As mobile search overtakes desktop, is personality becoming irrelevant for the enterprise salesperson?

iphone-377887Enterprise salespeople have talked for many years about the critical points in their customer’s buying process. For most it incorporates some combination of the following: the initial realization that a problem exists, the scoping of the challenge, the search for an internal budget champion, the visualization of a solution, the long-listing of possible solutions, the early outreach to potential suppliers, their shortlisting, the internal proof-of-concept, the cost/benefit analysis, the final bake-off, the deal negotiation, and finally the sign-off.

When large sections of this process moved online a decade or more ago, many aspects changed. The timescales, the increasing number of long-listed suppliers, the lack of face-to-face time allowed for the salespeople, the fact that sales were only aware of the prospect’s interest far later in the process, etc. For ten years the majority of salespeople have struggled to adopt to this new way of working. And now the goalposts have moved again.

As online search has increasingly moved from desktop to mobile, so the buying process too has changed. Search results appear very differently on a mobile – the attention span is shorter, the search terms briefer, the convenience and immediacy more important. Online contextual text chat more relevant. Relevance and Immediacy have become watchwords. The right content, personalized, in real-time. The skills required of a salesperson are changing again.

I have a friend who’s worked as an enterprise salesperson for many years. She’s very hard-working, diligent, very engaging personality and always willing to travel. She says her skills are less valued than they once were – what’s the point of a great personality when your opportunities to display it are so reduced? When early-stage decisions have already been made on a mobile screen, only those shortlisted suppliers are now even getting to introduce themselves to the prospect. By then, impressions have already been cast – and that’s not ideal for any salesperson.

What vendors are now looking for are banks of prospect analysts, those who can watch a series of online queries and predict, then instantly supply, the information most likely to be of direct help to that enquiry. Sometimes its a real-world conversation, sometimes a relevant case study, sometimes a competitor comparison and at other times a business RoI argument. Offering the wrong option can kill the opportunity – with little hope of getting it back because you don’t know who’s doing the asking.

Mobile is certainly changing what triggers interest (and disinterest) among would-be buyers. And I think the salesperson will increasingly struggle to find a satisfying role.

Salespeople focus on knowing the buyer, but why not those influencing the buyer?

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.

Why people assume all influence is now online

There are markets where almost all influence is now online. Face-to-face conversations, peer advice and group meetings rarely happen. But these markets are few and far between. Even the influence of particular YouTube channels and personalities is not all online. Plenty of direct teen to teen conversations take place offline to encourage each other to follow certain personalities. And the culmination of following these ‘celebrities’ – is a very offline public ‘meet-up’.

So why do the media continue to promote this image of all communication now being conducted online and through social? One answer has to be because the media themselves are so entrenched in it. They get their news leads through Twitter, their research through the web and increasingly, their output is exclusively online too. The media says they’re reflecting society but they’re actually only reflecting their view of society.

Their job is to focus on what’s new, what’s changed, so they lap up the latest fashions, trends, gadgets, platforms and more. They might write of how millions are tiring of and moving away from Twitter, when the truth is that the vast majority of the population has yet to even move onto it. I walk down my local shopping street and I’m struck by how few stores are embedded in social. A handful of them may have a Twitter feed and the majority could tick the box saying their business ‘is online’ – but that’s not where even a significant minority of their income originates.

The same goes for most businesses. They’ll do social outreach, they’ll do Adwords, they might even maintain a company blog – but none of these are likely to drive the majority of their sales.That majority is driven the way it’s always been driven – by dedicated sales teams effectively cold-calling prospects and reacting to RFPs.

In my Influencer50 role I talk extensively with many individuals from marketing depts. and sales depts. In conversations with marketing folks the subject of social is always there. The success (or not) of their social outreach campaigns, the prominence of particular individuals on Twitter, sentiment monitoring trends and more. Every marketer lives and breathes social.

For every conversation I have with Marketing heads, I have an equal number with heads of Sales. And it’s a very different conversation. Social is only rarely mentioned. Buyer behavior, prospect entry points, initial messaging, check-signing hierarchies, customer pain-points, customer politics – these are standard topics. But social? Almost never, and only fleeting if then. Why is social so much lower on their radar?

Important stages of the B2B buying process have moved online – no-one can doubt that – but the vast majority of those stages, and the most crucial elements of almost every stage, are resolutely offline. At least for now.

That may not be a media-friendly message but there’s no doubting with B2B it’s still the truth.

Reblog: Leveling the Sales Playing Field With Predictive Guidance

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 3.53.23 PMA really interesting post at Wired this week. Javier Aldrete talks about the opportunity for predictive guidance when it comes to aiding the performance of salespeople. What struck me were the parallels with market influencers. In talking about ‘tribal knowledge’ he hits on a key differentiator, especially offline, between the top influencers and mere ‘wannabes’.

Move one step further, from predictive guidance to automated mapping, and I think we have the future for real influencer marketing. Not the pointless commercial blogger platforms currently being touted.

The article’s well worth a read.

Do today’s salespeople really have to go “wherever someone will listen to us”?

In talking with countless senior salespeople in many of the world’s largest and most successful organisations, it’s eye-opening how many say that their route into a prospect company is “ideally the CIO or CFO, maybe the Head of Dept., sometimes Line of Business director, otherwise the end-user.” In other words “wherever someone will listen to us!” There appears to be very little science or insight being applied.

I asked one a few weeks back for the level of account mapping they do – where they map out who makes the decision, who inputs to it, who uses it, etc. “Most of it is intuition” was the reply. “So do you ever have an idea of how a company will make its decision-making at the time of approaching them?” I asked. “No, but we get a better idea after a few meetings there.” In 2014 is this really the best we should settle for?

I’m spending much of my time researching a better way.


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 (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.