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Steering customers to the right place

Ever since two wheel merchants showed up at the same cave entrance, one question has dominated the minds of business people the world over: How can I convince customers to buy from us instead of them? It’s the same question facing Idaho companies, too, particularly since we are often a long way from our intended clients.

As we’ve seen with the Turkish episode, the name “Idaho” can carry a certain cachet. It can sound exotic. Or quaint. Or even trustworthy. That is no small thing, because in this age of overcommunication, potential customers need to find some reason for choosing one company’s products over another.

For some companies, social media provides customer-to-customer validation that can convince a buyer to buy. But for many other companies, the sales process is not so simple. To reach beyond the state and convince people to “choose Idaho,” you have to understand who your customers listen to.

Who speaks to your customers?

Inside every industry, every market sector, every vertical and every niche there is a small group of people who can have a very big effect on the decisions your prospective customers make. These are the people who, through a variety of means, have earned respect and credibility in the marketplace: People listen to them.

Times change and new ways of exchanging information come and go. But these “influencers” continue to play a critical role in helping people – and businesses – make buying decisions. Smart companies know that by building strategic relationships with key influencers, they can win more sales.

The ‘big five’ categories of influence

1. Industry analysts: These are the knowledgeable, very influential people from analyst firms such as Gartner, Aberdeen and Forrester. They help big companies understand what’s new and good in the marketplace – and from whom to buy it.

2. The media: Many wonder if traditional media still plays a role in today’s peer-mediated environment. They do. There’s nothing like a well-placed story in the right media to make your sales jump.

3. Experts: Some individuals have particularly deep understanding of the theory, science or technology behind products or services in just about every market niche. And when they mention your company in their latest book, article, white paper or report, your web traffic can spike.

4. Social media leaders: These are the bloggers and the tweeters, the Facebookers, the LinkedIn and Pinterest mavens who have separated themselves from the rest to become respected, well-known and widely followed. Build good relationships with these rare “needles” in your haystack, and you gain social power.

5. Your customers: Companies often underestimate how many ways customers can add value to a brand. Customer quotes, case studies, customer evangelists … “real” people willing to vocalize your brand are as good as gold.

Which influencers will really pull for you?

For most businesses, every day begins like a raft trip. You walk into the office, turn on your computer, and get ready to start paddling. You’re at the put-in point, ready to go. But you can hardly help noticing that, unlike some of the other rafts you see heading out, you’re the only one in the boat. You’re good at what you do. But wouldn’t it be nice to have some people pulling for you when things get a little bumpy? Luckily, key influencers are standing by, ready to help out.

A balanced crew is critical

The trick is to find the right influencers: people who can help you move forward with swift, decisive strokes. Have you ever tried to navigate with someone a lot stronger (or weaker) than you in the boat? You can struggle to get from Point A to Point B.

Influencers can be like that too. Industry analysts, for instance, have a lot of pull among enterprise-sized companies. But if you sell to small businesses, putting an analyst behind the oars may take you off course. If your products or services are technical, recruiting a couple of experts can help you clearly explain your offerings. And if you sell to consumers, make sure to save at least a couple of paddle positions for traditional and social media influencers.

It’s all about teamwork – with the right team

Idaho is a great place to do business. But there can be some rough waters out there. By using your dollars wisely, you can build a small, balanced crew of influencers to help guide your company on its chosen course and bring new customers on board.

Hobart “Hobie” Swan runs vocalizePR LLC, a Boise-based agency that helps companies grow by identifying and building relationships with key influencers. He can be contacted at hobart@vocalizePR.com and (208) 949-6598. Visit www.vocalizepr.com for more information.

About Hobart Swan