Rob Cross an associate professor in the management department of University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce and co-author of the book The Hidden Power of Social Networks says “Traditionally the tools for finding key opinion leaders is like a shotgun and not a rifle ” he says. “It’s generally gotten you in the neighborhood of people that are potentially loud and talk a lot. But not necessarily those that influence others.”
Here more surprising insights about who b-to-b influencers really are why it’s important to find them and how experiential marketers can use social networking analysis to get the right people engaging in the right ways at their events.
Event Marketer: B-to-B marketers would love to have a snapshot of their client’s organizations to help their sales teams. Can you get that from the outside?
Rob Cross: One of the things we’ve gotten tremendous traction on doing a network analysis of the intersection of the two companies. So we’ll look at the organization you’re a part of and then we’ll map the sets of connections amongst that team. In and of itself it’s often a very big deal because most big organizations have very uncoordinated efforts with which they go to a key account—there’s different places communicating different messages trying to sell different things and it’s not a holistic package. So we’re surveying the people that service those accounts and looking for three things: how is the company touching that key account are you susceptible to losing a decision maker and are you not penetrating that account or conversely do you have too many relationships in there? It’s based on the perception of the people on that team of the client but it’s still very powerful in being able to see all sorts of inefficiencies in terms of how they’re managing connections into the account. Then we look from the team back into the broader company to see if they’re cross selling well—are they taking a range of offerings to the client. It’s not so much how do we use this as a lens on our client but it’s a way of using your account teams and their knowledge of the client more effectively. Who and where and how the organization is leveraging clients.
EM: Why are influencer networks within organizations so important for marketers to understand?
RC: It’s the accuracy of it particularly when those people themselves are not well known. A lot of times you find the physicians that have the greatest influence and greatest financial returns are not the ones writing the most scripts themselves. You wouldn’t know that. You wouldn’t know the impact of targeting without this approach and seeing how the ideas move laterally. So that’s part of it being more precise understanding who the people are and how to target them what mediums matter and how they can be more effective. I also think the strength of the influence mapping tools so far are very much in realms where trust matters in the purchase. Pharmaceutical sales or large technology purchases or other things where the more you understand who trusts whom whose opinion is trusted in a group the more effective you can be in sharing information and insights with those people.
EM: How do you conduct an analysis?
RC: You can track emails you can look at blogs and you can do all sorts of things to develop these network metrics but what I’ve found inside companies is that the survey approach allows you to understand the quality of the relationship between people. Each person spends about 15 minutes on a web-based survey telling us whom they rely on for information and how that maps to their specific goals. It allows us to see who is working with whom how that’s going and where their problem points overload points and fragmentations are.
EM: Is it a big investment?
RC: There are fairly low-cost ways to collect this information. There’s an enormous range of sophistication you can add to it but at the surface level if you just want to get a sense of who is connected to whom you could even give out an Excel based survey. It’s well worth doing.
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