by Ian Levine (Article posted on Sandhill.com)

January 31, 2017 – The modern B2B buying 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 B2B buyers feel more overwhelmed – and even annoyed – by all the online content and clutter.

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 B2B buying group has increased from 5.4 individuals to 6.8. Larger buying committees means 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 vetted shortlists. Peers who have experienced a solution and can give clear advice and direction on what to do next.

And therein lies the “missing piece” for sellers. Your buyers’ peers, the ultimate trusted advisors – who just so happen to be your happy customers – are the key differentiators in this modern purchasing process.

B2B sales is now a customer-centric pursuit, where referrals, peer influence and customer references are king. Software sales and marketing leaders need to start thinking differently and practice the following five peer-to-peer strategies for greater sales enablement and revenue generation.

  1. Refine content strategy. Content overload is a real problem for buyers. 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.” Peers telling their stories, business outcomes and customer experience, creates valuable content (not clutter) that stimulates sales.
  2. Use the internet to build trust through testimonials and reviews. 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 Trust Radius and G2 Crowd to make sure they put the peer-trusted vendors in their pool of potential solution providers.
  3. Align goals to real need actions. 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.
  4. Enable the data. 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.
  5. 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. In addition, these are arguably a growing company’s most valued resources and deserve corporate ownership, enablement and focus to drive them.

While some awareness is building, few companies track sales and revenue through 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 and the industry game-changer for winning sales. According to the Wharton School of Business, the lifetime value of a referred customer is 25 percent higher than that of other customers.

After all, your best salesperson is your customer – that’s who will influence a buying decision. So, turn up the volume on your customers’ voice through peer-to-peer selling strategies and listen carefully. You will love what you hear and how your sales respond. 

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