How to build brand advocates who'll do the selling for you

All articles | Strategy
Published Aug 20, 2019 | Written by Keith Errington

shutterstock_1066654337 (1) (1)B2B Marketing can be tough.

Finding new leads, engaging them and converting them isn’t easy.

It requires a lot of work, a significant budget and a massive amount of time.

But what if you could double your sales force? Triple it? And all without spending huge sums of money too?

This is not a fantasy, it’s achievable. And it’s a goal you should definitely set your business.

It’s achievable because of the way that the buyer’s journey has changed, the way the buying process has changed.

Over the years there has been a complete change in the way buyers behave when considering a purchase of goods, equipment or services.

They are now researching their issues, and possible solutions online: with 54% of B2B buyers relying on social media to research vendors and solutions, and 85% buyers saying online content has a moderate to major effect on purchasing conditions.

They are working out what they need for themselves based on online guides, educational material and helpful blog posts. They are turning to social media and peer networks for recommendations and feedback, with a staggering 84% of senior executives saying they use social media to make purchasing decisions. They are investigating potential suppliers’ websites and making a shortlist before even talking to you.

On average, B2B buyers are typically 57% of the way to a buying decision before actively engaging with sales. When they do pick up the phone, they know what they need and want to talk business.

Clearly, by the time the salesperson gets to talk to a buyer, it’s too late – they have already decided who they are buying from.

So how can a B2B supplier get that buyer to buy from them? What, or who, is influencing the buyer’s decision?

From the research, we know that the following influences buyers:

  • Peers
  • Friends and family
  • Analysts
  • Industry experts
  • Thought leaders
  • Media commentators
  • Consultants
  • Branding
  • Reviews

We can see that the majority of those are people. In order to reach the buyer through these influencers, you have to ensure that at the very least they are aware of your solution and have the information to talk about it.

That requires content publishing, brand awareness and outreach at the very least.

Ideally, you’d like them to have a good opinion of your business and to recommend you as a supplier. This requires either a personal experience or a recommendation from source they trust.

Much of this can be achieved via word of mouth – but where do you start?

Firstly, let’s be clear, we are not talking about shameless selling of products and solutions here. Influencing your buyers has to be more subtle than that. Buyers will not respond well to blatantly commercial messages or sales pitches, so it has to be more about being helpful, offering information, giving advice and telling stories.

You can think of your company’s influence like a web, stretching out from the business and at the centre of that web is your managing director and board who talk to the media and their peers. It is likely that they are already selling the company when they are out and about, and generally, they are great advocates for the business.

The next level is your company’s experts and consultants, who would again be naturally talking to the press, customers, potential customers and the like.

But often there only one or two who are comfortable with this, whereas within your business you may have many mini-experts and mini-consultants who could also help promote the company.

You should consider identifying those who would benefit from support and training to help them to reach out more. Even if they are not comfortable in face to face situations, they could contribute to content via blogs and videos, or engage on social media.

The last level of sales within a business are the employees, they should all be aware of the current marketing messages, the benefits of the various products or services and good knowledge about them too.

They will probably not be engaging with potential customers directly, but nevertheless, with some training and support can be useful content creators and supporters on social media.

There’s a lot to be said for the power of the employee advocate.

The next most obvious step is to get your customers on your side and spreading the good word. The most powerful way of doing this is simply by doing a good job. Making sure your customers are happy is a sure-fire way to ensure that they will spread the word in the best possible way.

You can also make it easier for them by ensuring that your content is easy to share on social media. If they are a customer you have a good relationship with, then consider asking for a testimonial, or ask them if you can create a case study based on their experience. You might get them to write a guest blog or to talk at a seminar or conference you have organised.

If appropriate to your industry, then asking them to consider a review of the product or service they have bought on a third-party site is another way of prompting a piece of positive content.

Surprisingly you can also get prospects to promote and recommend you – even if they have never bought from you.

By providing helpful, genuinely useful and relevant content, you can often win over prospects and turn them into fans before they buy, or even if they never buy. I strongly believe that you should help non-customers with advice and consultancy too where you can.

They will remember your helpful content and your support and promote you to others who are in a position to buy from you.

All of these different groups of people can become ambassadors for your business, acting as unpaid advocates promoting and recommending you to their peers and others.

This type of influence is more genuine, honest and powerful than any amount of sales material and these ‘friends’ can be nurtured into incredibly valuable assets.

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Published by Keith Errington August 20, 2019
Keith Errington