Big Tippers

The Few

According to Gladwell, the people who count are "connectors," "mavens" and "salespeople." Connectors are those exceptionally well-networked colleagues, employees, customers and other people who seem to know everyone everywhere. They aren't difficult to identify, and if you can influence them to relay your message by word-of-mouth, whether it's about a new product or a new policy, you can be certain they'll carry it far and wide. "When you think of leaders who effect change, they're amazingly well networked," says Mabel Miguel, a management professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "They know everybody, and they know the right people."

Mavens, on the other hand, might not know everyone, but they appear to know everything. And they're eager to share all that information with other people. Mavens are opinion leaders with expertise and the ability to impart it, which marks them as the people others go to for advice. And their advice is usually followed. For an example, Gladwell describes a particular friend whose restaurant recommendations he follows automatically. The influence of this maven, he says, is evidenced by the fact that, when frequenting an eatery suggested by his friend, he often sees other people acquainted with that person dining at the same place. The point is that mavens can be used to powerfully influence people if you can get them to accept your ideas.

Then there are salespeople. They might not be all that well connected or even that incredibly knowledgeable, but the fact that they're extremely persuasive makes them stand out-and makes them especially useful to entrepreneurs in search of a tipping point. Although Gladwell's analysis of exactly what makes these people so persuasive is thorough, he doesn't need as lengthy an explanation to convey the source of their value. Quite simply, if you're able to get a powerful persuader on your team, you'll persuade more people to go along, whether you want employees to endorse a new benefits package or customers to accept a new pricing plan. "Clearly," agrees Miguel, "a very strong element of management is persuasion and being able to influence people."

You should try to recruit these three types of people any time you're trying to effect change, Miguel says. But don't stop with just a connector, a maven or a salesperson-get all three on board, and your chances of approaching a tipping point will significantly increase. The importance of the concept is ratified by studies of change-management processes in companies, Miguel says. "Forming the guiding coalition of opinion leaders is critical," she says. "If you don't do that, the change isn't going to take."

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This article was originally published in the December 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Big Tippers.

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