Which is more influential, the message or the messenger? Salespeople have long understood that the likelihood of a proposal being accepted is largely dependent on factors such as the relationship between the salesperson and the buyer. This is such a universal truth that many sales executives refuse to respond to open Request for Proposals if they don’t have prior knowledge of the proposal or a pre-existing relationship with the buyer.
What’s a business to do when it knows it has the better solution or offering but lacks a solid relationship with the buyer(s)? The answer lies in becoming a trusted authority whose works and persona are followed by the target buyers over a period of time. When new business opportunities arise, these authorities are often asked to be included in the bidding process. When proposals are received by those whom buyers follow for trusted business information, they’re more likely to be given added credibility.
Earning Real Trust
Becoming a trusted authority is not as easy as people believe. In fact, understanding what a trusted authority actually is seems elusive as well. Too many rely on becoming a social influencer or someone who boasts a large following across social media platforms. For businesses, the reality is that social media influencers are like television’s reality show stars: Here today, gone tomorrow. From pop culture celebrities such as Justin Bieber and Lindsay Lohan, to sports celebrities like Tiger Woods and Alex Rodriguez, such fame is fleeting. Few of the business and marketing leaders who became famous years ago based on their social media following hold the same power to persuade today.
The status (and rewards) for business leaders that come from being a “trusted authority” is earned not by social media following but through longevity, which is gained by consistently getting the job done right for a well-managed customer base.
Proven Success + Well Managed Customers + Referrals = Trusted Authority
From personal experience, I can share that the core element in becoming a trusted authority that customers follow and respect is not social media popularity but a proven track record with other satisfied customers. I’ve been in the sales and marketing business for almost 30 years now but my longevity does not come from the 23,000+ Twitter followers I’ve amassed, or the books I’ve contributed to or published.
My success in winning new business today can almost always be traced back to a referral from a satisfied customer for whom I’ve successfully designed and built a sales or marketing solution.
Do I receive calls from businesses because of my social media following or social media activity? Yes; I get many each week. The reality is that 90 percent of those calls are from people who want me to promote their businesses or use their products in delivering solutions for my clients. The other 10 percent are most often start-ups or small businesses with little funding, or business leaders who want free ideas or to vet the ideas provided by their agencies of record.
Efforts to build an online audience have driven a lot of attention, which served to fuel my ego but in the end, not my business. Efforts to promote my clients and case studies have not received the popular attention of more ego-driven activity; however, those efforts have yielded the greatest reward for my business.
Do The Work, Avoid The Brag
The greatest marketing ROI I’ve earned over the last 30 years remains doing good work for clients and letting that work stand on its own merits. Along with maintaining good relationships with satisfied clients, this has netted the referrals that have won me new business.
Marketers (and social media marketers, in particular) have made “becoming an influencer” an industry unto itself. I’ve fallen into this trap myself on occasion, as the allure of social media popularity and recognition is intoxicating. Campaigning for inclusion on “Top XXX” lists has become common practice and common discussion within private-messaging apps among marketers and bloggers. And then there’s the despicable tactic of writing entire blog posts or press releases about being included in those lists, however little authority the writer or publication compiling the list has.
Manipulation vs. Influence – Becoming a Trusted Authority
The lesson I’ve learned in becoming influential with prospective customers (the only people who matter in terms of influence for my business) is to dedicate time and energy on nurturing existing customer relationships and successfully building their businesses. Attempting to build a large social media audience in order to become influential is manipulation, not influence and customers will soon see through that.
Building a customers’ businesses is a sure fire way to build loyalty and referrals, which, in turn, will establish one’s influence without the need for self-promotion. Such influence is quiet (it won’t always get you listed on “the most influential people on Twitter” blog posts) but powerful.
The message is the same if you’re researching a potential marketing strategist or looking to hire an influencer: Look to their body of work, the length of time they have been delivering that work, and the testimonials or referrals associated with that work.
Similarly, if you’re attempting to become a trusted authority, focus on building a list of happy customers and positive testimonials before campaigning for a large social media following. Promoting your clients’ successes instead of your own will go further in establishing authority (and followers) among buyers and that base will ensure longevity and greater conversion in new business pitches.
Does “social media influence” without a proven history or track record generate the same trusted authority status?
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego