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Influence Marketing vs. Sales Strategy

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Social Scoring. Gamification. Klout. Kred. Perks. +K. Influencers. Ego. Talk or read about influence marketing these days and those are likely the themes being discussed. They may not start that way, but it's the theme that inevitably evolves from the conversation or the hot topics that emerge in the comment string of a blog post on the subject.

Everyone is dissecting -- and judging -- influence scoring platforms such as Klout, Kred and PeerIndex based on how (or if) they measure influence, how they can be gamed and what value they add to marketing programs or online engagement. The collective discourse on the subject of influence marketing has become about the game of influence, instead of actual influence.

What is Influence?

What is influence? That's a question best left to social-scientists, psychologist and philosophers to answer. For the practice of sales & marketing, there is really only one definition, which is best stated as a question: did they buy it?

  • Did the person who received a product sample from Frito Lay's marketing team buy a bag that week?
  • Did the housewife buy the book that Oprah featured on her book club list?
  • Did the T-Mobile customer switch cellular providers when his co-worker suggested that Verizon was a better network?
  • Did the web developer switch CMS platforms when Robert Scoble praised a competitive product?
  • Did parishioners buy Chick-fil-A sandwiches when religious leaders called for support of the brand in response to boycott calls from gay-rights activists?

Did they buy it?

Isn't it about time that we stop focusing on the influencers, their following and their social engagement and start focusing on who the decision-makers are and how they make decisions? Influence marketing is one tactic in the sales and marketing tool kit and the goal of sales and marketing departments is to increase qualified leads and conversions; ergo, influence marketing must be focused on influencing prospective customers to purchase a product or service that they may not have otherwise purchased.

Social scoring platforms such as Klout track the size of one's social graph along with the frequency and reach of the social engagements with that audience across various subjects. They analyze those conversations and rank the individual with a score out of 100, which is meant to represent the power of his or her influence over others. Brand managers, seeking to promote their product to the masses, pay Klout to forward product samples ("perks") to those deemed influential on topics relevant to the product's brand. The goal is that the recipients of these perks will talk, tweet and share positive feedback, pictures and videos of the products they receive to their large and engaged audience.

Accountability in Marketing

While it's always been the case, the lingering negative economic forecast has resulted in marketing departments being held accountable to sales conversions and a return on investment with greater urgency that ever before. Yet, marketing and software developers involved in the practice of influence marketing, formerly known as word of mouth marketing (pre-social media), have somehow missed the memo; success is measured by the identification of popular social amplifiers instead of sales transactions

To be effective, marketers -- or their selected consumer representatives -- must exert influence over the decision-making process. Doing so requires an understanding of who the customers are, where they are within the purchase life cycle and what their motivations are when considering a purchase. Further, any attempt to influence a purchase decision must take into account the situational factors that accelerate or impede the power of a recommendation from brand advocates.

Consumers, bloggers, and social celebrities with high social influence scores can amplify a brand's message and even a recommend a product they love or are paid to promote, but how targeted is their audience? Are they even in the buying cycle?

When success is measured by the number of unqualified impressions instead of actual purchase transactions, isn't it time we change the focus? Isn't it about time we return the focus of influence marketing to the actual sales converted instead of message amplification? Focus on who and where the customer is instead of the influencer? When executed with the right strategy, influence marketing will -- and should be -- about customer acquisition.

Where do you weigh in on this? Awareness or Sales Conversion? Join the debate in the comments below.