Marketing and selling any kind of product is hard; anyone that thinks otherwise almost certainly hasn’t ever tried to sell or market anything. To a certain extent, selling is selling. There are some common threads that are important no matter what you’re selling: listening more than talking, focus on solving the prospect’s problems rather than spouting endless features and benefits, understanding who’s a real prospect quickly and not wasting time on those that aren’t. Marketing from one point of view can be considered selling at scale, so many of the same concepts apply although there are of course many differences. In both sales and marketing of technology products, one of the most important concepts is that of “Social Proof Examples”.
What do we mean by social proof?
Social proof is defined as a tactic which is based upon the principle of psychology known as “Informational Social Influence”. Social proof theory as defined by this principle hypothesizes that when people are unsure of how to act, they tend to imitate the behavior of others. Social proof isn’t a new concept, even though the term didn’t come into use until 1984. But the concept of using past customer purchases and other related methods to reassure a new customer is as old as the concept of sales and marketing itself.
In practice, there are many different examples of social proof, which we’ll delve into a bit later.
Critical in the early days
Social proof is a constant necessity in marketing and selling for any SaaS, mobile software or hardware business. But it’s particularly important in the early days of a company or product, before anyone knows you. If you product or technology is particularly new or innovative, it’s even more critical. Most folks are more comfortable buying from a company that has a good reputation, with a proven, well understood product. In the early days, you have neither of these going for you. As a result, your very earliest customers tend to be risk takers, as I discussed in VERY Early Stage Tech Sales & Marketing.
Only roughly 16% of your total addressable market fits into these “risk-taking” categories of innovators and early adopters. These are the folks that will even CONSIDER purchasing your product in the earliest stage. And in reality, even these risk takers aren’t CRAZY. Even they usually require some type of social proof, albeit requiring much less than your more risk-adverse prospects who make up the market mainstream. Along those lines,substantial, real social proof is an absolute requirement for “crossing the chasm” from this early stage into the mainstream market. So if you are at the point where you are really “going for it”, scaling your sales force and marketing spend – you darn well better have sufficient examples of social proof, or you’re likely going to waste a lot of money.
Shortens sales cycles later on
One of the real, well-defined benefits of having sufficient social proof is the ability to shorten sales cycles, sometimes dramatically. This shortening of sales cycles can mean that an early stage tech company makes its milestones, gets its next round of funding and lives to fight another day. For a larger company, it can means the difference between profitability and loss in a critical quarter. You get the picture. Shortening sales cycles can have a huge positive effect on nearly any company and enhanced social proof often plays a large role in this reduction.
Social Proof Examples
Some think of social proof in fairly narrow terms specific to their own market segment, such as positive product reviews or a lot of testimonials. But in reality, there is a wide variety of things that can represent social proof. And each of them can be more or less important, as well as more or less attainable, based upon the specific company, market stage, type of market segment and customer attributes. Let’s look at a few:
- Testimonials – most common in and very important in B2C markets, as well as low-priced products. In the Internet age, it’s very important to make it super easy for your fans to provide a testimonial.
- Customer references – Valuable for most types of products and markets, but particularly important for higher priced products such as enterprise software and other capital purchases. This is so important in the early days that I often advise trading a product discount for an important customer reference, if necessary.
- Product Reviews – Another very common and powerful form of social proof. Usually very important for both B2C and B2B software and hardware companies, but often CRITICAL for B2C market segments.
- Though Leadership – may not often be thought of as social proof, but imo this has become very important in these days of inbound/content marketing. For the very earliest stage of a product or company’s life when there has been very little sales activity, thought leadership can be a crucial proxy in the sales process in lieu of actual happy customers. This can also be very valuable later on in large, intensely competitive markets.
- Social Media metrics of popularity (# of friends, connections, followers, etc) and endorsements (shares, likes, retweets, etc.) – One of the “new-fangled” examples of social proof. This example could also be viewed a the cumulative effect of other examples of social proof, But we all live on social media these days and these metrics themselves can serve as a powerful example of social proof in their own right.
- Brand and online reputation – Like social media metrics, this can alternately be viewed as the CUMULATION of social proof, but I include it because if your brand is strong enough it can pretty much eliminate the need of any other social proof in the purchase process. Think Microsoft, Apple or Google.
- Size: Revenue, #of employees, geographic representation, etc. – A related example very similar to “Brand and Online Reputation” above.
Social proof marketing & sales is market and business-specific
Lastly, not every company will be able to obtain all of the different types of social proof examples as detailed above. Nor do they need to; social proof needs are very specific to your business. If you are an enterprise software company, building a good reference list is critical, while simple testimonials may less useful. A B2C software company may rely heavily on product reviews by individual consumers. Thought leadership may be particularly critical when trying to establish a completely new market or innovative technology. Market leaders can often rely on their sheer size, brand and online reputation to grease the skids for an easier sale. And on and on; I’m sure you get the point. The important thing is to identify what’s important for YOUR product and market and work on building your social proof appropriately.
That’s my take on the importance of social proof in technology sales & marketing. How do you use social proof and what is the level of its importance in your hardware, SaaS or mobile software business? Fill us in with your experience and perspective by using the comment field below.
Follow Phil Morettini and Morettini on Management via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, RSS, or the PJM Consulting Quarterly Newsletter. Contact Phil directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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