The power of influence in B2B marketing

I recently read a book, well, listened to a book, and something with this one really struck me. The book was about influence and principles of persuasion.

In today’s information-saturated world, buyers have to unconsciously rely on the most simple of reasons to choose and select products and services.

Through extensive research and undercover sales training, Robert Cialdini identified six key principles that influence our buying behavour. His insights are based on organisations that rely heavily on high pressure sales techniques, but the output applies equally in many scenarios, not least in B2B marketing.

So, how can B2B marketers learn from these principles and how can we apply them in a real and honest way to our marketing efforts?

Disclaimer: these principles should never be used to force or openly lie to a prospect. If it’s not true don’t say it or use it, however if it is, framing it using these 6 principles will be more likely to ensure the action you desire.

Principle 1: Reciprocity

Have you ever found yourself trying to reject a stranger with an incredibly kind free offer or gift? Why? Because unconsciously you know that the law of reciprocity is at work and you will likely be called upon to return this favour at a later date.

In the sense of B2B marketing, you may think that your fascinating ebook or white paper, dressed up as a lead generation tool, would deliver this, but, you’d have to give quite a lot away before the element of reciprocity kicks in. The reason being, that so many others do it too.

Where it does work is with small things that make an emotional connection. It could be something as little a small free gift (as long as everyone else isn’t doing it and it doesn’t violate their policies), a thank you card, a handwritten note or something that you thought about ‘just for them’.

Principle 2: Commitment and consistency

When people commit to one small thing, they are much more likely to commit to a larger request when asked.

In marketing, this about getting a contact or lead to commit to one small element and then gently getting their commitment to more things. For example, initially, focus on getting a click, leading to further valuable information and then to trial.

Or, in a more sales driven organisation, starting with small purchases and then leading onto larger ones. For example, a proof of concept, a health check or review, or a workshop – all of which are precursors to larger sales, which initially the buyer would have found very hard to purchase from the get go.

Principle 3: Social proof

This isn’t about social selling, it’s about buying from people like us and buying things that others like us have bought. We heavily relate to those we believe are like us. We look for similarities in gender, background, age, dress-codes and status, and at an organisation level, companies that are similar to ours.

It’s not something you should just ‘say’ with a quote and a logo. Since visual cues are so important here, actually showing a picture of the person who bought it, or better yet, a video of them talking about it goes a long way.

It’s the old trick “Well, Frank from ABC Enterprise uses SaaSPro software, so we should, right?”
What the prospect is really saying is ‘Frank is like me and ABC Enterprise is like us’.

Taking this a step further, Cialdini recommends avoiding the use of percentages with social proof. Statements like ‘90% of IT directors are looking to create bespoke business apps in 2016’ as they don’t really connect with the audience. A percentage doesn’t feel like a person, but a group of removed, anonymous people.

Instead, using language like ‘9 out of 10 IT directors’ is a subtle change, but in Cialdini’s research proved powerful.

If you sell across verticals or have a range of products, then apply the principle to each. Your audiences will be different in each, so ensure that you cover all bases so your prospects and see people like them, in similar business to theirs within their industry.

Principle 4: Authority

We trust and take advice from authority figures. These can take the form of analysts, leading businesses that use your product, trade press, trade bodies and membership organisations. It’s that external authority endorsing your product, service or company.

In marketing, these authority figures usually epitomise best practice and the latest thinking, and more importantly wouldn’t ever associate themselves with something that is under-par. With membership organisations there’s usually a code of conduct or other similar minimum benchmark. These all go to establishing association with an authority.

Where this becomes more powerful is where your key people are actively involved with the authority. They may be the speaker at an event, running a workshop or providing training – they’re creating authority.

When it comes to B2B marketing, authority is probably the most obvious form of influence – and it’s usually the cornerstone of PR. Ever heard the saying ‘they’re the authority on the subject’.

That said, there can be many other ways to building authority, in fact, personal brand building from within the organisation is just one that is becoming more prolific and social media makes this easy. (Anyone seen all those CEOs and CTOs on Twitter recently?)

So authority goes two ways. At a base level, associate yourself with the authority. Then become entwined with it so you are the authority.

Principle 5: Liking

Fundamentally, we buy from those we like and trust. It’s rare that anyone buys from someone they don’t like – when they’re given the choice of who they can buy from. That’s why relationships are key in B2B sales at all levels.

When it comes to marketing, there are numerous ways to employ this principle. The first way would be referral techniques (I like you, therefore I’ll refer you). There is masses of information on referral marketing and I’ll save that for another post. Oh, and this isn’t just about customers – referrals come from other sources too, not just customers.

The second is about creating marketing materials that people like. They like the materials, they add value and over time, the company creates likability through the those materials. Likability leads to… you guessed it, more interaction and prospects that are closer to the point of sale.

With the liking principle, it’s all about relationships. Connecting with the people you come into contact with either in person or though the content you create.

Principle 6: Scarcity

This is based on the idea that when people think that something is scarce, there is a greater desire to have it. In short, just the perception of scarcity will create demand.

This is used frequently across all types of marketing. For example, we see time limited offers all the time, and they work. In B2B marketing where the product is high value, creating scarcity is a little bit harder, but it is possible.

One tactic SaaS sales people use frequently is the ‘quarter-end deal’ where in order to hit their targets, the sales person will give a limited, time-sensitive discount on the basis that the quarter end is coming. This works on several levels, there’s an element of ‘liking’ due to the honesty of the sales person sharing a bit about themselves and their challenges, but more importantly, it’s scarcity that drives this. The offer is scarce.

Scarcity isn’t just about limited offers based on price. It can used to encourage completion on deals using scarcity of resource as well. Where custom builds or development of the product is required prior to full roll-out, then scarcity can be used to get commitment.

For example, having a conversation with a prospect about the fact you’re closing several big deals that are going to tie up resource can move that prospect forward on the basis that resource that will be scarce to do the install or development work they need. The result would be a greater commitment or clearly visibility of their timelines so you can plan appropriately.

In marketing, scarcity can be used to encourage meetings or attendance at events or webinars. The old ‘tickets are going fast’, ‘limited availability’, ‘only 8 tickets left’ or a ‘countdown timer’ all work towards creating scarcity.

For me, Robert Cialdini has been good reading. It puts those principles that we all use into context and has certainly given me some ideas on how to implement them to greater effect, both for our clients and for ourselves.

What’s your take on the principles and which one is your favourite? I’d love to hear about it, let me know on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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