Is there a generational aspect happening to B2B Influence?

I’ve been increasingly noticing this throughout the past year. When George W. Bush was in the White House the average age of his policy advisors was 48. When Barack Obama came into power that average came down to just 38. Not only was that always going to have an effect on a country’s defense policy, its attitude to healthcare and more, but it’s also had a very noticeable, and possibly dramatic, effect on federal policy towards technology and B2B markets.

If you go to a Microsoft developers conference and take a visual gauge of the typical age of those attending, then do the same at a Google or Facebook event, there’s a gulf between them. Anecdotally, the Microsoft event attracts 40-55 yr. olds, the Google event 20-40 yr. olds. That’s probably not a shock to anyone. But when you’re advising on U.S. tech policy for implementation over the next ten years, and you’re currently say in your late thirties, you’re far more likely to be flavoring your initial policy documents in terms more preferable to Google’s view of the world than Microsoft’s. Or IBM’s. Or even Oracle’s. You may not be conscious of this, and no-one’s suggesting it’s deliberate, but it is significant. And the traditional vendors are certainly noticing it.

I was meeting with a large professional services firm this week and I raised the issue of a generational shift in those influencing their major client decisions. If it’s happening in their market it hadn’t yet been noticed. That’s not to say they haven’t changed their practices over recent years – they’re now well on board with their social media outreach, their content marketing, etc. They consider themselves an ‘agile’ organization in every sense. But this generational change is happening – I’ve seen it too many times in other sectors for it not to be a broader trend now. Just don’t mistake this for the bland ‘youngsters live on Twitter now’ line. It’s far deeper than that.

As a salesperson, what happens when your very understanding of what constitutes ‘a logical next step’, a ‘safe decision’ or a ‘risky purchase’ is no longer even mirrored by your prospect?

Small U.S. businesses show a five-year near 40% drop in single-signoff expenditure thresholds.

i50 logoOur research into the buying behavior of almost 100 small companies in the U.S. shows that discretionary budget allowances – the amount at which a mid-management line manager or similar can approve a purchase without needing a second signature – has now fallen from an average $10,400 in 2008 to just $6,290 in 2013.*

Considering the median size of these small businesses was those with 32 non-manual labor employees (so removing many small warehouse, distribution and construction organizations and skewing the results towards office-based operations), this is a pretty significant finding. In five years that’s a near 40% reduction in a line manager’s budget autonomy.

The upshot is that the role of ‘influencer ecosystems’ is filtering down the purchase funnel, now affecting significantly more, and smaller, purchases than previously the case. Even fewer purchase decisions are being made alone.

This presents greater challenges to salespeople of course, because even if they do reach the decision-maker in a small organization that individual will now not be making up their mind on their own. The salesperson will need greater help in ‘closing off’ the members of any ad-hoc decision-making committee. Vendors will need to have reached, and influenced, these key influencers well in advance of any purchase decision being made.

This inescapable trend in small business buyer behavior further elevates the center-stage role now being taken by ‘influencer marketing’.

* Influencer50’s research comprised responses from 97 U.S.-based small businesses (less than 250 employees, not including manual or part-time labor), across five industry sectors – retail, manufacturing, services, technology, transport. Research conducted between Jun-Oct’13.

Influencer50’s Global B2B Influencer Survey, 2013

Influencer50, Influencer Marketing, Nick Hayes, The Buyer-side Journey

Our company Influencer50 has just issued its latest Global B2B Influencer Survey 2013 – showing the real importance of offline to online to social influencers in B2B buying decisions. What it shows is that somewhat over 50% of B2B influence on real buyers is being conducted offline, a little over a third primarily online (i.e through Google-type searches) and 5-10% primarily through social channels. There are small differences in these numbers from continent to continent but the narrative is the same.

What’s particularly interesting is that even amongst the ‘social influencer’ channel – this influence is through LinkedIn and interest-specific communities way more than Twitter.

And the third take-away – approx. 60% of top influencers have a Twitter account, yet only one-third of those have posted to it in the past two months. So hard to call them exactly active tweeters.

Here’s the released Survey’s details:

Global B2B Influencer Survey shows Social Media, despite the hype, is still NOT a major primary influencer for B2B purchases

Offline and Online influencers are the clear two most significant channels for influence, with ‘social influencers’ a very distant third.

For B2B products & services costing >$1000 – average 68% of key influencers are primarily offline, 26% online, 5% social

For B2B products & services costing >$100 but less than $1000 – average 48% of key influencers primarily offline, 40% online, 12% social

Influencer50, the award-winning Influencer Identification, Engagement & Measurement firm announces the results of its Global B2B Influencer Survey 2013, conducted over one year across four continents. Over 36,000 B2B-oriented individuals were evaluated – the company’s largest aggregated survey to date. The survey seeks to identify the relative importance of offline, online and so-called ‘social influencers’ in B2B purchasing and adoption decisions.

Influencer50 amalgamated the results of 58 B2B research projects from Oct’12-Sept’13, across forty-one countries. Small but significant differences were found in the make-up of those top influencers from one continent to another.

This table shows through which channel the top B2B influencers (for all values of product & services) primarily influence (they can obviously influence across more than one channel, but only one channel was considered primary).

B2B sector Offline Online Social
US (aggregate) 60.7 31.3 7.7
US products & services >$1000 68 26 5
US products & services >$100 <$1000 48 40 12
Europe 62.9 29.8 7.3
AsiaPacific 56.8 33.7 9.5
Average 60.8% 31.2% 7.9%

(The Average totals in the table are weighted to take into account the scale of data from each region).
Offline Influence is defined as influence conducted through in-person meetings or conversations, either face-to-face or to a group, phone conversations, etc.
Online Influence is defined as influence conducted through online search results and/or browsing.
Social Influence is defined as influence conducted through, but not limited to, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc.

The survey results show that while influence conducted primarily through social media channels is significant, averaging almost 8% of the influence on B2B purchasers, it takes only a very distant third place to online and offline channels. And the numbers are not trending dramatically towards social media. Yet there remains overwhelmingly more industry ‘buzz’ about social channel influence than about offline influence.

“We just don’t understand why so much noise is being created by those talking about ‘social influence’ when it’s clear that B2B buyers aren’t actually listening. Just look at who’s contributing to those conversations – it’s all marketing agencies and contractors. All the sellers are on Twitter but that’s not where the B2B buyers are. Everyone seems to be conveniently ignoring that. The real influencers are much harder to find than simply trawling Twitter for who tweets most often. It’s apparently too much trouble for most people to track down the real influencers.” – Nick Hayes, Principal of Influencer50 Inc.

Influencer50, Influencer Marketing, Nick Hayes

As part of its research, Influencer50 also analysed the use of Twitter amongst its identified top influencers. While the majority of top influencers across each region did have their own Twitter account, less than one-half had posted any updates in the past two months, so making their account effectively inactive.

Percentage of top B2B influencers active on Twitter:

Own a Twitter account Posted in past two months
US 68% 36%
Europe 61% 29%
AsiaPacific 66% 27%

“There’s been so much talk over the past eighteen months about so-called ‘social influencers’. All these digital agencies have hijacked the term influencer marketing to relate to those on social platforms – mainly Twitter. That’s never jibed with our own experience of B2B purchase decision-making so we spent a year collating data on the subject.

“Social media may be having a very different effect in consumer sectors than it is in B2B. And it’s certainly reshaping our personal culture. But in the commercial sector the agenda for influencer marketing is being pushed by people with a vested interest – largely by digital marketing agencies who want to sell their clients on various social listening programs.”

“What’s also interesting is that it’s through LinkedIn, rather than Twitter, where most of that social media influence is conducted. That’s a story that often gets lost when agencies discuss social influence – because LinkedIn is much more difficult for them to trawl than Twitter.”

“The wider picture is that it’s part of this generational shift towards marketing automation. There’s a drive towards ensuring everything can be measured and scaled. These social influence platforms tick both those boxes. No-one seems to care that what they’re measuring might effectively be junk in terms of increasing a company’s sales. It’s a race based around ‘the emperor’s new clothes’. The industry needs to get back to addressing real-world buyer behavior – and many of the ‘influence marketing’ providers seem to be ignoring that.”

Influencer50’s clients include Microsoft, IBM, Wal-Mart and Michelin amongst many others.

This research comprised research across four continents and forty-one countries analyzing a combined 36,218 B2B-oriented individuals. The continents were North America, Europe, Asia and, to a lesser extent, Africa.

– ends

Ty Holden
Influencer50 Inc.

Engaging new book I’ve just finished – ‘Conversations That Sell’ by Nancy Bleeke

The Buyer-side JourneyIf you want a steer on a great introduction to how salespeople need to engage with their prospects these days look no further than Nancy Bleeke’s book ‘Conversations That Sell’.

Published midway through this year it’s an easy, logical read with a fair number of insights into the changing demands of buyers today – and how salespeople need to address those changes. What’s particularly interesting is that it refutes some of the findings from Josiane Chriqui Feigon that I posted about last week. Seems they disagree on whether the salesperson’s role is becoming more or less important to the buyer.

Her site is currently offering the first chapter free.


Why do so many Marketing Heads not know who their companies sell to?

Have just been watching an interesting interview with Ardath Albee where she says she’d lost count of the number of marketing heads who said their company sold into ‘the CIO’. And so that was who their marketing was – albeit loosely – aimed at. Yet Ardath, and the company’s salesforce, were well aware that the CIO wouldn’t ever get involved at the level of purchase that the vendor was providing, and that both the specifier and the check-signer were significantly down the food-chain from the CIO.

So why isn’t that message translating to marketing in these situations? Is the decision-maker ever-changing, with the CIO the only ever-present? Do they believe that the CIO will hear the message and be so interested that they take it upon themselves to pass it down their org? Or do marketing depts. just not want to hear? Perhaps because of the old motto about ‘selling from the top down’?

I can so relate to Ardath’s point. The number of times marketing clients of mine over the years have said they’re aiming at the C-suite, without seemingly differentiating the very different roles of which that comprises. Proving once more that most vendors come unstuck at stage one – knowing your buyer. It’s not surprising. Of all the marketing depts. I’ve worked in and for, not once was I ever given formal training or advice on who our target buyer was. Maybe no-one felt qualified to provide that advice.

How the Field Sales to Inside Sales transition reflects & impacts the decision-making process.

Josiane Chriqui Feigon, Influencer50, The Buyer-side JourneyFollowing last week’s reblog about Josiane Chriqui Feigon’s ’10 Reasons why Inside Sales will displace Field Sales teams by 2015′ I wanted to review how that impacts our understanding of the major B2B sales influencers.

She says that 57% of the B2B buying process is now completed before ever connecting with a salesperson. As an addition to this point, she says we have 20m salespeople apparently ( I assume this is U.S. data only) – and that number is predicted to be reduced to 8m by 2020 – largely because of this ‘reduced’ role.

Now that’s clearly not a message any salesperson would want to accept – that they’re there to navigate the prospect through only the final 40% or so of the process. It means the salesperson has less opportunity to redirect that choice than ever before. I don’t have data but I wouldn’t mind betting ten years ago much less than 40% of the sales process was completed before the salesperson typically entered the fray, leaving them plenty of time to persuade any would-be buyer.

So now the salesperson is correcting impressions already made about their brand rather than initially setting them. And if there’s one complaint I’ve heard more than almost any other from salespeople it’s that they get to hear of opportunities too late in the day, where they’re having to respond to an already shaped RFP (Request for Proposal), they’re invited in only alongside multiple ‘less worthy’ alternatives or they’re having to force-fit their offering in to a less than ideal already-in-place framework.

I often say that assuming a salesperson manages to get in to a one hour meeting with his/her prospect per month then that’s the one hour of the month I’m least interested in, because only the salesperson is relevant for that hour. I’m interested in the 21 days six hours each month when the prospect is hearing from everyone else but the salesperson. And if the salesperson feels they’re now facing a reduction in influence as a result, well that just makes those influencing during those 21 days six hours even more important. And even less feasible for marketing depts. to ignore.

This brings me to a second point Josiane makes. The rising number of strong influencers in any B2B decision – varying from 5 to 21 according to her – allied to the fact that telecommuting means many of these will work away from the central office – means that scheduling an on-site meeting with the committee of decision-makers will be almost impossible. 85% of buyer-seller interactions will therefore happen online through social media and video. Most salespeople today will dread this thought since they base much of their confidence in their persuasiveness to their in-person face-to-face skills. Skills that are far harder to convey on a Skype call.

Yes of course there will have to be a very different type of salesperson required (a subject I’m sure I’ll write about soon) but an undeniable conclusion to this dramatic sales shift is that the role of ‘behind-the-scenes’ influencers will only increase.

Reblog: B2B Sales & Marketing – You get delegated to the person you sound like.

Inflexion Point, Influencer Marketing, Influencer50Another great post from Bob Apollo at Inflexion Point.


Why I don’t get most infographics – and I can’t believe I’m alone.

I keep reading posts and articles about how infographics are now an unstoppable trend – how they make market data more absorbable in at-a-glance bite-size chunks. How they’re perfect for the digital viewing we all do. So why is it I find the majority totally unsuited to the way I personally take in information? And I end up taking less in than the surrounding text.

The current fashion for content marketing has apparently given a whole new impetus for stylish infographics. And in the early days I use to really like them – I like to think of myself as someone who understands the cross-section of art, ergonomics and hard data. I should be the perfect audience.

Here’s an example – on a subject I’m personally vested in, with figures I’m fascinated by – and I’d still far rather read the conventional text in the post rather than the graphic. See for yourself what you think.!oOH1A

The issue is I just don’t know what to do with infographics. Most look like they took considerable time, and often skill, to create, and they appear to be crying out to be reproduced as a wall poster. But who really does that? They don’t fit neatly on a single screen – you have to scroll several times to read them all, and the graphics more often than not take away from the data rather than emphasizing it. And how do we share them even if we do like them? Not by ‘save as’ and emailing as a graphic, we simply forward the URL of the entire post.

So when do they work? On the homepage of your website I can see, because the reader can sit there focusing on a single screen and take in the message. But in an email, on a blog post, an online article – I don’t think so.

Think Wired magazine. Often great articles, written by incredible minds. But I’m so often distracted by the over-enthusiastic art editor that much of the content passes me by. I find the same with many infographics, and I can’t help thinking that in ten years time we’ll look back and wince at how ‘form’ was allowed to steamroller over ‘function’ in this way. If the function is to appeal to ‘buyers’, as all content marketing surely is, I’m convinced it’s failing. The reader has to work way too hard to take in the message – and buyers aren’t known for their perseverance.

Reblog: 10 Reasons why Inside Sales will displace Field Sales Teams by 2015

Influencer50, Buyer-side Journey

A great post I’ve just seen from a few months back by Josiane Chriqui Feigon. Hat-tip to her.

Influencer50’s Global B2B Influencer Survey 2013: Advance Teaser – Only 1/3 of top influencers posting to Twitter in the past 2 months.

One headline from Influencer50’s forthcoming Global B2B Influencer Survey 2013. The full survey announcement on Dec 12th.

Influencer50, Influencer Marketing, Nick Hayes, B2B Influencer Survey '13Sneak peak:

As part of its research, Influencer50 analysed the use of Twitter amongst its identified top influencers. While the majority of top influencers across each region did have their own Twitter account, less than one-half had posted any updates in the past two months, so making their account effectively inactive.

This equates to only one-third of all top B2B influencers posting to Twitter in the past two months.

Percentage of top B2B influencers active on Twitter:

Own a Twitter account Posted in past two months
US 68% 36%
Europe 61% 29%
AsiaPacific 66% 27%

“There’s been so much talk over the past eighteen months about so-called ‘social influencers’. All these digital agencies have hijacked the term influencer marketing to relate to those on social platforms – mainly Twitter. That’s never jibed with our own experience of B2B purchase decision-making so we spent a year collating data on the subject.” – Nick Hayes, Principal of Influencer50 Inc.

“It doesn’t even mean that the one-third who have recently posted on Twitter were at all prominent on a relevant subject – they might have been very far down the ‘long tail’ – posting just once on an unconnected topic. So even trawling Twitter for industry talk doesn’t mean anyone would have found them. Twitter is not where the real influence in B2B is being conducted – despite every marketing depts. keenness to be active there.”

This research comprised research across four continents and forty-one countries analyzing a combined 36,218 B2B-oriented individuals. The continents were North America, Europe, Asia and, to a lesser extent, Africa.

– ends

Ty Holden
Influencer50 Inc.