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.
Interesting 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.
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.
I’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?
An 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.
It’s always interesting to look back and review the make-up of those applying to join the Influencer Marketing & Influencer Relations LinkedIn Group. With LinkedIn as a platform going from strength to strength, and each year reinforcing its role as the go-to place for online B2B communities, I think reviewing the types of role of those applying is more relevant than ever.
For the second year running there have been more individuals from agencies applying than from in-house roles at vendors. In 2010 the ratio was 69% from vendors, 31% from agencies. In 2012 it was 57% vendors, 43% agencies. Reviewing 2014 it was 41% vendors, 59% agencies. Since our LinkedIn Group is designed for vendor roles only, we’ve once more declined far more applicants than those we’ve accepted. What’s new is the make-up of those from agencies.
Three years ago they were mainly from PR agencies, two years ago they were overtaken by those from generic or integrated marketing agencies. The first six months of 2014 saw the largest category being marketing tech agencies – those providing blackbox solutions rather than consultancy or services. Think of them as very broadly the descendants of Klout. But halfway through last year began a new trend. A phenomenal number of applicants from small startups offering brokering services between brands and ‘pay for play’ bloggers and tweeters. Looking at the photos of these applicants, these people are very young, I’d guess well under 25. Their startups look unfunded and they’re from all over the world, Asia in particular. Our LI Group isn’t for these people so we have to decline their entry. But it clearly shows where the most movement in this sector currently is.
I read the most laughable headline a few weeks back. “Ignore Influencers and Focus on Advocates”. I read the article and still can’t make sense of it. It didn’t define Influencers in any meaningful way but I figured it was like saying “Ignore Buyers and Focus on Customers”. The post wasn’t even ironic. But what struck me was how some people are now so jaundiced by the recent ubiquity of the word ‘influencer’ that it’s fostering an all-encompassing backlash. And in doing so will damage the very real advances in understanding buyer behavior that are being made.
Needless to say, when I looked at the byline the post was contributed by someone with a vested interest in promoting their own view of ‘advocates’. It was never going to have been written by a buyer.
Even on re-reading I still have no idea what they were thinking when they used the word Influencers – they conveniently avoided the topic – but whether you term them Advocates, non-Advocates, or whatever, if they’re influential on the buyer’s decision you shouldn’t be ignoring them. Whatever anyone chooses to call them.