Communication Sales

How to harvest the massive power of Social Proof

Social Proof – What is it?

We make many decisions every day.

Most of which very quickly.
Without putting too much thought into them. We quickly form an opinion about the impact of the choice and the potential effects of the decision.

In fact we have a part of our brain that is specialized in recognizing situations and feeding us similar memories and decisions from back then. We use those to make quick decisions.

Basically we compare and decide.

In brand new situations we lack relevant memories, so being the social animals that we are we like to see what other people do or did.
We tend to look at other people to decide how to behave, react or even feel.

This is what Social Proof is all about.

It’s a psychological and social phenomenon wherein people copy the actions of others in an attempt to undertake behavior in a given situation.

Examples of social proof

What is good?

When a new movie is applauded by the critic whose opinions you tend to like then you’ll be more likely to watch it even though the trailer didn’t quite catch your interest.

When there’s a long queue at a fun fair attraction you’re likely to assume it must be a cool ride!

When you’re planning a romantic night odds are that you’ll choose the restaurant with the great reviews.

When you’re at the carwash for the first time, you’re likely to choose the program that says “Popular choice”.

This mediocre looking guy that seems the center of attention of those stunning ladies must actually be pretty great!
“Pick up artists” have written whole books about this one and even use the same name for it!

53% of readers tweet the link of this article!

Menno Bieringa

Oh wow, 53%! … So maybe you should too!
(Really… you should!)

How to harvest the massive power of social proof

If you want to persuade or influence people to buy your product or to do that thing you need them to do then Social Proof is an awesome tool in your belt.

In written communication

  • Include testimonials from other customers
    Jolly Jon says: Eating at Wok ‘n Roll was the most memorable event of my life!
  • Include statements like 64% of our customers sign up for a free membership!
  • Include awards: Winner of the Best Customer Service aware 2021.
    You even see that affiliated companies invent awards that they give to each other so they can include in their communications.

In verbal communication

  • Include statements like 64% of our customers sign up for a free membership!
  • Refer to respected colleagues / people’s comments:
    The other day, Jill from Sales came up to me and told me how much she loves this idea!
  • Refer to a respected Media source:
    I read in The Onion that people who say yes more often live happier lives.

In Photos and Videos

Even without using words you can use social proof to your advantage. One of the best examples is using famous people in advertising

The Future of Celebrity Endorsement | by 14ideas | Medium
OMG! Rachel is drinking it too!

Or product placement.

brandchannel: 5 Questions: The State of Product Placement in Movies and TV
If the bear eats it then it ought to be good!

Communication Sales

Presentations – How to effectively communicate a message

People have a shorter span of attention than ever.
It’s hard to keep them focused, especially if the subject isn’t something they know is interesting for them.

The rules for a good presentation

Follow these pointers while authoring a successful presentation:

  • A quick overview of the presentation
  • Subject is relevant to the audience
  • A clear presentation structure
  • Appropriate length
  • Entertainment value / Humor
  • Call outs to keep the audience hooked
  • Few words per slide
  • Hidden content until relevant

The slide creation process

Good things take their time

Take your time while creating your slides.

I recently got very positive, unsolicited reactions to a 30 minute presentation I gave. It took me almost 2 business days spread out over the course of a week to get it right!

1. Start chaotic

Don’t waste time on design at first.
Use your first slides as a notepad for your thoughts, adding bits and pieces of info you think you want to share.
Everything you add at this point is to make sure you’re not forgetting anything.

2. Add structure

Now start organizing your slides.

  • Order the information logically
  • Inject a bold statement / interesting fact every 2-3 slides
    This call-out keeps your audience hooked
  • Add a short “In this presentation” overview at the start

3. Apply the rules of a good presentation

Add an “In this presentation” slide

A few bullet points describing the contents / structure of what’s going to be covered in the presentation

Keep slides short!

  • Don’t show more than 6 words to the audience at at time.
  • Use your speaker notes to guide yourself through your chat.

People can not read and listen at the same time, so give people the time to read those 6 words and then deliver your pitch.

Use animation

Simple “Fade-in on click” animations are a great way to limit the amount of visible text and avoid people from reading along / ahead.
Use short fade times to avoid things feeling sluggish.

Need to distribute your slides as hand-outs later? Then hide the verbose bits while speaking by using animation. You can then easily skip over the long part

Ruthlessly delete text

The passion you may feel for your topic is likely not shared by your audience. Also it might not all be relevant for them.
People pay more attention when they feel your message is relevant to them.

So, delete all slides or text that does not strictly contribute to the message you want to convey or that is not strictly relevant to your audience.

Use words that your audience knows

Adjust your message to your audience.
If you deliver a scientific breakthrough in nano-technology to a group of investment bankers you need to adjust your wording.
Dumb it down, if you must.

You want to communicate a message.
Not appear to be a show off.

Make it fun

Even when presenting to strangers, adding a sense of humor helps you in 2 ways:

  1. The presentation becomes more enjoyable for everyone
  2. You look confident

Someone who delivers a very serious chat without humor is prone to become nervous. Every mistake will stand out and contribute to the nervousness.
Lace your chat with humor and you’ll be able to brush of mistakes much more easily.

Limit the amount of slides

No one likes long presentations. As a rule of thumb, 8-12 slides is a good target.

Don’t count slides that show a quick fact (call out) or that are there for the fun factor.

Claim authority

Are you presenting to people who do not know you?
Add an introductory slide which states that you are someone who knows about the subject you are talking about.

Example presentation using Google Slides

Here’s an example presentation for in-company use.
I’ve used my company’s internal, overly-used template but made it fun by replacing the standard imagery for new, more funny images that follow the same recognizable style.

Note the use of animation everywhere to avoid people are reading what I’m telling them. Once I’ve brought across my message I will let the full text appear. That way the slides serve as hand outs too.
Arguably this is not an ideal approach, but it’s been working for me very well.

Communication How to parent

Talking with Children (or customers)

I’m reading a book by Thomas Gordon on how to listen to children.
It’s quite a famous method that was pointed out to me by a professional in the child-care business.

Being the father of a 5 year old boy I need lots of patience. And finding that patience has been my one of my biggest parenting challenges so far.

The book teaches how to listen to children in such a way that stimulates parents to allow their children to solve their own problems and nurture a trusting relationship with their children at the same time.

A lot that I read in this book I have also seen in books on sales, persuasion and Neuro Linguistic Programming which basically underlines the importance of being able to properly convey a message or even allow someone else to tell you what you need to know.

Who owns the problem?

Gordon states that the communication flow should be very different based on who has a problem. Who owns the problem.

Either the child owns the problem or the parent owns the problem.
The child is unhappy about something or the parent is unhappy about something.

In this article I’ll focus on the child (or customer for that matter!) owning the problem. In a subsequent article I wrote about the parent owning the problem.

Child owns the problem

If the child has a problem, the parent should engage in active listening. A form of listening that stimulates the child to speak freely about their problem (feelings, doubts, challenges at school or bad experiences) and to decide on the best course of action themselves.

For example:

[Child] I really hate school. It's a waste of time and I don't know what I'm doing there. Maybe I should just get a job instead.
[Parent] So school makes feel like you are wasting time.
[Child] Yes, it's always the same thing every day. And especially math is stupid. Who needs to know how many cows can fit on a barge of 30m²! I'm not a farmer.
[Parent] You're saying math doesn't really serve much of a purpose for you.
[Child] Yeah, life would be so much better if I didn't have to deal with math. Maybe I'll just drop that subject at the end of the year and replace it with French instead.

The child in this example has progressed from wanting to abandon an education to a much more reasonable idea. Dropping the most problematic subject.

The conversation could have gone very different if the parent would have interjected with opinions

[Child] I really hate school. It's a waste of time and I don't know what I'm doing there. Maybe I should just get a job instead.
[Parent] Education is very important! Besides, what kind of a job could you land without even a high school diploma?
[Child] I'll figure something out! It can't be any worse than listening to those teachers yapping about stuff I don't care about!
[Parent] If you get a silly job like working in a burger joint isn't gonna solve your problems and make you happy!
[Child] Well you have a degree and you seem to hate your job too, so why shouldn't I do something I hate and make some money at the same time?

That conversation went off-track right away and basically ends in a discussion about what’s worse. It’s a lost opportunity for the child to ventilate and learn to look for real solutions and the parent<>child relationship didn’t improve either as the child will feel like their parents don’t understand them.

Active listening

When listening actively the parent refrains from providing advice, passing judgement or warning them for the consequences of what they are saying. Telling the child what to do, what to feel or whether their behavior is acceptable or not will always lead to resistance and tensions.

Active listening is about truly hearing and understanding what the child says and summarizing in your own words what they are telling you. This summary both serves as a confirmation you have understood what they are saying and it invites them to continue telling you about what is bothering them.

When applying active listening the child continues to own the problem which is a major relief for parents who already have enough problems to deal with anyway.
It allows the child to develop problem solving skills and to grow up to be an independent, self-sufficient human being. Also it keeps a lot of extra worries away from the parent and contributes towards a healthier, more relaxed household.

Being able to tell someone about your problems and feeling understood (or at least not judged) allows one to ventilate and to reflect on the situation. This often leads the problem owner (the child) coming up with solutions or ideas on how to solve their problems.

Active listening in the business world

I found there’s quite a few parallels between what Gordon calls Active Listening and listening to the problem of a customer.

In order to have a good relationship with your customer you also need to make sure you understand the problem you’ll be helping them with. You need them to feel understood and you’ll need all the info they can give you to decide on the best course of action.

When you bring up a potential solution to a problem that the professional has been solving in a certain way for the past years it may be difficult for them to hear out your idea for a solution. Partially because they are still in the old context and partially because you’re a newcomer and don’t really know them that well. Besides, they’ve been managing without you so far anyway.

So applying active listening to the customer may have its benefits.
They may provide you with their own ideas, some of which may not have occurred to you yet.
Also, them thinking about the solutions opens them up to be steered in the right direction and adopting the pitched solution as their own.
And that will make your chances of success a lot bigger and the odds that the contract gets prolonged so you can solve more of their problems will grow too.

Parent owns the problem

When something the child is doing doesn’t sit well with the parent then the parent owns the problem.

To keep this article to the point I’ve written about that matter in another post.

Communication Sales

Landing long-term projects

In my experience, the best part of selling a project is the price negotiations. This is where it all comes together and you earn your bread, butter and hopefully some tasty extras.

Here are some tips based on my own experiences.

Be trustworthy

As a sales person it’s not just your task to land a deal.

You must genuinely want to help the customer solve his problems at a price that is good for them and good for you. This may sometimes even mean that you should refer them to someone else.
Being a genuinely trustworthy person is key in landing long term contracts.

Paint the future

For every project there’s a budget. Sometimes you’ll know about it, but more often than not your price quote will be compared with that of other companies.

What worked well for me is to sit down and rethink the customer’s request. What is his problem and what is the best, minimal solution to satisfy his needs.

While thinking up the solution I maintain 2 lists: The main solution and the “next level” functionality.
My quote will detail the main solution that satisfies the basic requirements and its price. I may even leave out customer requests that I consider to be icing on the cake. This will reduce the risk of being too expensive.

Then I add a future iterations section in which I sketch all the “next-level” additions which I think would make the solution even better.
Here I don’t add any pricing information to not make the document too bulky. Besides, odds are that the next-level stuff needs more discussion anyway.

The power of this approach is:

  • Your quote is likely to not be rejected for being the most expensive one.
  • You show you have thought about the solution and the interests of the customer. This will help gain their trust.
  • The first version of your product will be smaller and is more likely to:
    • Be delivered in time (adding to the trust)
    • Work well
      Smaller projects tend to be easier to deliver
    • Cover the needs of the customer but leave then wanting!

What is not included

A good quote doesn’t only describe what will be delivered at what price, but also what will NOT be included in the price.

For example:

  • How many design iterations are included in the price?
  • Who will take care of the hosting?
  • If there’s a problem with the server(s) on which the product runs, who is responsible for that?
  • Who will pay for (recurring) licence fees?
  • How about bug fixes?
    Who takes the risk of bugs that appear after the software has been accepted by the customer?


Again, it’s very easy both for supplier and customer to only think about the execution of the project itself and not about what happens after the project is done and the product has been delivered.

But once they really start using it it’s likely the customer will need support, trainings, bug-fixes and they will want this within what they consider reasonable timeframes.
But you may not have the time, nor resources to cater to their needs at that moment.

That’s why it’s very important to agree on aftersales.
Basically a rudimentary service level agreement is needed.

Things to cover are:

  • What rates / timelines apply for additional work?
  • What rates / timelines apply for bug-fixes?
  • Who will maintain the infrastructure on which the system runs?
    • In case the customer does this but needs help, what timelines and rates apply there?

Communication How to be a good human being

The power of positive


Do not underestimate the influence you have over people. A message of faith in them, their abilities and their future is like a seed that will grow and which can really make a difference in the long term.

In detail

People from all walks of life are susceptible to criticism and compliments. Age, ethnicity, social status don’t really root out this human trait.

What does change as you progress and grow is which opinions you value and which ones you discard.

Even the most seasoned, self-made tycoon that beat all odds to make it to the top is still sensible to the opinions of the peers they look up to or the people that happen to touch a nerve.

If the right person says the right thing, whether it’s positive or negative, that message can linger. The more it is repeated in the head of the recipient the bigger its effect can be.

As a teenager with no particular talents that were obvious to himself I never felt very self-assured and I had no idea what I wanted to do in my life. Studying wasn’t something I aspired and my musical talents weren’t overly convincing either.
One of my best friends back then was always outstandingly good at pretty much everything he put his heart into, which didn’t contribute to my self-image.

However, his parents – who I still see as an example some 25 years later – always showed interest in my undertakings and seemed genuinely confident when they said I’d make something out of my life.

And that really resonated with me. Everytime that I achieved something I was pleased with myself I would hear them say I’d make something out of my life.
And with every occurence I’d grow a bit more confident in myself.

All that positive energy helped me become what I am today.
I may not yet be quite where I’d like to be, but I’m not disappointed with the result either.
And I’d even go as far as to say that I’m very proud of a couple of things too!

So, please keep in mind: You have no idea how much influence you can have on other people’s life, so show some interest and send some positive message to the people around you and you’re setting them up for success!

And as the old adagio goes: You reap what you sow.