linkedinRead this before starting a conversation on LinkedIn.

George runs a social media company. He is tech savvy and up-to-date on the do’s and don’ts of social media. He even launched a contest to get traction for his new company, and it quickly went viral.

So I was eager to learn more about George when he reached out to me—asking for my perspective on social media, what referral selling really means, and the links between social media conversations, referral introductions, and closed deals.

Before George and I spoke, I read his LinkedIn profile. Not only did he have a fascinating business background, but two things he mentioned hit close to home. He was on the crew team in college, and he got his master’s degree from DePaul University.

Why would this matter to me? It might not to anyone else, but …

It’s About Connections

My daughter rowed crew in high school, and my other daughter got her master’s degree from DePaul. So when I invited George to connect with me on LinkedIn, I mentioned both of these commonalities.

I had no idea how impactful my invitation was until George mentioned it during our phone conversation. He said he was saving it as the best LinkedIn invitation he’d ever received. He couldn’t believe I’d taken the time to make those connections.

But in my opinion (and LinkedIn agrees with me), making connections is what social media’s all about.

Focus on Conversations

It only took a few minutes to create a personal connection with George, which is far more powerful than the automated request: “I’d like to invite you to join my professional network on LinkedIn.” Boring!

Always personalize your LinkedIn invitation. Your goal is to begin a conversation and ultimately build a relationship. There’s nothing personal about the standard invite. You just hit a button, and the recipient is just another number, not a true connection.

Beware the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

I recently received two standard LinkedIn invitations. I wrote to each of them, asking why they wanted to connect with me.

One told me he’d heard my referral selling ideas on a webinar, and he wanted to follow my posts. The other wrote back with a one-page (at least) letter on what he does—with several links. It was a total sales pitch, and a dishonest one at that. He said since no one was teaching people how to use LinkedIn, he created a program. And he called himself a social media expert. (Actually, plenty of people are in the business of teaching others to use social media, and some of them at least have the good sense and networking etiquette to send a personal greeting.)

Check out every standard invitation you receive. If you don’t know the sender or understand why that person would want to be part of your network, write and ask the reason for connecting.

It only takes a few minutes to check someone’s profile and personalize your invitation. It makes all the difference as you begin a conversation. And that’s the key to increasing your sales pipeline—making connections that count.

Connect with Me

I would love to connect with you on LinkedIn and look forward to receiving your personal invitation!

You can also follow me on Google+ , Facebook, or Twitter @ReferralSales.

Comment Here

What’s the most unforgettable LinkedIn invitation you ever received?