The Spam-Free Sales & Marketing Approach to LinkedIn InMail

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Sales Tactics : 7 min read

The Spam-Free Sales & Marketing Approach to LinkedIn InMail

I recently asked some sales and marketing pals if they had any examples of effective LinkedIn InMail kicking around.

While the responses ranged in tone, most were some variation of, “No, I haven’t received a good one, and no I haven’t had much luck sending them myself.”

This is unfortunate, since according to LinkedIn, InMails can result in conversion rates “300% higher than emails with the exact same content.”

Coming from LinkedIn, this stat feels a little, err, biased. But before you negate it completely, it’d be wise to remember that InMails do have three touchpoints (and therefore three times more touchpoints than email): “mobile phone, dedicated LinkedIn inbox, and the recipient’s standard email inbox.”

sponsored linkedin inmail example.
Sponsored InMail on desktop and mobile

Of course, like any marketing channel, there’s a smart way to leverage LinkedIn InMail and a million hide-your-face-in-shame ways to abuse it.

We’re going the cover the former, and provide you with four expert-driven best practices along with some high-performing InMail examples, so you can glean some inspo for your next (or maybe first!) InMail campaign.

What is LinkedIn InMail?

Before you dig into InMail, it’s important to understand the difference between standard messages, InMail, and Sponsored InMail, so you can choose the right method to contact your prospects.

The average (free) LinkedIn user can message anyone they’re connected with—that’s it. With LinkedIn InMail, you can message anyone, regardless of if they’re a second-, third-, or sixth-degree connection. (Oh, hey there, Kevin Bacon.)

The number of InMail messages you can send per month depends on the type of LinkedIn plan you have, but you always have the ability to add additional InMail credits to your account (if it’s a paid account).

LinkedIn Sponsored InMail

LinkedIn Sponsored InMail is similar to regular InMail, in that it allows you to target users outside your network. The benefit of Sponsored InMail over regular InMail, however, is that you can target many users with a single message. In other words, you can use LinkedIn’s targeting to create a custom audience who’ll be receptive to your offer.

Not only that, LinkedIn has strict rules around how often members can receive Sponsored InMail (every 45 days). So your perfectly crafted message will inhibit anyone else from reaching out to the same contact with InMail.

As LinkedIn Ads Expert AJ Wilcox puts it, “You know that none of your competitors can steal that inventory from you for a whole [one and a half months].”

It’s not for everyone though. According to Wilcox, “maybe 5% of companies should be using Sponsored InMail; the rest should avoid it.” The reason being, Sponsored InMail costs between $12 and $22 per click, so you need to be able to make a lot of money to make it worth it.

B2C companies in particular should really question whether Sponsored InMail is the right channel. On the other hand, SaaS companies might consider Sponsored InMail to target that shortlist of Fortune 100 companies they’ve been eying, which would look so dang good on their customers page.

4 Tips for Sending Effective LinkedIn InMail

When crafting your InMails—Sponsored or otherwise—there are a few key things you’ll want to keep in mind to ensure the best ROI.

1. Make it about them

It’s not a stretch to say we’re bombarded with messages every day of our tech-connected lives. We see dozens, maybe hundreds, of ads on television, receive countless promotional emails, even unlock our phones to discover text messages from businesses we’re pretty sure we didn’t give our phone numbers to.

If your InMail isn’t explicitly about the recipient and how your offer improve their lives, forget about getting an open, let alone a conversion.

If you’re sending regular InMail, make sure you actually look at the user’s profile. If they have a mutual connection, mention that. If they are part of the same LinkedIn Group, mention that, too. According to LinkedIn, “You’re 21% more likely to get a response from a prospect when they are in the same LinkedIn Group as you,” so don’t be shy about your commonalities.

Sponsored InMail is a bit trickier, since you’re sending the same message to hundreds or even thousands of users. In this case, be deliberate when selecting your audience and layer on customization tokens including the user’s first name, last name, and business name. The result is a hyper-personalized, hyper-targeted one-to-many LinkedIn campaign.

a poorly written linkedin inmail message.
A great example of what *not* to do.

I received the Sponsored InMail above a few weeks ago. (How I made it into this audience I have no idea.) Suffice to say I didn’t click on their CTA. Not only am I not interested in buying or selling vehicles, including both first name and last name in the greeting is weirdly formal and therefore impersonal.

2. Include an enticing offer

Wilcox says the biggest mistake people make with Sponsored InMail is not including an enticing enough offer. Without a substantial offer, you end up coming off like a “thoughtless sales guy, which feels spammy.”

ppc experts' opinions on linkedin inmail.
PPC expert and Director at Clix Marketing Michelle Morgan literally echoing Wilcox’s advice.

Below are a few use cases and offers from LinkedIn to get the gears going:

linkedin messaging options.

Once you’ve settled on what you’ll offer, you need to present it in a compelling way. One tactic that often works is exclusivity. Check out these examples:

  • “We really want your thoughts and opinions on this new platform/product we’re getting ready to launch. We’d like to offer you free early access.”
  • “You’re a respected member of the X industry. We’d like offer you an exclusive invite to our upcoming event.”
  • “We’ve compiled our top data-driven secrets—including campaign results—and we want to share them with you.”

Pro-tip: You can now include lead gen forms directly within Sponsored InMail. Funnel leads directly to your CRM using a webhook tool like Zapier.

Quora Evangelist JD Prater had success coupling Sponsored InMail lead gen forms with website remarketing. “We ended up getting $7 cost per leads, and cheap open rates of $0.55. These results were similar to Facebook lead ads but were higher in quality and value.”

3. Mind your InMail copy

Remember: the copywriting principles you apply to your email copy should also be applied to InMail. Just because (and especially because) you’re likely to get better open rates, doesn’t mean you can be lazy with your copy.

The following tips come straight from LinkedIn’s ebook, Read Me If You Want To Improve Your InMail Response Rates on LinkedIn.

  • Catch their interest with a compelling subject line. You’ve got six or seven words to catch your prospect’s attention so use them wisely. Mention a shared connection or common interest or praise them on a recent promotion or post they wrote.
  • Lead with something personal. Your opening line is an opportunity to create a bond with your prospect, so identify shared common interests or backgrounds and leverage it immediately. This shouldn’t be a repeat of your subject line, but rather an extension of it. Did Malory Michaels suggest you reach out? Explain why in your opening line.
  • Keep it short. Data suggests the most effective emails are between 50 and 125 words. InMail is no exception considering “more than 50% of these messages are opened on smartphones.”
  • Keep it simple(ish). Research from Boomarang revealed that emails written for a third-grader are 36% more likely to get a response, so cut out the jargon and superfluous unnecessary language.
  • Remember the rule of three. Keep your message to three paragraphs, with no more than three sentences per paragraph.

The following Sponsored InMail was provided to me by Wilcox as an example of an effective message. Notice the subject line, “The LinkedIn Secret Sauce,” which he found especially eye-catching. Not only that, the message has three paragraphs before leading into three bullet points.

linkedin inmail example.

Pro-tip: When you run a LinkedIn Sponsored InMail campaign, you also get the ad space in the top-right hand corner of the message. Director of Marketing Services at Snaptech Marketing Amalia Fowler warns, “Always include an image. If you don’t put one in yours, that space becomes ad space for someone who is not you.”

4. Consider where they are in the buyer’s journey

No stranger to PPC advertising, Fowler has had huge success with Sponsored InMail for one of her clients, a luxury hotel brand. Their recent campaign had an audience of 260,000 and resulted in a 50% open rate and a click-through rate of 6.64%. In addition to compelling copy in both the body and subject line, the offer was simply to ‘Learn more.’

According to Amalia, “When you’re selling a luxury travel experience the funnel is quite long—so asking for a booking off the bat isn’t going to be something that works. Consider where the buyers are in the journey when you’re writing your InMail.”

Try it, you might like it

If you haven’t already given InMail a shot, you might be missing out on a really effective marketing and sales channel.

However, don’t expect to be an expert on your first try. When it comes to targeting, Fowler says “audiences on LinkedIn are always tricky to get correct… [but] don’t give up after the first try if you don’t get it right.”

To begin with, stick to the tried-and-true tips featured in the post, and as you make discoveries, share them with your peers—after all, how might we learn to do better if not by example?