Imagine: You find someone you’d like to connect with on LinkedIn. You email them to ask if you can “pick their brain.” A coffee date is set. You’ve just become part of the phenomenon that’s taking over industrial sales: Zombie Coffee. This no-frills networking strategy fueled by a lethal combination of LinkedIn, caffeine, and brain picking, is transforming the way industrials start business conversations.
Not a week goes by at our industrial marketing agency without me (CEO and chief spokesperson) or our managing director participating in Zombie Coffee chats to pick brains or have ours picked in turn. These meetings have transformed the way we recruit, network, and generally get our company out into the wild.
These encounters typically start with a simple email request or LinkedIn message, often to people that we don’t necessarily know, but rather know of. These simple requests have led to critical meetings with executives at one of the largest industrials distributors, leading technology firms, and a major entertainment company. Each of these individuals was excited to be contacted and wanted to learn about my perspective on industrial marketing as much as they were willing to teach me about theirs.
Having now held Zombie Coffee chats for over a year, the practice has clearly positioned our organization to be top-of-mind downstream when our fellow coffee zombies begin to feel the hunger that comes with the needs phase of the industrial buying process. Like all zombies, we are not alone. There’s an entire horde of industrial marketers and sellers out there that is seeing tangible benefits from simply reaching out to pick some brains.
Industrial marketing and sales professionals are tasked every day with reaching industrial buyers that are increasingly available online yet seemingly unavailable off. Recent studies show that the plethora of information industrial buyers find online empowers them to handle the research phase of the industrial buying process without much assistance. In fact, industrial buyers are as far as 57% of the way through the buying process before they even reach out to a salesperson.
As industrial marketers and sellers pursue digital- and mobile-infected industrial buyers through the buying process, they must work to make themselves, their products, and their brands more than just discoverable when a buyer’s need arises. Well ahead of feeding time, marketers and sellers must work to connect directly, interact with, and stay top-of-mind with targeted prospects before they even know they have a need. The best way to do this is to leverage social networking channels such as LinkedIn.
According to the latest demand generation report from Pardot, 2.51% of B2B buyers use LinkedIn to initiate supplier search and discovery — more than all other social networks combined. But despite the promise of LinkedIn as a growing supplier discovery destination, its main power lies in its ability to facilitate warm online connections that lead to offline conversations.
Taking advantage of LinkedIn, marketers and sellers who are responsible for starting business conversations can again involve themselves and their companies in the research phase of the industrial buying process. Using preemptive social tactics to literally “take someone out,” “offline,” “out of the mix,” they can turn potential customers into one of the walking dead as they wait for the kill. This lethal process can start as easily as an invitation for coffee to pick each others
The majority of progressive industrial marketers are clearly moving toward content-driven inbound marketing strategies to stimulate interest before the buying process begins. However, what is not accounted for by inbound thinking is how much more efficiently outbound marketing, alongside email and LinkedIn messaging, can drive offline engagement.
Given the technical nature of industrial buying, the selling process often requires experts selling to experts. For this reason, integrated marketing and sales organizations are now building outbound teams that focus exclusively on generating leads for technical sales or engineers to close. Starting with documenting what makes an ideal prospect, outbound teams are mining data to create targets for short, mobile-sized personal emails to drive introductions and Zombie Coffee meetings that result in highly qualified leads.
What is remarkable about this sort of outbound strategy is that personalized emails from salespeople (rather than promotional) are generating a 7–10% response rate, according to Aaron Ross’s book Predictable Revenue. Cold calling can’t even get anywhere near that number. This frees up technical sales and engineers to focus on the real opportunities at hand.
Salespeople and sales organizations that sell via traditional prospecting strategies are serving cold cups of coffee when they should be picking warm, fresh brains. Industrial sellers who exclusively start the sales process via awkward and inefficient cold calling are going to be in for a surprise as they continue to be ignored by a new generation of industrial engineers and buyers. “Organization after industrial sales organization knows that 40:1 call-to-contact ratios are the norm,” writes Ross in Predictable Revenue. “Millennials and Gen-X engineers and buyers hate cold calls. Cold calling is stake-to-the-head dead.”
Conditions are ripe for changing where, when, why, and how we start business conversations and relationships. In fact, relationship-based selling is critical for industrials that need to reimagine their interaction strategy when faced with new industrial buyers. Industrials are increasingly flush with Millennials and Gen-Xers who are open to working, meeting, and generally getting out of the “Dodge” factory. This fact, combined with the reality that “almost half of the engineering workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next few years,” gives cause for marketers to accelerate digital and mobile marketing, selling, and networking strategies..
Per IHSGlobalSpec’s latest report on social media adoption in the industrial sector, 74% of technical professionals have LinkedIn accounts, opening them up for direct messaging through the social network. As the workforce changes, so will how we interact around the sales process. Industrials, like creatives, will choose to work and connect in stimulating environments fueled by caffeine and good company. Zombie Coffee, as a metaphor that speaks to how younger and technology-driven professionals are using a combination of social media and informal offline meetings to “pick brains” — will become the norm. Call it a zombie renaissance, rather than an apocalypse.