Dunbar’s Number. Should A Sales Rep Care?

According to British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, 150 is the “cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships.”  Simply put, you can’t have more than 150 friends and business associates.  Establishing that 151st contact causes a weakening of some other relationship.

Obviously, it’s not quite that cut and dried.  Some of us can handle more contacts, others of us fewer, but on average Professor Dunbar’s number holds up under scientific scrutiny.  Hunter-gatherer societies tended to grow to about 150 members, and then split into two groups.  Neolithic farming villages typically had 150 residents.  150 was the basic unit size for armies in the Roman Empire and still holds true for military units today.  British counties in the 18th century, apparently with only one exception, had populations of around 150.  Listen to Professor Dunbar himself.  The examples go on and on.

So, Mr. or Ms. Sales Rep, how many stable business relationships do you have?  How many should you have?  How many can you effectively handle?  We all know how vital they are to our success.

My company, The YPS Group has north of 3,200 subscribers to our Ideas! e-newsletter.  I personally have 2,737 contacts in Outlook.  I have 248 direct LinkedIn connections, 32,400 2nd degree and 2,534,700 3rd degree connections.

Frankly, I have no earthly idea how many strong business relationships I actually have or can effectively manage.

Does my sales rep DNA enable me to far exceed the average 150?  Yes.  Does my career-long habit of maintaining contact information help me far exceed 150?  Yes.  (In retrospect, I wish I had kept my box of 3X5 cards after transferring it to my IBM PC with 16K of memory back in ’84.)  Does my regular use of LinkedIn’s capabilities help me far exceed 150?  Yes.  Does my blog – especially the video posts – help me far exceed 150?  Yes.  YES.  YES!!!

That last one’s different.  And the difference is, in my humble opinion HUGE.  My blog makes it easier for other people to maintain a relationship with me. “They” do the work, I get the relationship-building benefit.  Watch this for an example.

Well look, I already admitted I don’t know how many business relationships I’m capable of effectively maintaining.  I can guarantee you though, that I’ll be pounding hard on my blog, on LinkedIn and on Twitter to get as far above 150 as I can.  What are you doing?

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