Let me start by saying that 95% of business professionals do not need a paid account. The simple answer to the question is use the free account until you find there are things you can’t do that are important.
The more complicated answer is it depends.
In this article I want to look specifically at the benefits of Business Premium and Sales Navigator accounts, I will not be covering the JobSeeker or Recruiter products.
Here is a useful table which summarises the differences:
Premium Business Plus
The big advantages of this account are the removal of the free account search limit, visibility of the last 90 days worth of your profile viewers and the ability to send InMails (direct messages) to people whom you are not connected to.
LinkedIn don’t specify what the search limit is on free accounts experience suggests it is somewhere in the range 60-100 and may vary by individual.
If you regularly hit the search limit you should consider upgrading. If you only occasionally hit the search limit you should probably stick to the free account. Bear in mind that these activities do not count toward the limit:
- Searching profiles by name using the search box located at the top of every page on LinkedIn.com
- Browsing your 1st-degree connections from the connections page.
- Searching for jobs on the jobs page.
NB: Neither does the search limit apply to searches on the LinkedIn app.
On the face of it the InMail allowance is pretty miserly, however, the feature is designed to reward good practice and punish people who abuse it. If someone replies to one of your InMails then you receive a credit even if that response is “not interested”. In this way, you can, in theory, build up a never-ending supply since every month you get a fresh allowance. LinkedIn has put the onus on us to craft well designed, non-spammy, messages that people will respond to.
Clearly, InMails are potentially a very valuable tool especially for contacting hard to reach contacts. As you might expect InMails get a much higher response rate than a cold email, you can think of it as low volume, targeted precision email.
Are there alternatives? Well, yes, you could incorporate your message in a connection request and this can also work well. However, a connection request has a maximum of only 300 characters compared to 2,000 for an InMail.
There is another option which is often overlooked, almost as good as InMails, and it’s free. You can direct message anyone in the same group – up to 15 messages per month. So, if there is someone important that you want to contact, check out on their profile which groups they are in (under interests), join one and when accepted hey presto you can message – no limit on the number of characters.
Visibility of who viewed your profile
Who viewed your profile is the single most used feature on LinkedIn. We like to know who is showing interest in us. From a business point of view that makes a lot of sense. Yes, it’s true some people choose to view profiles anonymously but the vast majority don’t. A quick check through my last 100 profile views showed just 9 were anonymous views.
An increase in views shows your influence and visibility is growing and every picture tells a story – in this case, profile pictures. Something has prompted that person to look at your profile. Perhaps it’s an existing connection who visited your page to send you a message, or someone who had read one of your posts and wanted to know more, or even a competitor checking you out. Profile views can be a goldmine of opportunity.
A premium account allows you to review the last 90 days of viewers and gives you the option of messaging second and third degree viewers to find out more. Of course, you need to be selective, InMails are precious and need to be used carefully. There are also the options to send a connection request or a group direct message as mentioned above.
Sales Navigator was originally designed for and sold to organisations with 25+ salespeople who were selling to other big organisations. It looks completely different from the standard LinkedIn product being developed originally from LinkedIn’s recruitment stable of products. The key benefits that Sales Navigator provides are:
- the ability to organise contacts individually or by account
- powerful extra search filters
Team and Enterprise versions of Sales Navigator add extra functionality such as CRM integration and management dashboards which can be compelling benefits for larger organisations. The professional version which I am focusing on here has 90% of the functionality of the more expensive versions.
It’s important to realise that Sales Navigator is not a stand-alone product it works alongside LinkedIn.com. For example, you can not edit your profile, or access your groups, clicking on a prospect’s posts will take you back to the main LinkedIn screen.
And this is lack of integration is probably the biggest drawback of Sales Navigator. If you can find a way to work Sales Navigator into your work pattern then it can be a very effective tool. It’s particularly powerful for business and salespeople who are targeting a small number (30-150) accounts, as Sales Navigator enables you to focus in on specific decision makers in those organisations. This is often called account-based marketing.
For many people, the deal clincher with Sales Navigator is its search power. There are no less than 23 people search filters including company size, years in post, and keyword content, in addition, using an account search filters include company headcount growth, department headcount, annual revenue. One of my clients, an HR consultancy, was able to identify companies in a specific turnover range who had one or no HR employees. Gold dust.
In my opinion one of the single most valuable but overlooked features of Sales Navigator is the ability to search within groups – even groups you are not a member of.
Which is the right account for you will come down to individual circumstances and particularly your target audience. If you are selling high-value products or services to larger organisations then Sales Navigator would in most cases be the best investment. Similarly where company size is an important criterion for you then Sales Navigator may be your best route but not always. Consider a company who sells to Facilities Managers or IT Directors, the titles alone will qualify the business as a prospect.
If Sales Navigator is overkill but you find you are regularly breaching your search limit, then Business Plus is the best solution. Business Plus also gives you visibility of the last 90 days of profile viewers and a monthly allowance of 15 InMails.
If you are still not sure if a paid account will be a worthwhile investment then LinkedIn allows you to take out a free 30 day trial of one of the premium accounts (not both).
And if none of the above features are really important to you stick to the free account until you find that you really cannot do what you need to, it’s probably exactly the right account for you – as it is for 95% of LinkedIn users.