The LinkedIn Free vs Sales Navigator Conundrum

The LinkedIn Free vs Sales Navigator Conundrum

“Some of my team have LinkedIn Sales Navigator, but we find it hard to assess how much value we get from it over the free version”.

I’ve heard this dozens of times when I meet Sales leaders.

We had the same issue at Artesian. Some in our team use Sales Navigator because it complements our own Artesian platform (what LinkedIn does for People, Artesian does for Companies), but we found that adoption of the advanced Sales Navigator features was quite low.

It made me wonder, with so much in the core, free, LinkedIn product, what are the premium features and how likely are you to use them? What DO you get for your £800+ per user per year?

As LinkedIn just call their free product “LinkedIn”, for the avoidance of doubt, we will refer to the two products as “Sales Navigator” and “LinkedIn Free” when referring to each of the services.

Here is a quick summary based on our own internal investigation (figures and functionality were correct at the time of writing).

People Search

We have found this is the most commonly used area of LinkedIn; After all, who doesn’t want to know who to talk to? LinkedIn’s data are their crown jewels in this area – unsurprising with a touted 560 million users.

The searches in Sales Navigator are good, so we were expecting big differences from the free version, but in fact the variances are quite subtle:

  • LinkedIn Free still has all the key search fields – more than a dozen including: Company (Current/Past), Job Title, Name(s), Geography, Industry, etc.
  • Sales Navigator includes around 10 additional search options, such as Employee Count, Years’ Experience, Company Type, Member Since, Department, Seniority. These are useful but more niche than the standard ones.
  • The Sales Navigator search interface is prettier and easier to use, with more dropdowns to select from. User experience is important, but it’s hardly a deal breaker in my opinion.
  • The LinkedIn Free interface looks less functional, although on closer inspection we noticed that fields like Name and Job Title, which look like they can only take one value, can take more if you use the old LinkedIn search syntax, e.g. “Business Development” OR “Inside Sales

Company Search

Companies aren’t really LinkedIn’s focus, so this is quite basic. LinkedIn Free allows only a name search. Sales Navigator adds a short list of elementary parameters – e.g. Geography, Industry, Headcount, Revenue, and some LinkedIn-specific fields, such as number of LinkedIn Followers, whether they are hiring, etc.

There is also a ‘Technology Used’ field, which sounded useful, but we found it of little use unless you wanted to know what tech sits behind their website. If that’s of use to you, it’s freely available from other sources such as

LinkedIn clearly want to get you to the People area where their data is strongest, so expectations were low, and we got roughly what we expected.

If, like most enterprise B2B companies, you are used to using company-centric sales tools to manage your sales cycle once you have found the people in the account, LinkedIn feels quite simplistic in this area; As an example, Artesian has more than 40 company search parameters, hundreds more when you view an account, and dozens of ways to engage throughout a sales cycle.

Once you have a list of companies your options are limited – you can save them as Accounts (see below) or use them as a parameter in a People search.

Saved Leads, Accounts and Deals

Once you have found the people and companies you want to follow, Sales Navigator lets you save them. This is a way of tracking a subset of your LinkedIn Connections and Companies.

Deals (recently announced and just being rolled out) also lets you track other activities against an account, if you are brave enough to share that data with LinkedIn.


These can be very useful because, for example, you can get a specific email alert when a lead changes jobs – a great trigger. You also get this with LinkedIn Free but that is a digest for all of your connections.

Another useful Lead trigger is when someone posts an article on LinkedIn. Sadly, few LinkedIn users do this, but it can be a great way to engage if they do.

You will also be alerted when someone is mentioned in an article, although this is fairly rare, so the LinkedIn Free feed is sometimes enough for this. In terms of other triggers, Sales Navigator is a little limited by the data LinkedIn has access to. Work anniversaries and Birthdays aren’t great ways to engage, and LinkedIn’s company triggers aren’t particularly strong (see Accounts below).

Overall, we found that Leads are really useful for identifying a small number of high value engagement triggers, although those triggers don’t occur all that often (thankfully most people don’t change jobs every few months!).


Like Leads, Saved Accounts allow you to flag certain companies in your portfolio as being of particular interest. You can only have one list of Saved Accounts, they can’t be shared with others, and have no other attributes, although advanced users can use Tags to apply attributes (also available for Leads).

The challenge we had with Saved Accounts is that most of the functionality revolves around Shares and News. The Account Shares feed only shows you the PR-friendly view of what the company wants you to see, which is interesting but rarely insightful. The Account News feed (sorry LinkedIn) looks similar to how Artesian was back in 2012 – a narrow range of sources, little ability to control or filter results, average overall relevance and not well formatted for mass consumption. I empathise – it’s hard to fix this – it took us years to get over these issues, but relevance and suitability is essential – salespeople have a low tolerance for noise.

When you add to this that there is negligible data attached to an account, no other social media feeds or other external insights, no ability to bookmark articles against an account, and the only place you can share the things you find is within the LinkedIn infrastructure – it becomes obvious that Companies/Accounts are not really LinkedIn’s key focus.

Thankfully, this is why our customers tell us that Artesian complements LinkedIn so well.

Other notable Sales Navigator features which aren’t in LinkedIn Free:

  • Saved Searches are useful, particularly for People searches. Artesian has something similar for complex company searches and it’s a very popular feature.
  • PointDrive is a way of sharing presentations and other files, with the ability to see whether and by whom they have been viewed. It’s good, although requires the recipient to be signed in to LinkedIn and notifies them that they are being tracked, which can make people nervous.
  • Social Seller Index allows Admins to review usage and encourage good behaviour. It’s useful, although don’t use it as your only way to measure Sales Navigator adoption – you will still get a decent score even if you are only using the functionality which is available in LinkedIn Free. I can’t blame them but it’s a little sneaky!
  • Team Admin & Reporting allows Admins to monitor and assess overall usage. We have found this to be a critical part of our own platform, and the same goes for Sales Navigator.
  • TeamLink is an extension of the Connections concept – connections who are linked to colleagues in your company who use Sales Navigator are highlighted in the results and can be selected in the filters.

Those are some highlights. As you can see, Sales Navigator contains several useful features over and above the free version. Whether they are worth the premium to you depends on how likely your sales team are to genuinely adopt them.

Our conclusion – we did what most of our customers seem to do – we retained Sales Navigator for some, but not all of the team. Everyone uses Artesian.

In the words of one of our enterprise customers with 700 sales reps, “Providing Artesian to the whole team was a no-brainer; Choosing which of them got their LinkedIn upgraded to Sales Navigator was trickier.”