10th March 2019
Are you a B2B marketing supplier, trying to sell me something? Because if you are, this is what I want: outcomes not outputs, and good people to think with.
Lately I’ve been bombarded by an awful lot of B2B marketing agencies and other B2B marketing suppliers trying to sell me their products or services for my clients via LinkedIn. And with a recent twist. A new connection tried to strike up a conversation with me on LinkedIn messaging by asking me some questions. Yet these questions only served to show me they hadn’t actually done any kind of research around the work that I do. And then when I started asking some questions of them in return, they just stopped responding.
When I was an in-house marketer, this used to be termed ‘cold-calling’, and – whether it was phone calls or emails – it was a part of the territory. But this is actually a pretty new phenomenon for me as a B2B marketing consultant.
For years I’ve read about others who have been constantly receiving what is, in effect, LinkedIn spam. I’m sure you’ve had these messages, the ones that start off with something like ‘I’ve seen from your profile that you might benefit from […fill in the blank with the product or service being sold…]’. But I’d only rarely experienced it myself before now. And I’m not really sure why it’s happening to me so blatantly at the moment.
In some ways I don’t really mind. When I left the corporate life, getting out there and actually selling my own services was a steep learning curve. So, I suppose I’m giving these people the benefit of the doubt and thinking that they’re still learning how best to use LinkedIn as a business development and sales tool.
But what has surprised me so much is how – just like with this recent exchange – so many people are still using a ‘spray and pray’ approach. At least with this exchange they actually asked me some questions first. Most of these messages I receive tell me what they do without having a clue as to what I want or need. It feels like a ‘hard sell’ before they’ve even bothered to find out if their product or service is relevant to me. Which, in the vast majority of cases, it’s not.
We all know, our customers don’t want to be ‘sold to’ anymore; that’s nothing new in B2B marketing. But I would hope that most B2B marketing suppliers – agency or otherwise – understand this as well.
And for the most part, the people I personally know across these companies do absolutely get it. As do the majority of in-house marketers I know and work with.
So, what’s the real issue here? Are these people ‘just’ discovering LinkedIn as a BD and selling tool and still figuring out how to use it? Or are they simply using LinkedIn in the same manner as they’ve historically done through other channels? It’s not even a ‘new’ technology platform anymore, so we can’t use that as an excuse for what is a lazy selling approach.
The best salespeople I’ve known throughout my career have always been those who have developed relationships over time. Technology doesn’t change that imperative. I would have thought LinkedIn is a goldmine for BD and sales because it’s actually much easier to build and maintain these relationships using the platform. But it seems to be rapidly becoming just another push channel.
I’m an active LinkedIn user and I have to admit that I pretty much accept every invitation from anyone who wants to connect with me. I want to forge links with both business people and other marketers, my peers in other organisations, no matter whether they are B2B, B2C or agencies. I want to hear about what they’re doing, read about the challenges we face, discover new perspectives and ideas, learn new things, and be inspired. I want to continue to learn and grow as a professional marketer, and basically, just get better at the job of marketing.
LinkedIn in particular gives me a platform to connect widely and meaningfully with other people who face the same day-to-day challenges that I do. And, for the most part, I’m still finding LinkedIn meaningful and extremely useful, with robust conversations and ideas that continue to resonate and inspire.
But LinkedIn is not a short-cut for sales. Just like with our B2B marketing, it’s a tool to use or not, depending upon our objectives.
It’s ironic in a way, because the best sales pitch I’ve ever heard in my entire B2B marketing career was well over a decade ago. At the time I was going through an agency review process and I was down to the incumbent and 2 other agencies in the short-list. After each their pitches, I asked them why I should choose them over the other agencies that were pitching for my business. Two of the agencies – including the incumbent – highlighted their expertise in what were then the relatively new areas of digital, social and content for marketing.
But it was the third agency who won my business. Because when I asked the question, they didn’t reiterate what they could do for me in terms of the services they provided. Instead, they told me simply that they were ‘good people to think with’.
I’ve never forgotten it. Because, even though I hadn’t articulated it in quite this way, this was what I was actually looking for – people who knew how to think through with me the very real challenges that were just beginning to appear on the horizon.
We forget sometimes that an awful lot of us have very small teams or are even a team of one. And it can seem like we’re working in a vacuum. Though whether we’re large or small, we should always be looking at how we can bring in new and different perspectives. So, B2B marketing suppliers, when you contact us, or when we reach out to you, please, stop trying to tell us how great you are and stop telling us about all the ‘stuff’ you can do for us. Show us how you think. Show us how you communicate, as one human being to another in the business of B2B marketing.
Because isn’t that what we all want? Good people to think with.
Heidi Taylor is an award-winning senior marketing strategist with 25 years' experience of helping organisations engage with their customers, creating impact and differentiation. She is a sought-after speaker at marketing conferences in the UK and internationally, and regularly contributes articles to marketing journals in print and online. You can follow her on Twitter @TaylorMadeInKew.