Think of the last time you were in a social situation and you weren’t sure what you should do or how you should behave. Did you  take your cues from those around you who appeared comfortable and experienced in the situation?

In uncertain situations, we don’t like to take the lead, so we wait for others with more experience to signal what to do and when. Think of attending a poetry reading for the first time and not knowing if it was expected to clap after each reading.

Humans look for Social Proof to help make decisions about how to act and think in the absence—as well as the presence—of our own experience and knowledge. You might think of social proof as the “herd mentality” but really, social proof is what activates the herd mentality.

I along with 120,000 other people (talk about a herd!) just returned from Dreamforce 2013, Salesforce.com’s annual user and developer conference.  But it is so much more. It’s a 4 day festival of Social Proof coming at you from all directions, activating all the senses.

Salesforce knows how to employ social proof perhaps better than any other company on the planet and its exhibitors are learning from the master. Here are some specific examples of Social Proof in action at the show, and how you can translate it into your selling strategy.

Dreamforce examples

Selling Strategy Translation

Salesforce loudly and repeatedly trumpets the numbers. There were more than 120,000 attendees, 350 exhibitors, 1250 expert led sessions, 20 celebrity guests and endless parties and ‘galas.’ This leaves little doubt that you’ll be glad you attended the event or that it will be well worth the time. You might not have celebrity endorsers or tens of thousands of users. But you do have social proof. Talk about the number of clients you have, or how fast you’re growing. Quantify how your product or service has helped companies in terms of numbers (think how McDonald’s marquees tout “over 1Billion hamburgers served”)
Draw a crowd. Exhibitors know that it’s difficult to entice a prospect to come into an empty booth. They employ all kinds of strategies to get bodies in the booth. Give-aways, games, brightly painted vehicles, all serve to stimulate traffic and the appearance of excitement. How can you convey excitement? Referral selling and testimonials is a way to show that you don’t have an “empty booth.” Posting current client logos on your site, in your proposals and presentations and even in your email signature act in the same way.
Recognition and service; give and receive. Salesforce knows how to give. Their 1-1-1 philosophy commits 1% of their equity, 1% of their employees time, and 1% of their product to improving communities around the world. Of course, they receive a great deal of attention for their generosity. They also receive a great deal of attention by honoring and showcasing their innovative clients. In both cases, giving is receiving. How can you engage in the community you sell? Do you sell to the Insurance industry? Why not set up an award to recognize the most innovative provider? Or simply showcase your clients. I’m not talking “case-studies” here, but rather a description of the great work they’re doing in the industry and for their companies.

Your prospects don’t know what to do or how to behave when they first hear about your company or products, when they visit your web site for the first time, or when they first experiment with your product. They can’t be sure whether they are the only sap that’s accepted your phone call, or signed up for a trial. You need to provide the Social Proof that puts them at ease.

No one wants to be the first to stick their neck out. In fact, we rarely want to be the 2nd or 3rd. There is, indeed, comfort in numbers. We stick together and travel in herds because it’s dangerous (or embarrassing) to go it alone.

The phenomenon of Social Proof can best be seen when Bono walked the floor of Dreamforce ,generously snapping selfies with anyone who asked. I personally sited him on two separate days.

He politely and deftly handled each fan and each fan’s camera, in order to oblige the photo op. Do you know my first thought when I saw him walking the floor on the first day? “Wow, he looks a little different in person. It doesn’t really look like him. Must be him though. He has a crowd and everyone wants his photo.”

When I saw him the second day, this is what I thought, “Here’s my chance to get my own fan photo! Be brave Nancy and get in there and hand him the camera!” Indeed, this is me, cheerfully having MY photo taken.

bono pics

bono and nancyAt this point, any doubt I previously had as to his real identity was long forgotten. After all, there was plenty of social proof. Indeed, this “Bono” was really an impersonator named Pavel Sfera.

Pavel left everyone talking about how generous Bono was with his time and attention (see 3 paragraphs back).

So, no harm, no foul. And to Pavel, I’d like to say, “Thanks for giving us a little boost to our day and for giving me the impetus for this blog post.”

Social Proof is key if you want to build your own movement. No one will stick their neck out without it. It doesn’t matter how good your product is, or how deserving you are of attention. If you don’t offer the level of comfort that Social Proof offers, you won’t get a movement started.

p.s. if you missed Dreamforce13, take a look at my photo album called Nancy’s Dreamforce13 Adventures.

Nancy Nardin is the foremost expert increasing sales productivity through the use of tools. As President of Smart Selling Tools, she consults with many of the top sales productivity software vendors as well as end-user organizations looking to select the right tools. Click to get Nancy’s What & When weekly digest with invitations to complimentary webinars and informative publications. Follow Nancy on Twitter @sellingtools or subscribe to her Sales Productivity blog. Nancy can be reached at 916-596-3035. To schedule a free 30 minute consultation click here.