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Social Penetration Sales Theory and Building Customer Relationships

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by Brett Womble

I have been working in sales since college. My job is easier when I’m equipping my customers with a great product that I believe in, like TimeForge. However, salesmanship is still a science. I would not consider myself a guru of the trade, but I have reached a phase where selling is very organic. I can see basic principles that, when applied, really set someone apart to potential customers. These principles have become my personal sales theory.

Sales theory is not something that has to be studied academically to be successful, but discussing the general spirit behind various approaches can really help. Observing the psychology behind selling leads to empowerment. This is because it brings us to a simple realization:  people are relatively predictable. Selling does not require a completely new set of rules for each individual. Humans are compelled psychologically to behave in a certain way when given a specific set of choices.

Think of yawning. Although there are always exceptions to the rule, for most people yawning is socially contagious. One’s behavior can can cause predictable behavior from others. The best salespeople apply this same principle. They can position the relationship to obtain a specific response.

For example, my friend, Jeff, sells custom suits business to business. He is number two in sales for his company that has over seven hundred salespeople located all over the globe. At company sales meetings he is treated like a local celebrity. People are always coming into town to do ride-a-longs with him just to pick up his trade secrets. The real secret is that he does not have any. Jeff does two things, both in his career and his personal life, that set him up for success.

First, he works his tail off. He never makes excuses and continually pursues success, regardless of the outcome. Hard work has to be at the core of anything you do. If not, you could have the ultimate selling strategy and it would be worthless. Commitment is the lifeblood of success. Without it as your foundation, there is no point to read this.

Second, Jeff has immense empathy. He can find value in anyone and takes interest in everyone.

The idea of cultivating your ability to empathize with others can be daunting. How can you change how you connect with those around you? The key is to bring depth to the relationship. The Social Penetration Theory gives us a road map.

Social Penetration Theory asks the question, “How do we know people and why are we closer to some more than others?”. Social Penetration Theory establishes the concept that when someone exposes a specific level of information with someone else, the other person is psychologically obligated to expose themselves to the same level. Think of an onion, it has multiple layers. However many layers you share with someone else, in theory, they will expose the same number of layers with you. This is why when someone experiences tragedy, your first instinct is to talk about similar levels of tragedy in your own life.

Now I know I am just skimming the surface, but how can this be applied to selling?

Keep in mind that you win the customer when things go wrong. This is where connection is developed and weaknesses are exposed. When everything goes right, there may not be much of a difference between you and your competitors, but when turmoil strikes, this is when you earn your customers’ trust. Be transparent and take responsibility for the situation. Exposing yourself will only promote a bond. They will feel that you are going to shoot them straight. Then, you are no longer trying to sell them something, you are helping them!

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