All salespeople would love more referrals and introductions to qualified prospects.
I don’t think I am breaking any new ground there, but how exactly does that work these days. Just a few years ago, you only had a couple of options. You could personally introduce two people, or you could call one person or the other on the phone and tell them to take the other’s call. Now you can give a LinkedIn introduction, recommendation, or endorse someone for a skill. You could like their post on Facebook or suggest a friend to someone. You might re-tweet an offer from a business friend on Twitter, or pin a picture of new product that you like on Pinterest. Of course you can do a combination of these on Google + or a number of other sites as well.
Somehow these new forms of referrals don’t seem to have the same pull as the referrals of a few years ago. Maybe it is just the shear number of things we “like” that they have been watered down, but I think there is more than that. I believe the impersonal nature of these endorsements damage the credibility of the referral and possibly the person doing the connecting.
In his book “Endless Referrals,” Bob Burg said, “All things being equal, people will do business with — and refer business to— those people they know, like and trust.”
There is no doubt that social networking has transformed this process. It is possible to do a quick search, and in seconds, “know” about a new person or business. We can even see what they are about and get a pretty good and accurate feeling about whether we “like” them or not based on their website or social media account, but what about that “trust” part. Social networking introductions, recommendations and referrals, also know as “social proof,” definitely add to the amount of trust developed.
My thought is that in most cases social proof provided online doesn’t add near the amount of trust that personal introductions did before the Internet era. Charles Green in his book, “The Trusted Advisor,” defined trust this way…
Trust Quotient = (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy) / Self-Orientation
Using this as the standard definition of trust in an online referral situation, if your friend recommends a dentist on LinkedIn, there is a decent chance that you will find him credible in this situation, assuming he has used or at least knows this dentist. Also, it is unlikely that he is doing this selfishly, although sometimes companies do pay for endorsements online or run contests to like their company, in which case it would increase the self-orientation.
I think the lack of trust in online referrals falls between reliability and intimacy. Hopefully, we are all aware of the reliability issues with information found on the Internet. However let’s explore it in this context, sometimes people like and share endorsements for companies they truly like, and other times the just click “Like” without much thought. How can we trust that they really thought about the consequences of this action. Just because you follow a Celebrity on Twitter doesn’t mean you would go see their latest movie… It becomes very hard to rely on any specific action as a trigger for our trust in the level and intensity of the referral.
Perhaps more importantly, there is very little intimacy in these types of interactions. Intimacy in the trust equation means the sharing of honest, and sometimes private or vulnerable information. When we share our thoughts on social networks, we do so public and with a special filter on the information. We judge how it will be perceived by others who view it. For example, we might share intimately an embarrassing experience at the proctologist with close friend, but we will probably be more guarded about it on Facebook, Google or LinkedIn.
So what does this mean for salespeople trying to use social networks to increase their sales results?
Think about how you can be more credible, reliable, and intimate online.
There are tons of ways to increase your credibility. You can write blogs, bolster your LinkedIn profiles, request and share more endorsements and recommendations. You can compile and curate helpful information on your industry by sharing through your network. You can associate yourself with other experts and groups with credibility and continue growing your own connections and reach.
Reliability is a little trickier, but the good news is that there are tremendous opportunities online, especially in social media. Most people are very scattered and inconsistent with their social networking and sharing. I would encourage you to adopt a strict content and connection calendar to keep yourself on track. If you haven’t shared anything in months, your network and your prospects may assume that you are no longer active or no longer in business! That goes for updating your profiles, commenting on others posts, and responding to messages as well. The worst result would be to have a hot prospect reach out to you and that message to be sitting in an un-monitored inbox rotting while your trust quotient drops like a rock.
Finally, intimacy is the key to developing better relationships and better and more referrals. Think about how you can increase the 1-on-1 communication in your social networking. Blasting marketing messages to hundreds or thousands of followers isn’t very intimate communication, and it won’t help you build trust because it is also very selfish. Take the time to send private and personal messages to the people in your network. Offer specific and useful information to their causes, and you will find yourself having better relationships. When requesting and making introductions and referrals, do so with a specific and personal endorsement to increase the level of trust. It is one thing to say you like From Click To Close. It is another to say that you and Mike have been friends for years, and you are excited and impressed to see him grow into social networking expert.
I also recommend added connections ONLY with people you actually know offline and have a real relationship with… this will lead to a more intimate and useful network as a whole.