How to Leverage Social Proof to Increase your Sales

[blockquote cite=”Dale Carnegie”]When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.[/blockquote]

Humans are social creatures.

We always have been, dating back to when our earliest ancestors hunted, gathered and lived in caves together. Living and doing everything in a group gave our forefathers a powerful sense of comfort, security and confidence.

Humans are also creatures of emotion, as mentioned above. As much as we try to fight it and make rational, logical decisions, emotions ultimately play as big a role as logic when we make decisions.

Couple our emotional drivers with our social history, and what do we get?

Social proof – the concept that people will conform to the actions or opinions of others, especially large groups, assuming that those actions or opinions are the correct ones.

Social proof is an especially powerful weapon for organizations and sales reps to use. Here’s how to leverage social proof to increase your sales.

4 Types of Social Proof to Use in Sales

There are multiple types of social proof, all proven to be effective in garnering attention from the masses and driving sales and conversions.

1 . The Halo Effect

This is a form of cognitive bias – a thinking trick your brain plays on you – that affects how you judge someone’s opinion based on your overall, more general impression of that person or company. In short, you view that person as having a halo: “I respect this person, so therefore I will respect their opinion about this.”

For example, if one of our sales reps tells a prospect that many respected CEO’s use our product on a daily basis, that might fall on deaf ears; the vagueness of “many respected CEO’s” doesn’t pack a powerful punch, and won’t resonate with prospects. But what if our rep says “Salesforce founder Marc Benioff not only uses our product every day but believes in it so deeply that he invested in us.”? The name Marc Benioff carries significant weight in the tech community, and his opinion as an innovator and company leader is highly valued. Whether this expert opinion is said in an interview, a third-party blog or a press release, it can drive great conversions for your company.

In fact, the Halo Effect is closely tied to the next – and perhaps most popular –  form of social proof:

2. Celebrity Endorsements

While Marc Benioff talking about software makes sense – he is after all a software innovator – most celebrities endorse things that don’t even have anything to do with them or their brand. Yet, companies are willing to throw millions of dollars at these celebrities to get them to shill their product or mention their company. That’s the considerable social proof power that celebrities wield.

Take LeBron James, unquestionably one of the most famous athletes and celebrities in the world. According to Forbes, James makes $42 million a year in endorsement money, from the likes of Nike, Gatorade and McDonald’s. It’s that last company that proves that the awkward marriage between celebrities and the brands they endorse aren’t always the most natural fit; James is a professional athlete, and (presumably) does not consume McDonald’s very often, if at all. Yet, the social proof ROI makes this a more than worthwhile relationship for both parties to keep making commercials, even if James sometimes forgets that he’s supposed to be promoting Big Macs.

Of course, celebrity endorsements aren’t a blanket solution for any brand – for example, are men shopping for hair treatment products likely to be swayed by the bizarre appearance of Gary Busey in this commercial?

Probably not, and that goes for many B2B companies too. Celebrity endorsements are clearly a powerful form of social proof, but they may not be the right fit for your company, and probably not worth the big bucks that celebrities demand. So what type of social proof is right for B2B companies?

3. What Other Users Say?

Ah, the old Herd Mentality that was developed thousands of years ago by our forefathers still carries significant weight today. Simply put, the court of popular opinion has the power to sway unconvinced individuals; if everyone else says so, who are you to say differently?

The most common system of measuring what other users say is the customer review or rating system, popularly employed by Amazon makes it very simple for customers to rate any item they buy on a 5-star scale, and those ratings are then aggregated into a simple visual average for future customers to see. Nearly 7,000 people have given A Game of Thrones a 4.5 star average rating; still skeptical of reading this fantasy epic?

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B2B tech companies can source for ratings – or the next step: expanded reviews articulating and explaining why a customer deemed a product to be worthy of 5 stars – on sites such as G2Crowd or TrustRadius. Customers shopping for a B2B product or software would be wise to see what other users are saying about the product on sites like this before they make a decision.

Another great way to show not only what users are saying, but how specifically they are using your product to success, is through Case Studies. These should go in-depth into how specific companies or users have applied your product, with examples of unique use-cases that might apply to other users. Sales reps should be liberally sending the appropriate case study to the right prospect, communicating a much more powerful pitch (since it comes from a third party) than your rep ever could. Testimonials work in a similar fashion, putting a human face and a real opinion to your product.

Leveraging the Herd Mentality, some companies also display the logos of some of their more prominent customers. Lead scoring software company Infer does a great job of this; someone shopping for their product might come across this page and see lots of customers, hopefully many that they recognize or even some that they are competitive against.

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It’s not just in the sales process where you can apply social proof in the form of how other users feel. Content marketing is a great place to apply social proof indicators; check out this indicator on our blog, which tracks how many people have shared this piece of content across the different networks. The fact that more than a thousand people have read, enjoyed and shared this post should pique the curiosity of other readers.

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4. I Get By with some Help from my Friends

In dating, going on a blind date set up by a friend or meeting someone at a mutual friend’s party will produce higher conversion rates than online dating or meeting someone at a bar. That’s social proof at work in a nutshell; the fact that you’ve received an endorsement from another trusted friend will raise your value and credibility in the eyes of this new dating prospect.

Sales referrals work in a similar fashion. According to referral sales expert Joanne Black, referred B2B prospects convert into new clients more than 50% of the time; no other sales or marketing strategy even comes close to these results.

As a company, you have to create a system that actively seeks out referrals. Whether you’re segmenting your best and most loyal customers and asking them for referrals, leveraging an advocacy marketing program or community, or just straight-up asking all customers to refer you if they’re happy with your product, it would be foolhardy not to pursue this sales social proof strategy.
No matter what type of social proof you use – from ratings and case studies to a celebrity endorsement from Gary Busey – its power is undeniable. Use them wisely, and see your conversion rates and sales results improve dramatically as a direct result.

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