The Science of Social Selling

Social MediaSocial selling is one of the hottest buzzwords in the technology market. Unfortunately, social selling is usually misunderstood as navigating the sales process using only tools like Twitter, Linkedin, or Facebook. While technology can help, social selling is about building stronger relationships with potential buyers, based on an authentic sense of empathy and a deep understanding of the problems they face.

Even if they don’t use social technology, good salespeople already know that creating a connection with the client is essential for success. In real life (IRL for social types), connections are usually made on some common value or some shared demographic. This is why salespeople spend so much time establishing a personal relationship, not just selling their product.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia have shown that incidental similarities between a buyer and seller are enough to establish a personal connection and increase the likelihood to purchase. Incidental similarities include a wide range of events: a shared first name, birthday or birthplace. In the words of one of the professors:

Those incidental similarities can actually shape the situation in terms of your desire to buy and associate with the product or company, your attitude toward the product. It overflows onto the purchase experience — even though, rationally, it really shouldn’t.

Incidental similarities create a sense of connection even though they are superficial and common. Yes, common. For example, in a group of 23 people, the chance two people have the same birthday is greater than 50%. Many companies already exploit this opportunity:

Employees at Disney theme parks and Hilton Hotels wear name tags emblazoned with their hometowns, the researchers note, and many fitness centres display detailed biographies of their personal trainers, right down to the high school they attended.

Social technology can be used to discover the incidental similarities. So, if a sales rep points out he roots for the same sports team as you do, it’s probably not an accident. And chances are you’ll spend more than you originally expected.

That’s the science of social selling.

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5 Responses to The Science of Social Selling

  1. Satya Krishnaswamy September 7, 2014 at 7:20 pm #

    Thanks, Jonathan, for clarifying that ‘social selling’ is not BS and that it’s not only about technology 🙂

    Given that my company plays in this space, there are a few additional points we have learned:

    1. Technology helps the sales rep in scaling the ‘discovery’ process. As anyone who has tried it knows, it is very time consuming and painful to manually try to find out all the relevant intersection points with each one of your leads

    2. Social doesn’t have to play a role only in the ‘sales’ part of the process. It can significantly help the demand-gen teams to identify new leads as well as find out more info about their leads at scale so that they can do a better job of targeting relevant content to the different segments

    3. Finally, it all comes down to how savvy the sales rep is in using this information without creeping the heck out of the prospect – we have seen that happen a few times 🙂


  2. Ryan O'Neil September 8, 2014 at 6:33 am #


    Great post, as usual.

    In response to the University of British Columbia professor, I have certainly seen seemingly unimportant connections lead to relationships that result in business. University school affiliation is the one that is most prevalent in my experience.

    This example supports the Corporate Executive Board’s concept of “Identity Value” and the role it plays in the sales cycle. There’s a short blog referencing the three types of value from business products, which is the start of a very good piece of insight about the buyer’s journey and what a sales person can do to address not only company value and performance value, but identity value as well.

    Thanks, also, for the example about companies including an employee’s hometown on their name tag – I’m a proud Texan and can say that seeing another Texan during my travels does make a difference.

    Have a great week.


  3. Muthu Ranganathan September 8, 2014 at 9:02 pm #

    Is it a science or art ….art of social relationship ?

  4. KP September 10, 2014 at 2:32 pm #

    Good one…As much as it’s a science, it’s also an art, And only those who add value will flourish, using these “social selling tools” the reach is more as their are no “digital borders” & it’s simple & more convenient to share the message in almost “real-time”.


  1. Algo em comum: a chave para encontrar oportunidades de venda | Vesteer Academy - August 25, 2015

    […] Pesquisadores da University of British Columbia mostraram que as semelhanças acidentais entre um comprador e um vendedor são suficientes para estabelecer uma conexão pessoal e aumentar a probabilidade de compra. Semelhanças ao fundo incluem uma vasta gama de eventos: um primeiro nome compartilhado, aniversário ou lugar de nascimento. (Leia o resto do artigo (em inglês)). […]

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