Got this message from a senior exec at a bank I’m prospecting:
LinkedIn is not at all oriented to supporting vendors and buyers working together in ways that work for both parties. We as sellers are reduced to sending connect requests and messages with little to no context. We are told to “network” and “give value”. I tend to think all those ideas are generated by people who don’t actually sell for a living (and I give talks and train on social selling and have a top 1% SSI, so please don’t give me your weak pitch on social selling — most of you folks hyping social selling are not telling the truth, sorry)…LinkedIn could do so much more to support what both sides of this equation need very badly, and I find it really surprising that they haven’t done anything to support “B2B eCommerce”.
What I see as possible is a way of allowing B2B buyers and sellers to signal interest and offers, and then an engagement model that is permission based on both sides. At a conceptual level, this isn’t very complex but it wouldn’t be easy to implement given the half-digital, half-analog state of our markets and mindsets. But still...My thoughts follow:
- Intent Model — Companies and individuals could register areas of interest in numerous ways. An individual mgr/exec (only folks allowed to express corporate intents?) would be allowed to publish an interest in say “Conversational AI” or “Social Media Analytics” or “CNC machines”. Instead of web searching, they would be presented with a list of vendors who provide such offerings. Vendors would also publish their keywords with their corporate pages.
- Buyer control over engagement based on reputation — First level is a list of vendors. But then imagine that LinkedIn had a vendor review capability like G2Crowd, a B2B software rating site? Real users giving real evaluations and praise and criticism, if you haven’t used it, go check it out. It’s legit. I mean, LinkedIn is a frikking social network, yet say Uber and AirBnB do a much better job at managing reputations and rankings/user views than LinkedIn has ever thought about. So you could select the vendors with high recos/good reviews from people potentially in your network or at least in similar roles.
- Engagement models — The buyer could register a formal interest in the vendor but controlling the interaction. Imagine LinkedIn allowed options such as: Initial Info Request, RFP, Intro Briefing etc. Or more cool? What if LinkedIn built out an online vendor showcase area that was only visible to people the vendor allowed in? A digital trade show booth that is always running? Imagine LinkedIn was like a digital trade show? Given that all businesses are on it, how does LinkedIn not see this possibility?
- Individual Sellers — Let buyers see who the people at the vendor are connected to in their network. Even better? How about a a reputation management aspect, particularly for sales reps, sort of like a “Yelp” for sellers? This alone would provide incentives for much better behavior by reps.
I could go on but I think anyone who buys or sells a lot in a B2B setting will agree that what we do now is insane, blindly reaching out to people whose title and company tells us they may have a vague interest in buying what we are trying to sell. Sellers spend most of their time on outreach that doesn’t hit the mark and aggravating “prospects” for whom the outreach is irrelevant.
Think about it this way. B2B sales is a highly wasteful and inefficient endeavor. Email response rates are maybe 1% on cold emails. Dialing for dollars yields few connects and many people simply do not have corp phones anymore. Many reps spend huge amounts of time sending emails and connect requests out by the hundreds and thousands with very tiny levels of response.
Worst of all? Buyers hate it, which is why I decided to finish this piece (it had been sitting in draft in my blog folder). The comment from this prospect was so on the money, and I’m so empathetic to his concerns. Fyi, he was/is a nice guy actually and thanked me for at least sending him a short but substantive video addressed to his needs, based on a talk I’d seen him give.
There is a bigger problem behind all of this. Sadly, too many B2B marketers have borrowed the direct response/mail approach to “marketing” in B2B. They look at a 5% response rate and high five each other — not even thinking for a moment about the 95% who they are bothering that have zero interest. This is a mindset problem in that most B2B marketers today have never been in B2B sales — not true in the old days of the tech biz when marketing was a career path for smart, analytical sales people who wanted a break from the endless grind of quota and deals. Today’s over-educated and under-experienced B2B marketers feel like shortcut artists to me, always looking for a way to “hack” growth or some other nonsense but they’ve never “converted” a single lead in their lives personally. TBH — I’m quite tired of explaining how B2B buying works and they are a big part of the problem in the ecosystem as well.
In tech companies, marketing and selling costs are astronomical due to this waste. Sadly, the winners seem to be those who view it as an “arms race”. Loaded up with VC money or an appetite from management for growth over profit, the “winners” in this game are the firms that are willing to spend a ridiculous amount of money on acquisition. Search ads, retargeting, social media targeting, expensive conferences, SDR teams, and immense technology stacks that cost mid 6 figures for even small companies. The system rewards those who punch through the noise somehow — regardless of how wasteful or obnoxious it all is.
Sure, eventually the market will sort this out but part of that will be the response by companies like LinkedIn seeing the problem and the opportunity the to solve it their social network provides. Almost all companies have a LinkedIn page, as do most business people. LinkedIn uses this ubiquity to charge high fees to sales people and recruiters and HR teams while providing, at best. To me? Its limited value is a pretty laughable business model given the possibilities for real, actual networking, Just sayin’.
Okay, I have to get back to selling now…