In 1973, Mark Granovetter, a Harvard-trained sociology Ph.D., posited that “weak ties” were far more beneficial to people looking to capitalize on social networks than strong ties. In essence, a combination of highly overlapping network connections combined with perception lenses of predisposition could inhibit close ties from expanding social capital. In other words, the people you are closest to and know most intimately, such as family and close friends, are less useful at advancing ideas — or in our case, sales — than acquaintances are.
Years of research and studies later, the theory has been supported in multitudes of contexts, such as job seeking. In today’s climate of social distancing, and with the virtual impetus that I have no doubt will be left in its wake, his theory is never more applicable.
Let’s say we are looking to break our product or service into a new market. Our close ties may have a few leads to point us to, but the opportunity will be limited because it is likely we know or have ties to most of the same people and companies. Although some of these connections may be interested in hearing more, it is likely you and this contact will share limited new information. A loose-tie contact (or acquaintance), on the other hand, may have plenty of new information. They may give you a varied perspective on the usefulness or context of your product or service given the lesser-known lens they view it from. When they feel less personally connected, they may offer more authentic feedback on your pitch or sales angle. Finally, they may connect you with an expanded network that does not overlap with your current social and professional network.
So how can we best take advantage of our weak ties? Here are a few tips.
2. Remain open. As the story above illustrates, loose ties can come from any direction. I did not go into the think tank training course to enhance sales in a new market. The proverbial hats I was wearing were “volunteer” and “advocate.” However, by approaching all experiences with a blank slate of potential, I was able to reframe my interaction with the material and capitalize on it. Remain open to the possibility that you can develop loose ties from every interaction you have on a daily basis.
3. Tread lightly. One key to building a robust loose network is to remain firmly anti-agenda. Loose ties can be as fragile as spider webs. Approach these contacts as mustard seeds to grow, not blooming trees to be picked. Further, view these interactions as a give and take where you are there to offer them something of value to their own loose network journey. Come prepared to conversations by doing your homework via LinkedIn, Google searches, company websites, etc. Preformulate open-ended questions that allow people to talk and reveal more about their networks. And most importantly, end conversations with future points to connect.
4. Keep digging. Mark Granovetter is one of the most widely cited scholars in modern history and is frequently credited for revolutionizing the intersection of economics and sociology. Yet the American Sociological Review first rejected his most famous work, The Strength of Weak Ties, in 1969, and the American Journal of Sociology took nearly four years to publish it in May 1973. Anyone who’s successful in the sales field should have a level of comfort around rejection, as well as perseverance to keep at it. Building your loose-tie social network is no different. At times, you may hit a dead end on the journey to widening connections, but remain diligent. Rethink the questions that you asked, and revisit the potential these connections may have. Remain grateful for any breadcrumbs along the trail; they will eventually lead you to opportunity.
We are living amid great disruption in both our daily lives and our workplaces. Social distancing and highly virtual interactions mandate a renewed lens through which to view opportunities. Take stock of your loose ties, and identify places you can grow them. With a little patience and diligence, the proof will be in the profit.