No one likes to think they’re being influenced by others when they buy something or make a career choice. We’re all individuals with independent thoughts, right?

The truth is that you are swayed by your environment (the things you see and hear), and the people in your life (friends, family, peers—even strangers on the subway) more than you think.

jonah_bergerWe hosted a webinar featuring Wharton School of Business Marketing Professor Dr. Jonah Berger, a New York Times bestselling author of the book Contagious, and a highly esteemed expert on the science of social influence. He shared insights from his latest book Invisible Influence, which reveals the subtle factors that affect our decisions.

Watch the recording below, or read our summary to get Jonah’s top tips for swaying B2B buyers. They key? Tapping into your most influential force: your happy customer advocates.

You can also catch Jonah speaking at this year’s Advocamp, happening December 6-8th, 2017 in San Francisco.

Advocamp: the biggest customer engagement and advocacy event of the year
Register now!

1. Speak your customers’ language

Jonah says that a lot of the decisions you make happen below your awareness. For example, the more something is repeated in your environment, the more you tend to like it. This is known as “mirror exposure.” This can be illustrated in the way that popular baby names are often influenced by major hurricanes that occur around the time a child is born. After hurricane Katrina, the “K” sound people heard over and over again in the news subconsciously swayed many to name their children Katherine, Katie or Carl.

When it comes to sales and purchase influence, research shows that the most successful salespeople are those who mimic or mirror the behaviors of their customers. The triggers are often subtle, like using the same mannerisms (e.g. scratching your head when a client scratches theirs), or by speaking the same language, words and phrases as your customers. Even restaurant wait staff get bigger tips when they repeat someone’s order back to them verbatim.

Advocacy in action: To apply this theory to advocacy, you can invite customers to co-create content with you, or speak on your behalf at a conference—contributing to the narrative about your company in a language that their peers will understand. Use your customers as a litmus test for all of your campaigns so you know your messaging is relevant.

2. Your customers to be your best salespeople

Regardless of what mix of channels you use, Jonah says “No one will ever be a better salesperson than your customers.” And the more important a buying decision is, the more people trust word of mouth from peers.

“91% of new business leads in B2B markets come from existing business,” says Jonah. The more your customers talk about your product with peers, the more likely you are to hit the right prospective buyers.

But just because customers are talking about you, doesn’t mean you can rely on the message to be positive. “If a customer says your service is bad, it doesn’t matter what you say,” he explains. That’s why you must recognize that everything you do can impact word of mouth—from packaging and distribution, to customer service and more.

Advocacy in action: Continually educate customers about your product features and benefits. Provide direct access to your team to ask questions and raise concerns before they fester. Finally, incent happy customers to say good things about you and refer others so you can attract the right prospects with the power of peer influence. An advocate marketing program can help facilitate all three.

3. Drive word of mouth with the right motivators

In Jonah’s bestselling book Contagious, he explains that there are six key factors that impact why people share:

• Social currency
• Triggers
• Emotion
• Public
• Practical value
• Stories

People often share information with others because they feel it reflects well on them. So, the better your brand’s content makes them look and feel, the more likely they are to share it with peers.

Advocacy in action: To incentivize customers to share your message, you must create content that helps them raise their professional profile by making them feel “in the know” about your business or industry. You should also point them to third-party channels you don’t own where they can showcase their knowledge and build social clout.

To trigger their behavior, you can run a contest to make sharing fun. You should also thank them for their behaviour (a note or tweet will go a long way!) to cement their behavior—but find out first whether they prefer public or private praise.

Final thoughts on harnessing the power of social influence and advocacy

Jonah says that you must always remember how much you don’t know about your prospects’ and advocates’ motivations. “Being willing to listen and be curious, and investigate underlying human behaviors will help us get to a better outcome,” he says.

The best way to learn about your customers is to learn from them. Gathering feedback and participating in two-way dialogue will allow you to find out exactly what your customers—and subsequently, your prospects—want and need.