Social Proof in Business: Using It to Sell Recommendations
The use of social proof in business is incredibly powerful, which is why we should all be using it in our audit and management work. Yet, many auditors neglect to do so.
Here’s the thing…
We’re all familiar with the impact of social proof in our lives, even if we’re not consciously aware of it from moment to moment. We try a new restaurant because our sister loves it. We buy tickets to the latest adventure movie because of the positive online reviews. We make vacation plans based on the gushing comments from several co-workers. And what about that new toothpaste? Well, guess what—nine out of ten dentists recommend it!
Social proof is all around us, influencing our day-to-day actions. So, it just makes sense to learn how to leverage it effectively.
What Is Social Proof in Business?
Social proof is a psychological phenomenon through which people are influenced by the actions of others who are just like them, including family members, co-workers, and friends. This even includes actors in television commercials who were specifically cast to look and sound just like the advertiser’s intended customers—you and me.
It works because when we face uncertain outcomes in even the simplest decisions, it feels “safe” to copy the decisions of others we know and trust. In short, it’s the feeling that since others like me are doing it, I should be okay doing it too.
Social proof is an incredibly powerful tool when influencing action. Advertisers know it. Marketers know it. Social medial influencers know it. Certainly, teenagers know it and use it. And you should probably know and use social proof in business too.
How to Use Social Proof in Business Recommendations
Okay, I admit, nothing earth-shattering so far. But when we’re trying to influence others in our work lives through staff meeting suggestions, audit recommendations, annual feedback reviews, and any time we’re seeking business results improvement, social proof can be a powerful motivating force.
So, how do we use social proof in business meetings and other times when we’re trying to sell recommendations?
The Wrong Approach
Here’s an example…
The internal audit review showed that the Eastern Division’s customer collection rate had deteriorated over the last six months. Of course, the auditors suggested that division manager Pete and his team be more diligent in following the collection protocols outlined in corporate policy XYZ.
Clear enough, except for one thing. Pete and his small, overworked staff were already doing their best with inadequate support and outdated reports. They felt that the auditors were just out to get them by spotlighting one of Pete’s biggest frustrations, bringing the issue into full view of senior leaders.
While factually correct, this approach—citing corporate or legal policy requirements as the justification for immediate action—more often than not fuels resentment.
The Right Approach
Let’s try it another way…
“Pete, we understand just how hard you and your team are working to keep up with policy requirements. But let me share with you the results your associate Julie in the Midwest Division has achieved with the same workload and staff. Six months ago, Julie was staring right at the same issue that we’re discussing right now. But after kicking around possible solution actions for just 40 minutes, she tried two things that immediately brought her collection statistics in line with corporate guidelines. Would you like to know what it was that Julie found worked so well to solve the exact problem you are having here?”
Well, you already know Pete’s answer—an immediate “Yes! If Julie could do it, my team could too!”
Why Using Social Proof to Sell Recommendations Works
Here’s why the right approach to presenting an improvement suggestion via social proof examples has such a strong potential for success…
- The auditors removed themselves as the source of the suggestion.
Let’s face it: For many, the default reaction to a suggestion from an auditor or pretty much any authority figure is resistance. So let’s avoid that barrier by getting our egos out of the way. Identify someone Pete knows as the source, ideally someone just like him.
- The auditors need to have appropriate social proof examples ready to cite at the moment of recommendation.
This takes a great deal of awareness of day-to-day interactions and a little bit of homework to keep these ideas cataloged and ready to go.
For example, the auditors knew for several days that they would be meeting with Pete about the customer collections issue. They had their audit finding, the corporate performance criteria, and the root cause all ready to go. They could and should cite…
● Policy compliance requirements
● Stronger internal controls
● Return on investment
● Improved cash flow
…and a half dozen other tried and true action recommendations.
To add the power of social proof in business to the motivator toolbox, the example of others just like Pete had to be ready to go as well. For that to happen, the auditors needed to pay attention days, weeks, and months in advance to identify relevant outstanding performance. And when we see it, we need to mention it. Ideally, this auditor would have told Julie that she and her team did an excellent job fixing the Midwest Division’s collection problem and asked Julie if it would be okay to mention her team’s action fix to others should the opportunity arise. Julie would take this as a great compliment.
As a career auditor, I can tell you dozens of stories about noncompliance, failure, and even fraud. They roll right off the tongue. But, examples of outstanding performance by managers and their teams? These don’t flow easily from memory. Thus we need to not only notice them in the moment but probably record them in our reference notes for later use as social proof.
- As business influencers, our social proof examples must be appropriate, genuine, honest, and non-manipulative.
We’ve all been victims of social proof manipulation—by political candidates and their parties, businesses, in social media claims and slanted network news reports. And when we realize these lame attempts to manipulate rather than influence, we despise it every time. Or at least we should.
So let’s get the facts right and pass them along accurately. No spin. No manipulation. Just the facts (maybe also with a not-so-gentle nudge that the Pete in your world reach out to your Julie to hear it straight from the source).
Start Leveraging Social Proof for Better Results
Here’s a challenge from me to you…
The very next time your work responsibilities bring you an opportunity to influence others, have that relevant social proof example ready to go. Get ready now. Deliver the proof confidently. And notice if those you are trying to influence listen a little bit better. Maybe even be more anxious to take action.
Try not to smile too much when it happens because it will. After all, there’s a reason social proof in business is used so often.
Let me know how it goes. Shoot me an email at John@JohnHallSpeaker.com.