Business is all about people and relationships. A common acquaintance can turn a cold lead into a warm introduction. Savvy insurance professionals know this and use their personal contacts to drive new business.

The old saying “it’s a small world” captures the tangled webs of relationships we often discover by accident. You are talking to a prospect and find that you both went to the same summer camp years ago. You discover that your dental hygienist attended the same high school as your best friend. It’s a common phenomenon.

Revealing these connections can add interest and fun to an average day, but they can also be a valuable business development tool. The trouble is, even the most gregarious of us have a relatively small circle of personal connections, and the networks that connect us to larger circles are largely invisible.

Uncovering the social graph

Social media platforms like Facebook and professional network LinkedIn often reveal connections that we’d forgotten we had. “People You May Know” sections prompt us to connect with friends or business contacts we may have overlooked. It’s possible to glean valuable leads from traditional social media tools.

But the most effective way to drive business through contacts is to access a wider enterprise “social graph,” which is the sum total of our personal connections and our colleagues’ and business contacts’ connections. This social graph is presently invisible to most insurance professionals, but it exists, and it is extremely valuable.

There is a way to leverage social graphs at the enterprise level. It requires technology that is capable of connecting the dots between people by using not only connections from traditional social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook but also employer information like work histories and other enterprise data.

Using data processing technology and sophisticated algorithms, this information can be compiled and ranked to deliver a social graph that not only comprises the connections of colleagues within an organization, but also key business contacts, current customers, suppliers and more for a comprehensive network. The result is that an invisible network is made visible, allowing sales professionals to leverage not only their personal contacts but those of their colleagues and business contacts.

Using the social graph to assess opportunities

Far too often, sales professionals waste precious time trying to get in front of a prospect who doesn’t have an interest in their product. The prospect may simply ignore sales calls, and the sales rep may persist in reaching out because he or she has no way to eliminate the prospect as a potential customer.

A robust social graph can help. If mutual contacts exist, the sales rep can make contact with a common acquaintance to assess the prospect’s likelihood to buy. If no mutual contacts exist, the sales rep may be inclined to focus on more intimately connected prospects since warm leads are generally more fruitful. The bottom line is greater productivity.

How enterprise social media can change the way we do business

It’s clear that social media tools are going to play a major role in how the next generation of business professionals communicate and manage relationships. Each year, fewer members of incoming freshman classes report using email and traditional communication tools to manage relationships and keep in touch. These days, platforms like Facebook and Twitter are the preferred communication mode.

Since there’s so much potential in social media to leverage relationships to drive commerce, this may spark a sea-change in how we do business. Right now, most insurance reps are assigned geographical territories to develop. Someday, business opportunities may be assigned by social proximity rather than geographic proximity, enabling reps to take advantage of their relationships to develop warm leads that exist in their networks.

In the future, reps will also integrate data from their enterprise social graph into customer relationship management tools such as Salesforce to maximize impact. It’s a natural evolution as a small world gets even smaller thanks to social media tools.

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