I plead guilty to enjoying a cold beer or two, and I’ve watched with amazement as the decade-long bull market in the craft beer industry shows no signs of abating.
The modern B2B sales and marketing journey has evolved. The internet empowers buyers with more access to information, most likely 50 to 80 percent of the way through their cycle before they engage a salesperson. In response, sellers are producing more content marketing than ever to touch buyers earlier; but, ironically, they are making buyers feel more overwhelmed – and even annoyed – by the overwhelming amount of online content.
As if the “content shock” weren’t exhausting enough, buyers also have more internal touchpoints to deal with. In fact, 2016 data from CEB shows that the average buying group has increased from 5.4 individuals to 6.8. It can be even larger for enterprise sales deals. Larger buying committees mean more agendas and opinions. It means 6.8 people are doing their own research, consuming vast amounts of content and hindering a consensus. It means frustrated, confused, overwhelmed buyers.
To cut through the noise and madness of this process, buyers are turning to their peers for answers ... peers they trust and have felt the same frustrations. Peers who have evaluated shortlists. Peers who have experienced a solution and can give clear advice and direction on what to do next. This has been documented in recent purchase studies by SiriusDecisions, IDC and Hubspot.
Why Peer-to-Peer Selling Is Important
Buyers’ peers, the ultimate trusted advisors – who just so happen to be happy customers – are the key differentiators in this modern purchasing process. These happy customers (a.k.a., peers) are the “missing piece” for sellers and the reason enabling peer-to-peer selling is an industry game-changer.
While some awareness is building, few companies truly create a process with accountability and measure peer-to-peer programs, even though technology exists to do so. The logical step is for all companies to differentiate themselves through their happy customers. Enabling referrals, reviews and references is the new peer-to-peer marketing phenomenon for winning sales. In fact, according to the Wharton School of Business, the lifetime value of a referred customer is 25 percent higher than that of other customers.
Sales and marketing are now customer-centric, where referrals, peer influence and customer references are king. Software, sales and marketing leaders need to start thinking differently for greater sales enablement and revenue generation.
How peer-to-peer selling works
Peer-to-peer selling is all about fully enabling a B2B peer network of “happy customers” to assist with referrals, social selling and references. It works through the following strategies:
Storytelling – Peers telling their stories, business outcomes and customer experience, create quality content that beats ‘arm race’ content. Buyers want to hear from companies and peers that have solved similar business problems; so the voice of the happy customer helps cut through the “content clutter.”
Trust building – Today, before buying anything, consumers check online reviews. They crave community consensus and validation. Early in the buyer’s journey, companies look at App Exchange Reviews as well as sites like Crowdreviews.com and Capterra to make sure they put the peer-trusted vendors in their pool of potential solution providers.
Alignment – For faster revenue growth, sales and marketing leaders need to align on strategy and tactics, more than ever. According to Gartner’s research, which appeared in Harvard Business Review, references are more important than content or sales presentations for influencing customers’ preferences to make a purchase. Rather than asking reps to email other salespeople for customer-specific references, companies need to systematize the process through a centralized database and serve up tailored peer information and access inside the CRM system.
Efficacy – Budget cuts force spend-effectiveness like never before. Most companies are trying to better understand content efficacy, but very few focus on the efficacy of the “customer’s voice” through referral and reference programs. The reality is that referral and reference programs are critical selling activities that deserve optimization. Customer advocates deserve corporate ownership, enablement and focus to drive impact as they are arguably a growing company’s most valued resource.
Enablement – Peer-to-peer marketing helps salespeople sell more, as opposed to just relying on leads. By centralizing customer advocacy data and linking it back to sales opportunities, all of a sudden marketers meet sales inside the sales funnel. Many companies are creating umbrella account-based marketing programs, but few properly enable this peer-to-peer selling influence.
After all, the best salesperson is a happy customer – that’s who will influence a buying decision. So, turn up the volume on the voice of those happy customers through peer-to-peer selling strategies. Listen carefully, and sales will become amplified, too.
Ian Levine is chief sales officer and a board member of RO Innovation, a SaaS content solution that activates the Voice of the Customer for sales. He is a well-known sales and marketing executive with more than 30 years of industry experience. You can follow Ian on Twitter @Salesbyian. He can be reached directly by contacting email@example.com.