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LinkedIn Etiquette: Interacting With People Who Want to Sell You Something

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Ever feel everyone is trying to sell something to everyone else? Perhaps the world is one giant networking group! LinkedIn is a social media site focused on business, yet I think it’s about making connections, not cold calling. How do you interact with people whose only interest is pushing their product?

(Related: 10 Ways People Behave Badly on LinkedIn)

Let’s not be hypocritical. You are on LinkedIn to get business. We should all keep an open mind. I asked a question in a LinkedIn group concerning how to choose which invitations to accept. The most practical answer I received was to accept those from second-level connections with 500-plus connections of their own. I would add it’s an additional plus if you’re also members of the same LinkedIn group.

Interacting With People Who Are Selling

Here are my thoughts for polite behavior and professionalism when you are on the receiving end of a sales message.

1. The 21st Century Cold Call

The invitation you get says, “I sell (service). We increase people’s business 25% or 50%. Are you interested in learning more?”

My response: I ignore those invitations. Under the scenario they’ve created, accepting means you are self-qualifying as an interested prospect.

2. The Sales Presentation Is the First Message

The invitation you receive is more general. “I’ve looked over your profile. I’m interested in connecting with successful people like yourself.” You accept. The other user immediately (probably a system response) sends an introductory message: “Thanks for connecting. I sell (service). We increase people’s business…”

My response: I get these quite often. I message back, “I don’t see a business overlap, but I’m happy to be a connection.” Sometimes the user drops me shortly afterwards, since I’m not an interested prospect. My term for those is “catch and release.”

3. “Let’s talk on the phone.”

After I connect, the next message I receive is, “Let’s talk on the phone. Here’s how to access my scheduling tool to pick a time slot.” I’m thinking this is another sales approach that’s probably untouched by human hands. However, sender’s interest in talking could be quite innocent.

My response: I have a couple. If I think it’s innocent, I message back, “Glad to chat, but I don’t like scheduling calls. Just call me at this number when you have a moment.” Now we learn if there’s a human out there somewhere. Another method I use is saying, “I’m busy on a project right now, but we can easily get to know each other by messaging back and forth.” I wait to see if I hear from the sender. I often send a message to get a conversation started.

4. Gentle Selling

I think this is fine. A new LinkedIn connection sends an initial message a few days later, thanking me for connecting and explaining what the connection does. The connection asks me to talk a bit about what I do.

My response: Gentle selling is good. There’s a sincere interest in engaging and getting to know the other party. I tell a bit about my business, add some personal details, and ask to learn a bit more about the connection’s life and where the connection lives. It’s two business people getting to know each other.

5. Aggressive Selling

It can start in many ways, but you know it when you see it. “I see (service). We increase people’s business 25-50%>>>” You say you aren’t interested. The connection asks, “What are you doing now?” You answer. The connection comes back with, “That’s so inefficient.” You say, “Not interested.” The connection asks, “Why wouldn’t you be interested in increasing your business 25-50%?” It goes on.

My response: You’ve noticed the connection hasn’t taken an interest in you as a person. LinkedIn is a site for building business connections, not for aggressive selling. I try, “I’m not interested in (product) but would like to learn more about you.” I share some personal information. The messages often stop then.

6. “Success Is Guaranteed.”

Some LinkedIn connections will attempt to solicit you for investments or their investment system. That approach can involve many different products, which I won’t mention here, but the overriding message is the same: “Everyone has made money. Success is guaranteed.”

My response: Since you would be putting money somewhere, those connections are, broadly speaking, selling securities. I message back that, “‘Guarantee’ is an absolute. You cannot promise people won’t incur losses. Does your Compliance Department know about these messages?” Not surprisingly, when I send that message, I’m dropped as a connection.

How to Drop a Connection

LinkedIn is tactful. It doesn’t notify the other parties you have dropped them. They might figure it out, if they search for you as a first-level connection and you can’t be found, turn up as a second- or third-level connection, or disappear entirely. Although there are different steps you can take to create distance, let’s look at how to sever a connection.

Type the connection’s name into the LinkedIn search field. View the connection’s profile. Next to the blue “message” icon is another labeled “More.” Click it. One choice is “Remove Connection.”

LinkedIn is a social media site focused on business connections. There are many reasons to connect with people. I think it’s good to be open-minded. Be tolerant, because, as Robert Louis Stevenson famously said, “Everyone lives by selling something.” Give the connections an opportunity to open up as people. If they aren’t responsive, you can keep them as connections, yet stop messaging. Or, you could take stronger measures.

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Bryce SandersBryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. He provides high-net-worth client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book, “Captivating the Wealthy Investor,” can be found on Amazon.