For those of you who have been to our Sales Training Labs, you’ll recall that we cover lots of topics from the QBS (Question Based Selling) approach to selling. One of the techniques QBS uses is the Herd Theory. Alan Rohrer, a partner at QBS and one of our Sales Lab Trainers, had a few spare moments while he was here recently, so we grabbed the opportunity to sit down with him as he explained the herd theory. We hope you enjoy this deep dive into using a valuable sales tool. Take it away, Alan!

Alan Rohrer:
The idea of the herd theory is how we create momentum where maybe there isn’t any. Let me give you an example. Traditional reference selling is when we tell the prospect, “They’re doing it, so you should too.” In other words, you’re implying that the prospect might be successful doing something that a competitor is doing. Well, it doesn’t work that way. If you try to push the idea that they’re doing it, you should too, you hear things like this: “We’re not like them. We’re bigger than they are. We’re smaller than they are. Our processes are so different that it wouldn’t work for us.” You hear these things because you’re just trying to push them into signing with you. It’s a push-sell with a reference, and pushing in selling does not work.

So, let’s talk about the herd theory. What is the herd theory and how does it work?

Have you ever seen cows in a field? What do you notice about those cows? When the cows are in a field and one starts going one way, what happens to all the rest of the cows? Yeah, they all start going that way. It’s like the bell cow, so to speak, starts going and they all migrate that way. Ever go scuba diving or snorkeling? If you’ve ever been snorkeling you’ll see all these fish swimming in one direction, but pretty soon they all turn and go another direction at the same time! I mean, it’s the same kind of thing. A herd mentality.

In these examples, the individual is influenced by the surrounding herd. Now, here’s the key question. Are people influenced by the surrounding herd? The idea is, let’s build a herd that can potentially influence everybody else that we want to talk to. If we can convey that there is some industry momentum, we can flip it to a scenario where other people don’t want to be left out. So, you can build herds. You can build herds of customers, you can build herds of prospects, you can build herds of partners, you can build herds of just about anything you want.

When you use it as a curiosity strategy, the messaging sounds like this: “Well, Mr. Customer, that’s a good point, but we work with industries like financial services. We work with printing companies, we work with manufacturing corporations. We have consulting companies. We’re big in the dental services, as well as healthcare in general. Are you interested to understand why this diverse set of industries have decided to partner with us to manage their IT services and manage their IT infrastructure?” The messaging with the herd theory is if they’re doing it, don’t you want to understand why they decided to do it?

It’s an advanced technique because you can use it multiple different ways, multiple times during the selling activity, but you’ve got to be careful because it’s really easy to stumble on it. Don’t start off saying, “Well, we work with financial services and we work with other service industries and we’re with a bunch of other companies and we do a lot of stuff with a lot of different industries.” That’s meaningless. You’ve got to name the industries. Be as specific as possible. And it’s very easy to get hung up if you don’t have those industry names at the tip of your tongue. Write them out. Practice a lot.

So, when do you use the herd theory? Well, it’s very powerful to use it upfront to build curiosity when you’re initiating contact, trying to create the opportunity early on to make sure that people know that you’ve got some success in other areas with other customers. You can also use it to suddenly poison the alternatives. If you name your competition you can do that to suddenly poison them, or you can use it as the elephant in the room to suddenly poison the alternatives. So many uses.

You can use it in the middle of the sale to generate credibility because, well, you must be credible if you’re dealing with all these other companies, if you’re dealing with all my neighbors, if you’re dealing with all the other stores in the local area here — but you’ve got to name them. And then you can also use it at the end to help you close because what will happen is it gives peace of mind to the customer to let them know that they’re not the only ones who have signed with you. It lets them know that they’re not going to be on the hook with nobody to turn to, no support group if they want to talk to somebody who has some experience with you as a vendor. They find comfort in the herd.

So the herd theory is an advanced technique. Yes, it is a curiosity play, but it can be used in more ways throughout the entire sales call. That’s why we suggest that you work on some of the other aspects of curiosity strategies first before you start figuring out how best to use the herd theory. The herd theory is very powerful, but you’ve just got to be really careful when you use it.