Mark Zuckerberg (you know the movie star) popularized the term the “social graph” to give a visual representation to the way we are all connected socially (and to promote his movie.) The social graph represents the relationships between us as lines and us as the nodes (see the photo.)
Why does this concept matter to those in the frontline of selling? Simply because using relationships (and their cousin referrals) is by far the easiest way to get things sold.
Now the social graph has in fact existed since Adam and Eve (it was somewhat simple back then) but what’s changed in only the last few years are the tools we can use to take advantage of it.
Back in the day (circa 1995) the only way I could find out if you knew someone that I wanted to know was to ask you to bring you Rolodex (yes I mean the thing with the cards in it) to a coffee shop and I would bring mine. Then we’d sit at a table and look through these wonderful machines looking for people that could be useful to each of us. This was a cumbersome process and so, like so many cumbersome processes, it often did NOT happen.
Around 1998 we upgraded the same process by bringing our Palm Pilots to the same coffee shop and beaming each other business cards but not everyone seemed to have a Palm so this did not often happen either.
Today in the Post Linkedin Era (PLE) we have it so easy. If I want to know who you know, I jump onto Linkedin. I browse your connections or I search for the companies and people I want and back comes a list of my friends and how they can help me get a referral. Darn easy. No Rolodex lugging. No need to buy you a coffee.
The math on this social graph stuff is pretty amazing. There’s actual scientific research that shows that the average human can maintain up to 150 relationships. Now here’s the math: if I know 150 people and each of my friends knows 150 people that means I can get a referral to 150* 150 = 22,500 people. 22,500 people!
Now I’d say that as sales people if we knew that maintaining relationships was the best way to sell more we might be able to maintain more than 150 relationships (our livelihood seems like a good motivator to me.)
On top of that we now have a whole lot of tools to make maintaining more relationships easier than ever before. So you’d think we could pull it off. So let’s say we do push this boundary. Let’s say we can maintain 250 relationships but our friends (non-sales types) can only keep up 150. Then we can get referred to 250 * 150 = 37,500 people. How about if we can handle 500 relationships? 500 * 150 = 75,000 people.
Now I don’t know about you (actually I do know about most of you at least) but I have a lot more fun maintaining relationships with my friends and acquaintances than I do cold calling strangers that don’t treat me as an actual human being (of course there’s a human reason for this too). So instead of investing your energy into calling 1,000 strangers 7-12 times how about spending your time maintaining relationships with people that know, like and trust you? How about getting referrals to new prospects all the time and building out your network in the process?
Some research to think about: author Stephen Bistritz and North Carolina Business School did some research with C-level buyers for his book Selling to the C-Suite. They found that 80% of C-level execs will take your call if you have a referral from someone in their company but only 20% of the same execs will take your cold call (no referral). That’s a 4 x improvement using a referral vs a cold call.
More research: researchers at IBM put an actual monetary figure on the value of a relationship: $948. $948 for every relationship you have. Why? For all the reasons above. The researchers found that those with more relationships made more money.
Some more math: $948 * 500 = $474,000. So if you maintain 500 relationships that should be worth almost half a million dollars. And by-the-way that’s your money. If you maintain those relationships, they move with you — even when you change jobs. Wouldn’t you like to add an extra half-mill to your net worth? And even have fun doing it. Get social!