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Understanding prospects' 'Network of Me'

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Come, take a walk with me and let's talk about sales. In fact, I'd like us to put on our prospect hats because the experience is unique.

When I put on my prospect hat, I—as a prospect—am immediately hit in the face with tidal wave of information and media. Buy this! Read that! It comes at me as a giant wall of water. So I do what I expect everyone else does—quickly screen things out and build the "network of me."

I figure out whom I trust, what information I respect and how I want to receive it. It's experiential rather than planned, but now I've got the websites bookmarked. I scan my inbox. Different stuff is on my phone. And TV is just for movies. Inside the network of me, the noise is down to a dull roar. I can stick my head up for air.

The prospects' network of me comes up in every research interview I've ever conducted. People parse their trust and respect based on human, individual and business criteria, and the information they need and how they want it to receive it. Anything else is trash. The network is how they learn and act.

Let me give you an example.

I was interviewing the CIO of a regional bank. He was explaining his process for staying abreast of changes in technology and how he decides what to purchase. He recounted the conventions he attends, the regional bank technology association he belongs to and the online and print sources he frequents. But if he has a particular problem, he turns to a specific service provider. This provider took the time to learn the CIO's needs and the needs of the organization, to get and stay on their network of me as a trusted and respected technology source.

What does this provider offer? Certainly his core technology, as well as the following:

  • The provider has staffed and trained technical personnel to help the bank as needed.
  • He researches and solves problems, and presents solution in many other areas of technology.
  • He has developed reseller relationships with several trusted corporations to bring service and support right to the CIO's door.
I tip my hat to this guy. There are three foundational things you need to do to get on your prospects' network of me:
  1. Get more human. We call the people who work with, recommend and buy your product or service prospects, which is somewhat dehumanizing and generic. We've got to understand them as people, as individuals, with both professional and personal needs and preferences.
  2. Develop a brand that speaks to these people simply and clearly. Answer the prospect's three questions directed at you: Who are you? Why should I care? What's in it for me?
  3. Put your arms around each prospect and develop the extensions and value-adds that increase your span of influence and the value you can provide. Think of it as a brand ecosystem, an extended family that can increase prospects' satisfaction and their preference for you.
It is my belief that this is where marketing, and particularly business-to-business marketing, is going. I've called it the network of me, but others have called it opt-in marketing. One thing remains true: Prospects have put themselves in control. It's their network now.

Scott Hornstein is principal at direct marketing consultancy Hornstein Associates (www.hornsteinassociates.com). He can be reached at scott@hornsteinassociates.com.

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