It’s easy to publish content instantly on the Internet. It’s not so easy to have your content seen by the right people at the right time — and that’s what matters. Having great content doesn’t mean much if no one sees it.
In this episode, I cover how information spreads, why it’s so important to your content efforts, and what to do to become more effective at getting your message out. This is part of the #SellersBecomeMarketers series on Modern Sales where we’re covering the skills you need to thrive in today’s changing sales landscape.
How information spreads across networks and within companies
There are two ways to think about how information moves: the funnel view and the one-to-many / one-to-few view. The funnel starts with a wider casting of content distribution and siphons down to sending personalized content to prospects. The one-to-many / one-to-few view works in tandem with the funnel. It’s about understanding what formats of content arsenal to use, when, and how to distribute.
How social media works
Social media can be an effective way to spread information quickly, but do you know how it works? As soon as you post something, an algorithm immediately starts testing the quality of the content. And, quality is determined by engagement: liking, commenting, and sharing. I give facts and tips to boost your following in the episode.
The 3 sociological factors at play
There is a psychological and social science to what makes some information spread faster than others among groups, and it’s helpful to know them. We’ll cover three: social proof, social capital, and FOMO (you know, the fear of missing out).
Modern Sales LinkedIn Engagement Pod
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The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
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#SellersBecomeMarketers – How Content Is Shared (Inside Companies):
33% of the entire population wiped out just like that. The great plague is thought to have killed a full third of the population of Europe in the 14th century. I swear, hang with me. This episode will not be a bummer.
You can think of survival in two different ways. The survival of the people of Europe, that wasn’t so good. But you can also think about the survival of the virus itself. More importantly, think about what led to the virus surviving and thriving.
The study of the spread of disease is concerned with two numbers; incubation time and rate of infection. The longer the incubation time, the longer carriers of the virus can go undetected and spread it. But the number that matters the most is rate of infection. That number is referred to as R of zero in the study of epidemics. It measures the number of additional expected cases of infection based on a primary case.
So if the rate is more than one, there’ll be an outbreak unless it’s controlled somehow. The plague incubated for about two to six days and spread at a rate of 1.3. Meaning carriers of the disease, spread it to a lot of other people and fast, all before they showed any signs of being sick.
Unfortunately, there’s a little less data on how information spreads, but you could imagine it spreads in much the same way. Someone becomes quote “infected” by it, and the more impactful the information, the more likely they are to spread it. The takeaway here is that, like disease information spreads across observable pathways.
It’s not a mystery. It’s not black magic. In your market, within your network, and within specific accounts, companies, some information is made to spread. In this episode, I’ll cover how information spreads, why it’s so important to your content efforts, and what to do to become more effective at getting your message out.
Welcome to Modern Sales, a podcast for entrepreneurs, business owners, and salespeople looking to have more and better conversations with your perfect clients. You’ll get a healthy scoop of psychology, behavioral economics, and sales studies to help you create win-win relationships. I’m your host, Liston Witherill, and I’m pleased to welcome you to Modern Sales.
This is the #SellersBecomeMarketers series on Modern Sales, where I’m talking about the skills that you need to survive the giant shift in sales, and why there’s so much we can learn from marketers. Each of the episodes will have the #SellersBecomeMarketers at the beginning of the title to help you find them quickly. If you’d like to get caught up on the past episodes just scroll back in your feed, you will find several there.
Now, shall we talk about the spread of information?
In the last episode, I talked about the importance of content marketing. Of course, that’s a valuable skill, but how do you get in front of the people who matter the most to you? Well, you could simply post your content to LinkedIn, but you’re not very likely to be heard there. Plus, putting something out in public isn’t really the crux of it. It’s not enough to be heard, you need to be heard by the right people, and at the right time.
Which is to say a fundamental truth; getting your content seen and heard is quite difficult. I can tell you from my experience with this podcast, trust me. And as I’ve covered in the previous episodes, there’s just a glut of information out there. So you’re competing for a very fixed and finite amount of attention. And the further down the funnel you get, the harder the time you have understanding how information spreads within a specific account because everyone’s different.
Yes, there are statistics, I can cite studies here on this podcast, but you know as well as I do that all bets are off when it comes to any individual company. And then there’s the problem of complexity. There are typically five to 10 decision makers in an enterprise sale, so getting good information to them is critical, yet somewhat complicated.
So what’s most likely to spread? The first solution to all of this, of course, is to understand how information spreads throughout the funnel. In the top of the funnel, that is, the big awareness piece, getting more people to know about your company, about your solution, about how you can help them. In the top of the funnel. You have to understand things like how social media algorithms work, how Google works, and how do you use email effectively.
The further down the funnel you go, you have to understand what happens at companies, how their internal communication works. So it’s not enough to know how LinkedIn works, because not everybody at a company is on LinkedIn. But they probably have an internet. They definitely have internal email and internal ways of doing things. And understanding how that works is super helpful.
Now granted, today’s topic, how information spreads, it is gigantic. So I can’t give you a comprehensive look at it, but I will give you an overview as it applies to sales, and I’ve tried to curate just the most important stuff that’s most useful and actionable for you. But if you’d like to learn more about how information spreads, I have three books that you might want to check out. The first is called The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, the second is called Made To Stick by the Heath brothers, and the third is called Contagious by Jonah Berger.
All of those books are linked in the show notes, so feel free to click through to those. Just so you know they are affiliate links to Amazon, which means I get a small payout for anything you buy. But hey, you’ve been warned. Let’s keep it real here.
Now, there are a few pieces of psychology that I want you to understand when it comes to the spread of information and things that can catalyze your information to move quicker and to more people. And the first is social proof.
So you may have heard recently in the news that Instagram has removed likes, likes will be invisible to people. You can still like content, and the algorithm will still respond to when people like content, but you the viewer will no longer be able to see how many likes a post has. And the reason that’s important is that those likes act as social proof. Meaning you can see, do a bunch of other people think this is good?
And if you see that, if something got a bunch of likes, you’re more likely to think, “Hey, this thing must be good.” It’s shorthand that we use. It’s what’s called a heuristic. It’s a rule of thumb. Sadly, we’re often wrong. Social proof can be manufactured. There can be group think at work when it comes to social proof, and it can greatly influence our opinion of something.
Now, those are all shortcomings in the wiring of our brains. But what you should know is having some level of social proof, especially in the top-of-funnel stuff, right? So if you post on LinkedIn, getting more people to comment on and like your post is not only going to tell LinkedIn’s algorithm, hey, this is good content, but anybody who sees that post is now more likely to actually like and be interested in that content.
The second big psychological factor I want to draw your attention to is social capital. And that’s just a fancy word for saying, we want to be recognized. We want to build up our standing in our social circle. And so we’re always looking for ways to develop social capital, and sharing can show that you’re smart, it can show that you care about other people. And it builds your place in the social hierarchy.
So if you can create content and share content that triggers someone’s perception that they will look good if they share it, boy, are you way ahead of the game. And related to the first thing, social proof, is this idea of FOMO, fear of missing out. Whether it’s within a network or within a company, no one, and I mean no one except for maybe Gilfoyle on Silicon Valley, wants to be left out.
Everybody wants to be included. And so if you can create content that triggers someone’s fear of missing out, isn’t that helpful as well? Now, I want to warn you, you can really go off the deep end here. If the only thing you’re considering is how to create and distribute content that garners social proof, gets people social capital and triggers their FOMO, you’ll become a very spammy, nasty, ugly, terrible, horrible snake oil salesman. And I don’t want you to be that, right? I want more from you than that.
But just know this is what’s at work when we are sharing content and it’s often what’s at work, when content succeeds.
So the content skills that you need when it comes to understanding how information moves about is really first and foremost to think about how that happens, how it’s distributed between people in networks and within companies. And there are two separate ways that we can think about this. Both are very useful, and they kind of work together.
In the first is what I would call the funnel-view. So if we look at the standard three-part funnel, and you can think of the funnel as the marketer’s funnel or the sales funnel, which is basically the same funnel. I don’t understand why we have separate ones. But we can look at it in three parts, top-of-funnel, middle-of-funnel, bottom-of-funnel. And no matter what kind of thing you’re selling, or how high up the ladder you are, or how low down the ladder you are in your organization, you’re probably required to do some type of outreach.
That’s usually considered the top-of-funnel part. The middle and bottom of the funnel are full of all of the standard sales activities. So, your initial sales call, if you have a really regimented and formal discovery process, that’s going to be middle-of-funnel.
All of the sort of closing contract negotiation, any compromises that are being made, that would all be bottom-of-funnel. But you get it, right? Basically at the top of the funnel, we’re trying to get people’s attention. In the middle-of-funnel, we’re engaged in conversations with them. At the bottom of the funnel, we’re actually very close to turning that into business.
So that’s the first way to think about how information moves, is it differs based on the part of the funnel we’re in, top-of-funnel, middle-of-funnel, bottom-of-funnel. The second way to think about content distribution, and again, very closely related, is one-to-many distribution versus one-to-few or one-to-one.
So, one-to-many distribution, this is your top-of-funnel stuff, right? This is your distribution on social media, this is the use of marketing automation. There are other types of media distribution, though the definition of media keeps changing as it gets dis-aggregated more and more. Right?
So this podcast is media, even though I’m just one person with a team of three, thank you to Juan, Tess, and Mary, who is putting out this podcast, right? I don’t need to be a giant media company in order to have media influence. But in any case, you get it. One-to-many distribution, that’s the top of the funnel stuff.
That stuff works very differently than middle and bottom-of-funnel. So middle and bottom, we’re thinking about one-to-few or one-to-many distribution. So the information isn’t going to move on a mass scale, it’s going to move on a much smaller scale, which is going to dramatically change the way we approach things.
So a couple ideas of how things move middle or bottom-of-funnel could include, obviously, email is a huge one. Phone is a huge one. Personalized videos, snail mail and gifts, automated followups, personalized decks, case studies. We’re going to get into all of this stuff.
But the big point is this, looking at the funnel, or looking at how many people are being exposed to our content, different types of content will be required for different parts of the funnel, and they’re going to move differently.
So there are two factors here. One is the quality of the content, but also the type of content and the match based on how we’re trying to get information to spread. So, the farther we go down the funnel, that is, the closer you get to the sale, the more personal and individualized you’ll be in your content distribution.
Think of it like this. It starts with content being available to everyone, and as personalized as possible, but not to an individual. And it ends with you sending individual pieces of content with personalized emails to your prospects.
So here’s how you can take action. First, let’s start with top-of-funnel. The first thing to understand is how information travels through networks. So typically the way we visualize networks is through nodes. Here’s a thought experiment for you. Think about all the friends you know. Chances are, statistically, there are one, two, maybe three people in your network who are called connectors.
They have introduced you to way more people than anybody else you know. I have two people in my network who have an outsized influence. Okay, so that’s your network. Now think about your industry, the sales industry for instance. Let’s think about that, since it’s relevant to the podcast. In the sales industry, there are certain companies, and certain people, individuals or media operations, however you want to look at it, who can reach more people than else.
And again, purely based on statistics, chances are, because media is kind of a take-all business, chances are something like 1% of all media is able to reach 60 or 80% of the market, something like that, right? So that is one of the ways that information travels through your network, right? There are nodes within the network, certain people, who have an outsized impact and can district you’d information to more people than everyone else.
Which is to say, nodes within the network lead to amplification. So knowing certain people and asking certain people to distribute your content, that is going to get you far more reach. And this is something marketers have known for a long time, and this is why I’m running this sales become marketers series, is because it’s really important to understand, to get your content, to get your information out, one of the best things you can do is rely on those central nodes of amplification.
Now, there might be something counter-intuitive here. I was looking into how information actually moves, and I saw one article that talks about how seeding the network randomly with five people could be just as effective as seven highly optimized seeds. So let’s break that down for a second. Let’s think about LinkedIn, just to make this concrete. You probably see some people on LinkedIn who get hundreds or thousands of interactions on their content on a regular basis, right?
So those would be considered highly optimized seeds. On the other hand, you probably know a bunch of people who are really high quality people, really smart, you really trust their opinion. You think they have great tastes, they’re great curators, but they don’t have a big following and when they post, it doesn’t get much noise.
Well, according to this study, getting five random people in your network, not the seven highly optimized ones, that’s what’s going to get you more reach. So if you can seed the network, meaning you have your article, let’s say. God, is this getting too esoteric? We’ll just keep going. You have your article, let’s say, and you send it to five people and ask them if they would comment on your post. That’s going to be more effective than having seven very highly optimized people interact with your content or promote it for you. I know that seems counterintuitive, it does to me too. But there it is.
So that’s how information travels through networks. There are nodes, some of them reach more people within the network than others. And getting your content into those nodes and seeding the network with your information is required in order to distribute information through the network.
Which begs the question, how in the world does social media work? So I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this with LinkedIn. I’ve spent a lot of time testing it. They have not and will not ever publish how their algorithm works. Nothing with a newsfeed will do that. But what I can tell you is there are a few indicators that LinkedIn is looking at in order to determine how much reach you’ll get on your content.
So again, this is top-of-funnel stuff, right? So if you have an article that you want people to see on LinkedIn so you can nurture your network, let’s say you have a few thousand connections or a few thousand leads who you’re in touch with, you want them to see what you’re working on.
You want them to see the content that your marketing team put out, you want them to see the article that you found and your commenting on. You want them to see industry news, right? Because you want to stay in front of them.
Well, so what LinkedIn does is when you create a post, the algorithm immediately starts testing the quality of the content. And the way it does that, is it puts the post in front of people within your network who it thinks is likely to be a target for that content, or be the right audience for that content. And quality is then determined by engagement. So you do the post, then LinkedIn is essentially asking, is this good content? They want to figure out if it’s quality or not.
So it starts testing it by putting it in front of people. And quality is then determined by engagement. The more people interact in terms of liking or commenting or sharing, the better. And, just to add a little complication to this, not every person is created equal on LinkedIn. People with bigger followings and who get more engagement are preferred by the algorithm, so having popular friends and friends in high places is pretty useful to getting more reach on your content.
I know, it’s just like high school all over again. I hate it too, I promise. But the idea here is to make friends with other creators or content distributors and ask them to share your content on social media, on LinkedIn. On LinkedIn, there’s a very particular name for this. It’s called LinkedIn pods, and they will definitely, 100% increase your reach.
So here’s an idea. If you want to start posting regularly, or you’re already posting regularly on LinkedIn and you want to increase your reach, I’m happy to coordinate a modern sales LinkedIn engagement pod. It’s totally free to sign up. Just go to servedontsell.com/pod.
Fill out the form. I’ll be asking, of course, for your email address and your LinkedIn URL. I’ll take a look, and I will coordinate a LinkedIn engagement pod so that we all get more reach on LinkedIn. You do have to be committed to engaging with other people’s content. Otherwise, I got to tell you now, I’m going to kick you out. But if you’re interested in that, just go to servedontsell.com/pod.
Now the next thing to know about LinkedIn or any other social media network, when it comes to top-of-funnel content and distributing it, is what people respond to. So I already talked about how people want to feel smarter, but they also respond to controversy, and they respond to anger, and they respond to contrarian points of view.
If you can include that in your content … Now, I personally am not a big fan of this, but if you can include that in your content, it’s going to push the emotional hot buttons of people in your market and your industry. Personally, I’m not that into it, but as you may know already, or as you may find out, it does work.
So that’s top-of-funnel. Just to recap there, in order to take action, you really need to understand how information travels through networks, and once you do that, you’ll probably want to start promoting your content in some way. And, if you want help promoting your content, go to servedontsell.com/pod, I will arrange a modern sales LinkedIn engagement pod, we will all be happy together and we’ll promote our top of funnel content.
Next step is the middle-of-funnel, and there’s lots of ways we can distribute content in the middle of funnel that will help it move for us, both within the teams that we’re talking to and within the overall account.
So the first thing that I like to do is send personalized videos to my prospects and existing clients who you want to expand. The thing about personalized video is, it’s novel, right? At least for now, eventually it won’t be. But it gives a much more personal touch, and there’s denser communication in that medium.
Meaning people not only get to hear the words that I’m saying, they get to hear my voice and how I’m saying them, and they also get to see my body language. They get to see my facial expressions. And so, video is a pretty dense medium. I really, really love it. There’s lots of great tools to send video very quickly. I don’t personally have a strong preference at this time of all of the different tools, just do it. It’s not a big deal. And maybe counter-intuitively low production values are better than high production values when it comes to personalized video, because people want to feel like it’s a real message for them.
Now the next thing when it comes to middle-of-funnel and how information moves, is snail mail and gifts. Sending something physical to someone grabs attention. I mean, when’s the last time you received something in the mail that was actually interesting, useful, valuable, something that you wanted, right? So there are two great companies that are doing this now. One is called Sendoso. And they allow you to send gifts in the mail and it connects to Salesforce and I believe other CRMs as well, and it allows you to just buy gifts and they’ll fulfill them on your behalf. They’ll send them out, and you just pay for the gift.
The second company that I want to call your attention to is called Handwritten, and both of these companies are linked in the show notes. So Sendoso and Handwritten.
Handwritten is relatively new to me. I don’t know how long they’ve been around. But they send, as the name implies, handwritten cards on your behalf, only it’s a robot writing it. They put pens in the hands of a robot, and it writes on your behalf. And then they send these handwritten cards that they generate, and they send them out automatically.
And if you want, you can even upload a list of contacts. Which is amazing, right? You can upload a CSV, and it’ll send it out with a custom message to everybody. So those two, because of the uniqueness of them, I think are more likely to grab attention. And it’s more likely when someone receives a handwritten card, or when someone receives a gift in the mail, that they’re going to go around and tell other people about that. So now what they received in the mail itself is a topic of conversation, but also who you are, and why your contacting them becomes a topic of conversation. And that’s really important.
So snail mailing gifts, I’m very bullish on those things. In the final thing when it comes to middle-of-funnel, and even bottom-of-funnel bleeds a little bit into this, are two closely related types of content.
One is case studies, and one is decks, or slides. So some content formats are just preferred in different environments, right? I believe that most people really like custom videos because, as I said, they’re novel, they have a greater level of care, people just enjoy them more.
And for whatever reason, slides and case studies are preferred ways of communicating in the enterprise. So I’ll take them one at a time. In all of my research on the most effective collateral in the sales process, according to sales managers, VPs of sales, people who have all the analytics and numbers, case studies are the most cited by sales leaders as being the most effective things that they can give.
So, one thing to note, if you take nothing else away from this podcast, you got to use case studies if you’re selling into mid-market or enterprise. And the reason you got to use those is because that’s how decisions are made internally, they want to see those case studies. That’s really important.
One thing to note though, is that your prospects must think the case studies you use are relevant to them, otherwise they won’t do much good. But case studies, they can either be standalone, they can be bundled with sales decks, whatever you want to do, include those. Because those are more likely to be a little viral and infect other people, right? Make it out to the other decision makers as you’re disseminating the information.
The second thing is decks, PowerPoint, Google slides, whatever you use, keynote, whatever. I’ve talked to a lot of people about this, and I have some friends in some really big corporations here locally too. And anytime I ask them, how does information travel across your organization, they always say PowerPoint. And in fact, one person even told me, if you can’t make a good PowerPoint, you are not management material.
Now think about that for a second. PowerPoint is so critical that it would hurt your career if you can’t make an effective presentation. Now, if you’re in sales, you should really take this to heart. Because this very much affects you, right? So if your marketing team is making the PowerPoints, you obviously got to make sure that they’re good.
But if you have some control over your own decks, which in most cases you do have some control, understanding how to make a good deck, how to be a solid visual communicator, is going to make a huge difference in the impact you have at your accounts. And just like there are nodes of influence within networks, companies work the same way with their internal communications.
Some people are going to have a greater impact than others. Now, from the outside looking in, you won’t necessarily know who those people are. But what you will know, on average of course, is that case studies and sales decks will make a big difference in the likelihood of your content or your information being transmitted within that company. And that’s why case studies index are so critical.
That’s it for this episode in the Sellers Become Marketers series. In next week’s episode, I’ll tell you why you shouldn’t be afraid of robots coming for your job, and instead you should own those damn robots.
If you aren’t already subscribed to this podcast, please do so by clicking the subscribe button. You can also get notified of all podcast episodes with some behind the scenes info, as well as other exclusive content that I put out by signing up for the newsletter at servedontsell.com/newsletter. It’s totally free, it’s linked in the show notes.
And finally, if you’re looking for help training your team to sell more of your big, hairy, complicated products and services to big companies, I can help with remote and onsite training options. Just head over to servedontsell.com, click the contact button, and you can fill out a quick form to begin the conversation.
Thanks so much for listening. I’m Liston Witherill of Serve Don’t Sell, and I hope you have a fantastic day.