The highly experienced sales coach Ian Dainty in Canada posts about the ‘No Decision’ sales outcome.
I 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.
If a company could predict which individuals would be involved in making a particular B2B purchase decision – regardless of industry sector or location – before that process had even started – well, how valuable would that company be?
Whenever 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 thebuyersidejourney.com.