Ever wondered why your market isn’t buying from you?
Typically, it comes down to two factors.
Either they don’t believe in what you’re selling or they don’t believe in you.
It’s that simple.
Either you inspired them to sign on the dotted line. Or you didn’t.
And while there’s little you can do to convince someone to buy, when they don’t believe in what you’re selling.
You have all the tools you need to optimise your pulling power, when they do.
You just have to put them into action.
To find out what those tools are and how to use them, we must journey back about 1 million years into prehistory.
The Sales Secret from Our Prehistoric Past
Before our ancestors discovered the features/benefits of rubbing two sticks together, life was tough.
Especially in winter.
Shelter was scarce, food scarcer and central heating was reliant on group hugs.
Fall out of favour with your clan and you risked ostracism, eviction and certain death.
Fitting in was key to survival and understandably so.
Funny thing. It still is.
Despite abundant access to shelter, food and heat, fear of social exclusion continues to drive our behaviour. Especially in new or unfamiliar surroundings.
To avoid losing face, we look for cues on how we should behave.
At dinner abroad, you might study your hosts for correct mealtime etiquette.
Or before a meeting with a foreign delegation, you might research cultural norms to ensure you don’t do or say anything that could cause insult.
Today we call these indicators of correct behaviour social proof.
What’s interesting is, in addition to helping us avoid faux pas, social proof also has a big impact on your sales effectiveness.
The Vital Role of Social Proof in Sales
When weighing up different purchasing options, B2B buyers will almost certainly look to past purchasers for evidence of fit and delivery on promise.
Because, like social interaction, all purchasing come with an element of risk.
Death is thankfully off the table, but businesses, careers and livelihoods can, and do, hang in the balance.
Ultimately, a poor purchasing decision can cost you a lot more than the item’s ticket price.
So, when it comes to buying B2B products and services, especially big ticket items, you can understand why buyers seek evidence that you’re everything they need you to be.
Which means, providing compelling proof, that you can do what needs to be done, is crucial.
Why Social Proof Can Fall Flat
Social proof is already part of our everyday lives.
As both buyers and sellers, we understand the persuasive power of customer reviews, testimonials and case studies.
What is less clear is how to optimise their effectiveness.
How to make them so compelling that your market can’t help but be persuaded by what they say.
And to do that, we must first understand why social proof can sometimes fail to find its mark.
Testimonials, reviews and case studies all have an intrinsic value but their impact can be limited.
Too often they are full of platitudes that make us feel good about ourselves but miss the important ‘what’s in it for me’ for your market.
How often do you see a testimonial that reads, ‘such a lovely company/person to work with’. That’s great and all but it doesn’t give your market much to go on.
To ensure your social proof is fully optimised, it’s important to understand the 2 key principles that drive it.
And for that we must turn to Robert Cialdini.
The Psychology of Persuasion: How to Increase Your Influence
Bestselling author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Cialdini says that social proof is one of six key principles of influence and that it works best under certain conditions.
Those conditions are uncertainty and similarity.
Cialdini says, “Without question, when people are uncertain, they are more likely to use others’ actions to decide how they themselves should act.”
This is important. In this time of endless options, hyperbole and broken promises, uncertainty is at an all time high.
Perfect conditions for social proof to thrive. Which indeed it has.
With uncertainty pretty much baked in, our job as marketers and business owners is to help create common ground between client and prospect.
As Cialdini says, “The principal of social proof operates most powerfully when we are observing the behaviour of people just like us.”
Because it’s the conduct of people who we see as similar, who’s behaviour we trust most.
The question is, how do we help develop this deep sense of similarity between client and prospect?
The 3 Steps to Scintillating Social Proof
To get the most out of your case studies, reviews and testimonials, it is essential your market can hold a mirror up to your clients and see themselves reflected back.
For that to happen, there are 3 steps to follow when working with your clients to craft your social proof.
STEP 1: ESTABLISH RELEVANCE
If we are influenced by people who are like us, it follows that your market will be influenced most by people who they feel are like them.
Quickly initiating this influential relationship can be achieved by establishing your client’s relevance to the reader.
Use labels that say, we work with people like you. These are the roles, responsibilities, industry sectors and company demographics.
Relevance can be further cemented through the inclusion of your clients’ motivations and goals. What they wanted and why they wanted it.
These are the hooks that draw your reader in through the power of shared goals.
Together these elements are the first layer of similarity. The more you can ally the description of your clients with your target market, the greater the pull on the reader.
STEP 2: SHARE EXPERIENCE
Both relevance and the credibility they help create are clearly important.
However, to really pull your reader in, you want to build a deeper sense of similarity. For that you need to draw on the principles of shared experience.
You see it all the time on holiday. Brits hanging out with Brits, Germans with Germans and on it goes.
We do it because we like to be with likeminded people. People, who won’t judge us for who we are and will understand where we are coming from.
Thing is, when connections are built on superficial criteria like nationality, it’s unlikely the bond that develops will be particularly deep or long standing. It’s easily broken.
However, the more we find in common, the deeper the bond that develops. Especially when built on shared experience both good and bad.
British singer Adele is an excellent example of the power of shared experience. It has helped her to sell millions of albums worldwide.
Her latest album, 25, smashed records on every level. Like her two previous albums 19 and 21, the songs’ lyrics provide a snapshot of her experience during that year of her life.
Her fans can clearly relate. They feel their own situation through the music. Vitally, they find an outlet for their emotion and a way of dealing with their problems.
They no longer feel alone and that in itself is a tonic or sorts.
Adele’s understanding and empathy for what her audience is going through has created loyalty and adoration that stretches across the globe and made her a very rich lady indeed.
This happens because when we read about people who have struggled through the same challenges we are currently experiencing, we can’t help but feel an affinity with them.
When working with your clients to develop social proof, find ways of including what they were going through when they came to you for help. The challenges, frustrations and fears. What they meant and the impact they were having.
Problems are rarely unique to any one person. It’s likely that people in similar positions from similar companies have similar issues.
When your help your clients share experiences the reader can relate to, you create a deep influential connection between the two.
STEP 3: TELL A STORY
Sharing your clients’ experiences in the form of a story dials up the impact of your social proof to 11.
Stories build empathy enabling the reader to step into the shoes of your client.
Think of your favourite film.
Do you remember how it made you feel? Did you feel like you lived through every moment with the hero? The ups, the downs, the pain of their mistakes and the joy of their successes?
When your reviews, testimonials and case studies tell an engrossing story, you bring the shared experience to life.
Reading about your clients’ circumstances, the reader will feel those anxieties, fears and frustrations, especially when they relate to their own circumstances.
This then pulls your solution and the potential for resolution into sharp focus and helps form the belief that you are the partner they’ve been looking for.
Because when you demonstrate a clear understanding of the problems your market faces, you create the belief that you must know how to fix them.
To help drive this home, ensure your client gives their story a happy ending. Let the reader know what they were able to achieve and the impact those results had on them.
When you do, you give the reader clear and rewarding insight into what they too can expect from the relationship.