LinkedIn’s popularity in sales keeps growing — don’t miss out on the basics. Almost anyone you’re trying to get in touch with can now be found on the network. The usefulness of LinkedIn for sales has led to a surge in consultants and companies that specialize in generating leads from LinkedIn.

Josh Turner is the CEO of LinkedSelling, and he has some helpful tips for how to get started prospecting on LinkedIn. Here are his pointers.

1) Make sure you are findable on LinkedIn.

Especially if you’re in sales, you need a profile that is reasonably up to date. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does need to be somewhat current.

Also, ensure your work email is attached to the account. More and more people will check you out on LinkedIn as you amp up your interactions through the social network. Frankly, it’ll look suspicious or questionable if a prospect or other connection can’t find your work email on your profile.

2) Find prospects with “Advanced People Search.”

Even with a free account, LinkedIn’s “Advanced People Search” can give you lots of useful information.

Let’s say you’re looking for owners of IT companies in the San Francisco area. One challenge is that these people often go by different titles. “President,” “Owner,” “CEO,” “Founder” … the list goes on and on.

Fortunately, LinkedIn makes finding the people we’re looking for easy — regardless of how they identify themselves. Searching for “President or CEO or Owner or Founder” will return results for anybody who has one of those words in their title. If this search creates too much noise, you can upgrade to a Premium account to get additional filters, such as company size (incredibly important in sales) and seniority level.

3) Message first, sell second.

You can prospect all day long, but if you don’t have a process for actually reaching out and lining up calls or meetings with these prospects, what’s the point?

In our experience, one of the best ways to approach prospects is to avoid talking about what you do at first. Don’t lead with a salesy pitch. Think about it this way. For every 10 cold prospects you hit up, how many are interested in your product or service? Probably only a couple.

With this in mind, your response rate to LinkedIn messages, InMails, or invitations will go way up when you simply ask to connect, as opposed to pitching your services. I find it’s helpful to message potential prospects through a shared LinkedIn group before sending a connection request.

Here’s a simple yet effective message template:

“Hey [first name]! I came across your profile here in the X group and was really impressed by what your company’s doing. I’d love to connect on LinkedIn if you’d be open to it!

If that sounds good, let me know, or feel free to send me a request here: [link to salesperson’s profile].

Thanks very much! John Doe.”

After that, send an invitation to connect. Once they connect, follow up a few days later to see if they’re open to a call or pitch another request.

In summary, take it slow when prospecting on LinkedIn. Don’t blast people with cold pitches from the get-go — take two or three baby steps. First message them through a shared group, then send a connection request. It’s only after they accept that you should send your prospecting message.

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