The sales industry changes, but some things remain the same.
Let’s imagine the following situation…
You’re looking to buy a new coffee machine, and here are your choices:
A) A coffee machine with no reviews and rudimentary description on the Amazon product page from a brand you’ve never heard of.
B) A coffee machine from a famous brand, but of a model that just entered the market and has less-than-stellar reviews
C) A coffee machine that the famous coffee blogger James Hoffmann praised, along with hundreds of varying reviews all across the web. Oh, and your friend Callum also owns this model and praised it on social media the other day.
Obviously, you’d pick option C, and your buyers would do the same.
Social proof is one of the fundamental driving forces in persuading a potential buyer to purchase a product. Knowing how, when, and what social proof to use during your sales process boosts your performance astronomically.
But social proof isn’t just about celebrity endorsements and online reviews. There’s quite a bit more to unpack.
Keep reading to find out how to start putting the pro in social proof.
What is social proof?
Author Robert Cialdini first defined social proof in 1984. This phenomenon is also called informational social influence.
It is defined as: “the fact that humans instinctively seek to copy certain behaviours from others to try and emulate their successes”.
In sales, social proof means buyers will look for reviews of the business, recommendations and use cases when shopping for a new product.
Buyers do this to make sure that a product is being used successfully, and it helps its customers further develop their business. You should always try to get customers to leave a review about your product.
9 types of social proof [+ examples]
There are different types of social proof that are applicable to different situations.
Some are more obvious and common than others. Before you get to the tips and start implementing social proof in your sales and marketing strategies, you should get familiar with the different forms it comes in…
Types of social proof
No matter where you look, you’ll probably see one of these social proof types used. Usually, companies focus on one of these nine, depending on which one suits their goals and industry.
A case study is proof of actual results attained with the help of your product.
They could be done in the form of an article on your website, as a separate landing page, or a video interview. It can also be done as a presentation to be used in the emails of your sales and marketing teams.
Here’s an example of how we use case studies at NetHunt CRM.
It works well because it…
- Clearly shows the potential for growth provided by the use of our product
- Has a catchy title
- Allows potential customers to see themselves achieving the same results as the company in the case study
Testimonials are the feedback of actual customers sharing their positive experiences with the product. You could collect them through follow-ups or during the client's communication with the customer success teams.
Testimonials are a good source of social proof because…
- They highlight the positive experiences associated with using your product
- Real people write them. Your buyers can find those people on LinkedIn or other social media and reach out to them for further comments
Reviews are like more objective testimonials.
They can be issued by critics and experts as well. It is best to collect reviews from independent third-party websites such as G2 or Capterra, and always link the source of the review when publishing it on your website. This is because, in the modern world, buyers understand that the marketing team could add just the positive part of the review to the website.
What separates reviews from testimonials is…
- Reviews can’t be cherry-picked as easily as testimonials, as they are published and accessible through third-party sources
- Reviews are given through third-party websites while testimonials are usually given directly to the company
User-generated content is content that your existing customers create about your product. When potential clients see that others are enjoying and benefitting from your product, they will also see themselves having a positive experience.
Replying to users' critiques can also serve as a positive social proof strategy. It shows prospects that you actively work towards providing customers with the best experience possible.
Trust icons & security seals
Trust icons and security seals are displayed to project that a reputable company or review board finds the product good/ secure. These badges are usually given out by businesses or review boards with a highly-esteemed reputation in the relevant industry.
Displaying them makes your customer think: “Hey, if a reputable company that knows way more about this industry finds them worthy, surely they are”, projecting trust for the company that issues the icon onto the company that displays it.
Awards and badges
Companies could also showcase different awards and badges they have received. It’s a great trust builder, as they’re usually given out by third-party critics that give your product an objective score.
This “shares” the trust that clients have for a particular critic with the company that has received the award, much like trust icons.
Data and Numbers (Customer milestones)
Another social proof type to showcase on your website as a company is data - usually numbers. Amount of customers served, time saved, increase in returns; you get the gist.
This gives your prospects an approximate understanding of the results that existing customers of your company are getting from using your products. Which leads to a developed impression that they too will achieve similar results.
Implied social proof
Implied social proof one where social proof isn’t directly cited or issued with a source, but one which is heavily implied in the pitch. Implied social proof works by insinuating that the prospect could achieve results similar to those given in the CTA if he used the product.
An example of how NetHunt CRM uses implied social proof can be found below. Take note of the “Your achievement can be the next one” part of the banner, together with the “See how” CTA, making this example fit into the implied social proof bracket.
Why is social proof necessary for sales?
Social proof is a fantastic way to build trust with customers, driving them to validate their purchasing decisions and choose to do repeat business.
These studies, along with others aim to show us the effectiveness of social proof. It is made clear that most buyers develop their trust in a product or a business from social proof-based sources.
You may still need to figure out how to use the social proof methods above to boost your sales and gain the trust of more buyers. In that case, keep reading…
How to use social proof to boost sales: 7 best practices, tips and tricks
Knowing the different types of social proof is only part of the work needed to boost sales. Learning these various practices when implementing social proof into your sales strategy helps you maximise your potential.
Choose the best types of social proof for your business
Businesses don’t have to utilise every kind of social proof in their sales strategy. Different industries work best with different types of social proof. For example, reviews might not be as effective for companies in the pharmaceutical industry as they are for SaaS providers.
Here are some examples of the different industries that use social proof and typically provide them with the most benefits…
- IT industry: User-generated content, reviews, social media publications, and the occasional security seal of approval is the best for this industry
- Healthcare: Trust icons, security seals, and testimonials are essential to any provider of healthcare services and products
- Retail: Customer reviews and testimonials are what primarily drive this industry. Just think about it, how often do you read Amazon reviews on a product before you buy it?
- Logistics industry: Numbers and data. Prospects need to know you’ve already provided efficient service to many customers in the past
- Hospitality: Reviews and awards. It's vital for customers to know that others deem your service experience worthwhile
Stay away from creating negative social proof.
Not all social proof is good social proof. Just as much as a good review can bring business to your company, a bad review can cause you to lose out on a deal due to the prospect's fear of buying your product.
One common mistake that leads to negative social proof is when the source of that proof is not considered trustworthy. If the testimonial published on the website looks and reads like a fake, it will hurt the company's reputation. The same goes for all the other types of social proof.
Another mistake that sales reps often need to correct is picking too-perfect social proof, which doesn’t represent the true experience of using the product. Customers, by now, know that nothing is perfect, so they expect every product to have an imperfection of some sort. This is why perfect five-star reviews or case studies with near-magical results tend to cause suspicion in some buyers.
Use the correct social proof to influence leads at different sales funnel stages.
The different stages of the sales and marketing funnel also require different approaches when it comes to providing your prospect with social proof.
For simplicity's sake, we have outlined the general sales funnel stages and explained which types of social proof work best with each.
- The Awareness Stage: Utilising testimonials and reviews on the website or landing page during this stage helps build trust and interest in your product.
- The Interest Stage: You show your prospect's case studies and provide the data on how your existing customers benefit from your product.
- The Decision Stage: To persuade prospects to take action in purchasing your product, utilise implied social proof. For example, ask your prospect whether they want to start achieving the goals that Company X has achieved with your product.
- The Action and Loyalty Sages: To make your customer feel loyal to your product, make sure that they can see your user-generated content to make sure that your product is still relevant.
Use social proof during cold outreach
Social proof can also play an essential role during cold outreach.
If a prospect has just been made aware of your company, using social proof makes a better impression. Otherwise, a cold email might stay cold.
Once they see the goals and results that your product has helped another company achieve, they will be more inclined to believe you could help them achieve similar results.
Next time you’re writing a cold outreach email, try using a phrase along the lines of…
“[Existing customer], along with [number of customers] have already used our product to achieve [goals that are relevant to the prospect], including [case examples achieved by previous customers]”
During cold phone outreach, providing social proof to potential customers could be the deciding factor between scheduling an appointment or getting hung up on.
An example of how to use social proof during a cold call could be…
“You’re interested in achieving [relevant goal] right? Well, [existing customer] have achieved results similar to these with the help of our product [detail a bit of how those customers managed to achieve their goal].”
Use social proof when following up
No matter how crowded your inbox gets, you will likely notice every new email you receive. At the end of the day, they all come through with a notification chime.
You often ignore new mail; it doesn't pique your interest and doesn’t seem valuable enough to warrant your attention.
That’s why you need to provide your leads with something that will make them say: “oh wow, this is useful!”.
After all, the most effective follow-ups are ones that give your customers extra value.
That extra value could be social proof. A case study, testimonial or a customer success story could instil a feeling of satisfaction by reinforcing the idea that your company cares about their success as an end-user.
An example of a follow-up email that uses social proof could be…
Dear [Customer’s Name],
Thank you for your interest in [product name]. I would like to give you some additional information on results that other companies within [their industry] have achieved.
Our other customers, [existing customers] have achieved [goal] by utilising our features such as [features]. Would you like to hear more about how they did it, and how you could achieve similar results?
If so, please let me know so we can schedule a call.
Use social proof to overcome sales objections
Social proof can also be used to handle the different sales objections.
For example, the prospect you’re contacting says, “I’m interested in your product, but the price is too high”. An excellent way to use social proof to work with this objection is to provide the prospect with the numbers they could achieve by using your product.
Try saying “I understand that we’re priced above the market average rate for our product. However, due to the extra care we're able to put into developing [product], [existing customer] was able to achieve a 50% increase in sales during the last quarter, surely a result such as this would be enough to cover the difference”.
Another common objection that social proof can work with is “I don’t think you’re the right fit for our company”. When you get this objection, you can show the prospect examples of other companies in their industry that have put their trust in you and used your product.
This makes the prospect understand that other companies within their field that share common goals and KPIs, already utilise your product. Meaning that there is a higher chance of being the right fit for their company.
“I'm not interested in your product”. Ouch.
Providing a prospect that has faced you with this objection social proof in the form of a case study of another company that has achieved similar goals to his could build interest in your product.
To learn more about handling different sales objections, check out our article on sales objections with pre-made responses.
These techniques will make building trust with your potential and existing customers significantly easier. After all, social proof is one of the biggest sales tools that you could utilise.
Using it in conjunction with other sales trends will surely bring your sales a good year.
This is part one of a two-part article. Learn how to generate different types of social proof in the second part of this article.
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