Working at Home — Ideas from Tech Companies

Over the past few days, I’ve suggested ideas for maintaining pipeline and maintaining a positive and constructive outlook. This is now looking like it will last through the spring and potentially into the summer, so let’s be open to new ideas, practices, and routines.

I collected some ideas from those in the tech industry that I follow.

SalesLoft

In this morning’s team meeting the EMEA SalesLoft team discussed how we can keep the culture and mental wellbeing at the forefront while we work remotely…

We are having a daily stand up for 15 minutes, virtual team lunch on a Wednesday and virtual Friday drinks. We are making sure we put time aside for exercise and doing the things we love. We are being mindful of continuing to share ‘glass half full’ stories. We are also looking into what we can do to help with the bigger issue that people are facing in regards to the Corona Virus – local charities, food banks, the elderly.

Ollie Sharpe, SalesLoft VP of Revenue, EMEA

TOPO

A TOPO study of 350+ marketers indicated that only 16% of firms see a significant impact to their pipeline, 64% see a moderate impact due to coronavirus.  The biggest impacts are due to canceled events (87%), corporate travel bans (64%), buyers working from home (53%), and prohibitions against face-to-face meetings.  Only 27% cited buyers not booking meetings and frozen buyer budgets (22%).

TOPO survey (N=350)

ClickZ

Research conducted in 2018 by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research  indicated that B2B marketers who participate in industry events allocated nearly 40 percent of their budgets to exhibitions and industry shows, almost five times more than the 8% spent on online marketing.

Even if only a small fraction of the events’ budgets is shifted to online marketing, it would translate into a massive growth in web marketing.

The major advantage of digital marketing, besides the fact that it does not require face-to-face interaction, is that it is measurable. Marketers can quite easily obtain a good picture of their spending return on investment (ROI), and of which activities generate the highest number of quality leads and at what expense.

Assuming that many marketers will have some extra free time, especially those who will have to go into home isolation, they are advised to use it to review their online marketing strategy and redefine their marketing messages.

Dan Gerstenfield, Interteam Content Services

David Brock

It’s time to pick up the phone. No texts, no emails, no social platforms. Pick up the phone and talk to someone. You are probably dealing with some of the same issues that come with physical separation.

It’s not the time to pitch people, it’s the time to show that you care–about them. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation, but ask them how they are doing, ask how they are keeping engaged and productive, share some ideas.

All of us share in this experience. Each of us is figuring things out. We can learn from each other, at the same time feel more connected.

David Brock, Author of “Sales Manager Survival Guide”

Sirius Decisions (Forrester)

  • Create a task force. Except in very large companies or those with specific types of risks, most companies do not have a dedicated crisis response team, and many have never created even a bare-bones crisis communications plan. Now is the time to do so. Bring together functional leaders from across your organization to begin identifying and prioritizing issues, with all major functions and regions represented. The senior communications leader is usually at the helm, and in some smaller organizations, the effort may be led by the CEO. Other participants will likely include human resources, legal counsel, operations/facilities, sales and customer service leaders, and various marketing/communications disciplines that are either directly affected or will be involved in delivering information to audiences. Each individual should have a clear understanding of his or her specific responsibilities.
  • Prioritize issues of greatest urgency. Ensuring the safety of employees, customers and other stakeholders is obviously the priority, and external guidance from public health experts will be important to understand what these issues are…
  • Develop a protocol for emergent situations. Obviously the plan should lay out a set of actions the organization will take immediately, based on what is known today. However, the situation is fluid and it’s not possible to know with certainty what the situation will look like in a month or six months. That’s why it’s important to have a protocol for addressing new situations as they emerge… 
  • Prepare the communications engine. Providing transparent and ongoing communication is the hallmark of good crisis communications. The communications team needs to analyze the types of communication that will be needed to support a variety of scenarios. One of the most challenging aspects of crisis management is the need to create a wide range of critical content, have it vetted by legal and pushed out through channels as quickly as possible. Create templates for common types of content and stub content that can be built-out as needed. Set up an expedited legal vetting process and work with digital teams to identify how content will be conveyed through the company’s owned channels (web site, social, communities). Also prepare spokespeople – from the CEO to the receptionist, with concise answers that can be given without additional approvals or escalation paths.
  • Map communications strategies to audiences. SiriusDecisions always recommends starting with an understanding of the audience, and crisis response is no different…
  • Maintain open communications with employees. A large percentage of the workforce will face some kind of disruption to their normal routines or even their income…One of the first priorities should be to plan for how communications will flow internally: the channels and cadence that employees can expect, as well as where to go if the normal channels (which may occur in a face-to-face environment) are not available. Also remember that employees are a channel, and if you enable them with content, they can extend the reach of your information and credibility with audiences. [Full Text]

Resources

No Tradeshows, No Site Visits — Ideas to Maintain & Grow Pipeline

I had four tradeshows canceled this month and next. They were opportunities for me to meet with customers and prospects (and conduct research for my industry newsletters). At this point, I’m assuming that at least two more will fall by the wayside in H1. I’m sure many of you are in a similar boat. Your marketing calendar is in a shambles, your field and inside sales reps are cloistered at home, and you are uncertain about how to manage remote workers.

Here are some ideas about how to retain momentum and deploy technology to mitigate pipeline and operational risks:

Video Meetings

If you haven’t deployed video widely across your workforce, due so ASAP. Vendors such as Zoom, WebEx, BlueJeans, Join.Me, and GoToMeeting provide reliable video conferencing solutions for multi-party meetings, demos, and document sharing. Video Meetings are a do not pass Go, do not collect $200 requirement. Every customer-facing, development, management, and planning employee should be able to join meetings from home or the office.

Setup scheduled video meetings for the next three months so they are blocked out on team calendars. This could be a 15-minute corporate call every few weeks, weekly team calls, and one-on-ones. Standing meetings should all be web-based. Office-based employees are going to feel disconnected socially, so build in some social fun at the team level (e.g. recognizing birthdays and work anniversaries, celebrating wins and releases, etc.)

I would also build training time into video meetings. It shouldn’t be all top-down. Give your staff the opportunity to cross-train peers. A sales rep could discuss her latest victory with lessons learned or provide insights into a target vertical. Marketing can review the latest product positioning and new collateral. Product Management can train on new products, review the product roadmap, and discuss the competitive landscape. The goal is to provide training, communications, coordination, and social interaction.

Record meetings and make them available to those who miss meetings with Slack or Team links. Expect that meetings will be missed due to illness, parenting requirements, and meeting conflicts.

Marketing Work-Arounds

As event marketing is off the table, marketers will need to be flexible in how they deploy their budgets. For those that planned on hosting events, they should at least proceed with their Keynote as a webinar. For H2, a roadshow in September or October can be planned, but mitigate risk in your contracting and through joint shows (shared cost and risk).

Marketers will need to deploy or expand their use of other channels including webinars, press releases, analyst outreach, blogging, social, and video. Direct mail is problematic as prospects are likely to be working from home, but e-gifting is a viable option. Look at e-gifting vendors that are supported by your Sales Engagement platform (e.g. Sendoso, PFL, Alyce)

Here is an opportunity to test additional channels and provide your event marketing team with some cross-channel development.

Canceled shows are also a reason for re-engagement campaigns. You can restart the marketing nurture process with a message around “not being able to talk to you this season.” Keep the message short and serious. You don’t know if your prospect is worried about his or her job, family members, or personal health. Also, don’t appear to be taking advantage of the situation. Be empathetic, not opportunistic.

Also, make sure to reschedule meetings from those cancelled conferences. These are likely to be phone or video calls, but reps and executives should reconfirm calls now.

Conversation Intelligence

Once you have standardized meetings, make sure they are recorded and transcribed. This is particularly true for sales meetings. Conversation Intelligence vendors such as Gong, ExecVision, and Chorus record calls, transcribe them, and perform NLP/AI processing on the conversations. Conversation Intelligence allows sales reps to be more present during calls as they no longer need to focus on note-taking.

Transcriptions and analytics have multiple benefits:

  • Sales Reps can quickly review calls and return to key topics and issues (e.g. pricing, next steps).
  • Sales Managers can review calls related to accounts and opportunities at risk to provide coaching tips to reps.
  • Analytics identify both the strengths and weaknesses of reps versus their peers. They also flag missed actions (e.g. discussing next steps), customer concerns, and competitors. To assist with training and opportunity scoring, Conversation Intelligence vendors identify filler word frequency, monologue length, and conversational engagement.
  • Reps can forward snippets to peers for questions and help. If there is a question about a bug or support issue, the snippet can be forwarded to support personnel for an update. If a sales rep feels that they handled a question or issue poorly, a snippet can be forwarded to sales management or training for advice on how to better handle the issue next time. Snippets allow peers to hear the voice of the customer.
  • Snippets can be stored in a library for training purposes. These would include exemplars for objection handling, competitor parrying, value discussions, etc.
  • Product Managers can perform bulk analysis of sales calls to identify requested features, competitor discussions, and product issues. Vendors allow for keyword customization and analytics.

Sales Engagement Platforms

Sales Engagement Platforms (SEPs) have come a long way over the past five years. Originally, they focused on the SDR role, but now include tools for all sales roles. Vendors include SalesLoft, Outreach, Xant (FKA InsideSales), VanillaSoft, ConnectLeader, SFDC High Velocity Sales, Groove, and Yesware.

Sales Cadences, also called sequences, are at the core of Sales Engagement. Cadences set up a structured set of multi-channel outbound communications supported by email templates, dialers, social, and SMS text. Cadences improve sales efficiency by eliminating follow up tasks, recording activities to CRMs, and deploying A/B tested content (emails, attachments, cadences, call scripts). While most commonly used for SDR outreach, cadences can also be used for meeting reminders, setting up quarterly account reviews, and training follow up.

SEP vendors understand that authenticity is the key to sales success. Simply blasting mindless emails at prospects is futile. Cadences can be customized by target role, industry, company size, technographics, and stage in the buyer journey. Furthermore, reps are expected to personalize emails before sending them out (SalesLoft says 20% is the optimal level). Most of the vendors now support 1-1 embedded videos from Vidyard, Hippo Video, or Videolicious.

SEP Vendors also provide a deep set of analytics. Initially, these focused on communication efficacy (e.g. open and click-through rates, best time of day to call), but now analytics assess conversations, call out deal risks, prioritize accounts, and suggest next best actions.

SEPs are now commonly deployed amongst SDRs and Inside Sales, but may still be foreign to field sales reps; however, field sales reps will be operating more like inside sales reps for the next quarter, so deploying SEPs to field sales makes sense.

Beyond outbound communications, SEP vendors are beginning to support meeting management (setting up calls), conversational intelligence, and opportunity management. SalesLoft and Outreach are the farthest along in supporting these emerging feature sets. SalesLoft acquired and integrated NoteNinja (meeting management) and Costello (opportunity management) into its platform.

SEP Vendors have taken two approaches to partnering. SalesLoft, Outreach, and Xant have partner App Directories while the other vendors integrate key vendors (e.g. Vidyard, LinkedIn Sales Navigator, Zoominfo) into their offerings without a formal partner ecosystem directory.

LinkedIn

For B2B sales, there is no social platform more trusted than LinkedIn. Sales reps can leverage their networks by sharing marketing content (they should include some comments of their own) as well as writing their own content.

LinkedIn also offers an excellent Sales Intelligence product called Sales Navigator. It is available as both a desktop and mobile solution and provides additional communications channels:

  • InMail: An outbound email alternative, InMail allows you to message prospects for whom you lack emails and direct dial numbers.
  • Chat: A quick short-message way to keep in contact with members of the buying committee. It is also useful for quick reach out after establishing a LinkedIn connection with a prospect or to send a quick, congratulatory note. Chat messages are retained archivally, providing a conversational log. I have had success providing my Calendly link with initial chats, providing a mechanism for new connections to easily schedule a call (my Calendly includes my video meeting details so there is little friction).
  • Smart Links: Forward one or multiple attachments to a prospect via social, InMail, or email. Viewing and forwarding are tracked by LinkedIn, helping reps know which content was viewed and when. Forward tracking helps expand their understanding of the buying committee. Smart Links maintain corporate branding.

Sales Navigator provides several other high-value features:

  • SNAP connectors display LinkedIn content and Navigator functionality (e.g. icebreakers, mini-profiles, InMail) within Sales Engagement Platforms, CRMs, and other enterprise software.
  • TeamLinks allow you to leverage co-worker relationships for reaching out to prospects.
  • Build a List lets reps assemble Lead (contact) and Account lists within Sales Navigator. Lead and Account lists may also be synced from the CRM, allowing reps to track news and updates about key companies and contacts. While LinkedIn does not permit upload of account and contact data, they make exceptions for notes, tags, and messages entered by the rep in Sales Navigator. They also just added a thin record upload of contacts to CRM and the ability to flag execs that have left a company.
  • List Sharing — After building a list, users may share them with co-workers who have Sales Navigator licenses.

Sales Navigator can be a bit pricey, so running a test amongst your inside sales and field sales reps makes sense, particularly if you are concerned about H1 pipeline delays. Given the difficulty of reaching anybody by phone (made worse by prospects working at home) or email, adding additional sales communications channels is well worth testing out.

There are other LinkedIn services worth investigating or trialing. LinkedIn Marketing supports highly targeted B2B campaigns. Unlike other platforms, LinkedIn can target by company, job function, level, industry, geography, and education. LinkedIn provides campaign metrics and allows marketers to set daily budgets. Both CPM and CPC pricing are available. Pricing is based upon second-best auctions (you pay 1 cent above the second best bid price).

For larger companies, LinkedIn Elevate should also be considered, particularly with remote workers. Elevate provides a curated feed of content to company employees for social media distribution (e.g. LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook). Elevate amplifies corporate messaging and reduces the level of effort for sales reps and other employees to share content through social networks.

LinkedIn Learning is offering sixteen courses at no charge covering topics related to working from home, remote management, tools, and mindset.

“In the coming days, we will make 16 LinkedIn Learning courses available for free including tips on how to: stay productive, build relationships when you’re not face-to-face, use virtual meeting tools (Microsoft Teams, Skype, BlueJeans, Cisco Webex and Zoom), and balance family and work dynamics in a healthy way.”

Ryan Roslansky, LinkedIn SVP of Product

Sales Intelligence

Sales Intelligence services help sales reps build prospecting lists, quality leads, refine account messaging, expand into new departments and locations, track accounts, and target additional buying committee members.

Many sales intelligence services also offer B2B DaaS services for updating CRMs and MAPs. Salesforce data hygiene is maintained through Lightning Data connectors, a sub-category on the AppExchange. Because data is synced with CRMs and MAPs, it is continuously updated, ensuring that firmographic data is accurate and that departed contacts are removed from sales and marketing activity (BTW — contacts decay at 30% per annum, so maintaining your enterprise software contact data is a valuable investment)

Sales Intelligence vendors also provide full workflow integrations into CRMs which allow reps to build lists; view and update accounts, contacts, and leads; and perform account qualification and account planning within CRM I-frames.

Sales Intelligence vendors include

  • Zoominfo: Deep contacts, emails, org charts, and technographic content. They are the leader in technology sales intelligence and recently added visitor intelligence, trigger-based workflows, and webforms. Zoominfo (FKA DiscoverOrg) also supports Ideal Customer Profiling (ICP), email verification, and B2B DaaS.
  • D&B Hoovers: The deepest set of global company intelligence for strategic sales reps. Includes full family trees, public company financials and filings, analyst reports, industry market research, SWOTs, European private company financials, and sales triggers. Dun & Bradstreet also supports ICP, B2B DaaS, Visitor Intelligence, Programmatic Marketing, and Customer Data Platforms.
  • InsideView: A global database with greater depth in North America and Europe, InsideView offers strong sales triggers and integrated social media viewing. InsideView also supports B2B DaaS and ICP.
  • Sales Genie: The best solution for reps that sell to both companies and individuals (e.g. insurance agencies, mobile, office supplies, landscaping). Features include light sales force automation for firms that have yet to implement a CRM, new businesses, new homeowners, email templates, integrated dialer, and marketing services (SEO, site design, direct mail).
  • RelPro: A specialist vendor targeting financial services companies.
  • Artesian Solutions: A UK-based social selling vendor with deep sales triggers and mobile-based meeting prep. They also offer a US solution.
  • Cognism: A UK-based sales intelligence vendor with sales engagement functionality, B2B DaaS services, and ICP tools.
  • Vainu: A Nordic-based sales intelligence vendor that also covers the Netherlands (France, US, and the UK are in beta). They also support B2B DaaS and trigger-based workflows.

Ongoing Investment

Research has shown that firms that continue to invest during recessions come out of the downturns much better prepared to grow market share and revenue than those that stop investing. Marketing is an investment in your pipeline and brand. B2B Data-as-a-Service is an investment in your data quality and ability to target prospects effectively. It also reduces sales and marketing waste in efforts directed at weak prospects and departed contacts. SalesTech and MarTech purchases are investments in your revenue generation capabilities.

This is also an opportunity for your sales and marketing teams to cross-train, develop new skills, and test out new tools and processes.

When we come out of the backside of what, hopefully, is a short-term recession, you want to be better prepared to meet latent demand for your products and services. While cutting back on investment and cash burn may be necessary for survival at some companies, don’t cut back on your ability to serve the market in 2021 unless you have to do so. Let others sacrifice the future of their revenue generation operations out of short-term concerns. Bank your savings in travel expenses and event marketing, but don’t cut back in other areas unless necessary.

Terra Incognita

We are entering a terra incognita for the next three to six months, so steady, empathetic leadership should be your objective. On 9/11, our CEO pulled us into the room and talked to us. I don’t remember his words, but I remember that he was calm and understood that we were all upset and anxious. Business was the least of his concerns that day. He wanted to show a steady hand at the tiller and sent us home to be with family.

Our raison d’être is not to work, and sometimes we are jolted back into that reality. Family, friends, and health are a higher priority. COVID 19 is not the new normal, but simply a bad storm that will pass.

Sales Navigator Q1 Release: Smart Links

Smart Links Display multiple attachments in a branded landing page.

Sales Navigator is rolling out its Q1 release to clients. Contact Creation (discussed yesterday) is the lead feature, but Smart Links is equally important as it delivers another communications channel for the sales intelligence service.

Smart Links, their second-generation file-sharing service, replaces PointDrive.  Smart Links is available in the Team and Enterprise applications for sharing one or multiple attachments via Sales Navigator, social media, InMail, or email.  Smart Links maintain company branding and rep contact information while tracking attachment opens, views, and shares.  It is displayed as a top-level Sales Navigator feature.

“Users will be provided with real-time insights on how recipients are engaging with content.  These insights can be used to ascertain interest, personalize follow-ups, and identify other stakeholders in the buyer’s circle.”

LinkedIn Sales Navigator Product Director Lyndsey Edwards

When a recipient views the document, an alert is sent to the sales rep.  Smart Links also capture when attachments are forwarded, helping the rep expand her knowledge of the Buyer’s Circle.

“It’s getting more and more complicated in business-to-business marketing to understand the buying circle,” said product chief Lyndsey Edwards.

Next quarter Smart Links will be integrated directly into users’ inboxes.

While reps had a limited number of monthly PointDrives they could share, sales reps now have unlimited Smart Link access.

Smart Links have fewer steps, making it significantly easier to share attachments.  PointDrive usage was lower than anticipated, probably due to the number of steps required to set up and personalize a PointDrive.

Tomorrow, I will discuss the other Q1 release enhancements.

Smart Links Analytics track who has viewed and downloaded which content. It also tracks Smart Link forwards, providing deeper insights into the Buying Team.

Sales Navigator Q1 Release: Contact Creation

LinkedIn rolled out its Q1 2020 Sales Navigator release, the first quarterly release under their new product chief Lyndsey Edwards.  Expanded features include contact creation, a redesigned PointDrive service (now called Smart Links), search enhancements, job posting growth alerts, and enhancements to the home page and mobile app.

Contact Creation is the biggest enhancement in the release.  Like the Data Validation flag last quarter, Contact Creation is a limited data sync solution that is bounded by their member data privacy agreements.  Contact Creation allows reps to create CRM contact records from within Sales Navigator.  While other Sales Intelligence vendors provide full contact records including email, direct dial, job function, job level, and social links, Sales Navigator only supports the following fields (of which only four are pre-populated):

  • Account
  • Opportunity
  • Opportunity Role
  • First Name (Pre-populated from Sales Navigator)
  • Last Name (Pre-populated from Sales Navigator)
  • Job Title (Pre-populated from Sales Navigator)
  • Country (Pre-populated from Sales Navigator)
  • Email
  • Phone Number
  • Lead Source

Edwards noted that the average CRM instance has roughly half of its records out of date.  Reducing record creation and update workflows help address this problem.  LinkedIn can be particularly helpful in identifying executive departures and title changes, hence last quarter’s data validation flag.  However, Contact Creation only pre-populates four fields.  Thus, sales reps either need to have the other details available when creating the contact record or upload a stump record, which is later populated by a different vendor (e.g. Lightning Data partners on the AppExchange).  While other vendors allows lists of Account, Contact, or Lead records to be uploaded, only a single contact record may be created at a time from Sales Navigator.

“We’re really leaning into our relationships with CRM vendors over the past couple of quarters,” said Edwards.  “It’s an age-old problem that isn’t getting better.  We think we can help in a pretty meaningful way.  When people change jobs, they update their LinkedIn profiles first.”

Record matching and duplicate checking are performed.

Contact Creation is available for Enterprise clients only.  Admins must turn on CRM Sync for Salesforce.  Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Sales contact creation is in beta.


Part II of my release coverage discusses Smart Links, their next-generation PointDrive service.

LinkedIn Sales Navigator Q4 Release Part II

The new Funding Events Spotlight Filter allows reps to focus on accounts with recent private equity or venture capital funding events.

LinkedIn Sales Navigator rolled out its Q4 release to end-users and admins over the past few weeks. Yesterday, I covered their new data validation flag and Admin tools. Today, I am discussing the rest of the release including new alerts, list sharing, and SNAP (Sales Navigator Application Partner) enhancements.

Sales Navigator added two more Saved Account Alerts: headcount growth and Senior Leadership Hires.

When sharing lists, owners may now designate them view-only or editable.

“List collaborators with edit permissions will be able to add, remove, and comment on Leads or Accounts within a Shared List, and alerts will be sent to collaborators when Leads or Accounts have been added to or removed from a Custom List or when there are new comments on a Custom List.”

LinkedIn Sales Solutions VP of Product Management Doug Camplejohn

LinkedIn added SNAP integrations for Tableau and Power BI.  They also extended SNAP integrations to Oracle Sales Cloud Lead and Account pages (Contacts were already supported).

Teams will benefit from improved TeamLink recommendations on “who to reach out to first for a warm introduction, using connection strength scores based on a members’ interactions.”

PointDrive Roadmap

Finally, LinkedIn teased an improved PointDrive service that will be “deeply integrated” into Sales Navigator beginning in early 2020.  PointDrive provides sales reps with a custom landing page for delivering multi-media content with descriptions and company branding.  The multi-quarter release will streamline access to PointDrive functionality.  However, PointDrive will no longer support shared content.

SalesLoft Leveraging Data Validation Flag

SalesLoft is one of the first vendors to take advantage of the Sales Navigator Data Validation process.  SalesLoft uses the Data Validation flag to notify the SDR or sales rep.  SalesLoft automation rules can then trigger workflows based on whether a prospect on the decision-making committee has left or whether an admin or champion at a customer has changed jobs.  These insights help reps evaluate whether an opportunity may be in jeopardy, the likelihood of closing this quarter pushed out, or they need to move quickly to identify new buying committee members or champions.

“Customers leveraging LinkedIn Sales Navigator Data Validation are now able to use real-time insights to influence critical workflows when their prospects and customers change jobs,” said SalesLoft CMO Sydney Sloan. “Ultimately, this saves time spent reviewing customer data manually, and it will increase the quality of all opportunities as salespeople progress through the buying cycle.”

LinkedIn Restates Its Members-First Principles

LinkedIn Logo

In a blog titled, “Maintaining the Trust of our Members,” LinkedIn recommitted itself to a members-first approach.  The Microsoft subsidiary frames its decision-making with the question, “Is this the right thing to do for our members?”

Along with a members-first policy, LinkedIn employs four principles to frame decisions:

  • Members maintain clarity, consistency, and control over their data. This goal is manifested in a broad set of privacy settings, observing the stated wishes of each member, and protecting their data.  Microsoft employs a global GDPR standard and does not transfer member data to other companies.  For example, LinkedIn Sales Navigator limits data access to member-data view-only access, which displays profiles within CRMs and other partner applications but does not transfer data to those platforms.
  • LinkedIn will remain a safe, trusted, and professional platform.  The firm removes content which violates their Professional Community Policies and removes fake profiles, jobs, and companies.
  • LinkedIn is committed to removing unfair bias from its platform so that individuals with equal talent have equal access to opportunity.  “To achieve this goal, we are committed to building a product with no unfair bias that provides opportunity to all of our members.  There is a lot of work still to do, but we are focused on working across our company, with our members and customers, and across the industry to close the network gap.”
  • As a global platform, they are committed to respecting the laws that apply to them and “contributing to the dialogue” about legal frameworks.

LinkedIn Advertising is subject to an initial review.  LinkedIn vets ads to ensure they are non-discriminatory:

“Even if legal in the applicable jurisdiction, LinkedIn does not allow ads that advocate, promote, or contain discriminatory hiring practices or denial of education, housing, or economic opportunity based on age, gender, religion, ethnicity, race, or sexual preference.  Ads that promote the denial or restriction of fair and equal access to education, housing, or credit or career opportunities are prohibited.”

Blake Lawit, LinkedIn General Counsel

The statement of principles comes at a time when other social media firms are struggling to develop rules and policies around political advertising. LinkedIn does not carry political advertising and also restricts adult content, illegal, health, gaming, weapons, multi-level marketing, alcohol, tobacco, and financial (payday loans, cryptocurrency) products.  

LinkedIn continues to grow its customer base with 660 million members across 200 countries and 30 million companies.  The top countries are the United States (165M members), India (62M), China (48M), Brazil (40M), and the UK (27M).

LinkedIn maintains offices in nine US cities and 24 international locations. The platform supports 24 languages.

LinkedIn Concerned about Tech Regulations

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner raised concern about a tide of tech regulation following recent data privacy scandals.  Of particular concern is the impact of removing tech company immunity for the content shared by users under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.  If the Section were removed, social networks would be forced to proactively censor posts.

“Even if the [technology] industry were to do greater self-regulation, you’re going to see more regulatory oversight.”

Just as the wide use of algorithms has provided a megaphone to misinformation and fringe social media, regulation can have unintended consequences.  “The unintended consequences work both ways,” said Weiner.  “Companies make decisions only with the best of intentions, and there are unintended consequences of those decisions.  But from a regulatory perspective, I think it’s the same thing.”

“You could stifle a lot of innovation.  You could stifle a lot of openness.  You could stifle a lot of the things that create value by virtue of changing these liability rules and laws. That is just almost a canonical example of where these unintended consequences would really proliferate.  The things companies would need to do to ensure that they were protected is going to hurt the way in which people can communicate with one another.”

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner

LinkedIn operates in China where it is subject to censorship.  The firm decided to enter the market as it’s mission is to create economic opportunity globally.  “The censorship issue in China is always a painful one,” he said.  “It has to be navigated and managed in the context of the broader vision.” While LinkedIn is advocating for Section 230, its parent company has taken a pro-regulatory view on data privacy, calling for an American version of GDPR.  Microsoft has built GDPR into the infrastructure of its platforms.

Court Rules LinkedIn Scraping Legal

In a ninth Circuit Court ruling last week, the Court sided with hiQ Labs which had been barred from accessing LinkedIn for the purposes of scraping public profiles.  hiQ Labs, a data analytics company which identifies employees who may be looking to depart, won a preliminary injunction against LinkedIn.  This is the second court which has evaluated the case and sided against the Microsoft subsidiary.

LinkedIn argued that scraping after a cease-and-desist letter was “without authorization” under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), but hiQ Labs argued that the content was public and that scraping public data was not akin to hacking.

The Court ruled that “there is little evidence that LinkedIn users who choose to make their profiles public actually maintain an expectation of privacy with respect to the information that they post publicly, and it is doubtful that they do.”

The Court continued, “LinkedIn invokes an interest in preventing ‘free riders’ from using profiles posted on its platform.  But LinkedIn has no protected property interest in the data contributed by its users, as the users retain ownership over their profiles.”

The National Law Review summarized the case:

Most notably, the Ninth Circuit held that HiQ had shown a likelihood of success on the merits in its claim that when a computer network generally permits public access to its data, a user’s accessing that publicly available data will not constitute access “without authorization” under the CFAA.

In light of this ruling, data scrapers, content aggregators and advocates of a more open internet will certainly be emboldened, but we reiterate something we advised back in our 2017 Client Alert about the lower court HiQ decision: while the Ninth Circuit’s decision suggests that the CFAA is not an available remedy to protect against unwanted scraping of public website data that is “presumptively open to all,” entities engaged in scraping should remain careful. The road ahead, while perhaps less bumpy than before, still contains rough patches.  Indeed, the Ninth Circuit cautioned that its opinion was issued only at the preliminary injunction stage and that the court did not “resolve the companies’ legal dispute definitively, nor do we address all the claims and defenses they have pleaded in the district court.”…

On appeal, the parties offered dueling visions of what the law surrounding the CFAA and scraping should be:

LinkedIn: “[A]uthorization from LinkedIn—the server’s owner—is ‘needed’ to avoid CFAA liability, regardless of whether those servers also host data that LinkedIn generally makes available on its website.  hiQ lacked that required “authorization” once LinkedIn sent hiQ its cease-and-desist letter and implemented additional technological barriers restricting bot access.”

HiQ: “LinkedIn does not grant permission to access its public content because those pages are, by definition, open for all to see and use.  hiQ, like any other Internet user, simply requests LinkedIn’s public pages, and LinkedIn’s servers automatically provide them.  There is no “authorization” for LinkedIn to revoke.  Reading the statute in accordance with the language’s ordinary significance, “without authorization” refers to circumstances where authorization is a prerequisite to access.”

National Law Review

Intentional access without authorization under the CFAA generally covers hacking and employee access after permission has been rescinded.  As public profiles are not subject to passwords, the question of whether the CFAA applied was in question.

“It is likely that when a computer network generally permits public access to its data, a user’s accessing that publicly available data will not constitute access without authorization under the CFAA,” wrote the Court.  “The data hiQ seeks to access is not owned by LinkedIn and has not been demarcated by LinkedIn as private using such an authorization system.  HiQ has therefore raised serious questions about whether LinkedIn may invoke the CFAA to preempt hiQ’s possibly meritorious tortious interference claim.”

Thus, the ruling supports web scraping of public sites.  What it doesn’t address is whether harvesting member data for the purposes of generating datasets which counter the interests of social media sites and its members is against the public interest.  This question may be more of a public policy question than a legal one.  Members join LinkedIn for the purposes of professional networking, job searching, and self-marketing.  While public LinkedIn does not publish emails or direct dials, it includes work and educational histories, interests, affiliations, and other personal content.  Furthermore, it is easy to guess at emails making it fairly trivial to assemble email files for spammers.  It is very possible, that the HiQ Labs ruling conforms with US law but due to the Personally Identifiable Information content being gathered is counter to European GDPR.  The result could well be the loss of public LinkedIn profiles or a thinning of publicly posted profiles.

The Court focused on the CFAA and did not evaluate other arguments when granting relief.  “State law trespass to chattels claims may still be available.  And other causes of action, such as copyright infringement, misappropriation, unjust enrichment, conversion, breach of contract, or breach of privacy, may also lie,” stated the Court.

Orin Kerr, a law professor at UC Berkeley called the ruling a “major decision for the open internet.  It doesn’t establish that scraping websites is completely legal, but it goes a long way toward establishing that it’s not a federal crime.”

In the case of HiQ, they offer predictive attrition models which could result in individuals not being hired or employees not being promoted.  “Keeper is the first HCM tool to offer predictive attrition insights about an organization’s employees based on publicly available data,” says the firm.  While some high-value employees may enjoy additional leverage due to these models, others may be mistrusted.  

One could imagine other detrimental use cases such as credit companies tracking employment and lowering credit scores.  The result would be higher interest costs and a lowered ability to find a job.  The result would be decreased transparency and truthfulness on LinkedIn.

As such, the scraping of LinkedIn data could undermine the trust members have in LinkedIn or limit the permissions granted to LinkedIn.  If LinkedIn played fast-and-loose with member data, they would have less standing, but LinkedIn does not permit downloading of member data to Excel or the uploading of member data to CRMs.  Sales Navigator treats member data as view only in its SNAP connectors.  Thus, LinkedIn is placing data privacy rules on itself that it cannot place on third-parties that gather LinkedIn data.  More broadly, parent company Microsoft has committed itself to GDPR as a global data privacy standard.

Analyst David Raab of the Customer Data Platform Institute had a tongue-in-cheek view of the case: “In what I like to think of as CSI: Obvious Division, a federal appeals court ruled that LinkedIn can’t block scraping of published member data because people had no expectation of privacy for their public profiles.  It’s rather amazing LinkedIn thought they could win with that one.” .dialogRendere

Technology Training Trends

LinkedIn Learning course catalog
LinkedIn Learning course catalog

LinkedIn told CNBC that the top three tech skills in demand are artificial intelligence, big data, and cloud computing.  However, they noted that many technology skills have a market value of only six years, so soft skills such as critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving should also be honed.  In order for workers to keep up, they should avail themselves of courses from LinkedIn Learning or Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

“It’s important for companies to continue to invest in their people so that they are upskilling and reskilling their people to keep up with the roles that are in demand,” said Feon Ang, LinkedIn Vice President for Talent and Learning Solutions, Asia Pacific.  “But, at the same time, people need to continue to invest in themselves and have a growth mindset,” said Ang.

At last month’s Tenbound Conference Mark Dean, Head of Sales Development-Americas for LinkedIn, noted that soft skills are becoming increasingly critical for employees.  LinkedIn research found that 57% of leaders weighed soft skills over hard skills.  In demand skills include creativity, persuasion, and collaboration.  In short, he asked, “Can they tell a story?”

“In the age of continuous change, global competition, and the use of AI, the employees who will become leaders and visionaries are the ones who can communicate effectively and create connection within the organization.  It is only when employees have a sense of shared purpose and connection that they will do what it takes to help the organization succeed.  The best way to build this connection is through authenticity, vulnerability, and storytelling.  Soft, human-focused skills are the currency of the future.  Employees need to take it upon themselves to grow and learn on a continual basis, whether it’s finding a mentor or continually investing in their growth to hone these skills.”  

Lynne Levy of Arena Consulting

For Salesforce skills, there is Trailhead which the firm promotes at both public forums and on earnings calls.

LinkedIn Network Building

I’ve been sitting on a Harvard Business Review article written by Doug Camplejohn since March due to a surfeit of news.  I figured that if I couldn’t slip it into my blog in August, I would never get to it.  August is when the press releases slow and there is an opportunity to speak about broader topics such as how to write a press release (or not write one).

The piece, titled “The Best Ways to Use Social Media to Expand Your Network” provides a set of social networking recommendations to business professionals.  Camplejohn is VP of Product Management at LinkedIn and heads up development on LinkedIn Sales Navigator.

Source: LinkedIn and HBR

Camplejohn’s advice takes a long-run strategic approach to building and nurturing a social network based upon ongoing engagement, asking for advice during transitions, and assisting others.  As such, his advice dovetails well with real-world approaches to building relationship networks.

Camplejohn begins by recommending that business professionals build their network with peers instead of focusing on seniority.  A peer-based network grows over one’s career, creating a network which matures with the professional.  Furthermore, senior-executive response rates are lower than mid-level managers.  Less than one percent of VPs and CxOs respond to cold reach out.

“People earlier in their careers respond most often to an initial message, while VPs and C-level professionals respond the least to people they don’t already know.”

Doug Camplejohn, VP of Product Management at LinkedIn

Initial messages should be short.  Camplejohn recommends three sentences that can be easily read on a mobile device.  InMail messages of under 100 words work best with response rates “decreasing significantly” beyond 500 words.

Camplejohn also advises a hook such as an alma mater, joint interest, or a mutual friend.  “According to our research, referencing a mutual connection boosts the acceptance rate of these messages by 51%, second only to attending the same school at the same time (53%),” wrote Camplejohn.

Camplejohn notes the value of asking for advice and leveraging transitions.  In fundraising, there is an adage, “If you go seeking advice, you get money; if you seek money, you get advice.”  Likewise, transition periods are an excellent opportunity to build your network and seek advice.

“If you’re in a transitional period — starting at a new company, switching industries, or moving to a new city — recognize the opportunity to reach out to people, ask for their advice, and absorb their wisdom.”

Doug Camplejohn, VP of Product Management at LinkedIn

Another recommendation is to pay it forward.  Don’t be looking for immediate benefits or strictly reciprocal opportunities.  Social networkers recognize that they are contributing to the commons, whether helping one person or adding to the group.  Sales reps and others should also continue to nurture their network, maintaining conversations with colleagues, clients, partners, and mentors.

“The best way to build a relationship is to help someone with joy and with no expectation of anything in return.  It feels good, it trains your own sense of generosity, and it informs you of what the other person values.  It also sets the stage for you to ask them something in the future.  You don’t have to offer to help in every circumstance, but make yourself available as a resource to people, particularly to people who are just starting out in their careers.”

Camplejohn concludes that online networking should be viewed as an extension of real-world interactions: “Connect with people personally by finding common ground, then build trust and long-term relationships, rather than one-time transactions.”