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.

B2B Magazine UK survey on how business purchase decisions are now made

B2B Marketing mag, BaseOne, Buyersphere Report 2015,, Influencer Marketing, Influencer50, The Buyerside Journey.comAn interesting survey was published earlier this week with recent data on how business purchase decisions are being made. These were all for UK B2B purchases exceeding £20k (approx.$32k). And the standout finding for me – reaffirmation that social media is not being used by buyers to guide their purchase decisions to anywhere near the degree vendors would have you believe. 50% of all purchasing decision-makers didn’t use social media at all to shape their buying decisions.

It gets worse for Twitter. Just 5% of the >200 respondents said they referred to Twitter for help in their decision-making process. This was the second-lowest score, just edging out the 4% who used Pinterest.

Top of the social platforms was not surprisingly LinkedIn (18%) and Google+ (16%). Online community sites came in at 10%.

So why are vendors (and their agencies) continuing to invest so much in their Twitter outreach? It’s certainly not based on a knowledge of their customers.

The survey is well worth reading. Hat-tip to the UK’s B2B Marketing and BaseOne. 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/

Why paid-for bloggers have nothing in common with ‘Passion at Work’

I once knew an extremely impressive man who wrote a book called ‘Passion at Work’. His book became the go-to reference for how to create stimulating, challenging and motivating workplaces throughout Britain and beyond. He actually made ‘passion’ sit comfortably alongside ‘work culture’. Not many can do that.

So when I get an email from a blogger outreach company advising on ‘worthwhile points when dealing with bloggers’, I immediately treat sentences like “Here’s one I’m really passionate about” with plenty of skepticism. When it leads on to “keep in touch with bloggers who genuinely love your company’s products” I’ve all but switched off.

The exact advice was, “Keeping in touch with bloggers who genuinely love what you offer is important. Send updates, new products and random gifts to stay on their minds and show up in their posts. Furthermore, when you need help promoting a piece of content or a new product, they’ll likely assist with authentic posts.”

I wondered what possible type of blogger she could be talking about.

It seems to me there’s now fundamentally three types of blogger. The first are those with something to say, an opinion they want to get across on a particular subject area – surfing, japanese design, becoming a sommelier, cloud architecture, etc. These people have a degree of knowledge and are deep-diving into the topic. They may well already be influential on that subject in the offline world and use blogging as an additional channel for their views.

The second type are those encouraged by the sound of their own voice, so they blog about everything going on in their world, however diverse or random the subjects. They go for the cult of personality. Some manage it and good luck to them. Blogging to them provides the same purpose as having a personal YouTube channel does to others. It’s personality-driven entertainment.

And the third type are those now being courted by the blogger platform peddlers. The databases now euphemistically called influence marketing platforms. These bloggers aren’t ‘passionate’ about any company’s products – they’re just willing to shuck a mention of those products in return for a payment.

I took a look recently at the most frequently referenced bloggers on a number of B2B issues over the past eighteen months. Mostly these were established consultants or journalists who use blogging as one outlet for their thoughts. I talked with five of them and asked if they’d been approached by these blogger platforms and if they knew of anyone they respected who’d accepted payments. The rule of thumb they said was that while almost 100% had been approached, perhaps 5% of their blogging peers had taken payments for commercial mentions. What’s more, this 5% were easily and immediately spotted by those inside the relevant industry sector and their credibility ‘re-assessed’. Less than a quarter of those 5% had decided to openly state on their blog that they were part of a commercial incentive.

So yes, there are influential, credible, subject-specific bloggers who are taking payments from commercial vendors. But they’re in the very small minority. Perhaps one in twenty of those approached. Do you think the vendors have thought about this?

http://maximizesocialbusiness.com/10-tips-developing-better-blogger-outreach-15106/?utm_source=GaggleAMP-Maximize%20Social%20Business&utm_medium=Twitter%20(GaggleAMP)&utm_campaign=AutoAMP%20Messages&utm_content=10-tips-for-developing-better-blogger-outreach-httpgagglcic-222699&mkt_tok=3RkMMJWWfF9wsRonv6XKZKXonjHpfsX%2B6OkuT%2Frn28M3109ad%2BrmPBy%2B24MDWp8na%2BqWCgseOrQ8mFgMV8GiS80VraE%3D

The influence marketing platform peddlers are trying to keep greasing the wheels of the marketing depts. by adding more and more bloggers to their PR distribution networks. That has nothing to do with either helping the salesforce or helping the buyer.

If the management team at each vendor was aware of this, do you think they’d allow their marketing depts. to continue supporting them?

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.