How to influence decision makers

Nowadays marketers like to focus on reach and metrics, forgetting about building influence. But this is crucial, and we look at the key ways brands can achieve it according to new research on the C-suite.

Decision-makers are a key target for most B2B marketers, but they are difficult to reach and engage.

Reach is not equal to influence

The difference between reach and influence is that marketers are sometimes pressured to spend all their money and metrics on the former – but what they’re actually after is the latter. Influence is a more important, complex goal than reach. It requires more sophistication than marketing tactics that are solely focused on getting in front of a prospect. Tactics focused on reach alone often backfire — a staggering 94% of customers have discontinued communication with a vendor because of irrelevant messaging, and 71% of business executives say that branded content turns them off when it feels like a sales pitch. If you ‘reach’ your audience but don’t offer them value, you’re at high risk of actually losing influence. Therefore, spending budget on reach isn’t enough to gain the credibility you need for the consideration of the prospects that matter.

The value gap

Research says 58% of prospects disengage because sales reps are unable to help them solve business challenges.

As we pointed out, 71% of business executives say that branded content turns them off when it feels like a sales pitch. But 93% of marketers still link their content directly to products and services, which often makes it salesy. That mismatch is costing marketers the influence they’re looking to build with prospects. The ‘value gap’ between people looking for information on how to address their challenges and marketers trying to sell their products is where influence can be unlocked.

Marketing that is focused on helping prospects address their challenges is the way to close the value gap and get prospects to believe in your brand.

To build influence, you cannot be seen as the risky option

Status quo bias means that decision makers are more likely to purchase from a brand they’ve heard of than go with someone new. That’s because what we know is easier and faster to process than what is foreign, and it feels less risky. Recommending to the CEO that you buy from the market leader is far less likely to be challenged than recommending you go with a new start-up that claims to have the best new product. Marketers therefore need to build enough influence to not be classed as the risky option.

According to McKinsey, strong brands outperform weak brands by a full 20%, and that outperformance is due to how much traction that brand already has with its audience. So, to gain the kind of influence that decreases your risk factor, you’ve got to be present in the right places, associated with the right partners, and offer premium information and analysis.

Five keys to building influence

Influence each decision maker differently

According to Ogilvy & Mather and AdMap’s research, more C-suite executives are increasingly making decisions about technology purchases they know nothing about. This results in a lot of decision makers choosing suppliers almost solely based on their perceived value. Marketers need to understand who that group of decision makers is comprised of and figure out what information helps bring them on board.

Build influence at the top to enable the bottom

CEOs make the mistake of wanting their junior sales reps to be taken seriously by other executives when they pitch their products, but wouldn’t give a junior sales rep the same courtesy. A senior decision maker is more likely to respect the time of a sales executive if he or she has read great content by the CEO of that company. To gain influence, the leaders of a company can help create a perception of knowledge that has a halo effect on everyone else within the business, which helps to build influence with the right prospects.

Provide original insight

Generating new, research-based commercial insight that helps your prospects think through their challenges gets you buy-in with your target audience. It puts you in a position of authority as a knowledge provider, which builds your influence factor. By producing original research and packaging and presenting it to your industry, you’re making a statement both about your market position as well as about your commitment to excellence.

Only quantify your impact when asked

Pitches that appear salesy and jump straight to the numbers often get a bad rapport, unless that prospect has already qualified him/ herself. According to Contently, 74% of consumers are likely to trust branded educational content, but only 45% do so when that content includes a sales pitch. It’s important to build influence first without jumping the gun and giving the hard pitch.

Aim to win the big battles of influence and advocacy

Wasting time with the quality of marketing that gets low value leads has zero impact on building influence – it engages the wrong people to matter, and it’s always about the short term. Focusing instead on a strong top of the funnel game where you can win the big battles will impact the right names and faces, and will ultimately yield sustainable results.

The recap

Building influence is about being committed to the value of excellence, and creating a dedicated strategy that involves more than spending money on low quality lead generation. At the centre of that strategy must be a willingness to put sales-centred messages second to helping your prospects address their business challenges by providing helpful, innovative insights, information and analysis that cuts through the noise.

Looking for more thinking from Raconteur Custom Publishing? We recently surveyed over 500 European C-suites to understand the drivers and barriers to content consumption. Check out our full research report here.