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.

“People much prefer to be active participants than passive ones.” Wrong for starters.

I was reading a formal paper a few days back from a marketing automation firm. I wont name them because I don’t want to give them the oxygen and I’m not into public naming & shaming. They called the paper ‘Best Practices in Social Influencer Marketing’. I see a title like that and I’m curious what on earth they mean.

I then see they’ve taken one of our own company’s original phrases – that of working “to, through and with, influencers” – and prominently highlighted it on their front page. It was a term we publicized when creating the original 2007 Wikipedia entry on ‘Influencer Marketing’. Not surprisingly they used it unattributed. Another red flag to me.

They then wrote a series of absurd statements to make their claim that they understood social influencers. I picked out these gems as further proof of the rubbish some companies write.

 “Becoming an influencer is simply another form of viral marketing, only you’re indirectly promoting yourself instead of your company.”  Just garbage.

 “Good quality influencers post smart and post often.”  I have no idea what they mean by ‘good quality’ influencers! I can only think they mean someone who’s trying very hard to be influential.  Which is patently very different.

 “People much prefer to be active participants than passive ones.”  If that were the case, how come 99% of any blog’s readership are passive and only 1% ever post comments or interact with the author? How come people sign up to follow hundreds of tweet streams yet rarely contribute to any of those conversations? How come we all hate websites tracking us? Human nature dictates that when it comes to social media, the overwhelmingly vast majority much prefer silent, passive roles than active participation.

And there were many more sentences I could have picked out. It was laughable. I can understand what this company is trying to sell. They’re trying to encourage subscribers to their no doubt glorified bulk-mailing software. I just wish they didn’t try and jump on the ‘influencer’ bandwagon when they clearly have no understanding of what they’re talking about. Yet another company muddying the waters and confusing everyone.

Maybe I should go against my nature and actively write to them!

Influencer Programs: Problems, Opportunities, Wants & Needs (4)

Here’s the fourth and final breakdown from Nancy Bleeke’s book ‘Conversations That Sell’ book identifying a prospect’s POWNs – Problems, Opportunities, Wants & Needs. 

The Buyer-side JourneyOur own prospect and client survey asked for their own POWNs when commissioning an Influencer Program. Below are the most often-cited Needs. (The difference between Wants and Needs? – “I need a vehicle, I want a Ferrari.”)

  • Need to save budget by reducing outreach wastage
  • Need some scientific proof that company is reaching the right people
  • Need to justify marketing spend to own company salesforce
  • Need to show how marketing is contributing to sales leads

Having now given you the most frequent POWNs, I wonder how closely they mirror your own interest?



Influencer Programs: Problems, Opportunities, Wants & Needs (3)

This week I’ve posted about a client’s most often-cited Problems, then Opportunities, leading them to invest in their Influencer Program. This followed the premise in Nancy Bleeke’s book ‘Conversations That Sell’ book of first identifying a prospect’s POWNs – Problems, Opportunities, Wants & Needs. 

The Buyer-side JourneyOur own prospect and client survey asked for their own POWNs when commissioning an Influencer Program. Today I’m listing the most commonly cited Wants from such a Program. Note that a Want to a client can be more important than an actual Need! 

  • Want to apply more science and less pot-luck to your targeting
  • Want to better understand the importance of ‘new’ influencers (ie. online) with more traditional (offline) influencers
  • Want to believe in the process of selecting to whom to reach out
  • Want to understand which influencers are willing to engage and/or partner with your company

Influencer Programs: Problems, Opportunities, Wants & Needs (2)

Yesterday I posted about a client’s most often-cited Problems leading them to invest in their Influencer Program. This followed the premise in Nancy Bleeke’s book ‘Conversations That Sell’ book of first identifying a prospect’s POWNs – Problems, Opportunities, Wants & Needs. 

The Buyer-side JourneyOur own prospect and client survey asked for their own POWNs when commissioning an Influencer Program. I’m serializing these four – one each day this week. The following were the most commonly cited Opportunities. Do you agree?

  • Opportunity to discover new routes to market
  • Opportunity to reset marketing outreach approach by integrating sales influencers into the heart of it
  • Opportunity to get your salesforce on your side with marketing directly oriented to aiding the sales process
  • Opportunity to radically re-orient your traditional year-after-year marketing activities
  • Opportunity for the first time to understand who you should, and shouldn’t, be outreaching to
  • Opportunity to short-circuit the otherwise lengthy process of understanding a new market

Influencer Programs: Problems, Opportunities, Wants & Needs (1)

The Buyer-side JourneyOne of my favorite books of the past year – Nancy Bleeke’s ‘Conversations That Sell’ – reinforces the importance when selling of first identifying a prospect’s POWNs – Problems, Opportunities, Wants & Needs. Eight years of Influencer Program experience has led us to the following understanding of how POWNs are relevant for Influencer Identification & Engagement Programs. We’d encourage you to apply this to your own organization.

We recently conducted a small-scale survey with our clients and prospects asking them for their own POWNs when commissioning an Influencer Program. I’ll be serializing these four – one each day this week. These were the most commonly cited Problems (in most quoted order) that our prospects and clients are trying to overcome through their Influencer Programs. See if you can empathize.


  • Hitting a ceiling with current marketing approach
  • Not hearing of RFPs until too late in the process
  • Feeling that competitors are getting better introductions & opportunities than your company are
  • Believe that there is a buyer ‘insiders’ conversation of which you’re not part
  • Feel you’re wasting part of your marketing budget on people that aren’t affecting the sales process
  • Feeling that your company is not part of the market trend-makers’ conversation
  • Need to secure a seat for your company at the top table of industry decision-makers

The most desired outcome from your influencer outreach project?

These past few weeks we’ve been revisiting the question:  “What would be the most desired type of outcome from your influencer outreach project?”
Increased sales of course would typically be number one, at least in the eyes of a client. But often this is impractical to quantify. The person commissioning the influencer program may not be in close enough contact with their salesforce to know when a sale has resulted from the program. Maybe the client company isn’t set up to capture sufficiently granular sales data or maybe it sells indirectly, through a reseller or partner program. And perhaps there’s not a clear sale to be had – with the goal instead being adoption, advocacy or similar.
Qualified leads might be the goal. Once more it needs a pretty close relationship between marketing & sales to agree on specifically what activities created those qualified leads, and there has to be a defined timescale in which to measure such results. Who’s to say that the positive advocacy created through an influencer program will create those leads within that timescale?
Creating new routes to market is even more difficult to quantify. Establishing a relationship with a particular influencer may well lead to them introducing you into new sales situations, and so opening up new routes, but what counts as a new route and what simply a new prospect? And as with the age-old sales argument, when is a sale a new sale and not just a revenue extension of an existing sale?
You might also consider any clear sign that your activities have resulted in ‘moving the needle‘ of important players. There are many ways you may choose to measure this. At Influencer50 we measure this in two primary dimensions – increasing Approachability and Favorability.
As a result of this thinking we’ve just been updating our RoI Proofpoints page on our company website – and we have some great quotes covering all four bases.
Does anyone else track alternative outcomes?

Getting prospects to consider your proposition with any urgency

In a call with a client the other day he told me what his salespeople felt their largest problem was. Getting their prospects to consider their proposition with any urgency. The company could get face to face meetings with their prospects. They could differentiate themselves from the competition. They could even prove the cost-effectiveness of their solution over their rivals. But the purchase decision was always being put on the back burner. They just couldn’t get the check signed in any timely manner. And quarterly sales projections were routinely being missed as a consequence.

I seem to have heard this view several times in the past few years. People are only spending on quarter by quarter essentials. Perhaps just the one priority project, or a maintenance issue that is costing the organization money, reputation, or both. If a company’s proposition doesn’t fit one of those boxes, it’s become a very difficult sell.
When I see the current emphasis on vendors pursuing a content marketing approach, and seeing the subject of that typical content, it just doesn’t address what the sales teams clearly need it to address – what every day of delay is costing the buyer. In tangible and ideally financial terms. But then I wonder how many marketing depts. know the clients’ painpoints, let alone the cost of delay. It’s a pretty fundamental question.

‘Pay for play’ bloggers get new income from the influencer platform peddlers

I’ve been talking to many bloggers over recent weeks, but two particular conversations have stood out in my mind. One was with a ‘mom blogger’ based out of Atlanta, the other a political issues blogger from the Boston area.

The mom blogger based her business on commercial partnerships with companies willing to ‘pay for play’. She told me that on her ‘About Me’ page – though I have to say buried pretty deep down – was a short mention of how she encouraged commercial organizations to send her relevant products ‘to review’ or to directly pay her for product mentions. She also said how she was keen to work with the increasing number of influencer platform agencies whose job it is to broker relationships between their clients and bloggers like herself. She wouldn’t mind me saying she’s a ‘gun for hire’. And she sees many new opportunities to be paid for her endorsement.

Two days later I found myself in conversation with a very different type of blogger. He took his opinions much more seriously, despised the ‘pay for play’ approach and hoped the new ‘blogger broker agencies’ would go away as soon as possible. He was adamant that people like himself had to very quickly differentiate themselves from the type of blogger described above. He was furious about the commercial relationships now being encouraged.

I remembered back to 2006 when our company was commissioned by a no-longer-existing marketing software provider to identify who their market influencers were. They had previously initiated a controversial, but in fairness to them, very overt and well-publicized, pay for play blogger relationship program. This move put them on the map to the extent that they soon became known more for that campaign than for their core business.

Eight years on and we’re back to the same issue. The genesis of bloggers was that they could write when and what they wanted, their truth-telling appealed to the grass roots, and they had no commercial axe to grind. They were anti-marketing and they were believable. Credibility plus an audience gave them influence.

It’s easy to say that those pay for play bloggers commissioned by the influencer platform agencies soon will lose any credibility and with it any chance of exerting influence. I only hope that’s the case. Do we really want to follow bloggers when they’re just channels for somebody’s marketing department?