Reblog: Leveling the Sales Playing Field With Predictive Guidance

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 3.53.23 PMA really interesting post at Wired this week. Javier Aldrete talks about the opportunity for predictive guidance when it comes to aiding the performance of salespeople. What struck me were the parallels with market influencers. In talking about ‘tribal knowledge’ he hits on a key differentiator, especially offline, between the top influencers and mere ‘wannabes’.

Move one step further, from predictive guidance to automated mapping, and I think we have the future for real influencer marketing. Not the pointless commercial blogger platforms currently being touted.

The article’s well worth a read.

I’m far from the social marketing skeptic you might think

I was reminded in my podcast conversation with Paul Gillin the extent to which he views our company’s work as going against the perceived wisdom in our industry. Paul’s a social marketing consultant – and very good at it. He’s a strong advocate of the power of social marketing and he mentioned a couple of times that I have the opposite view. I’ve been thinking about this perception.

I’ve never actually thought I do hold the opposite view – in some situations I’m a complete convert to social marketing. I look at my own teenagers and there’s no doubt they’re constantly swayed by what they’re reading and watching on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and more. But the media is obsessed by teenager marketing, and portrays every audience as behaving in the same way. And that’s what I disagree with.

The fact is, the B2B marketplace still works in a very different way. It will evolve, and it may evolve into something similar to today’s teenager marketing. But we’re such a way from that today – and our clients want to know how to engage with their influencers now, not five or ten years time.

The perceived wisdom in marketing circles seems to be that every stage of the buying decision process is now carried out online – problem identification, decision to act, solution scoping, etc. And that’s just not the case. The reason marketers act as if that’s the case? Because marketers have a far louder public megaphone than buyers do and they want to be at forefront of trends. Buyers might not agree with how marketers are framing their world, but buyers just get on with their buying and try not to be swayed by what marketers are telling them. And buyers see no reason to bother putting them right.

You want proof? Find a friend you know who buys products or services for their employer. It might be office furniture, software tools, real estate, human resources or whatever. Ask them who or what most influenced their eventual selection. Online search is almost always part of the process, but aside from Google, the other influencers are likely to be individuals – individuals that influenced them offline! Co-workers, bosses, previous experience, people they’ve emailed, policy-makers specific to their industry, third-party consultants. Individuals who likely don’t have a very large online presence. Try it and tell me if I’m wrong.

The majority of B2B influencers still operate very much offline. And while there certainly are some important online influencers, the overall picture, whatever your industry, remains a mix. I’m just in the minority talking about it.

New White Paper: To what degree are your prospects & customers influenced by online & offline communities?

WP#18Influencer50’s new White Paper:  WP#18 : To what degree are your prospects & customers influenced by online & offline communities? – is now available for download at:

Synopsis: A 2013 McKinsey survey of B2B buyers stated that ‘an honest, open dialogue with customers and society’ was the number one most important perceived attribute of their chosen vendors. A 2013 Forrester report polled thousands of B2B marketers and concluded that online communities were one of the most influential tools in a B2B marketer’s toolkit. Despite 76% of B2B industry marketing heads rating their sector’s main forums and communities (both online & offline) as ‘very important’ in terms of influencing their prospects, only one-quarter of those same vendors are confident their organization has ongoing, proactive relationships with them. There’s clearly a vast gap between the perceived importance of industry communities to potential buyers – and vendors’ understanding of them. So why can this be?

What better message than ‘Make yourself memorable’?

I’ve just finished reading Seth Godin’s ‘The Icarus Deception’. I think I’ve read most of his work to date. I found this one a little disappointing because I felt it re-trod the same ground I’ve read many times before from him. To me, Seth basically has one message, which he dresses in different clothes for each new book. That message is ‘Be remarkable’. That was certainly Purple Cow, Lynchpin was ‘Have the confidence to be yourself’, Icarus was ‘You have to stand out’, Permission Marketing was ‘Be so interesting that people want to let you into their world’. The enemy of each is ‘going with the flow’.

Then I reconsidered and thought maybe having just one core message is a good thing. By now, readers know what Seth Godin stands for and they either want to hear that message or they don’t. Maybe if he was telling us different things in each book we’d be confused on where he stood. And I have to say that every time I read his work I feel re-committed to standing out.

Maybe his own Purple Cow is that in the business world he’s come to own that ‘Make yourself memorable’ message. In a few years my own children will be of career-seeking age. What a great message to give them.

Some marketing depts. have outsourced their logic to Eloqua

The Buyer-side Journey, Influencer50, buyersidejourney.comI was in a prospect meeting last week, running through one of our Influencer Engagement Programs. I was surprised at their quizzical faces when I outlined the program. I thought I was talking common sense. Then they explained. They’d been told not to green-light any marketing program if they couldn’t measure its effect in Eloqua. That’s why they’d moved exclusively over to digital outreach.

Click-rates, open-rates, pass-ons, linger-rates, funnel times – these were all fine. And there didn’t need to be a link with sales, but there did have to be identifiable user actions caught in Eloqua.

But what about real market influencers – those who are one-to-one advising the buyer decision-makers, I asked? They might be doing that in physical real-world meetings, or in direct emails to each other, or across their organization’s intranet. Or there might well be an ‘approved supplier’ list to negotiate first. No, none of those would count, I was told.

I asked why they thought their intended prospects were keen to absorb their outreach digitally, why they believed that increasing click-rates correlated with their buyer’s eventual decisions. There were no answers. They cared only about how Eloqua made them look each quarter.

I ran through how they themselves had made business purchase decisions since the start of the year – items they’d bought or sanctioned for their employer – and whether their decisions could have been tracked had the supplier of that equipment used Eloqua themselves. They agreed their purchasing interest would not have been trackable. But it cut no ice.

The entire conversation was about playing the system with Eloqua. It’s not Eloqua’s fault. But the way some people are using it means they’ve lost sight of what they’re meant to be contributing to their company. That connection between Sales and Marketing is more broken than ever.

Getting prospects to consider your proposition with any urgency

In a call with a client the other day he told me what his salespeople felt their largest problem was. Getting their prospects to consider their proposition with any urgency. The company could get face to face meetings with their prospects. They could differentiate themselves from the competition. They could even prove the cost-effectiveness of their solution over their rivals. But the purchase decision was always being put on the back burner. They just couldn’t get the check signed in any timely manner. And quarterly sales projections were routinely being missed as a consequence.

I seem to have heard this view several times in the past few years. People are only spending on quarter by quarter essentials. Perhaps just the one priority project, or a maintenance issue that is costing the organization money, reputation, or both. If a company’s proposition doesn’t fit one of those boxes, it’s become a very difficult sell.
When I see the current emphasis on vendors pursuing a content marketing approach, and seeing the subject of that typical content, it just doesn’t address what the sales teams clearly need it to address – what every day of delay is costing the buyer. In tangible and ideally financial terms. But then I wonder how many marketing depts. know the clients’ painpoints, let alone the cost of delay. It’s a pretty fundamental question.

Media coverage used to make or break sales deals. But now?

I was speaking with a corporate salesperson late last week. He works for a B2B company with at least 2000 employees in the U.S. alone. He said in the past five years he’d almost never heard of a customer raise the name of a journalist or reference a magazine article when discussing what was shaping their opinion on likely suppliers to shortlist. Industry analysts yes, top-tier and boutique consultancies yes, competitors yes but barely ever a magazine or newspaper article. How times have changed.

ComputerTradeMagsWhen I started my career, journalists were the primary go-to sources for industry news, trends and suppliers. Would-be corporate buyers would immediately be on the phone to their supplier’s salesperson the second they saw a negative press article on that supplier. Within hours (and sometimes minutes) I’d get to hear of it and have to go into defensive mode. That coverage jeopardized sales. I wonder if that ever happens these days? And it got me wondering what proof any PR agency or in-house corp comms person ever has that the media coverage they’re striving so hard to gain has any actual effect on their target buyers? Twenty years ago that proof was tangible. But today?

Buying into the story

TheTileApp.comIn Seth Godin’s book ‘All Marketers are Liars’ he talks about the importance of all companies having a story to tell – that we don’t buy into a particular product or service but we do buy into the story that it makes us feel we’re living.

Last month I bought into a story so good that on telling several friends of this company, they took my word, went home and immediately ordered the product too.

The company is called Tile and they have one product – also called Tile. It’s a small transponder that you can stick to anything you like and then track its whereabouts via your iPhone or Android device. As someone who’s had two cycles stolen in the past eighteen months I wish I’d have stuck a Tile to them beforehand. A friend said he’d like to attach one to his dog’s collar. Another said to his child’s frequently lost, and expensively replaced, school sports bag. These Tiles cost about $20 each. But that’s not the story.

The story is that even if you buy it now, they can’t deliver it to you until late summer. If you ordered pre-Christmas, you’re due around Easter. Scarcity is the story. The website talks about two guys in the US who had this idea, tinkered around with it and are now, very slowly, able to ramp up manufacture. And their homepage prominently tells you “With your help, 49,586 backers preordered Tiles totaling $2,681,297.” So you’re buying in to the whole crowd-funding ethos too, which means you don’t resent it when your credit card is charged upon order, even though you have to wait months for delivery.

I think this was honestly the first web ad I can remember clicking on in the past ten years. A rare case of marketing and sales perfectly aligned. I want them to succeed.

If you’re interested, go to

Influencer Marketing agencies. All supply-side. No demand-side. Makes no sense.

When I look at all the agencies that have jumped on the ‘influencer marketing’ bandwagon over the past eighteen months I’m struck by the fact that they all appear to be from marketing backgrounds and none from either sales or better still buyer backgrounds. How can these agencies claim to know anything about the buyer experience? Then I realise they don’t claim that knowledge. They don’t even talk about the buyer experience. It’s irrelevant to them. They talk only about increasing a company’s marketing outreach. More and more collateral, more and more names in a database. All the focus is on the supply-side, totally ignoring the demand-side. It makes no sense at all.

SMORG, MORG & LORG. Are the dividing lines still relevant?

How much thought do vendors give before dividing up their salesforce into those targeting audiences such as Large Enterprise, Corporate, Medium Business and Small Business? And where do they place those division lines?

I was talking a couple of years ago to the Head of Strategy for one of the IT giants. He was explaining how their salesforce was organized. I can’t remember the exact numbers now but let’s say Medium Business was for companies with between 200-1000 employees, Corporate was 1000-5000 employees and Large Enterprise was anything above that. Each group had a very different approach to the sales process. When I asked what research they’d done to inform themselves that buyers bought equipment in one way up until say 5000 employees but in a different way beyond that, he admitted they’d done none. He said they’d simply copied Microsoft’s traditional approach. That’s Small Org, Medium Org and Large Org. Or SMORG, MORG & LORG!

I started to think about how companies morphed their buying process as they grew (or downsized). We analyzed as many buying structures as we could over the next twelve months (and still continue to). Companies do exhibit very different buying behavior as they change size and outlook. Also as they move along the centralized / distributed power axis.

But they don’t change buying behavior as they move from 4000 to 6000 employees, or from 100 to 300. The dividing lines salesforces make to carve up how they approach the market is perhaps two decades out of date. How strange that with all the changes in salesforce technology in the past few years, such a fundamental tenet of salesforce organisation has been left untouched. Is that because it’s still working, or because no-one has the data to prove it’s not working?