What this post is not is a discussion of how to determine influence. I’m going to leave that to my dear friend and brilliant scientist, Dr. Michael Wu, the Chief Scientist at Lithium. He, far better than Klout, PeerIndex and any of the other so-called influence indices, knows how to look at and determine the nature and value of actual influence, not engagement masked as influence.
However, what this is going to be is a series of posts that will provide whoever reads it with the rudiments of how to deal with and think about influencers and the basics around building an influencer/analyst program. Personally, I live in the world of enterprise software, especially CRM influencers. But it generally applies to anyone who needs to reach individual industry influencers. I’m guessing 3-4 posts all in all should cover what I need to. I’ll turn it into a freely downloadable book/guide when I’m done.
To set expectations, you won’t come out of this with a full-blown influencer program, just the basics. But you will have an idea of why you might consider one, what the dos and don’ts are when it comes to dealing with influencers and an understanding of the “types” of influencers. Plus the kinds of instruments you need (besides calipers) to deal with influencers and some of the reasons why.
This series will be organized around questions as “chapters.”
- Chapter 1 – The intro and what types of influencers you might be dealing with – with some names of those.
- Chapter 2 – what are the dos and don’ts of influencer relations. Is there an influencer community? What
- Chapter 3 –Who should I consider engaging and why? The rudiments of an influencer program.
- Chapter 4 – an update on the Who I Follow on More Than Friday post I did on Influencers a couple of years back.
I can’t tell you with any certainty when these posts are going to come out, only that they will and will be done before the year ends. And that it will be converted into a freely downloadable book.
So, let’s kick it off.
Let Me Tell You A Story…What I Mean By Bad
I want to start off by reading something to you. As some of you know, in a given week, I get between 30-50 requests for:
- Demos to me of some sort of software
- Interviews with some company’s senior execs based on a press release that I’ve been sent which may or may not have something to do with my world, but most certainly has to do with PR team outreach quotas.
- A story pitch in my capacity as a ZDNet blogger (these are the most irritating as we will see in one of the next two or three posts)
Because I want to have a life, plus, the PR requests are as often as not irritatingly thoughtless – again more on that later – the bulk of them get rejected or remain unanswered – which doesn’t mean that I don’t look at them. But it does mean I might not get far enough into them that I even know the name of the company they are supposedly pitching for.
Occasionally, there is one that is SO bad, so blatantly horrid, that it deserves some press – without trying to embarrass the individual that wrote it. I got this email in August 2009 and I’ve kept it as the benchmark for bad. This is the industry standard for “never do this, PR pro.” Let me read some of this to you:
“Dear Paul –
I just discovered your blog and I want to say how much I appreciate your insights. You are teaching people to want what we offer.
As I read people who dream about CRM-TNG I don’t see any evidence that anyone (other than my company) is addressing the impossibility of bridging gaps from 1.0 to 2.0 without getting a handle on how people discover, propagate and analyze their own, company-specific best practices….
(The person then goes on to describe their product which I will leave out here because a. it would give away who and what they do b. it isn’t that great in any case and c. there is no way I’m helping this person get exposure)
…We have a demo on our site that introduces some basic concepts, however I think the best use of your time is to work through a webinar with me. You’ll see the latest version as you fire all your toughest questions at me.” (He then closes the email)
I have to presume you see what’s wrong with this email, right? What’s right with it?
Its got to be – and I still marvel over this to this day – the most arrogant PR pitch I’ve ever gotten and as we’ll talk about, I’ve gotten (and I can speak for my bruthas and sistahs in the analyst/influencer/journalist world here, I think), more than my share.
Let’s briefly dissect this, since it is incredibly instructive on what not to do and, to me at least, still remains a source of open-mouthed, wide-eyed wonder.
- The first paragraph pretty much tells me my value is that I spend my time telling people things that sell his company. (My intent exactly the pitch purveyor says sardonically.). What is amazing is that he doesn’t see that this isn’t right.
- The second paragraph pretty much relegates all other companies to the dung heap.
- The final paragraph from this person who has never spoken to me at all tells me the best use of my time. I’m glad this person knows that. Thank god one of us does.
This is easily the best and classic example of someone who will end up on the lowest possible place on the rungs of influencer hell. The arrogance is a complete turnoff because it presumes something that this person doesn’t have – a say in the life of the analyst/influencer in any way without any relationship whatever.
That said, I don’t want to get into that part of it yet. I just thought that this is such an egregiously bad example I would air it so you can see it and then you’d know, in your heart of hearts, that you would NEVER do anything like that. Right?
Whew. Okay. Now that this is out of my system, lets devote this post to two things:
- Why do you even need to bother with influencers? Why should you care? Should you care?
- What types of influencers are there, given the 21st century’s shifting business landscape
The answer to this is kind of sad in a way. Its “because you have to.” To be blunt, there is a game that has to be played. That game goes to the heart of influencer relations. They are people who can impact:
- The purchasing decision of a prospect
- The thinking of an entire industry (vertical, horizontal)
- The mindshare that a company will have which indirectly influences the purchasing decisions of a prospect
- Institutional and individual investors – e.g. large possible and existing shareholders and those considering investment
While I make a lot of my living that way, it’s a bit stupid that someone’s opinion, albeit informed, can have enough of an impact on a company’s future to be worrisome to a company.
But it can. So you have to. Engage with influencers one-way or the other, I mean.
What Should You Consider When Engaging An Influencer?
Good question – and, with the growth of digital media, and attempts out of desperation as often as not, to redefine or at least come up with a meaningful definition of what an influencer is, not as simple an answer as it used to be.
Question #1: What Kinds of Influencers are Out There?
The influencer landscape is getting increasingly confusing, especially with the rise of the independent influencers as a force – for good or evil is something that you have to decide. In the CRM/Social world, aside from the digital brand influencers like Chris Brogan or Gary Vaynerchuk, who we won’t cover here, there are a significant number of variations on the theme, depending on how granular you want to get, how sophisticated a program you want to have and how much you give a crap in the first place. I’ll give you some idea of what the categories of influencer are, describe them and give you a few leading examples of who excels in those categories.
Just to be clear, none of this is so neat that you can tie it in a bow. There are multiple overlaps – while I put someone in one category, they are also part of or could be part of another. For example, Mike Fauscette, who runs IDC’s Enterprise Applications practice is part of the institutional group, but is typically thought of by other influencers as an independent due to his thought processes and his spirit. It can get complicated. And, the reason that matters to you is that you have to deal with behaviors and psychologies, not just categories. Here is the single most important piece of advice I’m ever going to give you when it comes to this kind of work.
Know who the influencer is, not just what s/he is.
Look, what you do with this information is up to you. I don’t care. I’m just the messenger. I thought it would be helpful. I hope it is.
These are the longest established beasts of the industry. Gartner Group is the $1 billion, 800-pound gorilla, with Forrester Group and IDC the next two in line. There are multiple other organizations like Aberdeen Group, Nucleus Research, Yankee Group etc. all of whom provide similar sets of services ranging from market research to consultative. From the standpoint of influence, which is what we want to cover, there are several things that you have to consider. First, customers call these companies to find out whether or not your company is a good enough vendor to be on the list. Second, their varying technology ratings, ranging from the famous or infamous (depending on where you place) Gartner Magic Quadrant to the Forrester Wave, has a big impact on customers, whether you like the results or not.
In recent years, the institutionals stranglehold on influence has been diminished though they still reign as the most influential category. There are a number of reasons for their wane.
- The locus of power is shifting to individuals, be they at the large firms like Gartner or solo practitioners. Some of that can be attributed to the tenor of the times because peer trust has become the dominant form of trust when it comes to expertise and influence. In what is something of an analogy, the same way now that in many companies, the salesperson who sold the products to someone is expected to be the account manager for all things including service – by the customer – even if the company isn’t set up that way – is the same way that influencers are now looked at. “I trust Michael Maoz, not Gartner per se.” I trust Kate Leggett, not Forrester, per se.” On the other hand, some of the reason for the individual influencer trust is simply a matter of TCO. The larger institutions are considerably more expensive than the independents. I’m not speaking to the quality of the work because, like anything else, that’s a matter of individuals. But the options especially when the price is factored in are greater than ever, and companies are taking them up. The law of diminishing returns can sometimes set in – regardless of the brilliance of the institutional influencer’s work. It can simply cost too much.
- The kinds of expertise needed are broader than ever and no one institution can cover all of them so it often is a matter of going where the expert you need is – the best of breed approach. There is no reason to do things all Gartner, all Forrester, or all any group or individual. Go to the expertise not the company is becoming more the norm than it has been.
- The organizational structure of the larger companies has been much slower to change with the times. They have baggage. That doesn’t make them bad or good. Again, that’s the purview of the individual analyst/influencer. But that baggage can make dealing with them slow, rigid and frustrating some times.
This is not to say, don’t deal with the institutionals. Some of the best analysts and most influential people in the customer-facing world reside there. Some examples of the greats.
Michael Maoz (Gartner Group) – Michael might be the best analyst in the CRM world. He is certainly one of the most highly regarded. He is honest, forthright, and tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear or, for that matter, what Gartner wants you to hear. His advice is, even if it is brutal at times, (delivered with good humor though), right.
Ed Thompson (Gartner Group) – Ed is one of the stars in the customer experience firmament and Gartner’s best speaker. He is the only speaker to consistently kick my ass in speaker-ranked events. J. He has a strong CRM knowledge. HQed in Europe, he is in demand a great deal as a speaker and consulting analyst – when it comes to the customer journey. Count on the dude.
Mike Fauscette (IDC) – Mike runs the IDC Enterprise Applications Practice and has a great big picture perspective that gives his customers a way of tying what they do to the market as it moves – a gift. An independent spirit in an institutional role, he is known for his creative way of reconfiguring the business universe you thought was the one to the one it really is
Kate Leggett (Forrester Group) – Kate, who has real world practitioner and vendor experience is known for her work at Forrester in the customer service area. Where she stands out is her ability to craft the multi-channel strategies which treat social as a component, not a gift from the gods. She is also well regarded among all the other analysts and often is grouped with the independents.
Bill Band (Forrester Group) – Bill leads the CRM practice at Forrester and does strong work when it comes to the nitty gritty of CRM. Because he has a consulting background, he is able to delve deeper than most analysts in helping companies define programs, not just strategies. Something a bit rare in the world of market research – which, incidentally, he does very well.
Let me reiterate. This is by no means even vaguely approaching what is an exhaustive list (duh!). There are other excellent institutional analysts like Ian Jacobs at Datamonitor/Ovum; Mary Wardley at IDC, Sheryl Kingstone at Yankee Group and Martin Schneider at the 451 Group to name a few more. I just don’t have the time to lay them all out.
The boutiques are essentially the intermediate answer to the institutionals. They are often ex-institutional analysts who found the larger companies stifling for one reason or another so they took their already considerable influence with them and formed a small firm. Interestingly, this goes to the heart of what I said earlier. In the case of many of the influencers, the customers they have travel with them – and have no qualms abandoning the companies that the influencers left and joining the new firms. At the heart of this is still, regardless of where you are, the trust in the individual influencer, not the firms that housed them.
The boutiques are rooted in sound methodologies, usually modified versions of the approaches that the founders learned at their original companies. But the boutiques are tougher to type because their business models and purposes are vastly different; none of them necessarily even compete. But what they have in common is that they are, for the most part, less pricey than the institutionals.
To determine how to deal with them requires some serious research on your part. That’s because the services that they offer vary as widely as the boutique firms that exist. For example, Altimeter Group provides consultative and thought leadership services; Constellation Research is more research focused, than consultative with a strong thought leadership service component; Dachis Group seems to be migrating to a combination of consultative services and products. It goes on and on.
Do NOT underestimate their influence. Some of them like Ray Wang of Constellation Research and in a very different way, Brian Solis of Altimeter Group are among the most influential analysts/thought leaders in the business world.
Since this is a piece on influencer relations, I would be remiss if I don’t mention some representative standouts when it comes to boutique influencers.
Ray Wang (Constellation Research) – Ray is a former Forrester analyst who created Constellation Research, focused on market research (as opposed to consultative work) by the seat of his pants in 2011 and has made it into a real success. Some of that is due to Ray’s seriously huge influence and his quality as an analyst and market researcher. Some of it is due to the quality of his partners and principals. His personal focus is more enterprise than pure CRM but he is also seen as a leader in Social CRM. Among his many accomplishments – Analyst of the Year for the Institute for Industry Analyst Relations (IIAR) in 2009..
Brian Solis (Altimeter Group) – Brian going to Altimeter Group, founded by Groundswell co-author Charlene Li, was a huge coup for Altimeter Group. Brian literally rewrote the rules of public relations during the early part of the 21st century and the use of social tools in the agency world is largely due to the strategies he developed early on. He has migrated successfully to the larger world of social business and the enterprise and is a leading speaker and thinker there too. Interesting thing about Brian is that even though he is occupies rarified air (take a look at the forewords to his books. Here is a review of his latest, “The End of Business as Usual”), he is among the kindest people I have ever met.
Dion Hinchcliffe (Dachis Group) – Even when he ran his own boutique firm, Dion was a leading light in the world of enterprise collaboration a.k.a. E20. He has since become one of the leading proponents of social business – that unique combination of E20 and social CRM (to simplify it). He is known for his ability to develop a fully fleshed out strategic picture of both the business end and the technology components of that business end in a social business. Some of the best blog posts I’ve ever read for their content and completeness. He is highly respected for good reason. A recent author, get his (and Peter Kim’s) book, “Social Business By Design”
Laurie McCabe (SMB Group) – Laurie is one of the few true small business CRM thought leaders. She might be the only one who isn’t independent. Her market research has been exceptionally strong along with her technology product knowledge and there are few who excel more than her in these areas. Helluva nice person, too.
Again, there are others in this category – Susan Scrupski, also of Dachis; Jeremiah Owyang at Altimeter Group; Anneke Seley founder of Reality Works Group, among several others. This post would be 20,000 words rather than the 6600+ it is if I went into the entire list of excellent influencers in the categories I’m squeezing them into.
This has been the area that has seen the greatest increase in “power” over the last few years. I would suspect the reasons are that there has been (see above) a shift in who and how we trust with 65% of the respondents in 2012’s Edelman Trust Barometer saying that “a person like me” is their most trusted source – meaning an individual that they perceive to have similar interests. That level of trust invested is much easier with an individual than a company – any day of the week. Plus the independents are free of the constraints of the other categories of vendors and thus are able to write more, attend more events, keep their visibility high – without worrying about who they are accountable to for billable hours.
The trust in the independents has grown also, in part, because the advice that they’ve given to their vendor clients has been sound. They have often been around for years in the industry and have grown up with their clients and have grown up as the industry itself matured. They are trusted because they’ve been tested over time – often having come from the practitioners or the vendors themselves.
With the growth of Social CRM and social media usage, there has been an outgrowth of an entire new generation of business influencers who have been outspoken, intelligent and more often than not, right. They have also been “inducted” into the more established influencer circles (more on how all this works in a future post. But trust me, mentoring the younger influencers is something that goes on all the time by the older influencers. However, there is a bit of a dark side to this too. More on this in that future post). When it comes to price, their overhead is not that high so therefore they are the least pricey of all, but there is no consistency in how they charge either. Each to his own.
Here are some of the independent stars.
These are the ones who have been around the block a few times. More than a few times. Have run at least a marathon’s worth of trips around the block. At it for a while with their reputations and practices well established, they are in demand constantly for one thing or another. They need to be tracked if not engaged. Or engaged. Get to know them.
Me – My ego demanded my inclusion – and who am I to ever deny my ego? So I included me.
Esteban Kolsky – Esteban is a seasoned influencer with a strong focus on customer service. He is a former Gartner analyst with formidable research skills and a wide influence net. He is trusted by the industry and the influencers alike. Read his two page notes and you’ll see what I mean. A member of the Enterprise Irregulars (this will be meaningful later)
Denis Pombriant – Denis is unique, the only influencer of any “type” who sees the macroeconomic and social issues that often envelop the things going on in the enterprise software industry. A long time analyst, business development and market research guy, who headed up Aberdeen’s CRM Practice until shortly after the millennium turned. A member of the Enterprise Irregulars.
Brent Leary – I’d love to leave it as he and I being the CRM Playaz, but there is much more to Brent than that. He is arguably the leading authority on small business CRM and his influence runs to both the CRM and the small business (even when non-CRM) world. He is a specialist not just on Social CRM but also on music, but that’s a story for another day.
Vinnie Mirchandani – Vinnie is also a former Gartner analyst who is an eminence grise in the world of enterprise software. He is widely read, highly trusted and well liked in the technology industry. His scope is beyond just technology though. He watches and comments on innovation with his blogs deal architect, and New Florence: New Renaissance and his books, The New Polymath and his just released “The New Technology Elite.” A member of the Enterprise Irregulars.
Josh Greenbaum - Josh has been an influencer and an analyst for 25 years, though if you saw him, you’d think that meant he started when he was 8. He is one of the toughest and fairest of the influencers, with a very deep and knowledgeable analysis of the nitty gritty of the technology industry, at a level I can only imagine. He can frighten vendors with the dead on accuracy of his analysis and his very tough questions but they know he’s always fair.
These are the younger set, who have just become players in the influencer world. Companies that are smart will start courting them now as they grow into their role as the now impending new generation of influencers, analysts, and consultants. The earlier you meet them, the better for you.
Brian Vellmure – Brian is becoming increasingly visible to the technology vendors, having been known to the practitioner community for a little while now. He is now being recognized as one of the up and coming thought leaders especially when it comes to all things Social CRM. Key to Brian? He gets the technology and the strategic reasons for it.
Mark Tamis – Mark is making his mark in Europe. Paris based, Mark is being seen as someone who can move companies to adopt social and CRM technologies. That’s not surprising since he’s been in technology for years – with major stints at BEA and Oracle. Guy is smart, really smart, and yet manages to stay a good person despite the brains. Read this man’s posts and hear this man frequently at industry conferences. Lots do.
Silvana Buljan – Silvana isn’t truly an up and coming star – she has been a star in Southern Europe for a long time. One of the foremost authorities on change management, this founder of the Buljan Associates consultancy is becoming known well beyond Southern Europe. Watch for her scheduled appearance at CRM Evolution 2012. Change management is one of the most undervalued areas in building a customer-centric company, yet the most important. Silvana is one of the few that knows it and knows how to make sure the world does it.
Again, we’re into the granular world. Vendor influencers are a tricky category. The reason is that there are two types of vendor influencers – those with only a little or no agenda who have strong independent credentials, mostly established prior to their joining the vendor, and those with a more concrete agenda who are not pure of motive but have enough independent chutzpah and are universal enough thinkers to garner the respect of the industry and customers to begin with. We’ll call the former Type A and the latter Type B. Not at all related to their psychological profiles.
Type A – Little Agenda
With one notable exception these tend to be the former external influencers who, even upon joining vendors, didn’t lose their credibility or their caché.
Chris Bucholtz – Chris is currently the editor-in-chief of CRM Outsiders and resident thought leader at SugarCRM. He comes to SugarCRM from InsideCRM where he established himself as a significant thought leader in his own right. Even while working for a vendor, Chris maintains his independence and is trusted by the industry for his cogent pieces on the nuances, the concepts and the benefits provided by Social CRM. He is a mensch.
Michael Wu – He is another one of the exceptions to the rule. He is homegrown – meaning he wasn’t an influencer prior to his stint as Principal Scientist of Lithium. He has zero agenda, being pure of heart and a pure scientist. His work on influence, gamification, smart data (rather than big data) is superlative, groundbreaking stuff.
Sameer Patel – Sameer is a veteran. Even though now he runs collaboration as a GVP at SAP, for years, Sameer has been one of the most important influencers in the enterprise 2.0 world. Thing about Sameer though, is that he gets the convergence between Social CRM and Enterprise 2.0 – one of the few. His work at SAP, though relatively new, has hand no impact on his status as an independent influencer. That’s a good thing.
Mitch Lieberman – Mitch is one of these amazing influencers who has managed to stay an influencer despite spending a significant amount of time at vendors to begin with such as VP of SugarCRM and currently a Vice-President at Sword-Ciboodle. But this hasn’t silenced his voice at all. Highly respected fella.
Jeff Nolan – Jeff actually was an insider prior to his stint at Get Satisfaction. He’s managed to retain that status. He (along with CEO Wendy Lea) is also the major spokesperson for the company and yet remains he is dialed into an incredible number of significant networks. An unbelievably knowledgeable guy, he has a sharp analytical mind and is definitely one of the most influential guys in the industry as well as one of the kindest ones.
Type B – A More Significant Agenda
These guys tend to be people who have gone beyond their leadership position at a specific vendor. They have established enough independent credibility to stand out even though they are typically responsible for their corporate agendas. These guys might have been independent prior to their “vendorhood” Jeff Nolan at Get Satisfaction or they became influential while at the vendor – Anthony Lye of Oracle; Laurence Buchanan formerly of Capgemini.
Anthony Lye – Anthony runs the Oracle CRM global practice and has a huge corporate portfolio with the most recent acquisitions of Endeca, InQuira, ATG, and RightNow all under his purview. Clearly, he has an Oracle agenda, but he also is a highly respected industry veteran who has understood the twists, turns, and trends in the CRM world, and has been willing to present his thinking on them without selling. We all think a lot of him as a truly independent mind, regardless of the required agenda.
Laurence Buchanan – Laurence recently left Capgemini EMEA and went to the management services group at Ernst & Young Advisory as a Director in the Customer Centre of Excellence for the EMEA region focused on Digital Transformation, Social Business and CRM. This was a coup for Ernst & Young, because Laurence has firmly established himself as an independent influencer despite his required corporate agendas. He has been a leading voice for social CRM, customer experience and has a vast knowledge of the technology landscape. He is firmly on the cutting edge of social business though, as a wise person, knows that traditional channels are still part of the equation. He is also a helluva writer and speaker.
This one is perhaps the most ironic. I’m a J-school graduate (that would be journalism school). I’ve had multiple jobs in journalism ranging from a low paid proofreader to a low paid managing editor. But the one thing that I learned in journalism school – aside from spell names right, which I do less frequently as I get older – is that we should write unbiased pieces. Does anyone whatsoever believe that’s true? Not me. All pieces are a matter of opinion up to and including the selection of what pieces make it into a publication and which ones don’t.
So why is it that we think that journalists aren’t influencers? They are – obviously so, if you think about it for a brief moment. What we have to look at when it comes to the CRM/Social world is not whether journalists are influential – they are – but which journalists are the most influential. The reality is that there are key publications and key writers whose primary profession is something in the journalist world from writer to editor to publisher that influence buyers and our industry.
David Myron – David is the editor in chief of CRM Magazine and someone who is greatly respected throughout the entire industry. He tends to operate behind the scenes but his opinions when he states them – matter. He has a VAST knowledge of not only who is who and what is what in CRM but also how it works. He chooses to be an editor/journalist; he could be a consultant/analyst if he wanted. Just a really nice guy, too.
Ginger Conlon – What can I say about Ginger? As editor-in-chief of 1to1 Media, she is a long-standing insider in the CRM and now social world with a great deal of clout with a “c.” Aside from being a superb and exceptionally bright journalist, she is someone who has a lot of experience in seeing how the pieces work in CRM so she is able to provide a cogent viewpoint on how the world views CRM.
Barney Beal – Barney, the News Director of TechTarget’s SearchCRM has made it into the widely read property it is now. Barney’s power is not only in his knowledgeable writing on CRM but in how he constructs the SearchCRM. He makes sure that we all understand how it works, why its here, and what it is and is highly influential in the way that he frames that.
Chuck Schaefer – Chuck, the owner of Vantive Media, which owns CRMSearch, the new kid on the block, is actually not a new kid on the block himself – though I don’t mean to say he’s old. He was former CEO of Aplicor and has recently become a thought leader in his own right with his cogent opinions as expressed on the CRMSearch site. People listen to this man – and he is a genuinely good-hearted human being, which makes listening to him a pleasure.
Gerhard Gschwandtner – Gerhard is the founder and CEO of Selling Power and is one of the most influential guys in the sales world. Among the keys to his influence is his stewardship of the Sales 2.0 Conference, which is the crucible for contemporary thinking on sales and the place where one goes to see the leading minds. He seems to follow the influential journalist pattern right down the center because he, too, is a truly nice person.
Gary Lemke – Gary, a long time industry veteran, has been the long time editor of CRM Advocate, a voice for the customer that has been around for more than a decade. A media influencer who takes a reasoned and sometimes provocative approach to industry thinking, he is highly respected among his peers and the customers who read him.
Neil Davey - the man behind UK-based Sift Media's Mycustomer.com, Neil commands enormous respect among the influencers themselves and the general "in the know" CRM community because of the quality level of his content; the contemporary nature of the site and the honestly of his editorial outlook. He is someone who is paid attention to especially in Europe and increasingly in the U.S.
Influencers Who Influence Influencers
This is arguably the most interesting and the least known of all of the kinds of influencers out there. These are the people who the more public influencers will often sit at the feet of. They are people who typically only write occasionally but they are never invisible. They are highly experienced and trusted by the people that group of people who I’m describing in all the other areas. I would be in touch with these folks if I were you. Seriously.
Bruce Culbert – I need to come clean here. Bruce is one of my best friends and a business partner of mine in BPT Partners. I only say this so you can’t throw it at me – it actually has no bearing on why I am explaining who an influencer who influences influencers is. Bruce is the man who created e-business at IBM, ran Bearing Points global supply chain and CRM practices simultaneously and then ran professional services at salesforce.com for awhile. He is someone that we all know and all listen to because of his experience and his good heart – thus the wisdom dispensed and mentoring he does is truly valuable. He is the epitome of the kind of person I mean. You won’t find a lot of writing from him, though there is some, but you will find universal respect.
Louis Columbus – Louis is perhaps the most prolific writer of this lot – and a really good one. He works for Cincom Systems, so you could squeeze him into the vendor influencer category too, and that exposes the artifice involved in squeezing people into categories. Louis is constantly developing themes on the customer experience and the technology side of the equation. But where is truly influential is in the relationships he has with the influencers he knows. He is one of those people that influencers simply trust – so his considered opinion matters. That is powerful stuff. Which he always delivers with a grin.
Michael Thomas – Michael works for Microsoft. Michael is the president of the CRM Association. Michael truly gets Social CRM. Michael is really smart. Michael is a genuinely good human being with kind words for everyone. Michael is someone that we all are willing to pay heed to when he speaks. Nuff said.
Others: Ryan Zuk, CRM Analyst Relations, Sage Software; Derek Grant, Senior Vice President, Business Development, Pardot - there is a particular story to tell about why these two are here. Let’s just say, we’d have little or nothing to do with their companies if it weren’t for them – making them an interesting kind of influence the influence, but one that a. belongs in this category; and b. shows you how complicated this whole thing can get. If you want to know more details on this, ping me on Twitter @pgreenbe or email me at mailto:email@example.com.
Finally, for the purposes of this post anyway, there is one other thing to consider – the influencers “secret societies.” They aren’t really that but I love the intrigue implied in the idea. But they are organized communities of influencers who speak often on Google Groups or the Skype IM channels and they consistent of either people from multiple backgrounds, institutions and venues or a single venue who communicate as a community on the backchannel. But they reflect two fundamentals that are important to know when it comes to the “secrets” of influencers.
- They are incredibly knowledgeable people. Perhaps some of the most experienced, powerful and brilliant minds in the industry. Customers, other influencers, vendors, investors all confer with and listen to them.
- They (we) gossip. That sounds hilariously funny because it can be the same kind of snarky gossip that you would hear on TMZ, as well as the more topical and intellectual kind, but it isn’t actually funny at all. Its important that you get this one.. These groups are social networks that are made of people who enjoy their participation in them because they are trusted sources. Meaning if you do something as, lets say, a vendor, either good or bad, it will be known to more than just you because whoever you “did” it to, will speak about it among their friends – just like you would. The reality is - an injury to one is an injury to all at least an injury broadcast to all – and it will be broadcast As a disclaimer, if it’s under non-disclosure either formally or informally (meaning someone asked them not to say anything), nothing will be said – these are the most honorable professionals I’ve ever had the pleasure of dealing with and who you will ever meet. But anything that’s not under either formal or informal NDA is in the category of “possible fair game” and it often will be socialized. So be smart and understand who and what you’re dealing with and you can’t go wrong. If you just understand what you’re dealing with, you can go wrong.
Enterprise Irregulars – this is the “Skull and Bones” of enterprise software – probably the most influential organization in this world of influencers. A mix of independent analysts, a few vendor representatives and an eclectic few others, it is an unmatched aggregation of highly experienced industry veterans. They communicate in a back channel regularly, they have a website that aggregates their various writings and kind of gives you an idea of who some of the members are (hint: look at the blog roll). The total years of experience in this group probably would if strung serially start at the Cretaceous. It is an intelligent, formidable body and deep in its knowledge of the industry it stems from.
Accidental Social CRM Community – Also self-labeled the A.C., this is a group of quasi-organized, somewhat younger influencers in the Social CRM world. A multi-continental group, the group is comprised of many of the leading Social CRM thinkers. They are a mix of independents and there are fair amounts that are from the larger consulting/systems integrator firms. No vendors in this group. They are not as well established as the Enterprise Irregulars but the quality of discussion, while different, is every bit as good as the EIs. There is some overlap between members of both groups. This is an organization to be mindful of if influencer/analyst relations are your game.
It should be noted that a number of the existing analyst institutions have back channels that have been formally created for their own analysts, advisory board members etc. to have discussions and collaborate. The tools used are typically Skype, Google Groups, Yammer on occasion and rarely an internal community or wiki-like collaboration space.
My reason for mentioning this isn’t only to identify a couple of the groups that exist out there but to reinforce the point that we all talk. A lot. And in ways that are classically social – meaning networks of people communicating 1 to many and many to many. A lot. All the time. 24X7.
My reason to “type” influencers isn’t to put any one in a box. The irony of all of this is that, regardless of the institutional dynamics that might be inherent among the social networks involved in this, it still means you are dealing with human beings who have different skills sets, different contexts that they operate in, different approaches, different agendas and different experience. Each of them and several of them may be suited for what you have to do. The types I mention here are loosely fitting and there are always exceptions and some who don’t really fit the mold.
The other thing to understand, which I will get into in a future post, is that there is an actual CRM/Social CRM community that consists of vendors, influencers, customers, that know each other, see each other a lot and are quite friendly, despite some internecine battles here and there. They are not formally anything but they fit the criteria of a neighborhood pretty well. I’ll get into more details about what the dynamics of this are in a future post. Though don’t expect a tell all. This isn’t a gossip piece. This is a “how to deal with influencers” piece that I’m writing as much for self-interest as for yours.
So what’s the key lesson here?
- Do your homework: understand who they are, not just what they are. That means learn something about them as actual human beings, not just influencers. More in that post that will also cover the community.
- The individual influencer is the one that matters, not the firm they represent.
- But you can’t ignore the institutional dynamics.
- Choose their abilities according to your needs. Not their organization or their reputation.
- Remember, influencers, like all other human beings of any “type”, talk. So realize that you may not just be talking to one person, even if you are. This is to your advantage or disadvantage, because, like anything else, it depends on what you say.
Okay, next up sometime….whenever, Chapter 2. Hope this is a useful start to you.