Why the Theories of Two Stanford Professors are at the Epicenter of Social Selling

By Paul Teshima in Social Selling

For social selling to be successful two things have to happen.

1. People must help and engage their network and become trusted.

2. People must change their behavior and interact as people expect today.

As I investigated how this can happen, I discovered that two Stanford professors have theories that are at the epicenter of this sales transformation.

1. Engaging Your Network: The Strength of Weak Ties

Dr. Mark Granovetter is currently a professor at Stanford in the School of Humanities and Sciences.  He has been studying theories in modern sociology since the 1970s.  His highly influential paper on “The Strength of Weak Ties” has been cited over 27,000 times since being published in May 1973.

Why Weak Ties Are Better Than Strong Ones.

First Granovetter defines a tie (and its strength) as, “a combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding), and the reciprocal services which characterize the tie.” And if you only spend time with your strong ties, then you only experience similar people, with similar skills, and similar interests.

Granovetter also points out that every network is actually a collection of smaller social groups.  And within this structure, some people can act as a “bridge or broker”, by connecting the two groups (I am sure everyone has one of these friends who does this all the time).  But “no strong tie can be a bridge”, because that would imply the two social groups really are just one.  In fact it is the weak ties, that allow a bridge to occur between two different social groups.

To prove this he examined how job seekers got their next opportunity, and found that 56% of them found jobs through people who they saw only occasionally, and 28% got jobs from people they saw rarely.  So in this evaluation weak ties generated 84% of the new jobs compared to 16% finding new jobs through their strong ties.

This makes sense, because if you spend time with your weak ties you end up connecting with different people, with different skills and different interests.  And as a result of that, you open yourself up to finding newer and different opportunities for growth.

More Weak Ties, Means More Opportunity.

Today, due to social media and networks like LinkedIn, we have more weak ties than ever before.  In fact the median number of connections in LinkedIn grew over 500% from 2012 to 2013.  The challenge is that is it not as easy to leverage weak ties.  You just can’t call them up and ask for a coffee or lunch to ask them to refer you into a company.  You need to start small, perhaps just by nudging them with some valuable content, and over time grow the connection into a real business relationship.

This idea is at the center of social selling, because sales people need to build trusted relationships from the thousands of weak ties they are connected to today.

Take Away: start spending more time with your “weak ties”, and be open to the different ideas, skills and people they bring to the table.  This is your greatest opportunity in today’s new social world.

2. Changing Your Behavior: Tiny Habits

Dr. BJ Fogg, is a professor at Stanford running the Persuasive Tech lab.  He has been named one of the Top 10 New Gurus You Should Know by Forbes, and has been championing his program called “Tiny Habits” since December 2011.

His basic theory is that there are only three ways to change one’s behavior in the long term:

  1. Have an epiphany
  2. Change your environment (what surrounds you)
  3. Take baby steps

Since #1 doesn’t happen that often, and #2 is often out of your control, you are left with #3.  The good news is that Dr. Fogg believes the best way to change one’s behavior is to attach a new tiny habit to an existing one, and grow it over time.

As an example if you want to start jogging, instead of trying to get up early, and go for a run, try this instead;  when you finish walking your dog (if you have one) in the morning, drop the dog off and run for 5 more minutes.  Then over time make it 10 min. then 15 min. etc.  And by doing this, you start to create a new habit of running, by attaching it to an existing habit you already have, which is walking your dog.  The strategy is simple, you are already dressed to walk the dog, you are already outside, and you already have started your heart pumping with the walk.

Start Socially Selling with a Tiny Habit.

For social selling to work, sales people will need to change their behavior.  Today, nothing is more important than hitting your number in the quarter.  And don’t get me wrong, tomorrow it will be just as important. But if you want to continue to succeed, you need to start building your network of future opportunities now.

One way to do that, is by attaching a tiny habit of sharing content to your network.  Think about every time you are in line for a coffee, or at the gate waiting for your plane.  After you check your email, and check facebook, share a piece of content you saw on Linkedin, or on twitter.  Even better send it directly to someone you know will find it interesting.  Start with just once per day, and see if you can increase that to 2, 3 times per day.  Be thoughtful, but build a habit, and you will be surprised on the effect it will have when you need it most.

Take away: start a tiny habit today, by nudging 1-3 of your connections everyday with a piece of content they would find interesting.

Paul Teshima
CEO and Co-founder