How come no-one knows how buyers buy?

It’s always astonished me how so much time, budget & energy is spent on B2B marketing – the advertising, the packaging, the promotion, the pricing, the launch event, the mail shots, the online outreach – when so little has been spent on understanding the process by which its buyers’ buy.

Ask any head of marketing for the four main job titles of the buyers who buy its products – and they wont be remotely accurate. Sometimes they’ll be in the right ballpark – they’ll say “the CFO”, “the head of software development”, or “whoever looks after security” – but they’re just guessing. Oftentimes they’re merely repeating phrases they overheard from a salesperson several months back. It’s just not a conversation that goes on in many marketing depts.

Ask them who’s most likely to be sitting in the room when their salesperson presents their solution to the prospect, and they’ll have even less idea. Is it typically one person, two, five, or more? If you don’t believe me check it out in your own marketing dept.

I know this to be true because of the number of times I speak with senior sales people and  how loose their explanations are. Their responses are peppered with “well, usually there might be …”, “sometimes we’ll find …” and “it depends on …”. They have to really think hard about who they’ve presented to in recent months – and it’s clearly the first time they’ve had to think about it since those meetings, so I know they definitely haven’t been briefing their marketing folks.

It’s not always the fault of those in marketing. I’m often struck by how random those sales situations seem to have been, how difficult it would have apparently been for the salesperson to predict who they’d be presenting to. It might be a new experience for a particular salesperson, but is it really that random? Or is their field of experience just necessarily narrow? With greater experience, a broader set of historical data, could it have been predicted? And would that have likely helped the outcome? I’m pretty convinced the answer to both is Yes.

But no-one has that data.

Why people assume all influence is now online

There are markets where almost all influence is now online. Face-to-face conversations, peer advice and group meetings rarely happen. But these markets are few and far between. Even the influence of particular YouTube channels and personalities is not all online. Plenty of direct teen to teen conversations take place offline to encourage each other to follow certain personalities. And the culmination of following these ‘celebrities’ – is a very offline public ‘meet-up’.

So why do the media continue to promote this image of all communication now being conducted online and through social? One answer has to be because the media themselves are so entrenched in it. They get their news leads through Twitter, their research through the web and increasingly, their output is exclusively online too. The media says they’re reflecting society but they’re actually only reflecting their view of society.

Their job is to focus on what’s new, what’s changed, so they lap up the latest fashions, trends, gadgets, platforms and more. They might write of how millions are tiring of and moving away from Twitter, when the truth is that the vast majority of the population has yet to even move onto it. I walk down my local shopping street and I’m struck by how few stores are embedded in social. A handful of them may have a Twitter feed and the majority could tick the box saying their business ‘is online’ – but that’s not where even a significant minority of their income originates.

The same goes for most businesses. They’ll do social outreach, they’ll do Adwords, they might even maintain a company blog – but none of these are likely to drive the majority of their sales.That majority is driven the way it’s always been driven – by dedicated sales teams effectively cold-calling prospects and reacting to RFPs.

In my Influencer50 role I talk extensively with many individuals from marketing depts. and sales depts. In conversations with marketing folks the subject of social is always there. The success (or not) of their social outreach campaigns, the prominence of particular individuals on Twitter, sentiment monitoring trends and more. Every marketer lives and breathes social.

For every conversation I have with Marketing heads, I have an equal number with heads of Sales. And it’s a very different conversation. Social is only rarely mentioned. Buyer behavior, prospect entry points, initial messaging, check-signing hierarchies, customer pain-points, customer politics – these are standard topics. But social? Almost never, and only fleeting if then. Why is social so much lower on their radar?

Important stages of the B2B buying process have moved online – no-one can doubt that – but the vast majority of those stages, and the most crucial elements of almost every stage, are resolutely offline. At least for now.

That may not be a media-friendly message but there’s no doubting with B2B it’s still the truth.

Is Influencer Marketing just being outsourced to agencies?

Influencer Marketing, Influencer50, Nick Hayes, Influencer Marketing & Influencer Relations, The Buyerside Journey.comAs chair of the ‘Influencer Marketing & Influencer Relations’ LinkedIn Group I’ve just spent an hour or so this morning going through approving or declining those who have recently applied for membership of the group. Our group is quite specific – it’s a vendor-side group only, we’re not for contractors or those from agencies. And with that in mind I’m seeing an undoubted trend.

Our group was founded five years ago and we now have nearly 1000 members – all vendor-side. Throughout those five years we’ve had many contractors and agency staff apply – no surprises there. But the ratio of applicants is definitely moving towards those on the agency side.

In 2010 the ratio was 69% from vendors, 31% from agencies. In 2012 it was 57% vendors, 43% agencies. With nine months of 2014 gone this year it’s currently 44% vendors, 56% agencies. For the first time we’re having to decline significantly more applicants than we’re accepting. But that’s not the important fact.

I think we’re seeing evidence of our long-held belief that vendors have largely outsourced their interest in, and staffing of, influencer marketing. It’s just not being done in-house. Whether it’s the PR agency, the ad agency or the social outreach agency, influencer marketing activity is being outsourced. That would certainly explain why there’s no universally accepted understanding of what it means – because the ad agency shapes it to mean one thing and the PR agency twists it to mean another. More often than not these agencies then pass responsibility for it either to another division in their own firm or outsource it further along the line to their SEO partner, blogger relations team or whoever.

Influencer Marketing has been jumped on by every type of marketing services firm – because of the revenue opportunity they see in any new trend. And in doing so in-house marketing depts. have been left blinded as to what initially drew them to Influencer Marketing – the chance to directly reach individuals who actually make a difference to their sales.

Of course it could be simply that there are more agency staff and contractors than in-house staff these days, or that they’re just more disposed to joining LinkedIn groups than in-house staff. But I think the whole current direction of influencer marketing is being driven by the agency agenda – an agenda to deliver impressive sounding numbers back to their in-house bosses.

But if those bosses really thought about it, they’d want something very different from influencer marketing than they’re getting. They’d want it to be helping them with their sales.

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.

Do social marketers understand real-world influencers?

I read somewhere a few weeks back that 30-42% of all current staff positions in B2B marketing depts. were now focused on ‘social’ roles. These either featured ‘social’ in their title or the person’s performance success in that role was largely being measured through social metrics.

Whether or not that figure is accurate – it struck me as particularly high considering the continued emphasis on direct mail, in-person events, sponsorships etc. – it got me to thinking what ramifications this will leave for real-world ‘influencer marketing’ as I see it.

I see a widening disconnect between those who really try to understand the customer’s decision-making process, often people with previous direct sales experience, or at least experience in handling real-world customers, and those attracted to and increasingly filling in-house ‘social’ marketing roles.

I remember once interviewing a candidate for a client’s social marketing role who saw her entire job function as ‘thinking up fun ideas to tweet’. While that person may not represent the typical social marketer, she does undoubtedly represent one type. And the problem is that it’s that type that produces results which can look good on a monthly performance graph. You can picture the Powerpoint now tracking increasing numbers of retweets, likes, followers, etc against ever-lower cost of delivery.

Some of our clients shy away from pursuing relationships with certain types of influencer – even though they may undoubtedly be important to their prospects – solely because any results would likely be difficult to measure month by month. Forget that such relationships are necessary, common sense, mutually beneficial and more, they can’t be tracked on a continually upward-slope graph. So such relationships are abandoned before they’ve even begun.

As the number of in-house social marketers increase, and as their careers are based on their ability to continually generate impressive-looking graphs, I wonder what the future is for those employees initiating and maintaining longer-term proactive relationships with those influencers who unquestionably impact a vendor’s customers and prospects. It’s an expensive, non-guaranteed, non-linear process – but to generate sales it’s undoubtedly necessary. And every day being eroded by social’s promise of immediate gratification.

Majority of respondents in a Gallup survey said that social media had no influence at all on purchasing decisions!

Really good article in last week’s WSJ. Exactly what we’ve been talking about for years. Here’s a snippet but for the full thing I encourage you to go to:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/companies-alter-social-media-strategies-1403499658?mod=e2fb

Note the line “A majority of respondents in a Gallup survey said that social media had no influence at all on purchasing decisions”.

Social Media Fail to Live Up to Early Marketing Hype

Companies Refine Strategies to Stress Quality Over Quantity of Fans

WSJ - Just Being SocialIn May 2013, Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. bought ads to promote its brand page on Facebook. After a few days, unhappy executives halted the campaign—but not because they weren’t gaining enough fans. Rather, they were gaining too many, too fast

“We were fearful our engagement and connection with our community was dropping” as the fan base grew, says Allison Sitch, Ritz-Carlton’s vice president of global public relations.

Today, the hotel operator has about 498,000 Facebook fans; some rivals have several times as many. Rather than try to keep pace, Ritz-Carlton spends time analyzing its social-media conversations, to see what guests like and don’t like. It also reaches out to people who have never stayed at its hotels and express concern about the cost.

Ritz-Carlton illustrates a shift in corporate social-media strategies. After years of chasing Facebook fans and Twitter followers, many companies now stress quality over quantity. They are tracking mentions of their brand, then using the information to help the business.

“Fans and follower counts are over. Now it’s about what is social doing for you and real business objectives,” says Jan Rezab, chief executive of Socialbakers AS, a social-media metrics company based in Prague.

For the full article go to:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/companies-alter-social-media-strategies-1403499658?mod=e2fb

Speaking at PROOF Conference on Influencer Marketing, Phoenix AZ, 10-11th Nov.

PROOF ConferenceI’m excited to be a speaker at the just-announced first PROOF Conference on Influencer Marketing. I’ll be alongside one of the people I most respect in our industry – Paul Gillin (@paulgillin)- which makes me look forward to it even more. Paul’s book, ‘Attack of the Customers’, was one of my favorite business books of last year.

If you’re interested in attending the conference, which is equally for brands and agencies, use the special code ‘NHayes’, for a $100 discount voucher.

http://www.proofcon.com

Phoenix AZ, 10-11th Nov.

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

WP#18We’ve been spending plenty of time in recent months on the subject of influencers within online & offline communities.

Our next White Paper:  WP#18 : To what degree are your prospects & customers influenced by online & offline communities?

Available for download next Monday.

Why are vendors’ Influencer Marketing programs so often farmed out to their PR companies?

I figure it’s for one or more of three reasons:

1. In-house staff have been so cut to the bone there’s no headcount left available .. or qualified.

2. With the decline in the number of traditional journalists, PR companies are increasingly pitching themselves as Influencer Relations agencies and so appearing ready-made for the task. They already enjoy direct connection with their clients.

3. Marketing directors have no experience of what metrics to use with their Influencer Programs, so they’re already open to guidance on how to structure them. And from there it’s a short step to being sold on delivery too.

I think this third point is very significant for two reasons. Firstly I’m struck by how few of our incoming enquiries from vendors see the enquirer, usually a Head of Marketing or Program Manager, having already thought about what they’re trying to achieve, and even less how they think they might measure any program’s success.

I’m not trying to belittle the enquirer, in placing a call to us they’ve obviously made a commendable leap to do something about their interest, and I’m more than happy to explain how we typically set out measuring any program’s success. I’m just surprised that the vendor often hasn’t already applied themselves to that question. When you decide to appoint an advertising agency to create an ad campaign, presumably you’ve already decided what you hope those resulting ads will deliver?

The second reason why the agency outsourcing of Influencer Programs is important is because it’s significantly reshaped the whole direction of many Influencer Marketing programs. Gone is the link back to customers, prospects and sales – never the strong point of agencies – and in its place has come the pursuit of outreach metrics – number of new contacts, theoretical online reach, number of retweets, number of meetings secured, etc. All very metrics-based and easy to report at the monthly client meeting. But well disconnected from customers, prospects and sales.

I can’t help thinking the outsourcing to PR agencies is losing our industry one of the core strengths that originally differentiated Influencer Marketing from traditional marketing outreach.

Why are vendors rarely in their ‘industry conversation’?

I always used to assume that the majority of our clients, and vendors in general, while understandably not knowing their key influencers, would be sufficiently integrated into their ‘industry conversation’ that they’d already be an integral part of the most important industry forums and online communities. Perhaps not those in the marketing dept. but surely those in product support, product development, customer support and the like.

It struck me a few years back that not only was this not the case, but that communities were one of the areas where vendors needed most help and advice. “I don’t know who but I imagine we have people involved there” is the typical response when we’ve questioned our clients or prospects on this. Communities are clearly a large and important grey area for many vendors.

Why is this? I think it can only be that most vendors haven’t been able to measure the effects of these communities, and subsequently the benefits of joining them. User Groups have for decades been an important focus for most organizations – whether they’re run independently or through the vendor. But the rise of online communication and collaboration has made it many times easier to establish often loose-knit and amorphous groups of interested (and often influential) individuals.

Whatever the case, the majority of vendors feel a distance from these groups. They’re not trying to be in control of them, they’d just like to be aware what’s going on within them. And the more we investigate, the more the disconnect becomes apparent to us. Across multiple industries.

They don’t comfortably fit within the remit of PR or Marketing, nor Channel Relations or BusDev. Nor even the Social Media team who tend to focus their outreach on Twitter, Facebook and maybe LinkedIn. For sure, some forums actively discourage vendors from taking part. Whatever the reasons, vendors are rarely plugged in to the industry conversation at its most raw. Were the importance of these groups to be realised, this would quickly change.