Sales and Engagement: What Can We Learn from Dunbar’s Number?

When customers feel as though they are a part of the magical 150, brand loyalty can be established that other

This guest article was written by Dan Leubitz who is the CTO of INNITEL telecom. Dan Leubitz

[dropcap color=”#000000″ font=”0″]A[/dropcap] lot is made in sociological and various other social science circles about a theory known as Dunbar’s number. The theory holds that, as social creatures, there is a limit to the number of personal relationships that we humans can maintain at any given time.

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It’s less than you think.

According to Robin Dunbar, the psychologist who first developed the theory, we are capable of simultaneously maintaining only about 150 to 200 meaningful social relationships.

We are capable of simultaneously maintaining only about 150 to 200 meaningful social relationships.

In a world where Facebook friendships and Twitter followers can number into the thousands, this really doesn’t seem like much. When your LinkedIn contacts literally circle the globe and you have more than 100 contacts in a single company, the 150 put forth by Dunbar seems paltry.

It’s worth noting that Dunbar’s number was developed in 1992. The technology revolution was just starting to spin up and the idea of devices that would bring us closer together rather than serve to isolate us was only beginning to get people thinking. We knew about computers but none of us had any; they were still too large and too expensive. Our relationships were more personal. We wrote letters and made phone calls. We relied on printed photographs to recall memories. We hadn’t yet heard “you’ve got mail” amplified through computer speakers.

It is these very limitations that led to Dunbar’s conclusion. His research wasn’t based on 21st century life. Rather, it would go back through the annals of history and look at personal human relationships at their most basic: the village, the acquaintance, the friend, and the trusted inner circle. These were relationships that were rooted in face to face interaction; not Facebook Likes and retweets.

It makes sense that so many have tried to put present-day relationship management in the context of Dunbar’s number. After all, the roots of the idea are still the same: we’re still people trying to manage relationships in various social contexts. Our biology is the same. Our needs are the same.

Our ability to manage, parse, and utilize data, however, is vastly different than it was nearly two and a half decades ago.

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Our ability to manage, parse, and utilize data, however, is vastly different than it was nearly two and a half decades ago.

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It bears repeating that Dunbar’s number is rooted in defining the maximum number of meaningful social relationships a person can maintain. This happens to be exactly why attempting to use it in a marketing or customer relationship management context borders on irrelevance.

Present day sales and marketing professionals have tools at their disposal that couldn’t have been imagined in the 90s. CRM suites manage contact data for tens of thousands of customers. Business people use tools like LinkedIn to manage their own professional networks of hundreds or thousands. We interact as friends; sharing ideas (either our own or others’) and displaying our approval or disapproval of the ideas that our friends have shared with us.

And, when it comes to forex / binary call center operations, agents are able to communicate with customers, clients, and leads in ways made vastly more personal through the use of technology.

When it comes to forex / binary call center operations, agents are able to communicate with customers in ways made vastly more personal through the use of technology.

The integration of software that instantly displays a caller’s information without the agent having to search for it brings familiarity to a call that would otherwise start with “hold on while I pull up your record.” Predictive dialers ensure that outbound calls connect call recipients with actual agents rather than the telltale silence that comes when a system has dialed without an agent ready to take the call.

The end result of all of this is twofold. First, call centers that implement this technology are able to empower their agents with the ability to engage leads and customers faster and with greater accuracy than ever before. Agent productivity can see significant gains when telecommunication tasks are automated and responsibility for incoming and outgoing call activity is shifted to the callcenter’s PBX.

But second, sales organizations are finally able to simulate the extension of that magical Dunbar number to their sales leads and customer contacts. They can treat customers and potential customers as people rather than just voices on the other end of the phone; connecting with them in ways previously reserved for face to face business relationships.

Global Markets and Competition

When we all lived in towns and villages, this was simple. Business was conducted with those around you out of necessity as there may have only been one option for the acquisition of a given product. With the advent of cities and greater population centers, business became more and more dependent on customer relationships. Now they had options! If they didn’t like one vendor they could simply walk out the door and go to another.

We can easily see how Dunbar’s principles can create personal relationship frameworks that lead to much more rewarding experiences for our customers. This, in turn, can lead to improved bottom lines for our companies.

The global marketplace takes that idea and magnifies it to levels that we still struggle to comprehend, thus making customer relationships, satisfaction, and loyalty more important than ever.

Dunbar’s number was never meant to apply to sales and marketing relationships; we know this to be certain. However, by looking at the things that make those 150 relationships special; personal connections, valuing the other person’s time and opinion, and creating conditions that lead to a desire to continue that relationship, we can easily see how those principles can create personal relationship frameworks that lead to much more rewarding experiences for our customers. This, in turn, can lead to improved bottom lines for our companies.

Customers know that you have hundreds, if not thousands, of other clients. But, when they feel as though they are a part of the magical 150, brand loyalty can be established that other companies can only dream of. The integration of the right communication technologies can be the perfect vehicle for creating those relationships.

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