How do salesforces decide to divide up their target market?

There’s very little science gone into how salesforces decide to divide up their target market between their various sales channels. It tends to change every time there’s a change of sales director or chief exec.

I’ve run a two-man band up through a fifty employee company in my time. And when I think about how my approach to purchasing changed between the two, I realize it wasn’t anything to do with headcount. It was to do with responsibility.

I was in a discussion recently with a prospective client – an organization targeting companies with 10-50 employees. We got to talking about why their boundary point was 50 employees. “Because after that our partners are best (at selling in to them). They start getting complex and we don’t have the sales time to devote to them.” I wondered how true this really was.

Over the years I’ve had a special interest in how sales forces are structured to address different markets. It’s not uncommon for vendors to divide their prospects into five or more sales approaches – varying from online to retail, from direct end-user sales to ‘house accounts’, from third-party channels to strategic consulting partners. Almost always the dividing lines between these approaches are based on the prospect’s employee numbers. It’s an obvious and easily accessible number to access from the outset. But increasingly it makes little sense. So why is it still so prevalent?

How responsibility is placed across a company’s management levels is a far more significant indicator of how any purchasing decision will be made, and who will likely be involved to make it. Vendors have traditionally argued that this information would rarely be known from the outset, and may be too difficult to comprehend at any stage of the sales process.

But what if it wasn’t difficult to ascertain? What if a salesteam could know this on day one, and allocate their various sales resources accordingly? A vendor’s sales prospects would be divided up very differently than the current model, and possibly lead to a very different sales success rate.

The issue is that no one vendor has a picture of how every new prospect is organized in terms of management and budget responsibility. But I don’t think we’re too far away from that day. The application of a little science, plus the technology of crowdsourcing and a willingness to discard traditional practices, could lead to make a very major breakthrough in how vendors approach their whole sales process. But I haven’t heard anyone pursuing this.

Buying into the story

TheTileApp.comIn Seth Godin’s book ‘All Marketers are Liars’ he talks about the importance of all companies having a story to tell – that we don’t buy into a particular product or service but we do buy into the story that it makes us feel we’re living.

Last month I bought into a story so good that on telling several friends of this company, they took my word, went home and immediately ordered the product too.

The company is called Tile and they have one product – also called Tile. It’s a small transponder that you can stick to anything you like and then track its whereabouts via your iPhone or Android device. As someone who’s had two cycles stolen in the past eighteen months I wish I’d have stuck a Tile to them beforehand. A friend said he’d like to attach one to his dog’s collar. Another said to his child’s frequently lost, and expensively replaced, school sports bag. These Tiles cost about $20 each. But that’s not the story.

The story is that even if you buy it now, they can’t deliver it to you until late summer. If you ordered pre-Christmas, you’re due around Easter. Scarcity is the story. The website talks about two guys in the US who had this idea, tinkered around with it and are now, very slowly, able to ramp up manufacture. And their homepage prominently tells you “With your help, 49,586 backers preordered Tiles totaling $2,681,297.” So you’re buying in to the whole crowd-funding ethos too, which means you don’t resent it when your credit card is charged upon order, even though you have to wait months for delivery.

I think this was honestly the first web ad I can remember clicking on in the past ten years. A rare case of marketing and sales perfectly aligned. I want them to succeed.

If you’re interested, go to

What do people expect to get when they sign up for an influencer marketing ‘platform’?

The Buyer-side, Influencer50, Nick HayesI’ve been thinking recently – what do people expect to get when they sign up for one of these so-called influencer marketing ‘platforms’?

I’m especially unclear what makes these a platform rather than an online database. You take out a subscription, you type in your preferred keywords, and it filters those names most prolific on Twitter who have mentioned those keywords. That’s a database to my way of thinking.

I took an incoming enquiry a few days back. As soon as I realised the person was from a PR company I feared the worst. I’ve become used to these calls. They said, “We came across your website and we want to know if you have a global database of auto influencers – we work for (one of the top four global auto manufacturers). They went on to explain that they wanted this ‘list’ within 48 hours if possible.

I can’t help thinking that some of these influencer marketing ‘platforms’ are just today’s reincarnation of list-brokers.

I can picture what will happen. The agency person will find such a platform / list-broker, they’ll subscribe to that vendor, then they’ll tell their client they’re working with a top influencer platform to reach the most important market influencers. And the client will mentally tick the box that they’re now actioning their global influencer strategy. When all they’ve really done is bought a database.

This is nothing like what I’d envisaged for Influencer Marketing.

New Influencer50 White Paper – WP#17: Commissioning an Influencer Program: What is the Cost of Inaction?

Influencer50, Nick Hayes, Influencer Marketing, WP#17: Commissioning an Influencer Program: What is the cost of Inaction?Our company’s latest White Paper – WP#17: Commissioning an Influencer Program: What is the Cost of Inaction? – is published today.

Here’s the intro:

In recent months there has been much talk in sales circles about measuring the cost of inaction. A recent survey from CSO Insights confirmed that ‘No decision’ was now the single largest barrier to sales for B2B vendors. For an Influencer Identification program, typically commissioned by the Head of Marketing, what is the cost of inaction, making ‘no decision’ or putting the idea on the backburner until the following quarter?

We see six main flags you should consider.

  1. Continue focusing resources on people who have minimal influence on your buyers – chasing media coverage your prospects wont see, briefing analysts that your prospects don’t follow, sponsoring conferences that your prospects wont notice, supporting forums that merely act as industry echo chambers. 
  2. Losing your ‘window of opportunity’ in the market. The same window that was described in your business plan as being so critical.
  3. Not hearing of new prospect RFPs early enough in the process because you weren’t well networked enough with those at the head of the food chain. 
  4. Allowing your competitors to respond more completely to RFPs and prospect enquiries, with them having already connected with the best choice of industry partners. 
  5. Allowing your competitors to gain a competitive advantage by spending their time embedding their thoughts into the right people
  6. Further expanding your social media outreach with content marketing collateral when your prospects (and their influencers) may not even look at those channels.

It incorporates our latest thinking on the subject, as well as the findings from an email questionnaire we recently issued to Heads of Marketing in US-based B2B organisations asking their opinions on five questions relating to their Marketing Outreach. We had over 150 responses. You can benchmark your own opinions against them.

You’re welcome to download a copy here:

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?

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?

Is there a generational aspect happening to B2B Influence?

I’ve been increasingly noticing this throughout the past year. When George W. Bush was in the White House the average age of his policy advisors was 48. When Barack Obama came into power that average came down to just 38. Not only was that always going to have an effect on a country’s defense policy, its attitude to healthcare and more, but it’s also had a very noticeable, and possibly dramatic, effect on federal policy towards technology and B2B markets.

If you go to a Microsoft developers conference and take a visual gauge of the typical age of those attending, then do the same at a Google or Facebook event, there’s a gulf between them. Anecdotally, the Microsoft event attracts 40-55 yr. olds, the Google event 20-40 yr. olds. That’s probably not a shock to anyone. But when you’re advising on U.S. tech policy for implementation over the next ten years, and you’re currently say in your late thirties, you’re far more likely to be flavoring your initial policy documents in terms more preferable to Google’s view of the world than Microsoft’s. Or IBM’s. Or even Oracle’s. You may not be conscious of this, and no-one’s suggesting it’s deliberate, but it is significant. And the traditional vendors are certainly noticing it.

I was meeting with a large professional services firm this week and I raised the issue of a generational shift in those influencing their major client decisions. If it’s happening in their market it hadn’t yet been noticed. That’s not to say they haven’t changed their practices over recent years – they’re now well on board with their social media outreach, their content marketing, etc. They consider themselves an ‘agile’ organization in every sense. But this generational change is happening – I’ve seen it too many times in other sectors for it not to be a broader trend now. Just don’t mistake this for the bland ‘youngsters live on Twitter now’ line. It’s far deeper than that.

As a salesperson, what happens when your very understanding of what constitutes ‘a logical next step’, a ‘safe decision’ or a ‘risky purchase’ is no longer even mirrored by your prospect?

Influencer50’s Global B2B Influencer Survey, 2013

Influencer50, Influencer Marketing, Nick Hayes, The Buyer-side Journey

Our company Influencer50 has just issued its latest Global B2B Influencer Survey 2013 – showing the real importance of offline to online to social influencers in B2B buying decisions. What it shows is that somewhat over 50% of B2B influence on real buyers is being conducted offline, a little over a third primarily online (i.e through Google-type searches) and 5-10% primarily through social channels. There are small differences in these numbers from continent to continent but the narrative is the same.

What’s particularly interesting is that even amongst the ‘social influencer’ channel – this influence is through LinkedIn and interest-specific communities way more than Twitter.

And the third take-away – approx. 60% of top influencers have a Twitter account, yet only one-third of those have posted to it in the past two months. So hard to call them exactly active tweeters.

Here’s the released Survey’s details:

Global B2B Influencer Survey shows Social Media, despite the hype, is still NOT a major primary influencer for B2B purchases

Offline and Online influencers are the clear two most significant channels for influence, with ‘social influencers’ a very distant third.

For B2B products & services costing >$1000 – average 68% of key influencers are primarily offline, 26% online, 5% social

For B2B products & services costing >$100 but less than $1000 – average 48% of key influencers primarily offline, 40% online, 12% social

Influencer50, the award-winning Influencer Identification, Engagement & Measurement firm announces the results of its Global B2B Influencer Survey 2013, conducted over one year across four continents. Over 36,000 B2B-oriented individuals were evaluated – the company’s largest aggregated survey to date. The survey seeks to identify the relative importance of offline, online and so-called ‘social influencers’ in B2B purchasing and adoption decisions.

Influencer50 amalgamated the results of 58 B2B research projects from Oct’12-Sept’13, across forty-one countries. Small but significant differences were found in the make-up of those top influencers from one continent to another.

This table shows through which channel the top B2B influencers (for all values of product & services) primarily influence (they can obviously influence across more than one channel, but only one channel was considered primary).

B2B sector Offline Online Social
US (aggregate) 60.7 31.3 7.7
US products & services >$1000 68 26 5
US products & services >$100 <$1000 48 40 12
Europe 62.9 29.8 7.3
AsiaPacific 56.8 33.7 9.5
Average 60.8% 31.2% 7.9%

(The Average totals in the table are weighted to take into account the scale of data from each region).
Offline Influence is defined as influence conducted through in-person meetings or conversations, either face-to-face or to a group, phone conversations, etc.
Online Influence is defined as influence conducted through online search results and/or browsing.
Social Influence is defined as influence conducted through, but not limited to, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc.

The survey results show that while influence conducted primarily through social media channels is significant, averaging almost 8% of the influence on B2B purchasers, it takes only a very distant third place to online and offline channels. And the numbers are not trending dramatically towards social media. Yet there remains overwhelmingly more industry ‘buzz’ about social channel influence than about offline influence.

“We just don’t understand why so much noise is being created by those talking about ‘social influence’ when it’s clear that B2B buyers aren’t actually listening. Just look at who’s contributing to those conversations – it’s all marketing agencies and contractors. All the sellers are on Twitter but that’s not where the B2B buyers are. Everyone seems to be conveniently ignoring that. The real influencers are much harder to find than simply trawling Twitter for who tweets most often. It’s apparently too much trouble for most people to track down the real influencers.” – Nick Hayes, Principal of Influencer50 Inc.

Influencer50, Influencer Marketing, Nick Hayes

As part of its research, Influencer50 also analysed the use of Twitter amongst its identified top influencers. While the majority of top influencers across each region did have their own Twitter account, less than one-half had posted any updates in the past two months, so making their account effectively inactive.

Percentage of top B2B influencers active on Twitter:

Own a Twitter account Posted in past two months
US 68% 36%
Europe 61% 29%
AsiaPacific 66% 27%

“There’s been so much talk over the past eighteen months about so-called ‘social influencers’. All these digital agencies have hijacked the term influencer marketing to relate to those on social platforms – mainly Twitter. That’s never jibed with our own experience of B2B purchase decision-making so we spent a year collating data on the subject.

“Social media may be having a very different effect in consumer sectors than it is in B2B. And it’s certainly reshaping our personal culture. But in the commercial sector the agenda for influencer marketing is being pushed by people with a vested interest – largely by digital marketing agencies who want to sell their clients on various social listening programs.”

“What’s also interesting is that it’s through LinkedIn, rather than Twitter, where most of that social media influence is conducted. That’s a story that often gets lost when agencies discuss social influence – because LinkedIn is much more difficult for them to trawl than Twitter.”

“The wider picture is that it’s part of this generational shift towards marketing automation. There’s a drive towards ensuring everything can be measured and scaled. These social influence platforms tick both those boxes. No-one seems to care that what they’re measuring might effectively be junk in terms of increasing a company’s sales. It’s a race based around ‘the emperor’s new clothes’. The industry needs to get back to addressing real-world buyer behavior – and many of the ‘influence marketing’ providers seem to be ignoring that.”

Influencer50’s clients include Microsoft, IBM, Wal-Mart and Michelin amongst many others.

This research comprised research across four continents and forty-one countries analyzing a combined 36,218 B2B-oriented individuals. The continents were North America, Europe, Asia and, to a lesser extent, Africa.

– ends

Ty Holden
Influencer50 Inc.

How the Field Sales to Inside Sales transition reflects & impacts the decision-making process.

Josiane Chriqui Feigon, Influencer50, The Buyer-side JourneyFollowing last week’s reblog about Josiane Chriqui Feigon’s ’10 Reasons why Inside Sales will displace Field Sales teams by 2015′ I wanted to review how that impacts our understanding of the major B2B sales influencers.

She says that 57% of the B2B buying process is now completed before ever connecting with a salesperson. As an addition to this point, she says we have 20m salespeople apparently ( I assume this is U.S. data only) – and that number is predicted to be reduced to 8m by 2020 – largely because of this ‘reduced’ role.

Now that’s clearly not a message any salesperson would want to accept – that they’re there to navigate the prospect through only the final 40% or so of the process. It means the salesperson has less opportunity to redirect that choice than ever before. I don’t have data but I wouldn’t mind betting ten years ago much less than 40% of the sales process was completed before the salesperson typically entered the fray, leaving them plenty of time to persuade any would-be buyer.

So now the salesperson is correcting impressions already made about their brand rather than initially setting them. And if there’s one complaint I’ve heard more than almost any other from salespeople it’s that they get to hear of opportunities too late in the day, where they’re having to respond to an already shaped RFP (Request for Proposal), they’re invited in only alongside multiple ‘less worthy’ alternatives or they’re having to force-fit their offering in to a less than ideal already-in-place framework.

I often say that assuming a salesperson manages to get in to a one hour meeting with his/her prospect per month then that’s the one hour of the month I’m least interested in, because only the salesperson is relevant for that hour. I’m interested in the 21 days six hours each month when the prospect is hearing from everyone else but the salesperson. And if the salesperson feels they’re now facing a reduction in influence as a result, well that just makes those influencing during those 21 days six hours even more important. And even less feasible for marketing depts. to ignore.

This brings me to a second point Josiane makes. The rising number of strong influencers in any B2B decision – varying from 5 to 21 according to her – allied to the fact that telecommuting means many of these will work away from the central office – means that scheduling an on-site meeting with the committee of decision-makers will be almost impossible. 85% of buyer-seller interactions will therefore happen online through social media and video. Most salespeople today will dread this thought since they base much of their confidence in their persuasiveness to their in-person face-to-face skills. Skills that are far harder to convey on a Skype call.

Yes of course there will have to be a very different type of salesperson required (a subject I’m sure I’ll write about soon) but an undeniable conclusion to this dramatic sales shift is that the role of ‘behind-the-scenes’ influencers will only increase.

Reblog: 10 Reasons why Inside Sales will displace Field Sales Teams by 2015

Influencer50, Buyer-side Journey

A great post I’ve just seen from a few months back by Josiane Chriqui Feigon. Hat-tip to her.