The Four Networks of Sales

Part 1: The Importance of "Weak Ties" in Modern Selling

July 3, 2020

Whether our work allows us to operate in a physical or a virtual environment, professional networking platforms are an integral part of the selling process. A basic understanding of professional networks can empower sales professionals to work smarter and more effectively in strengthening their relationships with customers.

In this four-part series, we examine the professional networks of four different sales roles and functions: Account Executives who prospect leads, Relationship Managers who nurture customers, Customer Success Managers who maintain relationships, and Sales Leaders who manage sales teams. Using LinkedIn’s network data of over 690 million users, we took random samples of sales professionals from each of these four types of sales roles, and set out to analyse their similarities and differences. 

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Exploring weak ties in the Account Executives (AE) Network

One key principle in the science of networks is the concept of “weak ties”. Your network of contacts could either be considered a strong or a weak tie. Strong ties are those you have a close affinity with, like your family, schoolmates or colleagues. Most likely you have common contacts within these groups, and that people in these circles already know each other. Meanwhile, weak ties are your direct connections that you infrequently interact with. For instance, an acquaintance, or other distant social relationship such as people you've met at a meetup.

For account executives and sales professionals in the prospecting function, uncovering new lead generation opportunities is an integral part of the job. Successful account executives go beyond their direct contacts, finding new leads in obscure and unexpected places. They are aware that effective prospecting means growing as wide and diverse a contact base as possible.

Here’s how you can take the concept of weak ties and apply it to an account executive’s network.

Consider a model network below, where the account executive is at the center, and their direct contacts are in yellow. While some contacts may be clustered together as strong ties, the hidden value of the Account Executive network lies in exploring the two weak ties, which unlock a fresh set of contacts in blue and green. Simply put, the strong tie network often have members who already know each other, and are unable to provide new lead opportunities. The strength and success in prospecting therefore lies in exploring your remote acquaintances, or your weak links.

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Figure 1: The strength of weak ties

A Real-life network of an Account Executive

Let’s look at the real-life LinkedIn network of a seasoned account executive with over 10 years experience. When observing the Account Executive’s direct contacts (or the dots in yellow), we notice that most of them are interconnected with each other.  This indicates a strong tie network of contacts that are likely to know each other and unable to give fresh leads.

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Figure 2. In the real world, cultivating your weak ties can help unlock new sales opportunities. Approaching the people you have strong ties with may not be effective when prospecting.

Meanwhile, the weak ties—or those barely connected to any of the yellow dots—provide potential windows of opportunities to new sales opportunities. Thus, by regularly sifting through your network and identifying your weak ties, you can bridge opportunities to new prospects that were previously beyond reach. Weak ties can produce unique sales opportunities and diverse connections with companies that barely overlap.

Achieving a Stronger Sales Network through weak ties

Begin by asking the question, “Is my network diverse enough?”.  Reflect on your network and identify your weak ties. These may be people you’ve met in conferences, alumni events or trade shows, as there may be untapped prospects in these. Consider joining relevant groups to stay abreast of important industry trends. With LinkedIn Group activity having doubled in the last 2 years1, they are a great place to start when looking to diversify your network. LinkedIn and LinkedIn Sales Navigator are ideally placed to connect you to buyers once you've found potential prospects. For example, using carefully targeted InMails with LinkedIn Premium or LinkedIn Sales Navigator, which have proven to have higher engagement than traditional channels. In fact, InMails typically see a 10 to 25 percent success rate when it comes to getting a response from prospects2

 LinkedIn Sales Navigator also optimises your search for leads by looking outside of your direct connections, and with Extended Network Access, you can view connections up to the third degree – to maximise your potential for fresh lead generation.

Our Lead Recommendations tool suggests influencers and decision makers at prospect companies. With the Teamlink feature, you'll be informed of other connections in your network who could offer a connection to a potential customer. Other features such as Sales Navigator Alerts, Saved Leads, and the ‘Leads that follow your company’ spotlight can also keep you up-to-date with the activity of your prospects, facilitating a conversation when the time is right. 

In the next part of this series, we’ll look closely at the “nurturing” part of the sales process, and how the sales people in this role – relationship managers – can utilise the power of their network to strengthen customer relations.


[1] LinkedIn Data, 2020

[2] LinkedIn, How to Personalize Your InMail Pitch, 2018