At the exact moment, a prospect is listening to several other people. While you are doing your best to affect the decision, the prospect sees you as only a single input to decision-making. Prospects listen to many people, with each type of influence having a different level of trust and thus influence. Understanding where you stand and how to impress the customer influencers can help you win.
Trust is critical for customer influencers
Almost all industrial companies have an outside customer influencer. The influencing person or organization must know the subject and, more importantly, must have your trust. This applies to a vendor attempting to sell a product or service and any other source of information. Trust is critical to affect the customer influencers.
As a vendor, you must build trust before you can influence the decision-makers. Other influencers come with built-in trust. However, as salespeople, you have limited or no ability to alter the trust or credibility inherent in these customer influencers. Therefore, you should learn how to use the influencer’s to your benefit to win deals.
Customer influencers and trust issue
The amount of trust assigned to an influencer is a function of how the prospect sees that person or organization. Therefore, the relative trust will vary from prospect to prospect and from deal to deal. However, looking at your prospect’s influencers generically, we can develop a map that reflects the typical trust related to different types of customer influencers.
Your prospect will often seek out opinions from high trust customer influencers for their opinion. For each deal, you need to understand who may influence the prospect and how much trust or weight the input from each influencer will have. The prospect sees the high trust influencers as both knowledgeable and untainted by competitive or monetary considerations.
Relations between influencers and customers
Often, customer influences have long-term relationships with the prospect. The advice given by the high trust influencers carries significant weight and is seldom challenged.
Although the vendor’s customers (references) may be given high trust, they may also be perceived as biased, and therefore instead given medium trust.
Medium trust customer influencers can possess practical knowledge but may have some competitive or monetary considerations influencing their advice. Therefore, the advice from these medium trust influencers is inspected for both objectivity and accuracy. If accepted, the advice is assigned a lower weight than the advice from the high trust influencers.
Provide meaningful information
The vendor must prove it has knowledge that is meaningful to the prospect. Yes, vendors know their own products or services. Still, the prospect needs to see that vendors know how those products or services can help in the prospects’ specific situation.
Prospects need to see industry-specific knowledge (vertical market), general business knowledge, and how the vendor’s products and services can help with their objectives.
Until you have proven yourself, you cannot have credibility, and therefore you cannot have the prospect’s trust. Of course, the prospect understands that selling your product or services is how you make money and that means everything you say will be inspected and usually assigned a lower score.
Business influencers can be affected. It is not impossible. You just need to take proper steps to influence customer influencers and your customers.
How to influence the customers and their influencers
Since customer influencers have the prospect’s trust, what they say can significantly impact your B2B sales process. So, a key question has to be, “Can you influence the influencers?” The answer is some yes and some no.
Introducing a reference
For customer influencers who you are confident will help your cause, how do you make sure that they talk to the prospect and that their message is assigned a high value? Your customers, partners, and friendly analysts and consultants can usually be expected to deliver a positive message.
You can introduce them to the prospect yourself or, even better, present one of them and have that person introduce the others. Of course, an introduction coming through someone else will carry more weight. The best path is usually introducing one reference customer to the prospect and introducing others to the prospect.
Customer – reference conversation
The prospect is most likely to want to talk to the reference, and meeting other sources through that reference increases both the odds of a conversation taking place and the message’s credibility. To introduce a reference to the prospects, email the prospect with the reference’s contact information, copying the reference. That allows the reference to contact the prospect if necessary.
Make them a member of your team
Customer influencers who have your confidence are part of your sales team. You have both a need and an obligation to brief them on the situation. The reference needs to know who will be calling (the company and the person if possible), the prospect’s objectives, what you are trying to sell and suggestions on what you want the prospect to hear from the influencer.
After the call, make sure you follow up with both the prospect and the influencer. Thank the influencer for their help and give any meaningful feedback (remember, you may need them again on this deal or a future sale.)
Customer influencers you don’t know
The prospect may tell you that they are calling a business influencer with whom you have no history or relationship. Can you influence this source? Yes, you can if you contact and brief that person. Your job here is to help the influencer understand the situation. But make no mistake about it, this is a sales call. Once again, you have to establish your credibility and build trust.
Brief the influencer on how you see the prospect’s need, what you are proposing, why you think it will help the prospect. Give the influencer a logical checklist of considerations of your benefits. These will very often be used in their conversation with your prospect.
Of course, you will only know about some customer influencers after the fact or not at all. These cannot be influenced directly but only indirectly by the general reputation and name recognition of your product and services in the industry.
How to react to a negative message
If the prospect received a negative message from one of these customer influencers, do not directly attack the person or organization. This will typically not be effective and may erode the trust you have built with the prospect. Your line of discussion may include your surprise at their (negative) point of view and curiosity about how they came to that conclusion.
Express a desire to talk directly to the influencer so you can understand how they got that point of view. Suggest that an executive from your company speak with the influencer because you, as a company, want to learn about any potential issues or misunderstandings.
Make a list of your positive points to counter what the negative influencer said. Try to present additional positive points of view from equally powerful customer influencers.
Final thoughts on customer influencers
Others play a part in all your deals. Your job is to understand who will play a part, what their relative impact on the deal will be (how much the prospect trusts them), and how, where possible, to influence the customer influencer. If any industry influencer delivers a negative message, proactively address it without attacking the influencer.
Your direct selling effort is just one influence in your deals. Understanding the other customer influencers and building both the positive and negative impacts into your sales plan can be critical to your success.