Comparing “influencers” to sales agencies

I went to a conference a few weeks ago in Austin, Texas (the hashtag is #SocialRoadTrip if you’re interested; it’s a way for people who know each other through Twitter, etc. to meet up in real life). Definitely a cool time, often a little beer-infused, and great food/music. (That’s what Austin is known for.)

One conversation that came up a lot was this idea of “influencers.” You know the type. They usually have big followings on the different social platforms. Maybe they had previous jobs in marketing, sales, or operations. Now they are paid speakers and consultants. They tweet out a lot of quote panels and try to sell their next book (“It’s $9.99 for just the next six hours!”). Some people call these types “thought leaders.” I’m not a fan of that concept or a lot of these guys personally, but they are usually revered (or, at the very least, they have big followings). There are a lot of tips and tricks and marketing pop-ups promising 14,297% growth on their websites. (“Just download my eBook, dear customer.”) It’s the digital game.

So at this event in Austin, we’re having a lot of discussion around this topic: What makes an influencer? Technically everyone influences someone, so does a high Twitter following mean you’re an “influencer?” What happens if all you do is automate tweets to that following, as opposed to having real conversations? What’s the deal then?

A few attendees for the weekend contrasted “influencers” with “sales guys.” Sales is usually the nuts and bolts of an organization’s revenue stream — sales drives the revenue — but there’s no quote panels from Deepak Chopra and high follower counts here (well, there are some sales “influencers” online, true). Sales agencies, principals, and reps need to get shit done. Plain and simple. There’s no sexy campaign around their next pitch like an influencer might do with a book. They just need to hit targets. They need to ring the bell.

And while influencers are often revered, sales agencies are often dumped on: a common refrain about your sales team/agency is “It was OK but they could have had a better year…”

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So think about this: sales principals actually influence people to buy products and services, right? That’s convincing and influencing and guiding someone through a process. Often only through her own buying process. Sometimes they’ll do that dozens of times in one day. It’s legitimately, in almost every sense of the word, “influencing.” But then we allow influencers to Facebook share that “companies of the future will need good core values” and we hit like 189 times?

There seems something wrong with this equation and how we’re perceiving what terms like “value” and “influence” mean.

So, over to you: what makes an influencer in your mind? Is a really good sales principal an influencer, even if he barely touches social media?

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