The Science of Trust in Social Selling

On May 19th, Newsio held an event on Social Selling, inviting speakers to tell their stories on how they use the power of social selling and employee engagement to increase their companies’ success. When talking about social selling, the importance of word-of-mouth referrals is often a key aspect of the discussion, just have a look at these numbers:

  • 92% of buyers say they delete emails or voicemails coming from someone that they do not know (Jeff Zelaya, 2014)
  • The average cold calling appointment rate is 2.5% (Frank Rumbauskas, 2013)
  • 72.6% of salespeople using social selling as part of their sales process outperform their sales peers and exceeded quota 23% more often (Jeff Zelaya, 2014)
  • 84% of B2B decision makers begin their buying process with a referral (Ryan Tognazzini, 2013)
  • 75% of B2B buyers use social media to make purchasing decisions (Kathleen Schaub, 2014)

But what exactly is it that makes social selling such a successful and increasingly important aspect in today’s business? It all boils down to trust: a trust-relationship between buyer and seller that needs to be established in today’s ever-connected world, in which “B2B buyers complete 57% of the buying decision before they are willing to talk to a sales representative”, all while “77% of B2B buyers do not talk to a sales person until after they had performed independent research themselves” (CEB). Other research indicates that 36% of buyers did not engage with a sales rep until after a short list of preferred vendors was established” (ConverseDigital). In order to positively influence a prospect in his or her decision making process, we need to be able to find a way to connect with them in a meaningful way much earlier.

LinkedIn defines Social Selling as followed:

“Social Selling is about leveraging your social network to find the right prospects, build trusted relationships, and ultimately, achieve your sales goals. This sales technique enables better sales lead generation and sales prospecting process and eliminates the need for cold calling. Building and maintaining relationships is easier within the network that you and your customer trust.”

Personal and Professional Trust

Publications within the topic of social selling primarily focus around the importance of reaching prospects, building a personal brand and sharing stories, because we trust word-of-mouth and personal connections more than the a brand’s message or the sales rep on the phone. It is my opinion though, that little effort is made to actually explain the underlying factors that lead to trust, and therefore proactively help us create it within a business setting.

In order to achieve a trust relationship, sales reps and their managers need to understand the occurring shift from the ABC of Always Be Closing to the ABC of Always Be Connecting.

 (Darren Smith, 2013)

In transactional sales, the sales representative, subconsciously communicates to the buyer that they do not matter, signaling that he or she is only interested in making the sale. In social and relational selling, however, the sales agent always aims to make the prospect feel that they genuinely care about them, as the relationship is more important than the sale – all while connecting to the prospect and focusing on creating a trust-relationship.

Above all, we buy from people we trust – and we trust the people we like.

Trust is an emotion that describes how people feel about someone’s ability to be honest, authentic, and genuine towards you and others, and trust is often said to – next to love – be the most powerful emotion humans can experience.

Trust is the firm belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc.

Building Trust

On a personal level, we connect to the people around us that share the same or similar values, beliefs or interests, and this connection leads to the creation of sympathy and subsequently trust.
On a professional level, we have to showcase our credibility to earn the prospect’s respect, which then turns into trust.

In order for companies to engage in meaningful relationships with prospective business partners, we need to be able to connect on both a personal and professional level.
Only by connecting with someone on a personal level, through humility, authenticity, honesty and vulnerability, we create deep and meaningful connections, and are able to create professional trust as well, earning respect by demonstrating our own and the company’s credibility through knowledge, skills and capability.

The Science of Trust

While our Neocortex is responsible for logic, analytical thought and the ability to process facts and data, it is the limbic system that is responsible for emotions, senses and social interaction. In fact, our decisions always start within the limbic system and are only afterwards rationalized in the neocortex, as core decision making revolves around emotions and instincts first before analytical thought takes place. Therefore, when we communicate with each other in a way that evokes emotion and visualization, the judgmental neocortex can be bypassed, penetrating directly the limbic system, helping us to create a feeling of trust.

As James Heaton puts it, it is critical to understand the role of the emotional unconscious decision-making process and to devote time and attention to the effects of the unconscious decision-making ecosystem, as it pertains to products and services, underscoring the centrality of the fundamental consumer question “Why should I care?

For (social) selling, communication with decision makers needs to trigger an emotional response by creating a genuine connection. Sharing our own and our company’s story is a great start to trigger emotional responses from our counterpart.

We can create a genuine connection through shared values and beliefs, and by discussing our counterpart’s problems and issues in a consultative way while identifying the aspects that impact his or her situation, we can surpass analytical and rational barriers as well as invasiveness. Focusing on these aspects, we are able to build the stepping stone towards a meaningful and long-term relationship based on mutual respect and trust.