Social proof is defined as the influence that the actions of others have on our own behavior. Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, is credited with identifying social proof as one of six principles of influence. It is this concept that has made websites such as Angie's List, and Yelp so popular. Back in the dark ages of the late 20th century, sales people called this concept a testimonial, and the great benefits sales people of the day used testimonials very effectively. Before I talk about how benefit professionals should be using the testimonial in their business today, I want to share some very interesting statistics about social proof:

* A July 2009 study by Econsultancy found that 90% of online consumers trust recommendations from people they know, 70% trust unknown users, 27% trust experts and 14% trust advertisements.

* From Wharton University in 2010: While 77% of American consumers say they are more likely to purchase a product or service recommended by someone they know, 81% go online to verify those recommendations before making a purchase.

* From CompUSA and iPerceptions in 2010: 63% of consumers say that they are more likely to purchase [from a website] if it has product ratings and reviews.

There are tons of statistics that illustrate the power of customer testimonials and reviews, and with each passing year more people rely on online reviews. And do not think for a moment that selling group benefits is somehow exempt from the power of social proof.

Back in the '90s when I was selling voluntary benefits, I used to collect written testimonials from clients on employee feedback and my professionalism during enrollment. At renewal, I would again ask for another testimonial. And when I helped an employee file a cancer insurance claim I would ask for a testimonial about my assistance and the impact of the cash benefit on their lives. I kept these testimonials in a binder and carried them into every sales appointment. Imagine the impact of more than 100 pages of testimonials on the prospect.


Put it into practice

For the benefit professional this same strategy can be used very effectively today. What is particularly striking is that obtaining testimonials has never been easier. There are tools, such as the one I offer, that automate the entire testimonial process. You simply ask a client for a testimonial, send a link to your testimonial page and give the client an idea of what to write. The system will prompt your client to share the testimonial on their social media accounts and simultaneously post to your testimonial website and to each of your social media accounts.

Now imagine securing a sales appointment with a new prospect. Before hanging up the telephone you ask for permission to send a link to your testimonial website. When the prospect visits your website he sees hundreds of five-star reviews from happy clients and employees of those clients, and many of them are recent. Do you think that you might be at least a little more likely to win that case since none of your competitors are offering testimonial reviews? It is important to note that having five or six testimonials on your website that have been there for years will not suffice in today's online world.

Initiate your social proof strategy today and I guarantee that you will see results within six months.

Schlesinger has more than 25 years of group benefits experience. He helps agents close sales through his Social Proof Marketing Machine marketing program. Reach him at (336) 525-6357.

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