Are vendors even looking for the connection between ‘social’ and ‘influence’?

In preparation for an upcoming White Paper this week I’ve been speaking with three B2B marketing directors, two based in the U.S., the third in mainland Europe. I’ve been asking why they continue to invest in social outreach when there’s so little evidence that B2B buyers are being influenced by social media.

The first is a VP, Marketing for a mid-size web hosting provider in North Carolina. “It’s less a case of proving our social outreach is working, and more a case that we’ve proved previous approaches don’t! So we’re allowing ourselves a longer period to figure this one out. We can’t claim to have mapped that link (between social outreach and increasing sales) yet. Fortunately we’re not yet being expected to.”

The second, a group marketing director at a PAAS (platform-as-a-service) vendor based in Texas, adds, “I’ve recently inherited the existing group budget allocation so we’re just seeing how that performs before pulling anything. We’re aiming for better awareness through our social outreach – I don’t think we’re expecting a direct link to sales this year.”

The third is a CMO for a billion-dollar-plus revenue business outsourcing provider. “We’re investing in marketing for the long-term. You can’t expect to see a sales blip short-term. We’re about three years into our social outreach, and we’re changing the mix each year so it’s difficult to compare success rates. I think it will work out and help our sales prospects – but I wouldn’t like to put a timescale on showing that.”

This just further confuses me why some B2B companies are investing in ‘social influencers’ – when there’s no proven connection between ‘social’ and ‘influence’. At least, not to the bottom-line. Don’t tell me they don’t care about that.

IHS Survey – “Which Influencer / Advocate actions does your company value most?”

Influencer Marketing, Influencer50, Nick Hayes, Influencer Marketing & Influencer Relations, The Buyerside Journey.comInteresting evidence from Barbara Thomas, head of the Customer Recognition Program at IHS, when her firm asked 100 organizations, “Which Influencer / advocate ‘activities or assets’ are most valued by companies?”

Top of the list – no surprise it’s Customer Videos and Customer Case Studies.

However Barbara says she was surprised at the two lowest rated activities – Facebook Likes and Twitter mentions. Yet this ties in with one of the themes we’ve talked about for the past few years – the over-emphasis on engaging with customers / prospects through social media. B2B customers are just not using Twitter, Facebook et al anywhere near as much as vendors think they do. Good to see her research reinforcing it. Hat-tip to Barbara.

http://creativetactics.com/images/Creative_Tactics_Survey_Results_LinkedIn_1-2015-sm.jpg

Salespeople focus on knowing the buyer, but why not those influencing the buyer?

I’ve never known a vendor salesperson claim to know who his customer’s influencers are. Not in any detail at least. The majority I’ve spoken to – and it must now be in the high hundreds – might say “the finance boss”, “her line manager” or, even more vaguely, “usually those in the business unit”, but it’s never definite, precise or much thought about.

Salespeople do undoubtedly have a far greater understanding of the prospect themselves. They’ll likely know who are the eventual decision-makers, many of those who could potentially throw a spanner in the works and those who are likely just tire-kickers. By asking a few questions they’ll know soon enough whether the incoming enquiry has the support of the company’s bosses or not. And they’ll know with whom to start their initial cold-calling. Experience will have told them who they should be engaging with. But they still wont know who behind the scenes is influencing the eventual choice.

When I ask these salespeople why they don’t invest much effort into understanding the real influencers I’m told, “we just don’t get the time”, “buyers like to keep that quiet”, “it’s always changing” and “you never know until the decision’s made”. Salespeople clearly don’t expect much help from their marketing depts.

There has to be a better way. Using data not anecdotes. Now that’s the direction Influencer Marketing should be moving in.

How will the ‘social influence platforms’ justify their business after this week’s Buyersphere 2015 report?

B2B Marketing mag, BaseOne, Buyersphere Report 2015,, Influencer Marketing, Influencer50, The Buyerside Journey.comI’m looking forward to seeing if, and how, the Twitter-trawling ‘social influence platforms’ react to this week’s Buyersphere 2015 report from B2B Marketing & BaseOne. I wrote about it yesterday.

The standout finding was that 50% of all B2B purchasing decision-makers didn’t use social media at all to shape their buying decisions and that just 5% of the >200 respondents said they referred to Twitter at any stage for help in their decision-making process. This was the second-lowest score, just edging out the 4% who used Pinterest.

So when agencies trawl Twitter for the noisiest people on particular subjects, and then sell that information to vendors / brands claiming them to be the key market influencers, perhaps the vendors will start to think again. How can they still back up that claim?

http://www.b2bmarketing.net/resources/buyersphere-report-2015

 

LinkedIn data shows ‘Influencer Marketing’ job roles are really social media job roles

thebuyersidejourney.comIn 2014 LinkedIn featured 514 recruitment posts for ‘Influencer Marketing’ or ‘Influencer Relations’ positions. That’s up from 289 the previous year. 206 of the 514 were from marketing agencies looking to fill roles within their agency, leaving 308 ‘in-house’ positions. We then looked at what criteria were most commonly cited as being requirements for the position. The three leading criteria, in order, were: Experience of social media outreach & engagement, Proven ability to apply metrics to activity, and Ability to integrate influencer outreach into broader marketing goals.

No wonder Influencer Marketing has gone so off-track. The LinkedIn data proves that those recruiting the positions are now seeing it as social media-based and those fulfilling the roles are themselves wishing to focus on social.

I’m wondering where the ‘understanding of the customer and what influences them’ comes in to play – if at all. I don’t see it in the ‘social media engagement’ because I’m pretty sure that’s all about the level of retweets / comments and shares. And I don’t see it in the ‘integrate outreach into broader marketing goals’ because that’s likely about the number of eyeballs reached and turning outreach into email addresses and Facebook profiles.

So as the incoming generation of influencer marketers bring with them their interest and focus on social media metrics, I think we’ll just have to look elsewhere for a greater understanding of the customer and their buying behavior.

Time for a step-change in what we’re doing.

 

As a vendor, what would you most like from what you consider your Influencer Marketing outreach?

Influencer50, Influencer Marketing, As a vendor, what would you most like from what you consider your Influencer Marketing outreach?Influencer50 will shortly be conducting a survey of Heads of Marketing at B2B organizations in the U.S. If you’d like to take the survey please let us know. We’ll be publishing the results in late-Jan or early-Feb’15.

There are just five questions.

1. What pain-point incentivised you to commission an Influencer Marketing program?

– Disappointing closure-rate on sales

– Lack of knowledge in new market

– Unfocused marketing spend / allocation

– Need to prove sales / marketing alignment

– Acknowledgement that “we can always do better”

– Other

 

2. What were the core skills you wanted from your choice of Influencer Marketing partner?

– Experience working with similar peer companies

– Greater understanding of B2B decision-making

– Social media expertise

– Already integrated into our Marketing Dept.

– Other

 

3. At the outset of the program what was the single most important outcome you hoped to achieve?

– Understanding the degree to which our prospects are influenced by online / offline / social channels.

– Broadening the reach of our social media outreach.

– Understanding the identities of our prospects’ top influencers.

– A better understanding about how our prospects make their purchasing decisions.

– Near-term conversion of these influencers into sales opportunities

– Other

 

4. Having seen the results, what was the greatest surprise in your eventual findings?

– We already knew most of the influencers.

– The key individual influencers weren’t who we expected them to be.

– There are many more influencers impacting our prospects than expected.

– The balance between offline / online / social influencers was not as expected.

– Those influencers identified have increased our confusion.

– Other

 

5. In hindsight, where do you believe you were previously wasting most budget / effort beforehand, if at all?

– We were reaching out to the wrong people.

– We were reaching out to too many people.

– Our outreach just wasn’t reaching enough people. It’s a numbers game.

– We had no data to justify who we were contacting.

– We were not focusing enough on social media outreach to reach them.

– We were focusing too much on social media outreach to reach them.

– There was no waste. We weren’t previously investing in influencer outreach.

– Other

The direction Influencer Marketing could have, and should have, taken.

The mass-market direction for Influencer Marketing over the next year seems pretty clear to me. Today’s hype is all about brokering commercial deals between pay-for-play tweeters & bloggers and ‘brands’. Brands are desperate to get as many people talking about them as possible, to explore every outlet, and tweeters would love to be paid for their tweets. Both sides want each other, even if the customer or prospect is the one to lose.

The problem is that reaching out to real influencers is difficult, with no guaranteed RoI and certainly no predictable rate of that return. And that doesn’t fit comfortably with today’s need for guaranteed, predictable measures.

It wont last, but it’s set for the next year or so because it helps the metrics that marketers have set for themselves. Having adopted one of the many marketing automation systems (a la Eloqua, Marketo, etc.) they now need to ensure their marketing programs are well reflected in it, and # of social channels, # of retweets / reblogs / shares, size of potential audience, are valuable metrics for this. Forget they’re having no effect on sales, they are reaching an audience.

So marketing agencies, and it is the agencies who are moving this agenda, are improving their odds by reaching out to the most willing individuals. These individuals may not be influencers, almost certainly they’re not, but they’re willing, they’ll reliably add to the brand’s outreach channels. Most importantly, they’re available for hire.

I’ll give it nine months before the groundswell of opinion turns on it. But there’s so clearly a better direction Influencer Marketing could have taken.

The fundamental reason for reaching out to real influencers was, and should continue to be, to improve your chances of completing a sale. These ‘social influencer’ services divorce any connection between marketing and sales.

To reconnect marketing with sales you have to first analyze which individuals are involved in the prospect’s decision-making process – and which aren’t. Now if you could reliably understand who was important and who wasn’t to a sale, in advance of any purchase decision – and be able to scale that process across industries and across regions – well, that would be truly powerful. But it’s not a direction most in Influencer Marketing seem to be pursuing.

Reblog: Predictive Modeling Technologies Make One-to-One Marketing a Reality

The Buyerside Journey.com, Influencer50, Influencer Marketing, Nick HayesI’ve written before about the huge potential of Predictive Modeling – for both Marketing and Sales activities. Here’s an intelligent post I’ve just read from Ted Karczewski of Skyword.

http://www.skyword.com/contentstandard/blog/predictive-modeling-technologies-make-one-to-one-marketing-a-reality/

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.