I don’t want to feel like you’re trying to sell me something.

This is the refrain we hear time and time again from today’s buyer, empowered as they are with endless choice, access, and delivery. In the digital age, how can we best inspire buyers, given that we know they don’t want to feel sold-to?

The answer is influence

Ideally, marketers don’t want to spend their creative careers pushing (and pushing, and pushing) people to buy. That kind of work is pretty punishing—especially with so many brands battling for attention. We want to be valuable in a way that pulls the right prospects into our orbit—earning their regard, interest, and attention so they come to us instead of us chasing after them.

When companies dip their toes into figuring out what makes a good ‘pull’ investment, they may often ask:

  • I spent money on something. How much money did it get me back? The answer will then determine whether we spend that money again, and to what degree.
  • How do marketing’s efforts play into activity across deals we win—especially when compared to deals we lose?
  • We want to be able to either match or grow our budget based on demonstrating our influence. Can we justify our marketing budget by connecting it to revenue?

It’s positively revolutionary to have the answers to these questions—gained thanks to Attribution Reporting, which confirms whether or not a particular campaign or piece of content played a role in converting prospects and/or deals. But none of those questions are quite attuned to going a step further: to the gold mine of Influence Reporting. Think of it this way:

What are all the cumulative moments we need stage-to-stage across marketing and sales channels, content, and interactions to shepherd a prospect and make it to the tipping point of a deal?

Influence Reporting + Attribution Reporting

Influence Reporting maps interconnected emails, conversations, and pieces of content to explore how each contributes to the complete buyer journey. It’s the data we collect during both inbound and outbound interactions that allows us to better-understand what drives buyer interest and trust—and what moves it forward. We find out which flow of tactics works best—both quantifiably and qualitatively—and codify that flow to make it repeatable.

While Attribution Reporting makes the revenue connection by pointing us to the single touch-point that led to the capture or conversion of a lead, it doesn’t give us enough insight to make sound investment decisions.

A trade show might collect a mass of email addresses that may (or may not) convert into deals—thereby appearing to be an effective revenue driver—but a more substantial piece of content such as a whitepaper or an ROI calculator may be more influential. Leaning on attribution reporting alone, we may conclude we should pour more money into trade shows. But if we cut webinar or whitepaper budgets to make more of a splash at conventions, we diminish the kind of high-value substance that tips decisions over into converted leads and deals. Ultimately, we want to elevate marketing reporting to get beyond knowing only what helps close deals. We want better than that. We want to understand what opens the door to opportunities that close. It’s an important distinction that isn’t just about isolating a one-time trigger point, but rather gaining a full view of the nature of positive momentum and how it accumulates for top line wins.

Influence Reporting shows us what reinforces the trust that facilitates a sale, and directs us how to best spend our energy, budget, and creativity. It can say: this content / interaction / moment seems to trigger funnel movement or conversion—but these other investments build 90% of the trust, doing all the perhaps-unseen labor that leads to tipping points. When we understand causation, we can repeat it.

What to know: Generating influence

Now that we have a good sense of what Influence Reporting is, let’s explore some of the best practices to keep in mind when we roll up our sleeves to make it happen.

Along a B2B buyer journey from first exposure to closed deal is an interplay of players, research, urgencies, hesitations, and questions. To get what they need at any given point, prospects will seek out whitepapers, attend webinars, pore through your website, scroll through social media or syndicated content — all long before they reach out to engineering or sales, when actual conversations begin.

To reverse-engineer and repeat our brand at its best, we’ve got to explore all prospect activity along the journey, layering on top of that what we know of our buyer profiles. This is how we place ourselves in a more proactive position—not by just ticking check boxes on the way to revenue. The big picture, incorporating all aspects of the buyer journey, drives good strategy.

Here’s what to keep in mind before you begin:

1|  Influence reporting validates what works across the buyer journey beyond simple tactics.

If you hope influence reporting will affirm something you think you already know, or justify a team or project, you will laser-focus on the wrong fractional pieces of data and ultimately twist it to push a preconceived notion instead of using it to improve. Be ready to rethink how you communicate and engage to maximize the buyer journey. What you learn may surprise you—but if you’re open enough to hear the real, street-level truth of what works, you’ll be on the path to blowing success wide-open.

2|  Without direction, it’s easy to drown in the data. Before you begin, make an effort to frame what you know of the buyer journey in digestible stages, and then apply what you observe to layer in new understanding to those stages.

In order to prevent feeling overwhelmed with a huge volume of numbers, do the necessary up-front work to code the right metadata into your activities. It’s a step to help sheer input come through as meaningful insight. Consider how you might structure the eventual data to deliver the best possible insight—think in terms of ID stage, topic, product, campaign, channel. All your levers to slice and dice. When data is collected in an organized fashion, it flows with instant context. What stage is the activity mapped to in the buyer journey? What are the key activities per stage that push people into the sales funnel?

3|  Identify your distinct buyer personas and journeys first, then target insight to shed as much light as possible by industry, persona, and product.

Different offerings, geographies, verticals, or audiences often have completely distinct marketing and sales funnels. For example, an electronics manufacturer sells to many unique verticals with unique needs—with corporate, industrial, and consumer applications. Buyers within each of those verticals will engage in vastly different ways. Similarly, target audiences of a pharmaceutical brand will take many paths of engagement as they assess its products. Use metadata as a uniquely-focused lens on each, giving you the ability to mass-target based on what you see.

Create Marketing Magnetism

With Influence Reporting, we become much more sensitive to the signs of buyer readiness and get better at proactively responding to them, incorporating buyer journey insight into campaign and content strategy. We gain nuance in our understanding of not only marketing performance, but the rhythm of influence across the buyer journey.

For marketers, the most fulfilling work is all about creating magnetism. We prefer people to self-identify as our ideal customers, then find themselves drawn to our brand whether they seek inspiration, advice, guidance, learning, or style to a particular item on a shopping list. No matter what they need, we want people to think of us first—and find us already-informed and ready for a conversation. That’s the ideal. That’s influence.