As we approach the fourth quarter of 2014, many salespeople are scrambling to boost their sales, close out the year strong and lay the foundation for the next twelve months. We often hear from salespeople that relationships and referrals are still enormously important when it comes to opening doors and closing deals, and recent studies have shown that sales are 56 percent more likely to occur when they come from a warm lead. Knowing where to go and the best people to contact is still a winning combination. 

In the era of social networking, there's a ton of buzz surrounding how people are connected.  And while online channels remove physical barriers to connections, they also open the floodgates to building a false sense of how many people we really know.  And whom we really know counts when it comes to asking for introductions or connections--which can be the difference between a deal or no deal.

You may be familiar with the term social graph, which has been referred to as the "global mapping of everybody and how they're related." The social graph can make the life of a sales or business development person much easier--provided it's utilized in the right way. Here are three things to keep in mind when using your social graph to drive sales.

  1. All First Connections Are Not Created Equal. How many times have you received an invitation to connect on a social network from someone you barely know?  Just because you are connected to someone doesn't mean that you have actually ever met that person. The same is true for someone you might be asking for an introduction. Instead of casting a wide net and approaching anyone who might be in touch, it's better to focus your time on getting to a potential new lead by finding the people from whom an introduction would really matter. Do some background research on the strength of connection before assuming that anyone's introduction or referral will be impactful.
  1. Your Best Contact May Be Sitting Right Next to You. When looking to build your contacts and find referrals, you often can find the right link within your organization. Your colleagues each have social graphs of their own, which can be a wealth of contacts for you to leverage. We're starting to see the most forward thinking companies better map the contacts and connections of their employees to develop a company-wide social graph, making it easier for you to look within your organization for help. Your colleague at the next desk could have a direct link to a decision maker, which underscores the importance of truly understanding the depth of relationships you have.
  1. Look for Apps and Platform That Do the Work for You. Sales and business development require a lot of background research. As machine learning continues to make inroads in the business community, we're seeing a trend by which smart technology is impacting the recommendation cycle, making research easier across a number of disciplines. As people search for information, smart programs can continue to hone in on providing you with the precise answer. This pattern of smart search works for your social graph too. Look for apps and programs that drill down on your social connections to get you closer and closer to who you need to know.

The bottom line is this: A social graph is a salesperson's most powerful tool--provided that it can properly leveraged. More doesn't always equal better, and it's important to have tools and processes to help you navigate through the noise. Time is money, which is something salespeople can't afford to lose.