If I only had a dollar for every time someone asked me, “Melonie, which LinkedIn membership level is right for my business?”
A free subscription, LinkedIn Premium, or Sales Navigator? Which one will best serve your needs and help you achieve your business goals, whether that be professional networking or lead generation?
The truth is it depends…
…because every business’s needs and preferences are different.
To help you decide, I’ve created a comprehensive comparison guide that describes the features, tools, and benefits of each LinkedIn membership level.
Free LinkedIn subscription
Despite its clear limitations, there’s a lot to like about LinkedIn’s free membership level. With the free LinkedIn membership, you can:
Build your professional brand
Build and maintain a large trusted professional network
Find and reconnect with colleagues and classmates
Request and provide recommendations
Search for and view profiles of other LinkedIn members
Send and receive messages from 1st-degree connections and InMails
However, many features once available in the free membership are now gone. That means it’s a little trickier to get around the lost functionality and avoid going over the monthly commercial use limit when you do your searches.
Many people using LinkedIn for lead generation often choose to upgrade from the free version to a paid LinkedIn subscription for the following reasons:
They feel they’re missing out on opportunities
They’d like to accomplish more in less time
They’re not tapping into the full potential of LinkedIn for their business
However, even with the limitations of the free membership, LinkedIn is still the best place for most professionals, B2B businesses and salespeople to (a) find and connect with their ideal clients, (b) post content, and (c) engage in numerous ways with their connections.
The very premise of LinkedIn is that it’s an active social platform for businesses. Its membership is now almost one billion members worldwide.
The power of the platform is that even with the free membership you can quickly and easily find and connect with professionals and businesspeople all over the world.
Paid LinkedIn Membership Levels
LinkedIn offers several paid membership levels.
The chart below compares the Premium Career, Premium Business, Sales Navigator Core, and Recruiter Lite plans to see which may be the best for you.
|LinkedIn Subscription Options||Premium Career||Premium Business||Sales Navigator Core||Recruiter Lite|
|Who’s viewed your profile||✓||✓||✓|
|Who’s viewed your profile insights availability||90||365||90||90|
|Unlimited access to LinkedIn Learning||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|Unlimited people browsing||✓||✓||✓|
|Standalone sales interface||✓|
|Custom lead and account lists||✓|
|Lead recommendations and saved leads||✓|
|Real-time updates and alerts||✓|
|Automatic candidate tracking||✓|
While Premium Career and Recruiter Lite are useful to a particular group of people, in this article I will be comparing LinkedIn Premium Business and Sales Navigator memberships, the most useful for lead generation on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn Premium Business Subscription
If you feel limited by your free LinkedIn account, you might want to consider LinkedIn Premium Business.
Here is a list of tools and features you can access with your LinkedIn Premium Business subscription to help you decide if it is right for you:
If you want to send a message to someone you’re not connected to (and with whom you don’t share a group), you must send them an InMail.
InMails can be useful when you want to reach out to a potential prospect before you send them a connection request or if they haven’t accepted your connection request.
This is only possible with a premium subscription. You’re given a certain number of InMails every month based on your subscription level, with an opportunity to purchase more.
With unlimited people browsing, you don’t have to worry about the commercial use limits put on free accounts.
This means you won’t lose access to search results partway through the month, which would negatively affect your lead generation searches.
Activities that LinkedIn counts towards the commercial use limits include:
- Searching for LinkedIn profiles on LinkedIn.com and the mobile app
- Browsing LinkedIn profiles using the “People Also Viewed” section located on the right rail of a profile
The following activities don’t 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
Who’s Viewed My Profile
This feature is one of LinkedIn’s most popular, because it reveals the types of people and companies your profile and skillset is attracting, often uncovering high-quality potential leads.
This section lists all the people who have viewed your profile (you can see only the last five people with a free account).
LinkedIn provides you with some additional filters in the “Who’s viewed your profile” section, including:
- Company (see if there is a trend of people from specific companies viewing your profile)
- Industry (discover what industries your viewers are in)
- Location (see the most common geographic locations of your viewers)
And if you click on “All filters” you will also be able to see:
- Date range (past 14 days, 28 days, 90 days, 365 days)
- Interesting viewers
Note: LinkedIn defines “Interesting viewers” in its analytics as notable profile viewers, such as senior leaders in your industry, recruiters, and other individuals who can further your career. Turning on the “Interesting viewers” feature in LinkedIn’s analytics will show you these notable profile viewers.
The Limitations of a LinkedIn Premium Subscription
While the LinkedIn Premium subscription offers additional features beyond the free account, this membership has limitations for people who are looking to use LinkedIn for lead generation.
One benefit LinkedIn claims for a Premium Business membership is the InMail credits provided. While InMail allows you to send messages to LinkedIn users who aren’t in your network, we find that InMails are often perceived as promotional or spammy. They appear differently in a user’s LinkedIn inbox, making them less likely to be opened and engaged with compared to standard messages. Therefore, even though they’re part of the Premium plan, we typically don’t recommend using InMails as a primary form of outreach.
Another potential drawback of the LinkedIn Premium Business subscription for people wanting to focus on lead generation is the lack of advanced search and targeting filters. These are often crucial tools to locate, segment, and prioritize leads based on a variety of factors such as job function, seniority, or company size.
Additional Reading: Decoding the Latest LinkedIn Algorithm Changes
LinkedIn Sales Navigator
If your goal on LinkedIn is to generate leads and sales, then Sales Navigator will likely be the subscription best suited to meet your needs. Unlike the free and Premium subscriptions, Sales Navigator is explicitly designed for sales, and includes a comprehensive set of features that assist in lead generation and prospecting.
In comparison to the other subscriptions, Sales Navigator stands out for its advanced search capabilities. These allow you to accurately identify and target your ideal clients based on a variety of criteria that go way beyond just job function, seniority, company size, and geographic location.
Another unique feature of Sales Navigator is the ability to save and track leads and accounts. With this, you can monitor the activity of potential leads and companies, allowing you to reach out at the optimal moment or stay up to date with any significant changes.
It’s important to note that Sales Navigator has three versions: Core, Advanced, and Advanced Plus. These are respectively tailored to individual users, teams, and enterprise users. The features and tools available vary between these versions, so it’s essential to review and select the one that best aligns with your needs and objectives.
|SALES NAVIGATOR FEATURES AND PLANS||CORE||ADVANCED|
|Access to LinkedIn subscriptions Job seeker, LinkedIn Learning access||✓|
|Extended network access Unlimited search, Saved searches, Who’s viewed your profile in the past 90 days||✓||✓||✓|
|Reach out InMail||✓||✓||✓|
|Find the right people Advanced search, sales spotlights||✓||✓||✓|
|Prioritize and qualify Lead and account recommendations, sales preferences||✓||✓||✓|
|Integrate with your sales tools SNAP, Outlook web integration, Sales Navigator mobile app (SNAP for Advanced and Advanced Plus only)||✓||✓||✓|
|Keep track of people and companies Saved leads/accounts, Custom lists, Alerts, Notes (Buyer Interest alerts for Advanced and Advanced Plus only)||✓||✓||✓|
|Engage with your prospects and customers using your team’s network TeamLink, TeamLink Extend||✓||✓|
|Advanced outreach—package content and track engagement Smart Links||✓||✓|
|Administrative tools/reporting Usage Reporting, Account Center||✓||✓|
|Centralized billing for contracts sold through LinkedIn corporate sales Volume and multi-year discounts, invoicing, dedicated relationship manager||✓||✓|
|Enterprise tools SSO, Employee Data Integration||✓||✓|
|CRM Sync Auto-Save, Activity Writeback, & ROI Reporting for Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics 365 Sales||✓|
|Advanced CRM integrations Data Validation & Contact Creation for Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics 365||✓|
Let me share just some of what makes Sales Navigator powerful for finding, connecting, and staying engaged with your ideal customers.
Sales Navigator Advanced Search
Sales Navigator Advanced Search provides additional filters for finding leads and accounts. The search filters are divided into two categories: People Search Filters (Leads) and Company Search Filters (Accounts).
The Sales Navigator Advanced Search filters include:
- Company headcount
- Current company
- Past company
- Company type
- Company headquarters
- Current job title
- Past job title
- Seniority level
- Years in current company
- Years in current position
- Changed jobs in last 90 days
- Mentioned in news in last 30 days
- Posted on LinkedIn in last 30 days
- Following your company
- Have shared experiences with you
- With TeamLink intro
- With TeamLink intro through your executives
- Past customer (only with Advanced Plus with CRM integration)
- Past colleague
- Keywords in article
- Years of experience
- Connections of
- First Name
- Last Name
- Profile language
- TeamLink connections of
- Lead lists
- People in CRM
- Account lists
- People you interacted with
- Saved leads and accounts
When using the search within Sales Navigator, it’s essential to build your lists using relevant filters to narrow down the results to a manageable size. As you add each filter, the result list will decrease until you’ve created your ideal target list.
Once you have your list of your ideal customers, you can save that search. You also have the ability to “Save” (or follow) each relevant contact on that list. This action enables you to keep updated on their activities and interactions on LinkedIn, helping you stay relevant and informed in your engagement with them.
Spotlights (activities and shared experiences)
One filter that truly stands out for its value is Spotlights for both leads and accounts.
Spotlights is a unique feature in Sales Navigator that helps you identify leads who are more likely to engage with you. By utilizing a variety of filters based on activities and shared experiences, Spotlights gives you a strategic edge in identifying and connecting with potential leads.
Filters available within Spotlights include:
Changed jobs in last 90 days: This filter helps find people who may be interested in making an impression in their new role, making them more open to connecting if you can add value.
Mentioned in the news in last 30 days: This filter allows you to personalize your outreach based on recent news mentions.
Posted on LinkedIn in last 30 days: This filter prioritizes your outreach to leads who have recently posted on LinkedIn, providing insights on what’s important to them. You can use this information to create a personal message or to engage with their content.
Following your company: This filter identifies leads that have followed or commented on your company’s posts on LinkedIn, indicating potential interest.
Have shared experiences with you: This filter helps leverage common experiences to establish rapport in your outreach.
With TeamLink intro: This filter finds leads who are already connected to colleagues at your company, providing a potential path for warm introductions.
With TeamLink intro through your executive: This filter identifies if an executive at your company has a relationship with a potential buyer that could provide a warm introduction.
Past customer: This filter will help you uncover hidden allies by finding leads who worked at a company that has been your customer. This data is based on the opportunities in your CRM and is only available to Advanced Plus customers.
Past colleague: This filter identifies if a past colleague is now working at the company you’re targeting, potentially providing introductions and insight on the best person(s) to reach out to.
Viewed your profile in last 90 days: This filter alerts you when a potential buyer has recently viewed your profile, providing an opportunity for personalized connection requests.
Spotlight features available for Accounts (companies)
In addition to the value Spotlights brings to individual lead search, Sales Navigator also offers additional features for Accounts (companies) with the Advanced and Advanced Plus subscription.
The Buyer Intent Activities filter includes actions taken by people within the targeted Account, such as LinkedIn ad engagement, InMail acceptance for a colleague, company LinkedIn page visits, or LinkedIn profile visits to colleagues and leadership. This feature demonstrates the power of Sales Navigator to not just focus on Leads (individuals) but also on holistic account-based strategies.
Additional features in Sales Navigator
Beyond the advanced search function I’ve covered here, there are many additional features available within Sales Navigator that you can see in the chart I shared above, showing the difference between Sales Navigator’s Core, Advanced, and Advanced Plus plans.
Consider investing in Sales Navigator if you’re facing these challenges:
- You often reach the commercial search limit (a restriction LinkedIn imposes on the number of searches you can conduct within a given period on free accounts).
- You’re looking for a customized newsfeed solely featuring leads and companies you’ve selected as potential buyers.
- You require more search and filter options.
- You’d like to utilize your colleagues’ connections for warm introductions through TeamLink.
- You’re keen on tracking buyer engagement with personalized content through Smart Links.
- You want detailed insights into who’s viewing your profile.
- You’re after flexibility in creating notes and custom lead lists, aiding in organized outreach.
- You want to save successful search lists.
- You need CRM integration (Microsoft Dynamics 365 or Salesforce.com) for enterprise users with the Advanced Plus version.
LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator offers the flexibility to tap into premium information and additional tools. While LinkedIn’s free Advanced Search can assist in locating ideal leads, Sales Navigator includes comprehensive search filters to pinpoint your precise target customers. It allows you to save searches and receive new results daily, weekly, or monthly. With over three dozen additional filters, Sales Navigator empowers you to refine your search, save time, and produce superior results.
Having experimented with free and premium accounts alongside Sales Navigator, we’ve discovered that Sales Navigator outshines the rest when it comes to social selling.
Deciding on the Right LinkedIn Subscription
Like all social media platforms, LinkedIn is constantly evolving, so it can be hard to know which plan will work best for you.
Whether you decide to invest in Sales Navigator or Premium Business, or use the free LinkedIn membership, the key is to stay organized with your social selling activities.
While it may seem like it’s a lot more work to set up a lead generation system in the beginning, in the long run, being organized will:
- Save you time and effort
- Prevent you from getting overwhelmed
- Enable you to generate leads more efficiently
You can also avoid making costly mistakes that come with being disorganized, such as sending the wrong message in the wrong context at the wrong time. When you do that, you lose prospects forever, so it pays to stay organized.
With tools such as Sales Navigator, getting and staying organized is faster and easier. Moreover, such tools provide additional features that will increase the success of your social selling activities.
LinkedIn’s Pay to Play Professional Plans
Social media has spoiled us over the years, giving us the ability to market to consumers without spending money. That’s never happened before. But social media platforms have caught on to that, and now capitalize on our need to use them for marketing.
LinkedIn has done the same thing Facebook did when it changed its algorithm for Business Pages. The change made it almost impossible for Business Pages to be seen organically. That was the start of the Pay to Play models on social media platforms.
Upgrading to a paid LinkedIn membership may not be right for everyone, but it certainly will make sense for those who can find, connect, and build relationships with their ideal customers on LinkedIn.
I hope this comparison has helped you decide which LinkedIn membership level will work best for you.
If you need help creating or improving your lead generation or social selling strategy on LinkedIn, you can contact me here.