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Marketing Your Products
 
Database Strategy: Target influencers to sway business-to-business sales
January, 2007
 

Business-to-business marketers, like their counterparts in the consumer sector, know the effectiveness of database marketing in communicating with decision makers. What they may overlook is the key role of influencers in the business-to-business buying decision.

With influencers, as with decision makers, database marketing can be an extraordinarily useful tool for enhancing relationships. It also can be used to measure the return on investment in influencers.

Who is an influencer?

Influencers include individuals who can affect a marketer's sales results and help find prospects within the business market but who typically do not make the decision to buy the product. The influencer, who holds a position of credibility and influence vis-a-vis the product or service, has the ear of the decision maker and can sway the purchase decision toward the marketer's offering. The following are examples of business-to-business marketers, their decision makers and their sales influencers:

For a company that sells printing and computer-imaging services, the purchase decision maker is the advertising manager at a cosmetics, food or beverage company. Influencers whispering in the ad manager's ear include the creative director at the customer's advertising agency.

A computer-services firm's decision makers are information technology (IT) managers. Third-party IT consultants, who shape the IT managers' view of technology and products, are key influencers.

A sales training firm has identified the key decision maker as director or vice president of training and development. The key influencer is the sales manager who knows how much the sales force could benefit from the marketer's training programs¡ªand who conveys that perception to the VP of training.

A manufacturer of office furniture views office managers as key decision makers for its products but realizes architects and office design firms strongly influence the office manager's decision of what furniture to buy.

Build credibility

It is essential to include influencers in the database and feed them information about products, because they can find sales opportunities and help move opportunities along. Influencers include salespeople at firms whose products or services complement what the marketer sells. For example, a videoconferencing equipment supplier's influencers include the salespeople at telephone service providers such as AT&T, Sprint and Verizon.

Another group of influencers are decision makers who would have bought from the marketer but budgets or some other corporate factor scuttled the sale. These decision makers may be lame ducks at their own companies, but they endorse the marketer with decision makers at other companies.

Additional influencers are less obvious. They include the marketer's shareholders, who want to see the company thrive, and its employees, who verbally convey the marketer's messages to external audiences. Industry consultants and trade-press editors also are influencers, as are the friends of the marketing company's executives-the people with whom they play golf, for example. These individuals may be quite high in the corporate hierarchy at companies that buy the marketer's products and may well influence sales to their company. The product's users also are influencers, as are the accountants, attorneys and other advisors to executives at the customer company.

It is not essential and may even be inappropriate to send all these groups every communication. However, sending influencers information that is of use to them and conveys the marketer's message can be extremely beneficial. Some influencers may only receive communications concerning the electronics industry, for example, or the marketer's newsletter, which offers tips for using the product.

By sending appropriate information periodically, the marketer builds credibility and the foundation for a relationship with the influencer. When faced with risk, decision makers buy from familiar companies, and influencers recommend familiar companies. Receiving communications from the marketer makes the products familiar; receiving it in bite-size pieces at regular intervals makes the information digestible.

Measure return on investment (ROI)

Too often, when marketers are deciding which names to keep and which to drop from the database, they look only at monetary issues such as sales recency and frequency. If those are the only factors they consider, they may eliminate all the influencers from the database.

Although influencers have an impact on a great deal of business, the marketer can never attach a sale directly to them. Therefore, the presence of influencers in the database can be problematic when calculating response rates. To solve the problem, it's best to subtract the influencers from the number of mailers sent before calculating the percent response. Say a marketer mails 1,500 direct mail pieces, including 500 to influencers. If the mailing generates 100 responses, the response rate is actually 100 of 1,000 - not 100 of 1,500.

It does make sense to track the times an influencer is involved in a sales decision and to record those occurrences. One way to do this is to include fields for "referred from" and "referred to" in the database. This prioritizes influencers' impact and dictates the marketer's response to the influencer. Marketers need to track who influenced which sale, consider the number of sales the influencer participated in and the size of each sale, and create a relationship with that influencer accordingly.

If the database notes reveal that John Doe consistently brings in many opportunities, the marketer needs to thank Mr. Doe and do something special like give him a copy of a proprietary CD-ROM or invite him to an executive briefing. The dual goals are to keep the influencer up-to-date on the marketer's offering and applications and to provide something of objective value.

It is also helpful to note in the database records what kinds of business the influencers affect. Perhaps they only influence purchase decisions in one of the marketer's vertical markets or for one product application. The marketer needs to build the relationship accordingly, sending only mailings related to that vertical market or application. For example, a marketer of sales automation software could send the president of an electronics-industry ad agency copies of mailings directed at customers in the electronics industry but not copies of mailings directed at food-service and toiletries manufacturers.

By recognizing the amount of influence the influencer wields over the buying decision, the marketer can tailor database marketing activities to meet the influencers' needs. Including influencers in the database is one of the most effective ways to increase sales, and it can be done by a company of any size without breaking the promotional budget. Influencers line up behind marketers with which they have a relationship, and database marketing is the ideal vehicle for building those relationships.

by M. H. Mac McIntosh


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