When it comes a salesperson engaging a prospect, soliciting a referral, and gathering information as part of their sales efforts, most tend to go to their most trusted and closely held relationships. There is nothing wrong with taking that approach. However, what if I suggested that reaching out to lesser known people within your network or people entirely outside of your network would aid your efforts and, in some cases, be more rewarding?
According to Wikipedia and the often cited research of sociologist, Mark S. Granovetter, in mathematical sociology, interpersonal ties are defined as information-carrying connections between people. Interpersonal ties, generally, come in three varieties: strong, weak or absent. Weak social ties, it is argued, are responsible for the majority of the embeddedness and structure of social networks in society as well as the transmission of information through these networks.
I know that this sounds counterintuitive, but Granovetter’s research illustrated that information traveled better via weak ties because more of the information shared was novel rather than common knowledge to most members of the social networks.
Why the sociology lesson and what does this have to do with sales? Well, as salespeople in an increasingly challenging environment where cold calling has diminishing returns, new tools and techniques are required to remain competitive.
I have already written previously here about social selling and the power of social media and social tools to identify and engage prospective clients. What I am talking about here with the strength of weak ties is the idea that salespeople should be extending their outreach to weaker ties within their extended or beyond their network to gain information, garner referrals, and possibly even win new business.
For many, the idea of contacting people they know loosely, or not at all, feels uncomfortable. My response to that is to try it. The worst that can happen is either they say no or choose not to respond at all. You just need to get used to the idea that you have nothing to lose.
Throughout my career, and especially since the arrival of LinkedIn, I have been the beneficiary of numerous opportunities, sales related and otherwise, because of my willingness to reach out to people I don’t know and ask for their time and assistance. I continue to be surprised by the results.
Coincidentally, I am a contributor to this blog because of relationships I fostered through social networks with people I have yet to meet in person. I have secured board positions, speaking engagements, and more through relationships that you would not define as close.
In one instance several years ago, I reached out to someone I did not know and asked them for a few minutes of their time for a phone call to learn more about them, their firm, and the work that they did. From that initial contact, an extremely fruitful business relationship, and friendship has developed. I owe the work that my firm and I have been doing for the last eight years to that connection. How’s that for the strength of weak ties?
More often than not, I have found people willing to help even if we have not met before. Just be gracious and respectful and you will be surprised by the kindness and assistance you receive but be sure to show your gratitude too.
If you are trying to map an account, profile a prospect more thoroughly, or research an industry sector, why not leverage your extended network to find people or secure introductions to people who can help you achieve your objectives. I know it will feel awkward at first, but if you are clear, to the point, and respectful of their time, you will be amazed at the results.
When one person surprises you with information or an introduction that would have eluded you otherwise, you will be converted. Give it a try. Put your faith in weak ties and before you know it you will be closing strong. Good luck and be sure to let me know how it goes.