Tag Archives: b2b


Influence in the B2B Sector: #ARchat & #B2Bchat

It’s hard to think of any aspect of any market sector that doesn’t involve, or revolve around, influence. Back on October 7th, Steve Loudermilk (@loudyoutloud) and I tried a novel approach to our Analyst Relations/Influence chat (#ARchat) by engaging in a joint chat session with #B2Bchat, the B2B chat hosted by Ksenia Coffman (@kseniacoffman), Jeremy Victor (@jeremyvictor), Andrew Spoeth (@andrewspoeth) & the crew at @b2bento.

During this chat, we focused on market influencers, specifically, what role can, or should, Analyst and Influencer Relations have in the B2B sector.

Tonight we’re firing it up again with the #B2Bchat team for our 2nd look at influence in the B2B sector. This time, however, we are taking an inward-looking approach regarding how firms themselves influence their market, the importance of defining an “influence strategy”, working with new influencers, and measuring a firms “influence impact” on the market.

Questions that we will discuss include:

  1. How do you presently identify your own firm’s “influence” in the market?
  2. How do you measure your firm’s influence against your competitors?
  3. Who drives your corporate market influence strategy (both customer-side and outside influencers)?
  4. What steps can be taken to improve your influence (How key is traditional marketing vs SM in these efforts)?
  5. How do you spread your influence to “new influencers” like bloggers who break news stories and analysis faster than traditional influencers?
  6. How are you thinking about your “influencing” strategy from an in-sourcing or outsourcing approach?

Please join us tonight, December 2nd at 8pm ET for this “influencing” event. We’ll be using the #B2Bchat hashtag – hope to see you there.


Buyers vs Influencers: Who really controls the deal?

My first true experience in the world of B2B marketing was in 1990. My task was simple: market one of our new products to company “X”. My task could not have been simpler – while “X” was not a current customer/partner, they were very well known for purchasing our type of product, which was then integrated and resold as part of their own, much larger, product line.

Diligently, I worked my way into their organization armed with all the right information. I knew exactly what and how much they were buying, what their key price points were, who the buyer would be, who evaluated new products, who the decision maker would be and, most importantly, who controlled the funding.

my B2B had become a B Not 2 B”

And after 9 months of chasing every lead, every opportunity, meeting at every trade show, and even managing to get their staff to do a side-by-side product comparison, I was left with absolutely nothing. No sale. No opportunity. Nothing.

Nothing, that is, except the realization that I had started my task without one necessary key bit of information: the name of the actual “influencer” who could make such a deal a reality. For lack of this name, my B2B had become a B Not 2 B.

In this case, it turned out that the influencer was the head of operations for a single customer of my target, a customer that had such a significant installed base that when my target inquired about their willingness to introduce a new product (mine) into their network, they informed my target that while they were not totally happy with the existing product mix, they saw no value in adding a new, potentially disruptive, component into their network, even if it was smaller and less expensive. It had nothing to do with price or features and everything to do with mitigation of risk and not having to retrain their internal staff on a network that was “doing just fine”.

Had I known this to begin with, I would have found a way to “influence” my target’s actual customer directly. It may have worked, or it may not have. But I do know that my chances of success would have increased considerably (and yes, I do think I could have closed the deal).

In the years since, the lesson I learned has driven my business decisions in every single venture I’ve started: if you identify the key influencer any deal, and get them to buy into your product or concept before your actual market pitch to the target buyer, your chances of success increases significantly (your time to sale can decrease as well).

As a side note, one other lesson I’ve learned is that if you can’t convince the influencer (especially if it is your target’s customer) of your value, it’s sometimes, but not always, better to factor in the opportunity cost and find a better prospect.

Flash forward to today and the era of social marketing and the ever increasing pace of technology and product development. It’s more important than ever to understand how each individual deal is influenced, and who is involved as they key influencer, which can differ extremely on a case-by-case basis. It may be a person within the business you are targeting, or it may be consultant, advisor or industry analyst. Or, like my first experience, it may be a customer of your target (or a collective group of customers) who in turn may be influenced by their own C2C communications or consultants, advisors and industry analysts (industry analysts, btw, are my favorite starting point, since a really good analyst will know who the consultants and advisors are working with, as well as the requirements of both vendors and consumers in any given market).

The real challenge today is in identifying the real influencer(s), as the number and type of people who can influence a B2B (or B2C) deal has grown tremendously (as has the speed with which, in the era of social networking , a deal can be influenced one way or another). As a result, an increased number of  purchasing/partnership deals that are not totally internally driven involve more than one outside “influencer” – a trend that mirrors both uncertainty in the consumer space as well as the fragmentation of the consultant/advisor/analyst space.

To counter this, we see a strong requirement for an increased level of cross-domain collaboration within businesses, involving marketing, public relations, analyst relations and even customer support being required to correctly identify and target the influencer in any B2B or B2C marketing or sales strategy.

So although the technologies and markets may have changed, the “influencer” axiom, which has been around since the first bartered exchange in human history, applies today more than ever, and is one of the first questions I always ask myself before beginning any business effort.

And if this question isn’t one of the first questions you ask, it should be.


Vendor/Analyst Influence: A 3-way Street

In any given industry, there exists a symbiotic relationship between vendors, analysts and customers. Each one is vying for their piece of nirvana: the best value for their dollar spent. In an industry, such as the IT industry, where analysts play a significant role, it is assumed that they are the “influencers” in the market, but in reality, it doesn’t always, and shouldn’t, work that way.

Earlier this year, Steve Loudermilk (@loudyoutloud) and I started the #ARchat group on Twitter to discuss issues involving the Analyst/Influencer Relations industry: essentially an open forum to discuss how vendor-based Analyst Relations (AR) professionals and Industry Analysts interact (I use the term “industry” here to differentiate from financial or other types of analysts). Through the course of the year, we’ve covered many topics that have yielded some very interesting discussions.

Throughout all of these discussions, however, I’ve been noticing a common thread involving “influence” and the fact that not everybody views the influencer:influencee relationship in the same manner. The most common mis-perspective is the traditional viewpoint that the Analyst is the market’s influencer (since their role is to be a trusted advisor to their client  – the Vendor’s consumer – by providing advice regarding technologies, trends, implementation strategies, etc. that “influence” their clients actions). However, that is an incomplete view, that leaves out the more complicated relationships with Vendors and Clients/Consumers.

In this view (Perspective A), the Analyst sits atop the influence model as the sole provider of guidance to both Consumers and Vendors. Sorry, but this just isn’t how it works. Perspective B provides a bit more clarity, demonstrating that a good Vendor “educates” an Analyst about their product capabilities, and the Analyst then provides the the appropriate advice/guidance to their Client (the Vendor’s Customer) who can then make their own choice, based on what is right for their needs (features, budget, availability, scalability, etc.). But even this viewpoint, while better, is still incomplete.

Hopefully, as shown in Perspective B, the Vendors and Analysts learn to share information in a two-way manner. But more importantly, there are, in fact, three distinct influencers in any given market, the Vendor, the Analyst AND the Client/Consumer. Perspective C shows a more complete “sphere of influence”, and how symbiotic each of the three different groups are (note here that there is a tangential sphere of influence that exists solely within the Consumer community, a great example being Trade Associations, who tend to have their own collaborative exchange and discussions about best practices when it comes to Vendor products & implementation strategies).

But the most complete picture of how a market sphere of influence works is when you take a look at Perspective D.  In this influence model, you can see that the entire market is driven by a series of multi-directional channels of communication, where each of the three players (Vendors, Analysts, Consumers) have their own way of providing influence (in the form of information, requirements, capabilities, etc.) that get communicated to the other two players in the market.

In this way, the best possible product offerings can be designed and deployed, giving each of the three participants what they need – the best value for their dollar spent. Note too that in Perspective D I have placed the Consumer at the top of the circle, since they ultimately control what is purchased, and their needs and requirements should be what ultimately influences the market.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always how the system works. And, of course, there are a series of other methods that dictate how information and requirements (and thus influence) are distributed through the group. But in the basic world of Vendors, Analysts and Customers, this sphere of influence is definitely a 3-way street with the Customer directing traffic.