Sending LinkedIn connection requests? Avoid using the default text

Every week, I get multiple requests from folks who want to connect with me on LinkedIn. I don’t know 90% of these professionals. More often than not, they are members of product management or other LinkedIn groups that I belong to readers of this blog. I typically accept these connection requests unless your profile does not impress me (typically sales people for products that I don’t have any use for).

More often than not (98.6734% to be precise :-)) these requests use the default text “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn”. If you are doing this with people who do not know well, then I think you are making a mistake when you are networking. Why? Here are three reasons:

1) You are a complete stranger to me. I don’t know anything about you and I don’t have the time to do work to find out who you are (remember I have to click on the email link to get to LinkedIn, click on your name to read your profile to find something about you, get back to your request and then accept it). Too many friction points to overcome.

2) I am thinking ROI here and see none when I get a request with the default text. What is in it for me to connect with you? Why should I invest my time? If I don’t know who you are, I don’t know if I can be of help to you or you can be of help to me in the future.

3) If you cannot take 2 minutes to make a sincere networking request and that too to a complete stranger, it tells me only two things – you are either lazy and/or unprofessional.

I may be accepting requests from total strangers (software product managers or readers of this blog), but I think you will be better off not doing this with others. So instead, do the following – Tell me how you found me, tell me something cool about yourself (keep it professional, LinkedIn is nothing but a professional network). Give me something that I can appreciate of you, something that will help me differentiate you from others. For example, often my network connections reach out to me asking me if I know someone who would fit a particular job description they are looking to fill. If I can remember something about you, I maybe able to make the connection between the recruiter and you – which is what networking is all about.

PS: Only time I tend to use the default text in the requests I make is when I know someone very well – a friend or a colleague that requires no introduction. Even in these cases, I tend to start on a personal note with “Hope all is well….”

Do you agree? Thoughts?

6 ways Software Product Managers can use LinkedIn

LinkedIn is one of the largest social networks. LinkedIn’s website has the following stats:

  • Over 75 million members in over 200 countries.
  • A new member joins LinkedIn approximately every second, and about half of our members are outside the U.S.
  • Executives from all Fortune 500 companies are LinkedIn members.

I am sure all of you are on LinkedIn (and if you are not, what have you been waiting for?). It is the one of the three social networks that I engage in. Others being Facebook and Twitter. So how do we as software product managers effectively use LinkedIn. Here are 6 ways that I personally use LinkedIn.

1) Network with customers, friends, colleagues – Of course, this is obvious because this is what LinkedIn is all about. Needs no further explanation.

2) Find prospective customers - Doing market research and competitive analysis are primary job functions of software product managers. Not only should we be talking to existing customers, but also be talking to those who don’t use our products. But how do we find people who use competitor’s products? Simple. Start with a LinkedIn search. For example, let us say you are the product manager for Company X’s CRM solution and you want to talk to Salesforce.com administrators. Do a search on LinkedIn and see who comes up? Are any of these people connected to you? Can one of your connections make an introduction for you so that you are not cold calling people?

What if you don’t know who is using your competitor’s products? Where do you start? Competitor’s website of course. Do they have a list of clients or do they have press releases that announce new customer wins? Get that information and then start the LinkedIn search. You will be amazed on what you can find, provided you have a good network.

3) Find Usability testing participants – You have this brand new product/website that you have created to solve an unmet need in the marketplace. Before launch, you want your team to do usability testing with customers, prospects etc. But where do you find them? I find LinkedIn to be very useful in finding people who fit personas I need when doing usability tests. I have a network of 650+ connections. I am quite confident that I can find almost any type of persona for the work that I do, among my network or their connections.

4) References while recruiting - It is very typical for employers to ask for references from prospective employees. But does anyone expect candidates to provide references who would say anything but stellar things about them? Of course, not. What LinkedIn has allowed people to do, is find people who may not be on the candidate’s reference list but someone who has worked with the candidate in previous jobs. This reference may be valuable in helping the employer get an impartial reference on the employee – especially if you personally know the person you are talking to. I have been approached multiple times by my past colleagues asking for my opinion on people that I have worked with. I have done the same when I am looking to hire someone. But one word of caution – you absolutely should NOT talk to anyone at the candidate’s current employer without the candidate’s permission. You could risk the candidate’s current job and this is absolutely NOT acceptable.

5) Doing reference checks on your future employers - This is the other side of the same coin described in step #4. You are applying for this new job at this great company. You have interviewed with your peers, your future boss, some in the upper management and they are so upbeat. But are you sure this is the true story? What would it be to work with your future boss? How qualified is the management? What is the real story? As a candidate, you need to do your research. You will never be sorry. Trust me, based on my experience, there are many companies out there that just put on a show on how great they are with employees, but very few walk the talk. You can get the real deal using LinkedIn by talking to past employees, even current employees someone in your network may know very well – ask your connection to make an introduction. If the employer finds out about this and has an issue, you should walk – No good employer should have an issue with their future employees doing research on the company as part of their job hunting efforts. To me, when a new employee walks in through the front door to start a new job, I want him/her to be absolutely confident that they are taking the right move. Confident employees perform better in the long run and buy into the mission of the company much better.

6) Continuing education – Are you stumped with a software product management problem and would like to see how other software product managers would solve it? Looking to share your software product management expertise with others? Want to keep a pulse on what other software product managers are up to and keep reading more about software product management? Look no further than LinkedIn Groups. There are so many software product management groups on LinkedIn that are worth joining. I am a member of many of them and read through them as time permits. I participate in some of the threads (but no where close to how much I would like to). Participating in these discussion groups helps build your expertise in product management community as well. And all of this advise and continuing education costs you nothing – it is FREE!

What other ways do you use LinkedIn? Your thoughts on the above?

One closing word of caution – Give more to your network than you ask. Just because you have a network does not mean that you can exploit it by asking people for favors. Make sure you give more in kind than you ask of your network.

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User communities – The 100-10-1 rule

Very often, when building user community sites or sites that will predominantly be driven by user generated content, the question that always gets asked is how many users do we need to attract to ensure that there is a steady stream of new content that is generated on the site. In the book, Citizen Marketers, Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba talk about a very easy to remember 1% guiding principle. The 1% rule says that

  • 1% of the visitors to a website will create new content or contribute content.
  • 10% of the visitors will interact with the content by writing comments or say rating the content.
  • The remaining (a very large majority by the way) will merely read the content

They have validated this 1% estimate (give or take a few percentage points) using leading websites such as Wikipedia, TiVo Community Forum, Microsoft’s Channel 9 website, Yahoo Groups, Quickbooks community etc.

I have found this to be very true in the user community websites I have created, beta programs I have run. This rule which I find appropriate to refer to as the 100-10-1 rule serves as a great guideline to determine how much traffic you need to generate to your website such that it is self sustaining in terms of content generation. If you need say 10 new articles a day from 10 different contributors to keep your website going, then you need to make sure that at least 1000 users visit your site everyday.

It also helps you understand how user communities behave such that you do not set unachievable targets such as “1 in 5 users (20%) who visit my website will contribute content.” – it is very likely not going to happen.

Businesses are not ready for social media, unless ….

By now, you all have heard enough about social media this, social media that – folks in your office saying we need to create a business account on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and the other zillion social media sites out there.

But are businesses ready for this. My answer is No. Vast majority of businesses are not ready for it, period.

What businesses should actually be spending their time first is on an  SEO and content strategy first (SEO = search engine optimization) before they start worrying about social media. Here is a simple diagram that I use to explain this to anyone who would listen – yes I do get drowned by all those voices who say – but we can do that later, why don’t we create a business page on Facebook in the mean time. If we build it, they will come. NO THEY WON’T COME, unless they FIND YOU on the internet.

Social Media

Starting from the left, you have your products/services. On your website, you need to have information on these products/services. The first question a business needs to ask itself is the following:

Is our content (easy to read product brochures, white papers, case studies etc.) useful for our target audience? Is it written in a language our target base uses? If yes, is it Search Engine friendly so that they will find it?

If no, forget about social media and  spend the time getting this in order.

Now how do you do that? First of all, understand what your target audience is searching for and then determine which of these search keywords are relevant to you and the content you currently have – the free Google keywords tool is a good place to start. You may not necessarily have to go after the high search volume keywords,  since they will be highly competitive and you would likely be competing against those who have larger wallets than you do. I am not an expert on all the SEO tips, but there is a ton of good content on SEO on the web.

If you do not have enough content that will be useful to your audience, then create it and optimize it for the selected keywords. One way to generate content is to start a company blog and create Google juice – new fresh, relevant content.

Once you have created the necessary content and your site is getting found by the search engines for the keywords you have chosen to compete for (give it 4-6 weeks to see results), then start spreading the word on the social media outposts. As you create new content, post it on the social media outposts. Yes, you need to use social media to listen to your prospects, but without SEO friendly, relevant content, IMHO you don’t have a prayer.

So here are the steps as I see it:

1. Create an SEO strategy – why do I need SEO? (increase awareness, get more visitors to my site, convert a percentage of them to customers etc. – what do you really want to achieve?)

2. Figure out the keywords you want to optimize for.

3. Repurpose or create content that will be useful to your audience based on the selected keywords. If you have no content and have no idea of what your audience may be interested in, interview your customers or prospects and understand the problems for which they turn to the internet to find answers. These problems may not necessarily have anything to do with your products/servies. But if you make your customers successful at what they do, you will build trust with them. Once they get to your site, you can think of ways of getting them to look at what you have to offer. It is similar to how you go to say Home Depot to buy the one thing you wanted and you end up buying other stuff that would solve other problems you have. OK, B2B technology purchases are not that implusive, but you get the idea.

4. Get it on your website

5. Evaluate progress over 6-8 weeks to see where you stand in the search engine results for the selected keywords. If you are not moving up, iterate your SEO effort. It is not do it once and forget it.

7. Once you are ready, now start building a presence on social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook etc.

8. Use these media to lightly promote your content – this will create traffic to your site. Keep mining these channels to search for what your customers may be saying – what problems have they had, are they bad mouthing you and/or your competition. Reach out to them, make connections, help them solve their problems and then create more content on your website that addresses these issues so that other folks who have these issues can find you.

So why do you as a software product manager need to care about this? Should’nt this be done by product marketing?

Yes, product marketing should own this, but …. guess who in a company knows (or is supposed to know) customers and prospects the best – you the software Product Manager!.  Product Marketing usually does not. So if you have established customer/prospect relationships, then take the lead to help marketing find answers to what customers might be interested in. If marketing does a poor job of this and fills up your website with marketing buzzwords and other gobbledygook that your target audience does not understand or if your target audience cannot find you, then your product is not going to sell. I have seen marketing stats that say 92% of B2B businesses use the internet to look for solutions. Product managers can no longer sit on the side and not have a say in how their products are messaged and marketed on the web. In many smaller companies, a marketing person may not even exist and the Product Manager may have to step in and take the lead.

All of this takes time and commitment. But then nothing fruitful and lasting gets done without effort. Remember Rome was not build in a day!

Business uses for Twitter

I have been using twitter for maybe the last 3 months now. When I saw it for the first time in 2007, my reaction was right! who has the time for this? Then I reluctantly signed up 3 months back and now I am hooked. Many of the folks I follow the say the same thing. If you are on twitter, you can follow me.

The reason I use twitter most of the time is to get information for myself. I follow some of the very well known social media folks and based on the links that they post I have discovered new content and in the process learned a lot of new things. Not convinced that twitter is useful for personal use? Watch this great video.

OK, so from a personal point of view that is great but does it have any use for businesses? I have found good use for businesses as well. Businesses can create a twitter account, do a search for twitter users who fit the profile of the businesses customer/prospect profile and follow them. Some of them will end up following you. Then use twitter as another vehicle to establish thought leadership in your market and also to create awareness of what you do. This can be done by posting twitter links to

  1. Articles about your company in the media
  2. New content articles on how to best solve problems your customers have
  3. Best practice articles (does not have to be written by you, provide links to other’s content, what is more important is to make your prospects/customers/followers get better at what they do)
  4. Your press releases
  5. Webcasts conducted by your company
  6. Product promotions
  7. Conferences or tradeshows your company may be attending
  8. Awards received by your company
    and this list can go on and on.
  9. (I am always looking for new uses for twitter, so if you have other great uses, please drop me a comment)

You get the idea. In the meantime, make sure that you are also searching twitter to see if anything is being mentioned about your company. This is extremely important.

Let me give you an example – recently one of my twitter friends Max (fictitious name), posted the following “Problems with GotoWebinar never end… Argh. Wish THEY were listening here. But they don’t even listen when I call them up”

So I emailed Max and asked about the specific issues and Max’s customer experience with GotoWebinar because it is one of the easiest tools I have found to conduct webinars. Max send me the details and here are the three takeaways:

  • I’ve communicated about them online, and got no response
  • Instead some of their COMPETITORS have responded to us to see if they can fulfill our needs
  • The problems have only escalated, causing me to be somewhat more vocal about my issues

What? Competitors were listening and they responded to take away your business? Max has close to 150 followers – just by posting a tweet about real experience about a product, Max had instantly spread the word to 150 people and also competitors that GotoWebinar has issues. Within a day, somebody else had asked Max the same question – Max responded “Mostly audio issues… both telephone and VOIP, which they just introduced. And really lacking in customer communication”.

Same day, Max again posted “Surprised by the response to my GTW issues… more responses than last time I voiced some frustration…” – so did GotoWebinar folks follow what is being said about them on twitter? – maybe.

I cannot tell you how important it is for companies to have a good presence on social media channels (blogs, twitter) and more importantly follow what is being said. Rick Burnes from Hubspot recently wrote a great blog post “How to kill a conversation and suck life out of a blog” on this topic.

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Companies ignore social media at their own peril

Last month, I slammed Infusionsoft when they started spamming me with email after I had downloaded an eBook from their website.

The very next day, CEO of Infusionsoft Clate Mask apologized via comments to that blog post. Here was his comment:

“Gopal–very fair point. We should have had the language on there that communicates we will send follow-up messages when you hit submit. My bad. We will change that. I complete agree with you about permission marketing. And I admit that sometimes we get going too fast and make mistakes that result in unwanted messages. But believe me: we do want to send value, build a relationship and become a trusted advisor to folks who want to know how to build their businesses more quickly and effectively. Thanks for your comment. It will cause me to examine things and see if we’ve been too heavy on promotion and light on valuable content to our prospects. BTW, I really appreciate your perspectives and am a little embarassed to be called out by you.”

I was impressed – a CEO was reading what was being said about his company on my blog and he took the time to admit the mistake, apologize and promise that the issue will be fixed. However, I was not going to be convinced until I saw that changes were made.

I went to their website last week to see if anything had changed and nothing had. Then I received another comment from Clate last night about this same issue.

Hi Gopal, I just want to thank you for your “criticism” a few weeks ago about our opt-in and follow-up marketing practices. Your post resulted in a meeting between me and our marketing director. We have already changed a couple of things in order to be more transparent to folks who opt in to my eBook and various white papers. And we are revising some other things we are doing–toning down the frequency of communications, etc. As our company has grown, I think we have gone a little overboard with the amount and frequency of email communications we send. Again, thanks for the nudge in a better direction.

Clate had kept his word, made the easy fix and is now working on fixing his messaging problem.

Think about it – how many CEOs or others in companies are paying attention to what is being said about their products/companies in the social media, how many of them take the time to correspond with this new media, admit that a mistake has been made and then make sure it gets fixed.

I have to applaud Clate for doing this. All of us make mistakes, what takes effort is the willingness to admit that it was wrong and then take the time to fix it. I am not a customer of InfusionSoft, but people who could be their customers may be reading my blog.

Clate – you are way ahead of your CEO peers. I have to say I am impressed.

Folks, if your organization is not paying attention to social media, you are digging a big hole for yourselves. Your existence is threatened and you should be worried.

How to make a case for social media?

Just last night, I was talking to one of my friends about how some companies are still not embracing social media to their advantage and are still relying solely on traditional marketing methods.

His response was “but I don’t think many people read blogs – for that matter, I don’t think most of my customers read blogs”. This is true – there are less people who say that they explicitly read blogs.

But my argument was that the purpose of social media is not primarily for those who are already on your site, but to help you get in front of those users who don’t know about you, but are searching for the stuff that you have via a search engine.

So it was refreshing for me to see David Meerman Scott’s latest blog post Why “do you use social media” is the wrong thing for marketers to ask addresses just this issue – worth a read!!

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