Influencing the influencers

Written by
Andrew Grill

28 Nov 2016

28 Nov 2016 • by Andrew Grill

What is social selling?

Have you heard this before in your office - “Let’s tweet the CEO of [insert big company name here]! If they see our tweet they will want to buy our product”. 

The term “social selling” has been used for some time now and it looks at the way sales people can reach buyers using social media.

There are many books and courses that teach social selling, and some traditional salespeople have really picked up on how to sell via this channel well, others, however are still seeing social as yet another broadcast channel, and treating it as such.

Imagine you are at a conference. It is the networking break and you spot someone you haven’t seen for a while. The two of you start catching up over a coffee then someone you both don’t know comes up to you. Conference etiquette is that the “unknown” person waits for a gap in the conversation for a suitable break when they can join, when they can add value to something that you are talking about.

An alternative version is that someone comes up to both of you and thrusts a business card into your hands and yells the name of their company at you, saying “buy my product”. You can’t help but stop to acknowledge the stranger.

This is called advertising.

We accept these interruptions on many of the mediums we use because we have become used to it.

Social media is different though. Just as you can’t walk up and yell out an advertisement for your company to conference delegates in the middle of a conversation, you can’t do this on social media either. You have to have something of value to exchange.

The social value exchange

I use the conference example on stage at my keynote talks and it gets people thinking, that yes social media is indeed different and must be treated in a different way.

Selling in the past via the telephone or email has always been a fine art. So how can you get to a decision maker and bypass their team or personal assistants put in the way to block your marketing messages being received?

In the age of social, many traditional sellers have assumed that they can just “tweet the CEO” in the hope they will bypass the usual people blocking them for their message to be heard.

The issue is though that many of the buyers are not on social media, or don’t use it in a way that is effective for cold calling.

Getting to the influencers

My tenure before IBM as CEO of online influencer platform Kred taught me a lot not just about the business of influence, but also about the psychology of influencers.

People who say that are influential simply aren’t. Influence is earned. It is bestowed on you by others. In the business world, influencers come in many forms. The chief executive’s personal assistant, chief of staff or strategy director can be some of the most influential people you will never meet.

They can become the eyes and ears of the CEO to make recommendations. I can remember a time when I was that person. Working for the Managing Director of Telstra’s Business Solutions Group in Australia, my boss would often arrive at work and ask me “so Andrew, what’s the latest new technology we should be looking at – what companies are hot?”.

In a 2014 Social buying report from IDC that I reviewed extensively saw that 84%, of C-level and VP-level buyers use social media for making purchasing decisions. This proves my theory that social media is being used at the top levels of business to gather recommendations before making a buying decision. It is not always done in a visible or accessible way, and it is for this reason that you need to develop a strategy to influence these decisions.

Five key tips for influencing the influencers

1.    Develop engaging, thought provoking and shareable content on a regular basis
2.    Develop a broad business network and channels where you can share your content
3.    Always provide a call to action – how can you find out more about what you have proposed and be easily contacted?
4.    Measure the effect of your content – with short links and web analytics – discover who is reading your content
5.    Find and follow not only the heads of companies and department heads but also their key advisers and support networks on social

These are the personal views of Andrew Grill and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.