This post was updated in May of 2107 to address changes in UI and features in both LinkedIn and Sales Navigator.
LinkedIn Sales Navigator is LinkedIn’s sales tool. It’s a different subscription and experience than LinkedIn that’s designed specifically for social selling giving salespeople access to LinkedIn’s mountain of B2B data.
You can still do social selling with both the free and premium versions of LinkedIn, and many people do. We wrote the first version of this article in 2015, because, our clients didn't understand the value of Sales Navigator compared to the free and premium versions of LinkedIn. Lots of articles explained that the tool was “worth it, if you had the right process.” That really didn't answer the questions about the value, or what it takes to get the most out of it.
Since we first published this article LinkedIn and Sales Navigator have gone through major user interface changes, and some features that were available in both the free and premium versions are now only available in Sales Navigator. Moreover, LinkedIn has added some nice features to the tool, which make it easier to use, and the platform's B2B data more accessible.
In this article, I’ll compare Sales Navigator to regular LinkedIn. I’ll show you the experience, tell you what's changed, show you how to use the new features, and show you examples of what we consider the killer features. Finally, I’ll walk you through a couple of social selling “Wow” scenarios that illustrate how Sales Navigator can be a powerful social selling tool.
Recent Updates to LinkedIn
Both LinkedIn and Sales Navigator have undergone updates. LinkedIn, as some have put it, looks more like the Facebook UI. Whether or not you agree with that, the UI updates were certainly an attempt to simplify pages that were very busy, reduce noise, clutter, and make navigation simpler. As Techcrunch put it in their article on the desktop update, you now have seven primary areas "Home (Your Feed), Messaging, Jobs, Notifications, Me (your old profile page), My Network, and Search." Two major goals of this were to make messaging and communications within the network more approachable with the integration of messaging and making its feeds easier to use with more relevant content. The third major goal of this update is more important to the topic of this article, and it has everything to do with what was removed from LinkedIn Premium.
Compared to LinkedIn Premium
LinkedIn Premium used to be considered a great social selling tool by itself. In fact, it was probably Sales Navigator's biggest competitor. In my opinion, the other major goal of this update was to remove social selling features of LinkedIn Premium so that it not longer competed so well against its sales focused sibling, and leaving that higher priced tier as the only real option for sales professionals.
With LinkedIn Premium you still get a monthly allotment of InMails that you can use to reach out to contacts outside your network. You can still search LinkedIn for people based on first and last name, job title, company, and school. However, many of the strong social selling features were removed including:
- Notes: LinkedIn formerly included a relationship tab with the ability to make notes on a contact record. This feature was key as it allowed you to capture information about all your interactions with a connection. This was a key social selling feature that allowed you to pick up where you left off anytime you engaged with a contact.
- Tags: The ability to add keyword tags to contacts to help you sort and organize them.
- Advanced search: Gone are search filters for years of experience, function, seniority level, interested in, company size and when a user joined. Those filters were extremely useful in narrowing searches to pinpoint your target audience when selling.
- Search within groups: This feature was also removed.
LinkedIn Premium was not a CRM by any stretch, but, when it had the above features, was certainly a good tool for B2B prospecting. In my opinion, it no longer is.
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Sales Navigator: A Dedicate Social Selling Tool
Sales Navigator has three pricing tiers with slightly different features. Sales Navigator is an entirely separate application that is well organized for sales, and entirely separate from LinkedIn search, messaging, and profile activities.
On the home page, at the center of Sales Navigator are updates from people you’ve defined as leads and companies you’ve defined as accounts. Once nice thing about Sales Navigator is that you don’t need to connect with a person to define them as a lead. Once you define a lead or account, anything they publish is rolled up here. You can also get notifications when your leads publish content. This makes it easier for you to keep up with the prospects you’re most interested in, and see what’s on their minds. That, in turn, may provide opportunities to reach out and engage. The left side of the homepage lets you filter what you see in your feed by potential leads, news about leads (when your leads are mentioned by others in the news), shares by leads, as well as news and shares by accounts.
The top menu of Sales Navigator lets you browse the accounts or leads you’re following, go to your inbox, or manage seats if you’re using Team Edition. The right side of the page shows your recent activity and searches to help you keep track of your social selling activities.
Track and Connect with Leads
On the Leads page, you can view information about people you’ve saved as leads and send InMails to them, send a connection request or view their profile.
When you view the profile of a lead, you can see the lead's profile information but you tap into the social selling features, and power of Sales Navigator. At the top of the page you get lead recommendations. People who are similar to the lead you're looking at, that you may wish to connect with. These can be helpful, especially if you're trying to break into a new market, or vertical.
The tags and notes features removed from LinkedIn Premium are available on the right side of the page allowing you to segment contacts and keep notes about interactions. You can connect or send an InMail from the profile area, or, under Tags and Notes, you can see connections of yours that are connected to the lead (if any). You can then ask people you know to send an introduction to your lead, instantly warming up a cold lead. Also, extremely important to social selling, you can see all of your lead's recent updates in one place. This allows you to quickly discover what's on their mind, and plan your conversations accordingly.
In her article How to Use LinkedIn Sales Navigator for Better Prospecting, Viveka von Rosen pointed out three new enhancements to Sales Navigator that make it an even more powerful social selling tool:
- "LinkedIn has added new search enhancement features that give you more opportunities to filter your search results, as well as to engage. One of these features is to display leads that follow your company, which you can use if you have a LinkedIn company page. These leads probably already know about you, which may make it easier to connect and engage with them on LinkedIn."
- "Another option is to see who has posted on LinkedIn in the past 30 days, making it easy to comment on and engage with their content. Similarly, you can find out who has been mentioned in the news or changed jobs so you can congratulate those connections."
- "You can also identify people who have shared experiences with you, including shared groups, skills, and connections. This gives you something to talk about when you engage with people for the first time."
Analyze and Target Accounts
The Accounts page is also very powerful. It lists accounts you've saved for prospecting and provides suggestions for accounts you may wish to follow. In addition, you can view the account and get more insights.
When you view an account, Sales Navigator gives you lead recommendations and will show you how you’re connected to leads with first degree connections that can recommend or introduce you. The accounts page also lets you filter updates to see news or shares from leads or the company. Another nice feature is that Sales Navigator shows you potential leads, people or companies similar to the one you’re looking at which may help you identify new prospects. If you’re using Team Edition you can also see who on your sales team is connected to the leads you’re interested in so that they can reach out on your behalf.
Advanced Lead Search Capabilities
At the top of the Sales Navigator page, you can search for people, companies, and keywords, like you would in regular LinkedIn. You can also use the Lead Builder to find lists of leads.
The Lead Builder allows you to search for keywords, companies, locations, and titles, and to filter by functional role (such as marketing or legal), company size, industry, and so forth. In fact, lead builder now supports 22 search filters allowing you to drill down into hyper-refined subsets of your prospective audience.
For example, if you're doing general prospecting, you could search your target geography for group members and second degree connections in industries you target, and filling job functions your products and services appeal to at seniority levels you engage with.
Once you set your parameters, Lead Builder shows you the filters you’ve applied and the number of matching results. From that list, you can review the leads, see how you're connected to them and ask your first degree connections to introduce you. At any time you can adjust the search parameters on the left side of the page. You can also save searches for later.
Sales Navigator lets you identify any person or company in LinkedIn as a lead you wish to follow. Once you do, it lets you easily find, filter, and browse updates and published content from those leads. This makes it easier to see what your prospects are doing, what they’re interested in and should provide opportunities for you to engage for social selling. The ability to do this, without having to connect, opens the door to LinkedIn’s data, letting you prospect all you want. Lead recommendations can be helpful in expanding your lead list and finding similar prospects. The Lead Builder lets you cold prospect but also shows you relationships. If you find a prospect you are interested in, it shows how many connections you are away from that person, and anyone you know who is connected to them. That information can provide a path to making a connection.
The statement many people used to make about Sales Navigator was, “It’s worth it if you have the right process.” It was true and still is. You have to use Sales Navigator the right way to unlock its real power. That said, considering the features have been removed from LinkedIn Premium, Sales Navigator Professional, and Team Editions are the only real LinkedIn social selling tool.
I’m not covering Team Edition in depth in this article, so I want to take a little time to tell you who Team Edition is for and the value our clients have seen.
Team Edition is for sales teams. In larger organizations that are focused on B2B sales, LinkedIn Team Edition can be a popular choice. Our clients that use it are generally happy with it. It costs more at $1,200 per year with annual billing but provides some additional features including:
- It offers Out of network unlocks that allow you to view the full profiles of a certain number of LinkedIn users that are outside your network.
- Teamlink connections, which is the ability to see who on your sales team is already connected to a prospect you’re interested in, which is nice.
- Usage reporting sales team managers. This can help sales managers keep tabs on sales staff, telling them how team members are using Sales Navigator.
Sales Navigator’s nice features
Sales Navigator has a long list of features. Some of these features are something you would expect any CRM-like product to have, or are only slightly enhanced from the free or premium version of LinkedIn:
- Account and contact import and sync: This can be powerful if you use Salesforce. Currently, Salesforce is the only CRM platform that Sales Navigator connects to. On initial setup, you can import both accounts and contacts, and they sync with Salesforce on an ongoing basis. Obviously, companies that don’t use Salesforce don’t benefit from this.
- Ability to see who’s viewed your profile: This is similar to the LinkedIn Premium feature. While this is nice, a profile view doesn’t a prospect or customer make. However, if someone views your profile, and they are a good prospect, you can follow up on that profile view to start a conversation.
- Additional InMails: It’s always nice. Pro, Team, and Enterprise provide 20, 30, and 50 additional per month respectively. Coupled with your regular LinkedIn InMail allotment, this can significantly increase your out of network connection potential.
Lead Builder Requires a Social Selling Process
Most people we talk to feel that the Lead Builder and lead recommendations features are hit and miss. Lead recommendations often aren’t qualified to the degree you would want. For example, if you're a local business targeting an account that has a national presence, you might get recommendations for leads that are outside your local area, in the corporate office. On the other hand, some lead recommendations are pretty good, and worth of additional research and follow up. It’s difficult to put numbers on it because, the number of recommendations you get depends on the time you’re spending looking at accounts, doing research and so forth. The number we came up with after talking to our clients is 10 percent or less fall into this category. Many sales people will say, that’s not bad. I’m doing my job and a lead pops up that I can use, wonderful. Some salespeople and sales managers have a different take. They don’t feel they get many good leads through recommendations (some people are very adamant about this). It's a problem because they don’t want sales staff distracted from following up better-qualified leads to chase down these random leads. Mileage will vary.
As for the Lead Builder, it’s a tool that requires some skill to use. The recent changes to Sales Navigator, in our opinion, has made it easier to use. Using the searching and filtering capabilities you can get lots of contact names. There are two things to understand about Lead Builder. First, unless you’re using Lead Builder in a very targeted way that will leverage existing connections and relationships, the contact names you get will most likely be cold prospects. In this case, InMailing your Lead Builder search results list is probably not going to generate a lot of success. You will need a social selling process of some sort to turn these cold prospects into warm prospects, and eventually convert them into customers. You can use any number of social selling methodologies. You might save them as leads so you can keep in touch with their posts and publications. Or you might find and follow other social accounts and engage by commenting and replying to social posts to build familiarity and a relationship. Or, as stated earlier, you might find existing LinkedIn connections that can recommend or introduce you.
Second, we believe Lead Builder is best when used for very targeted searches, which allow you to leverage existing relationships and connections to shorten the prospect to customer journey. Anyone can learn to do this; it takes practice, and experimentation, or training like we provide to our clients. Lead Builder provides numerous filters, which, when applied incorrectly can leave searches too broad, too narrow, or completely off the mark. By focusing on searches that can leverage existing connections, applying different filters, and qualifying the results returned, you can find good searches, and learn how to get better results. An example of a good, targeted search might be:
For example, if you recently published an ebook on how to create buyer personas, you could use Sales Navigator to find first and second degree connections, as well as group members in your target geography who have recently posted about personas and offer them a copy of the ebook.
Creating good searches with the Lead Builder takes practice and skill. Following up with the discovered leads takes a social selling process and skill. Many organizations and sales people don’t have the time to devote to it or the social selling process to follow up effectively which is why the Lead Builder isn’t considered a killer feature by some salespeople.
Killer Features Ahead, but a Process is Needed
We, and most of the people we talk to find the following features to be the real, killer features of LinkedIn Sales Navigator. They provide access you can’t get anywhere else, make it significantly easier to find the right information, or research and connect with prospects:
- Lead and account pages. This lets you drill in, and see what your prospects are talking about. Sales Navigator makes this information very easy to find and helps you see the evolution of thought or concern over time. You can filter feeds to spot trends from multiple leads in an industry. You can use this information to start conversations with prospects or to create content to address trends and concerns you identify. You can share the content generally, or with specific prospects to engage them.
- Post notifications for leads. If you’re plugged into your prospects and have been using content marketing and touch contacts to nurture them, and you suspect a buying decision might come soon, timely information can be your best friend. Not only will Sales Navigator show you when your leads publish a post, but you can also download the Sales Navigator mobile app to your phone to get the same notifications on the go. That will help make sure that you never miss a post from a prospect, and always have the most timely information when engaging.
- Connection maps. These maps show you how you’re connected, and your connections that are already connected to prospects. Discovering which of your connections is connected to a prospect is possible with LinkedIn, but would be very time consuming to pursue. Sales Navigator shows you all of your connections (if any) that are connected to a prospect. That means you can not only ask a connection to introduce you, you can ask the best connection to make that introduction based on the relationship you’re trying to establish. This can be an awesome time-saving step that can turn cold prospects into warm leads.
Again, taking advantage of the data LinkedIn gives you requires a process. Social selling will give you as many instant wins as most other selling techniques, nearly zero. However, a good social selling process makes your prospects aware of you, allows you to engage at opportune times with posts, comments, and content, and will help build a relationship. Over time, that relationship can convert prospects into customers. Social selling can be extremely effective and lucrative, but it’s a long play that takes time and dedication. It also usually requires at least some coordination and support from content marketing, sales engineering, and other sales support staff.
WOW scenarios for Sales Navigator
The following are just some scenarios where the tools and features of Sales Navigator can help you find leads, and sales opportunities starting from nothing more than a name, and seriously shortening the sales cycle:
- Post opportunity scenario: You’ve saved numerous accounts and leads. You haven’t connected with all of them because establishing relationships and connections takes time. You’ve saved them because they are in a field that you sell into, or in an industry where your company has done business. You monitor your lead’s shares and see a post asking for help in an area where your company provides services. You view the lead and see the connection map. You have a first degree connection that is a current happy customer that you provided a similar service for. You ask that person to send a recommendation in response to the lead’s post. That that turns a cold lead into warm prospect with one post, and follow up message.
- Lead Builder customer relationship expansion scenario. Going back to the Lead Builder tool, if an IT staffing company has just staffed a position at a new client, the sales rep can try to increase penetration at that client by doing a targeted Lead Builder search. By searching for leads from that company, with the function of Information Technology, at a seniority level of manager to VP, Sales Navigator will list contacts within the company that may be interested in your services. Your existing client in the company can likely introduce you, and you get a whole set of new people who might be willing to buy.
Sales Navigator gives you access to LinkedIn’s data in unprecedented ways that can shorten B2B sales cycles if you have connections to leverage, and a social selling process as described above. There are scenarios where Sales Navigator can provide sales opportunities almost out of nowhere, but consistently good results require a good social selling process, time, and help from marketing and sales staff.
We recommend that businesses start with the month to month billing options at the Professional level, which gives you lead recommendations at $80 per month, for small sales staff, and month to month Team Edition for larger sales staff. Get trained on how to make the most of the features such as Lead Builder, then use the heck out of it, and make your own evaluation. Some teams have good results with their entire B2B team using it. Others opt to have only a few team members use it. Again, mileage will vary. Once you have staff getting results from Sales Navigator, convert them to the annual plan to save some money.
CarverTC is an Hubspot partner agency in Portland Oregon that provides inbound marketing and content to technology companies, and anyone with complex messaging. CarverTC also provides digital marketing training across North America.