Reblog: Why is the status quo your most challenging competitor?

B2B Business Coach, The Buyer-side Journey

The highly experienced sales coach Ian Dainty in Canada posts about the ‘No Decision’ sales outcome.

The first message Sales & Marketing want to convey?

salesteamI posted the other day about a large-scale U.S. client sales team meeting I attended. I asked the sales team what was the one thing they’d like their prospect to know about their company before the salesperson made their first contact. Let’s face it – that’s a core role of marketing. To prepare the ground for sales. I’d previously asked the same question of the marketing team. I’ve simplified the responses. There were approx. 50 sales responses, 25 marketing responses.

Sales Team response:

1. Our product / service can solve your problem.

2. We’re the most cost-effective solution on the market.

3. We’re easy to do business with.

Marketing Team response:

1. We’re an innovative industry-leader.

2. We offer a full range of products / solutions, whatever your size.

3. Our products / services are the highest-rated in the industry.

So the overriding sales message is “You’ll be glad you chose us.” The overriding marketing message is “We’re the biggest / best company.” There’s a gulf between them.

B2B buyers supposedly refer to LinkedIn when buying. But to do what?

thebuyersidejourney.comWhenever I question the use of social media, mainly Twitter and Facebook, when I analyze the B2B buyer decision process, I’m always careful to make an exception of LinkedIn. Much as it gets nowhere near the same degree of media attention and general buzz as Twitter and FB, I don’t doubt its importance. It’s the one social platform that generates widespread acceptance whenever I mention it at any client’s offices. It’s almost unanimously used, it’s respected, and it’s still considered to be a growth platform. But what I’m less convinced about is how it’s being used by buyers.

Move to one side for a minute its role for recruitment – we all get that. And many of the best and most successful salespeople live by it – what’s beginning to be a core strand of ‘inside sales’. I understand the whole prospecting, data mining, validating, social proximity side to LinkedIn. It’s invaluable there.

But I’m talking here about buyers not sellers. How are buyers using it? Are they deciding what products & services they’re interested in, then searching for who they’re connected to from those providers? I don’t think so – I’ve not heard of that anecdotally and it seems a long shot approach anyway.

Are they going to LinkedIn to read the Company Profiles of possible vendors? – Surely not. There are far better places to get that info – like the vendors’ own websites.

Are they searching for peer connections to ask those people directly for their views on particular purchases? Doubtful – that would be broadcasting a lot of potentially commercially sensitive info to people you don’t know directly.

So we must be left with discussions within the LinkedIn groups. This must be where the action is, but as a member of some of these LI groups I find the chances of getting original detailed feedback to questions placed in the groups still a longshot. For every 500 members of any LI Group you’ll get 480 passive watchers and just twenty who post or respond to anyone. I see questions being asked, but little in the way of answers.

Without doubt peer recommendations are some of the most influential referrals a prospective buyer can receive. As a source of influence it’s almost unbeatable. At the low-ticket end of the market just think of the persuasiveness of book reviews on Amazon. But LinkedIn Groups aren’t great as a source of peer recommendations because out of the 5% willing to respond to anyone’s question, the chance of those individuals having purchased the same product or service and going into detail about their experience is unlikely. So maybe the recommendation is just a thumbs up / thumbs down on a particular supplier, most likely based around their customer support. I can see this happening – but it’s pretty broad brush and unfocused. It doesn’t feel an effective approach.

I still don’t think I understand how buyers are really using LinkedIn. And the more I continue being unconvinced, the more I think that when clients tell me about their support for LinkedIn, what they’re really meaning is they know their salespeople like it, so they’re imagining the buyers must be using it too. Buyers clearly are using it – but I haven’t seen any evidence it’s for buying. Have you?

The time it takes to make a buying decision

I was lucky enough to be part of a client sales meeting a few weeks back. 40 or 50 salespeople in the room and a handful, maybe seven or eight, corporate customers. I was a small part of the agenda but I was fortunate to be able to ask questions about the sales process. I handed each of the customers a sheet with five short questions to be completed without showing any of the salespeople in the room. One of the questions asked them how long various stages of the buying process typically took.

buy_now_ecommerceFirst off I asked how long from first agreeing internally that a new external purchase was required until first contacting potential suppliers. At the level of a $10-25k expected purchase that period typically varied from two to five months depending largely on the degree of pain experienced and the company bureaucracy.
Secondly I asked how long it generally took them to get down to a preferred two or three suppliers once they’d finally made contact with each candidate supplier. They all agreed less than two hours, though it may take up to two weeks to invest that two hours.
And the third question on timescales, how much time it took them to get back with a “thanks but no thanks” message. They all agreed that only those shortlisted would be contacted “expediently”, that for the majority it may take an additional two weeks and to those who were seen to have made only a poor attempt then there may not be a proactive attempt to contact at all. Those suppliers would only find their fate once they’d bothered to follow-up.
After the customers had left I asked the same questions publicly to the salespeople.
To question 1 they averaged four weeks to three months. So buyers knew they had a problem for much longer than expected before contacting suppliers.
To question 2 the salespeople rarely thought shortlisting occurred inside two weeks, and four to six weeks was more likely. So buyer decisions were actually being made much more spontaneously than expected.
To question 3 it was clear that any supplier considered a ‘no-hoper’ would still be thinking themselves in the frame until they proactively called the prospect. Clearly many salespeople for prospective suppliers are still listing the prospect as ‘in the pipeline’ when in fact they have long since been discarded. They just don’t know it. Just think of the wasted effort cost here.
Question 1 really got me thinking. There’s a clear opportunity for salespeople to articulate a problem the buyer may be having, even before the buyer may have formalized the issue and taken it public. Since getting in early gives the salesperson first-mover advantage why do vendors place so little effort on articulating the initial problem?
I hear that this can be an advantage of ‘social selling’, that salespeople trawling through Tweetdeck or the like each day could have eavesdropped on the early-stage problem. I can see the possibility of this, though the hit-rate I imagine is low.
I just don’t recall much marketing that leads with ‘The first five early warning signs that you have a problem with …’. There’s a big difference between “Call us when your car breaks down” compared to “When one of these three things happen your car’s about to break down. You’ll need our number.”
I wonder if most salespeople in your company intrinsically know what those early signs would look like? I bet your marketing people don’t.

How would marketing campaigns differ if marketers knew what buyers know?

I think we’re relatively close to making a dramatic breakthrough in understanding how B2B buying decisions are being made. I mean really being made – and it’s definitely not via Twitter! Much as hundreds of marketing agencies would like you to believe, there’s little insight into real sales to be gained by understanding who tweets most noisily about a given subject.

But talk to a business unit manager in, say, an insurance company, about how they would make a typical $500k software system purchase and they’ll detail a number of typical steps. These steps will cover how they log the initial problem to start with, how they list the available options, how they prioritize the actions, how they have to take into account the broader infrastructure, how they make a case for their preferred option, how they escalate the finance request and how they first consider the possible solutions providers.
The more buyer organisations you talk to, the more commonality you’ll hear in their approach.
Now ask any senior figure in your marketing dept. to itemize that process. I can almost guarantee they wont be able to. For some, they wont ever have actually considered it. For others their views may be a decade out of date. Then ask how often they hold discussions with those in their salesforce to get insight into how buyers are buying these days. It’s doubtful that’s happening either.
And finally, ask your Head of Marketing how often any knowledge they do have about the buying process is communicated to those actually working in the Marketing dept. – those creating the campaigns.
I find it all astonishing.
Now imagine how different those marketing outreach campaigns would be if the people responsible actually did have that insight.
It seems so obvious they should.

Can we unlearn the notion that real market influencers are noisemakers?

Perhaps the single most damaging concept that’s emerged over the past couple of years in Influencer Marketing is that the most important influencers are those who are most prolific on Twitter. We know which company we have to thank for that notion. They were championed, then loudly criticized. I don’t think anyone now considers them ‘the standard for influence’, if they ever did. But much as the fire is out the smoke is still around.

‘Influencer Marketing’ has these days come to stand for mass-database platforms of tweeters and bloggers already writing about a given subject. That doesn’t make them influential, that just makes them noisy. And there’s no evidence that anyone was listening. A would-be prospective client called me the other day and began the conversation with “I’ve been researching plenty of companies who do what you do”! I had to bite my lip. As far as I know none do what we do.

You think 2014 might be the year when ‘Influencer Marketing’ reverses out of the cul-de-sac of ‘social influencer scoring’ and gets back to the intention we originally had for it – understanding who really influences buyer decision-making? Or maybe the name has been lost forever now and we need to create a new title for it? Maybe ‘Influencer Marketing’ has been subverted once too often.

Are those holding down real industry jobs too busy to be tweeting?

It’s an easy conclusion to draw. We’ve just completed a study in Europe for two traditional manufacturing marketplaces. We’ve now enough experience over the years that we can make an educated guess in advance of studying a market whether it’s likely to be primarily online-, offline- or social-influenced.

Out of 100 individuals, identified by us to be the most influential, guess how many had an active Twitter account? One from which they’d tweeted in the past two or even three months. Just seven. Now even I can work that out to be just 7%. And that’s not to say they were prolific users. Or regular. Or that they’d tweeted anything meaningful in that time. But they had used it.
The correlation that was impossible to ignore was that these top 100 influencers barely featured any industry commentators – a minimal number of industry analysts, journalists or bloggers – and very few industry consultants. Now these are typically heavy Twitter users. Remove these and, in B2B terms, the use of Twitter (amongst non-marketers) falls to almost zero.
What was most interesting was the reaction of our client to this finding. It was no surprise at all. They said that the only pressure to adopt Twitter as an outreach channel came from marketing blogs, magazines, forums, etc. They’d never heard from any customer or prospect mentioning Twitter as a preferred channel.
Time and time again we see this gulf between the blind rush to use Twitter amongst marketers and the absolute apathy from would-be customers. I always feel like I’m swimming against the tide making this point. Until I talk to almost every customer.

What’s the motivation for B2B companies to allocate so much of their marketing spend to social media?

Is it part of a wider cultural requirement encouraging us all to be constantly ‘hip’? Is it because we’re all chasing that permanently elusive level of success? Maybe trying anything new is better than repeating last year’s action plan again? Because from all the data gathered from our worldwide client research, it sure isn’t based on sales.
I’m not talking about B2C markets here, there are a number of social media success stories – many B2C plays are around impulse purchases and they have a very different and often well defined purchase pattern. If you’re a Subway store wanting to do a specific promotion every Friday then Twitter, Pinterest, Foursquare or similar may well be a proven  path for you., Influencer Marketing
But why are the only sales successes I hear from B2B companies in their social outreach so ad-hoc – a promotion here or there raising awareness, an announcement that brings in temporary crowds or an action that lights up conversations … conversations needless to say in the twittersphere.
I was talking to a good friend at the top of one of the big four enterprise software companies last year. He was telling me that they had definitively tracked $10m of U.S. sales down to their social outreach activities. I was surprised he saw this as a success. Any senior salesperson there is surely expected to be bringing $10m in sales each and every week themselves. And who’s to say that that $10m through social channels wouldn’t have come in via other channels anyway.
In conversations with others on the same topic I either get only the vaguest of hearsay examples or acknowledgement that they too are skeptics. But it doesn’t seem a question they’re willing to raise publicly. I keep coming back to this notion of the Emperor’s New Clothes. That everyone’s pretending they have the data to support their ongoing social media investment.
What I think’s happening is that Marketing Heads have conveniently, and quietly, moved the goalposts. They don’t have sales data to support this investment. For the past two years they’ve used the “it’s early days” and “we’re experimenting” justification. That can’t fly forever. So the justification has moved to “we’re increasing brand awareness” and “audience interaction with the brand”. All well and good but it’s not translating into sales. And increasing sales was how they originally sold the investment into their board.
When was the last time any of you reading this made a business purchase as a result of something you’d seen on Twitter?

Influencer Marketing Review: An Update

Influencer Marketing Review,, Influencer50, Nick Hayes

For the past eighteen months our company has collated and edited the Influencer Marketing Review blog. It’s an aggregator of the best Influencer Marketing stories from around the web, deliberately not biased towards Influencer50’s own stories. We’ve been averaging 1500 discrete viewers each month.

But the truth is that the quality of relevant stories to cover over the second half of last year has declined. We just can’t find enough stories we think are sensible.

All we’re seeing are marketing agencies coming out with their own supposed ‘influencer marketing platforms’, agencies bragging about their own case studies (when most just turn out to be point-of-sale promotions) and yet other agencies bigging themselves up with how they’ve found the key to working with paid-for bloggers. None of this covers what we intended the Review to cover – honest stories of how real-world influencers are being engaged and of genuine developments in influencer thinking. We’re seeing a lot of followers and not a lot of leaders.

Of course one realization has been that almost no brands talk about their work with key influencers, it’s almost always from their agencies – so it loses any objectivity. And the Review was never set up to promote agency bubblegum. So for the time being we’re putting the Review on hold until we see more intelligent stories on the web. And our personal take on real-world influencers will be here at