought that was the case.  Sorry, but most people delete those messages without ever reading them.  Many will even unfollow you based on your action.  Those types of messages are viewed much like email marketing spam.  So, unless you want your personal or corporate brand associated with that kind of activity you should turn it off.
2. Gratitude is a good thing.  It’s always polite to thank people when the situation calls for it.  But this is not one of those situations.  Perhaps ten years ago, when Twitter was new and the rules of engagement weren’t understood.  But thanking someone through an automated message (btw, that’s very impersonal) for following you, or in many cases they were actually following you back, now comes across as a rookie move.  Are you currently calling yourself a “social media guru?”  Too bad, because now they know you really aren’t.
3. “Let me know if I can help.”  We really appreciate that you are willing to jump in and solve our problems.  It’s very generous of you.  But you might as well as said the following; “Now, please take the time to go to my website and figure out exactly what I sell.  Then, think about your daily needs and problems and try to determine if you think my services or products can help you.  If they can, let me know.”  If you have spent any time at all carrying a quota then you know this is another rookie sales mistake.

Do you really think your audience is going to explore your website when you probably have less than eight seconds to make an impression and gain their attention?  I didn’t have to ask that question because you already know the answer.  Of course your audience is not going to take time to try to figure you or your company out.  Their attention is limited and they want you to figure them out.  So, turn off your direct message automation program and start over before it’s too late.

Are “Degrees of Separation” Important to Networking?

Posted on March 30, 2017 at 5:53 PM Comments comments (8)
In the early 90’s three Pennsylvania college boys with too much time on their hands decided that every actor living or dead could be linked to Kevin Bacon.  Although never a big box office draw, Bacon has been in a significant number of films and the boys discovered that if you use Bacon as an end point, you can link him in six degrees or less to almost any other performer.  So, from that humble beginning The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon was born.
For example, Alfred Hitchcock and Elvis Presley can both be linked to Kevin Bacon.

Just for fun let’s imagine that Kevin Bacon is an open networker and all the actors in this example are currently living. Kevin would like to add to his suspense and psychological thriller genres and believes Alfred Hitchcock could be just the ticket.

Kevin Bacon contacts Jack Nicholson:

Jack, I hope all well!  Hey, I really enjoyed working with you on “A Few Good Men.”

I wanted to reach out to you and see if you could help with an introduction to Alfred Hitchcock. I know you are not directly connected to Alfred, but you were in “A Safe Place” with Orson Wells.

And Orson Wells was in “Show Business at War” with Mr. Hitchcock.

Based on those common connections, could I ask you to pass along my request?
Jack Nicholson replies to Kevin Bacon:
Kevin, you can’t handle the truth! “A Safe Place” was a critical and box-office disaster!  In fact, Time magazine called the film "pretentious and confusing.”
Wow, sorry to hear that.  But can I depend on you to sell my introduction to Mr. Hitchcock through Mr. Wells?
Son we live in a world that has walls, social capital walls, “what’s in it for me” walls.  But OK Kevin, I’ll do you a big favor, but I’m not making any promises.

Jack Nicholson contacts Orson Wells:

Orson, I hope all is well!  Hey, it’s been awhile since we worked together on “A Safe Place,” but I’ve got this young friend who would like to meet Alfred Hitchcock.  I noticed you and Alfred worked together on “Show Business at War.”  Would you be open to making that introduction?
Orson’s reply to Jack:
Jack, I had completely forgotten we worked together.  In fact, I almost deleted your message without even reading it.  You see, I’ve tried to erase the “A Safe Place” experience from my mind because it was such a disaster.  Concerning your request, no I can’t help.  I wouldn’t feel comfortable reaching out to Mr. Hitchcock.  You see “Show Business at War” was a short film, only 17 minutes in length.  It was sponsored by Time Inc. in 1943 to tout the United States film industry’s contribution to the Second World War effort.  And the fact of the matter is that I never personally met Alfred during that brief project.
So what point, conclusions or action steps am I trying to make here?
1. If you are an open networker, and that strategy works for you, keep doing what you are doing.  I would never order a “code red” on a strategy that is delivering results.

2. If that strategy is not working then order the code red immediately because “The Strength of Weak Ties” theory does not guarantee networking success.
Asking connections of connections for a favor is a difficult tactic to pull off.  In those situations it’s obvious that your focus is completely self-centered, and most people are afraid of being taken advantage of by people they barely know or have no emotional investment in.

“If you were going to start your business over again, what’s the one process, you’d put into place from day one?”

Posted on February 7, 2017 at 6:12 PM Comments comments (22)
The process, or more fitting, the mindset I recommend to individuals who want to start a business should actually be implemented long before they hang out their shingle.  Before starting a consulting firm or business that depends on your personal reputation it’s to your advantage to make sure your personal brand is already known, carries influence, and inspires trust.  That means building and nurturing your personal brand and network must be top-of-mind from the very beginning of your career, even while you are still working for someone else.  I know that may feel like a conflict of interest, but it’s really not.  At the end of the day “entrepreneur” is a term that really does describe all of us.  We are all basically lifelong freelancers with our own unique brand.  Our careers aren’t based on paths or ladders but are more like landscapes that have to be navigated because there are no lifetime employment guarantees.  Our financial security and social standing is determined by our ability to influence people.  And if you want to influence people you need to understand empathically the power of their point-of-view and feel the emotional force with which they believe it.  As you can imagine, building credibility, trust and a social audience that respects you takes time and knowledge.  So, in order to thrive in that type of mission you will need to adopt the mindset of a lifelong learner.  Lifelong learning is more than adult education or training; it is a habit for you to acquire.  Here are 3 important points to keep in mind that will help convince you to make lifelong learning habit forming:

1.  Professional activity has become so knowledge-intensive and fluid in content that learning has become an integral and irremovable part of most work activities. More and more knowledge, especially advanced knowledge, is acquired well past the age of formal schooling, and in many situations through educational processes that do not center on traditional type schools.

2. Self-directed learning, learning on demand, informal learning, and collaborative and organizational learning are all fundamentally different from the traditional classroom learning dominated by curricula and tests.  Your current employer may invest in making one of those forms of learning available to you.  But don’t count on it.  Be prepared to invest both time and money in your ongoing education.

3.  Lifelong learning can influence the creativity and innovation potential of individuals, groups, and organizations.  And creativity and innovation are considered essential capabilities for working smarter in knowledge societies [Drucker, 1994].

Don’t stop learning and growing your personal brand, ever.

Why the phrase “mutual benefit” never works with an influencer

Posted on January 17, 2017 at 3:35 PM Comments comments (0)
I’d like to connect and collaborate for mutual benefit.” Like many of you, I’m often approached with that line on many social platforms.  In truth, when that phrase is used within a LinkedIn connection request from someone I don’t know it makes me cringe because past experience has proven that they really mean one of two things:
1.       I’d like you to accept my connection request so I can immediately pitch you on the solution I’m peddling because I’m sure you are a qualified persona.
2.       I’d liked to be able to leverage you and pick your mind but not actually pay for your services, knowledge or social capital.
The second example of course refers to asking “who, what, when, where, why and how” strategy type questions that represents a consultants or other knowledge workers primary source of value.  I know, I know, I know, I sound very jaded.  But we all know that in today’s social media world I’m not off-base.  In the beginning LinkedIn was about connecting to people you actually knew.  Today, too many so-called “social networking experts” are merely trying to pile up connections and then making attempts to microwave the relationship with no intention of exploring the possibility of mutual benefits.
The challenge for those of you who are “reaching out” with a sincere heart is that the only way to know if there is going to be mutual benefit is when the connection and collaboration is actually accomplished.  And that process generally doesn’t start unless each party first “trusts” the other.
Look, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t make a cold call or approach a stranger on LinkedIn, but why aren’t you working on building awareness and trust first? So, how do you build trust if you’re not connected and already engaging?
Be Found
1.        To be found during the “search” process usually refers to when a customer or prospect has a need or desire for a product or service that your organization is capable of delivering. But in this case that is not what I’m talking about. Initially you need to take steps to get on their radar screen.  You want them to notice you in a good way.  To be found, read their blogs and respond with thoughtful comments.  Read their updates on LinkedIn and hit the “Like” button.  Retweet and Like their Twitter posts.  Now, don’t go over-the-top with this strategy.  You don’t want to come across as some type of stalking crazy groupie.  But if you perform this task consistently over a medium-long period of time I can assure you that your targeted influencer will notice you.  Influencers take special note of their audience engagement and they live for it.
2.       To be able to find and approach prospects with characteristic’s that line up well with your organizations target markets.  For the record, sending a cold connection request using the LinkedIn standard template and expecting your target to instantly understand your background and trust you are not what you should be doing.  Of course, if you are already some well-known personality perhaps that will work for you.  I’m not well-known so I never send the standard template connection request.  Your potential new connection is only going to take a few seconds to scan your profile.  That means your profile and related content needs to be top quality.
3.       To engage generally means to be able to approach customers and prospects with relevant content that creates awareness and builds trust.  Also, to be able to communicate in a way that positively impacts the customer experience across sales, marketing, and customer service.  But here again that is not what I’m talking about.  You originally took the step to try and customize your request; you said “I’d like to connect and collaborate for mutual benefit.  But if you want to develop “trust” you need to already be thinking of ways to do something for your new potential influencer connection.  Now, I know what you are thinking:
A)     If they would just listen to my pitch they’d get it.  I’ll use my standard “our customers tell us that they are struggling with blah, blah, blah” and they’ll say “so am!! Please come to my rescue!”  Or you’ll send them your Nascar logo slide with your current customers implying that they would be stupid not to listen.  Look, you still need that type of content but you are breaking it out too early.  You haven’t touched me “emotionally” by letting me know “what’s in it for me?”
B)     So, “what’s in it for them?”  This is the most difficult part of the assignment because you are really going to need to think through your personal value-prop.  And you need to do it before you have the initial conversations.  Your potential influencer connection wants to know that you have given this a great deal of thought.  You cannot wimp out by saying “I’ll just ask them a question, like - what can I do for you?”  Remember, the customer often doesn’t know what they want until you tell them.  At this point they don’t really know you, or trust you, and they have no idea how you might be able to help them personally.  That means you are going to be dead-in-the-water because they will not be able to truthfully answer your question or understand you value-proposition.
Unless you’ve carefully considered the ramifications, use “I’d like to connect and collaborate for mutual benefit” with great caution.

Three ways to boost your social media presence and be more engaging

Posted on December 22, 2016 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Ha-ha, made you look!  When my kids were little they would sometimes taunt me with that phrase.  It was intended as a playful insult because they tricked me into looking at something that didn’t really exist.  With my marketing teams, that phrase is not said in jest.  Its code for marketing content and messaging that forms a favorable impression; it catches our target audiences’ attention and piques their interest.  Marketers want attention.  They want their audience to engage with their social profiles.  In order to boost my social media presence and fine-tune my engagement I focus on three key areas:

  • Characters:  I don’t wait for people to find me; I proactively search for interesting and relevant business characters and connect to them first.  This is not as easy today as it used to be when many automation tools, such as TweetAdder, were available.  There are still some fun and interesting ways to build a targeted audience though.  One method involves major trade conferences, and you don’t actually need to attend to implement this process.  My example involves the HubSpot #Inbound16 conference.  I did not physically attend, but I didn’t pay close attention to the profiles tweeting about it and I engaged them.

As you can see, many of the profiles I engaged not only followed me back, but they also “Listed” me.  There are worse things in life than to be listed under “Inbound Stars” or “Inbound16 Rockstars!”  This feedback had the added benefit of letting me know that my profile and content made a favorable impression.

  • Cadence:  I focus on creating a consistent flow of relevant thought-leadership material; without making it feel over-the-top or spammy.  It definitely takes time and creativity to build relevant and engaging content.  But this is a case where marketing automation will not necessarily make it easier, and in fact could actually damage your brand if done poorly.  Let me show you an example.

Yes, this is marketing automation gone awry.  This type of twitter stream is not engaging and does not provide relevant content.  It’s pure noise.

  • Callout:  I look for opportunities to mention my connections in order to help them build their social capital.  Here again (example above), “thanking” someone for following you back doesn’t count.  In fact, don’t do it.  There are other ways to mention someone that are much more effective.  I like to look for important lists that have been published.  For example, Brand Quarterly Magazine recently published their 2016 Top “50 Marketing-Thought Leaders Over 50” list.  I recognized each of the award winners through tweets like the following:

This tweet not only calls out a few of those recognized but also has a customized video  (also below) that makes the effort even more attention grabbing.

Did the individuals recognized appreciate the video content and the mention?  As they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

I’m interested to learn more about you.

Posted on September 2, 2016 at 11:56 AM Comments comments (167)
I’m interested to learn more about you, period.  Yes, you should have ended your “Quick Question” message right there.  But no, you then went on and on about your company and your solution.
Hi Alan,
Thanks for connecting on LinkedIn; I’m interested to learn more about what you do.  I’m VP of Sales at XYZ Company and our solution blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah let me know what day and time works out best and I’ll set up a call.
Does it seem like I went overboard on the “blah, blah, blahs?”  I didn’t, your message really did go on and on selling even though you have no idea if I’m really a qualified prospect.  You suspected I might be qualified and decided to skip all rapport building, and the establishment of your credentials.  In your mind selling isn’t about TRUST, it’s strictly about NEED and PAIN POINTS.  As long as you present compelling facts and figures you’re hoping I’ll make a totally rational, data-driven decision.

I’m sorry to have to inform you, but even executives are human.  Yes, we have emotions and we make trust-based decisions.  We do business with people we know, like and trust.  Now that you know you messed up with your first-contact “Quick Question” message, what’s your plan for recovering the relationship with your new LinkedIn connection?


The executive you’re targeting isn’t going to tell you their “biggest challenge.” Learn why.

Posted on August 23, 2016 at 11:34 AM Comments comments (141)
“What’s your single biggest challenge?”
I wish I had a dollar for every time I was asked that question because I’d be able to retire immediately.  It’s right up there with:
“What keeps you up at night?”
And let’s not forget:
“What’s your burning platform?”
Why do executives cringe every time they’re asked those questions?  Because just about every solution-based qualification call on the sales training planet includes one of those questions, and that means they can see your sales prospecting pitch coming from a mile away.  You’ve just shown them all they need to know.  You aren’t really interested in earning your place as one of their consultative trust-based partners.  That type of relationship nurturing would take way too much time and patience.  You merely want to quickly qualify them as either in or out of your sales funnel for your month end report.

Hey, that’s fair enough, they understand that time is a valuable and non-renewable resource.  They don’t want to waste your time, but nor do they want you to waste theirs.  Look, I’m not saying executives will never answer that golden question.  It’s just that your timing is terrible because you’re asking too much, too fast.  Think about it; do you really think an executive is going to open up to a total stranger and disclose their biggest challenge?  I don’t care if you do work for one of the Fortune 500; they don’t KNOW you PERSONALLY, and that means they’re not ready to TRUST you with their greatest struggles.  That would give you too much power and let’s face it; executives like to stay in control.

To be able to get an answer to that question you need to take your executive prospecting strategy out of microwave mode and learn how to build personal trust over time.  Smart sales and marketing people pursue this goal of becoming the “most trusted” source, expert, or problem solver in their industries and here is how they do it:
1. Trust takes time. Trust may sometimes be forged in moments of great drama, but it is more likely to be formed by many small, moment-to-moment, encounters.  If possible, connect with your targeted executive across more than one social platform in order to increase your trust-building exposure.  If your target is on Twitter focus there first.  Twitter is designed for quick moment-to-moment encounters and is less formal than LinkedIn.

2. Is your social media content consistent or erratic?  If your posts are confusing, indecisive, or inconsistent, your targeted audience is going to have a hard time taking you seriously.  Remember, when it comes to social media, you are always on and first impressions count.

3. A key to getting trust is giving it first.  Recruit your prospects to be a part of your inner circle.  Get serious about leveraging authenticity and transparency to help your contacts build confidence in you as a thought-leader.

Why You Should Be Hiring the Best Sales and Marketing Athletes over Industry Experience

Posted on August 21, 2016 at 10:58 AM Comments comments (2)
“You don’t understand. Our business, in fact our entire industry, is different.”

I’ve heard that statement a hundred times.  To be honest, early in my career, I’m sure I said, and believed it myself; but not for quite some time now.  After decades of working with sales and marketing organizations across several industries I can tell you with confidence that when it comes to the basic mechanics of your business you’re not that unique.  Believe me, it’s OK for us to agree to disagree on this topic, and I’m sure many will.  But in my opinion there is nothing magically different about your company, and the fact that you insist on only hiring individuals who have “industry experience” is the very reason you will fall behind your competition.

How do I know you value industry experience so much?  First of all, it was obvious in your job post:
  • “Please do not respond if you do not have deep [name industry] knowledge.”
  • “Must bring a rolodex of contacts within [name industry]”
You don’t have to read between the lines to see your thought process.  Industry experience equals rainmaker.  When asked which is more important, picking the best qualifications or selecting a player who presents the strongest industry background, most hiring managers will say I want both.   Yes, they are both desired.  But if you had to favor either industry experience or best qualifications which one would you choose if you were serious about maximizing the impact of your team?
From my point of view, put your money on the organization that drafts the best athlete.  Uncertainty reigns, and in today’s business environment a rolodex can become outdated before your new player finishes reading your new employee manual.   In addition, even if their contacts remain current there is no guarantee your new player will maintain their industry standing.  After all, their reputation was established under a different brand and that in no way guarantees that they won’t need training, or will make a successful transition to your particular environment.

At best, strict industry experience comes across as desperate pleas for quick sales or a statement of “we don’t like change.”  Of course, anyone who has carried a quota or launched a marketing campaign knows Quick Hits and Low-Hanging Fruit are never as quick or as low as everyone believes.  And “more of the same” is certainly a creativity killer.

What statements might you find in a job post that focuses on the best athlete?

  • Follows consultative approaches.
  • Leads from the front and team builder.
  • Ability to network and manage complex cross-functional relationships.
  • Can build a vision and create unique content.
  • Passion, courage, and confidence to get things done fast.
  • Credibility and rapport building skills that fosters trust.

The best athlete understand how persuasion really works and know that human beings still make buying decisions based on doing business with people they know, like, and trust.

They are capable of creating narratives with ultimate designs on increasing their social capital.  And they are able to consistently create content that their audience values.  In short, they can figure out how to build key relationships and add value across any industry, not just drop names and quantify the costs.

If you want to grow your business, stop worrying about how much industry experience your job candidate has.  Just hire the best sales and marketing athlete. 

    What is Your Social Media ROI?

    Posted on August 4, 2016 at 7:39 AM Comments comments (15)
    Individual:   “Alan, what’s your Return on Investment for your social media activity? I haven’t really experienced any benefits myself.” 

    Alan:   “How often do you personally login to check your messages and engage real-time with your audience?   Are you personally taking time to craft material that is interesting and helpful to them?  Are you aware of their feelings and emotions?  Do you take time to listen and learn about your connections or just blast them with personal requests and sales pitches?” 

    Individual:   “Well… I don’t login every day.  Sometimes a couple of days or more might pass.  And I don’t check the direct messages anymore because if a legitimate contact really wanted to get hold of me I think they would email or call.  But if they have connected to me doesn’t that imply they’re interested in what I’m doing? Why shouldn’t I send them some type of personal request or call-to-action?”

    I’ve heard this story enough that I could have predicted that their ROI on social media was zero.  And it will probably stay that way.   Here’s the bottom line; social media takes personal effort, you need to consistently put in the time because there is no way to outsource your personality and original voice, or use automation to develop empathy.

    I know, I know, you “don’t have the time.”  I’ve heard that line a million times before as well.  Consider this; would you take time to secure a phone number and then never answer when it rings, or even check the messages?  Do you ignore your emails or the comments on your blog posts?  I’m guessing that you do pay some attention to those channels.  So why assume you can ignore your social media presence and still expect audience growth and participation?

    Oh, I understand.  You outsourced your telephone to an answering machine or service so you figured you would do the same with your social media profiles.  Yes, you can turn your social media activity over to an agency, or independent “social media expert,” or even put your activity on automatic pilot with social automation applications.  Let me ask you though, what’s the experience like when you’re on the other end of those interactions?  Admit it, you can always tell when you’re communicating with automation.  If it is a person, you can immediately sense when a substitute personality is engaging.  Does that type of exchange help build personal brand authenticity and transparency with you?  I doubt it; in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me that you disconnect from those types of profiles.  I know I do.

    ROI has long been the gold standard of corporate buzzwords, and we marketers do tend to love buzzwords.  We also love to measure and let our CEO and CFO know we are “data-driven.”  But that’s not something we should bet our careers on.  We also operate in a social-sharing economy.  Our audiences are looking for transparency, relevance and authentic engagement.  That means we have to get serious about direct human interaction and building trust-based relationships.  As a result I believe the development of empathy has become more important than ever.  We need to become aware of and sensitive to the feelings, thoughts and experiences of others.  I know it sounds obvious, but it’s more difficult than you realize.