There are two kinds of people in digital networking: social agents and prospects. You’ve probably already figured out what prospects are, but maybe you’re wondering what agents—especially social agents—have to do with growing your business.

Social agents are people that amplify your message by sharing your content online. They introduce you to prospective customers—both offline and online. Social agents may never even do business with you but they love recommending you to others.

And the single biggest mistake sales teams make today is focusing exclusively on prospects and ignoring these social agents.

Social Agents Are Your Social Sales Force

Humans have limits. When it comes to networking, selling, or any other one-to-one effort, there are only 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, and 12 months in a year. Subtract things like sleep, kids, wives and husbands, and a need to do something besides just working for a living, and you start to figure out that one person can contact only so many people in a meaningful manner. That’s why companies developed sales forces to begin with and continue to field them today.

Science also tells us that humans have another constraining factor in their ability to network. It’s called Dunbar’s Number, and an evolutionary psychologist named Robin Dunbar developed it. Dunbar theorized that “this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size…. [T]he limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained.” Dunbar’s research pegged this number at 148 (often rounded up to 150, for convenience). So according to Dunbar, you can maintain meaningful relationships with only 150 people at a time.

But what does all this have to do with social agents?

Glad you asked.

Let’s get back to that idea of building a social sales force. Dunbar’s science is telling you that the only way you can effectively create a massive prospecting online or offline is to leverage your network. And that’s where the ability to build a social sales force powered by social agents can mean the difference between finding and missing an invisible sale.

Power Agents

In today’s hyperconnect, social media-powered world, you don’t always need that agent to have a close relationship with another person to create that all-important introduction. Social agents that are very active on social media networks and have established very large networks wield a great deal of online power. While they may not be able to maintain strong relationships with more than 150 people, they can maintain weaker, yet still persuasive, relationships with far more than 150 people.

This is important because every day, people are asking for help and suggestions to help them make a buying decision. And because your social agents are givers, they’re often the first people to offer up help to anyone they see asking questions online.

Whether it’s something as general as a person asking for a restaurant recommendation or as specific as a person asking for opinions of one company versus another, these online selling moments are happening every day. And although the receiver of the recommendation might not have a personal or close relationship with your agent, that person might consider the agent’s opinion valuable and act on any recommendation provided.

In fact, companies are spending a lot of time and money trying to identify these kinds of social agents. They just don’t call them agents—they call them influencers. But the value of the relationship is the same: to create more opportunities for your company to be recommended to a prospective customer at the point of need.

And that is the true power of social media networks and social selling. Not only can they turn a social agent into a power agent, but they also make it easy for that social-powered agent to reach out and provide help to an audience sized well beyond Dunbar’s Number.

What Makes A Great Social Agent?

Suffice it to say that not everyone in your contact list will be a good agent. And if you don’t invest in the relationships first, no one will want to represent you. But assuming that you’re investing in the relationships in a real and genuine way, here are a few characteristics of a good agent.

  • Agents like you. I don’t just mean that agents like you on a personal level—that’s a given. No, I mean that they need to be like you. Look for folks who share your worldview, who think like you do, and who value what you value. These should be folks you’d gladly spend a day with and genuinely look forward to being around or talk with over the phone. This is important. It gives them permission to promote you because, in promoting you, they are promoting a piece of themselves.
  • Background singers make great agents. You want people with a strong sense of self, people who are comfortable in their own skin and don’t feel threatened by the success of those around them. They believe that there is enough business to go around, and they’re more interested in being around greatness than being that greatness. This comfort, this ability to see your star rise even at the expense of their star, makes for a powerful agent.
  • They give more than they take. Let’s face it; if it’s all about them, they’re not going to be a very good agent. Great agents give first and take second. They love helping others succeed as much as success itself. That’s why they end up working hard on your behalf. They see your success, or at least the part they helped create as success for themselves.

Which Is More Important – Social Agents or Sales Prospects?

It’s a trick question—both are equally important to your sales prospecting success. You need to have prospects to pay the bills today, but if you put your prospecting blinders on, you’ll miss the opportunities of tomorrow.

Furthermore, you can’t be everywhere. You can’t hear every conversation. You can’t know about every lead. You need a network of opportunity spotters. You need a network of folks who will gladly recommend you to a friend, colleague, or boss. And if you truly hope to build a Painless Prospecting platform, you need a big network of social agents who can and will amplify your content online so that you can create that all-important top-of-mind-preference among your prospects, both visible and invisible.

Let me finish with one last important point.

When looking for social agents, don’t disregard that wider social network you are developing. And don’t ever, even for a second, think that you have all the agents you need. As you move through life, especially if you get active in the social networking space, you’ll constantly bump into new people. Most of those people will remain weak relationships, but a precious few will escalate to become true friends and helpful agents—and it doesn’t take long, trust me.

Cultivate those relationships at all costs. When someone tells you to quit playing on Twitter and start making a few phone calls, tell them you’ll get to that in a minute. The time you spend tending to your flock of social agents will repay you many times over—and often at the times when you least expect it but most require it.