As it turns out, for a lot of people, lists – with their name on them – or not – are a pretty big deal. I get it. Everyone likes to see their name up in lights, so to speak. I’ll be the first to admit that I feel a little puffed up with pride if I make the “top expert” of whatever list. It doesn’t really matter if someone created it as a vanity or marketing list…it’s still kind of fun.
Let’s talk about those “lists” for a moment in a bit more detail. What’s the point of them? Do they really tell the real story about who has the cred in any particular field and who doesn’t? Where do they come from? Who decided one person made the cut when someone else did not? Was there any research or methodology behind the list creation?
There are 3 types of lists that I’ve seen:
1. A list created by an individual that includes people they happen to follow and like.
2. A list that is actually backed by independent research with specific criteria decided upon in advance and clearly disclosed when the list is revealed.
3. A list “paid for” and created as a marketing campaign to gain exposure for a company and their product.
It is quite popular for content creators to pull together lists of their favorites, be it sales, marketing or social media folks they may follow or know. I’m sure there are plenty of other lists, but social selling/social media marketing are the worlds I live in. Often, there isn’t a ton of rationale developed around the choices.
My name has landed on numerous Top 25 Salespeople on Twitter lists, but is that because I have the largest network? Nope, that can’t be it. Others have much larger networks than me. Is it my Klout score? Maybe – 70 isn’t bad. Is it that I influence and inspire people to take action? Perhaps. Is it that the people just like what I share, my quirkiness or the fierceness of my passion when talking about topics near and dear to my heart? Hard to say. Maybe they just happen to like me, what I stand for and how I always strive to help and support others.
Organizations like Top Sales World, pay a team of researchers each year to surface the best of the best in sales and marketing. Not only does Top Sales World use specific criteria, they are extremely transparent and forthcoming about how their list is derived. And, most importantly, their list isn’t focused solely on people participating on social media platforms. The criteria is a balanced mix of offline and online and looks beyond just social media presence, as it should. There are people on the 2014 list that have been instrumental in changing the course of sales history, but they just don’t happen to be Twitterholics. If organizations need a true picture of the thought leaders in sales and marketing, it makes sense to turn to credible, research based, vetted lists.
From the Top Sales World website…
“This was our criteria:
* Social media presence – Twitter/ Facebook/ Klout score/LinkedIn authority.
* Quality, regularity and popularity of written work – books, blog posts, articles, EBooks etc.
* Active engagement with recognized resource sites.
* And not least, a commitment to continually advancing selling and marketing practices.”
Onalytica recently released a list of the top influencers and brands in social selling. They were very clear about how their ranked list was generated. In this case, the focus was on the people and the brands most engaged on Twitter around the topic of social selling. You can definitely see that many sales thought leaders might not be on that list if they aren’t very active on Twitter. The point is that it is all about context when thinking about these lists and what they mean.
Then there is the list that one company pays another company to create for them. The specific intent is to use this list as a marketing vehicle to gain exposure for a company, their product or even the CEO who has very little klout in the marketplace themselves. This is the list that I detest the most.
Paying for the list isn’t the problem. It is the underlying intention behind the list. It is a marketing stunt that is selfishly motivated. Perhaps you could argue that list type #1 is selfishly motivated too. After all, if my name shows up on a list, I am highly likely to brag about it. That’s good for whoever put the list together. For me though, what’s lies behind List #3 is more problematic. It is manipulative.
Such a list was released early in 2014. This list of supposed top social sellers received a lot of publicity when a Forbes contributor picked up the list and blogged about it. Once that happened, it did not take long before named experts started promoting that they were a Forbes top seller. Simply. Not. True. It was not a list created by Forbes at all. This was a list created and paid for by a company who was very little known at the time. The CEO had no history or credibility in the social selling space, which he wanted to change. The fact that a Forbes writer blogged about the list doesn’t make it a Forbes vetted or sanctioned list. Of course, Forbes sounds better than being named by a company no one has ever heard of before.
The other problems I had with this list – and full disclosure, I didn’t make the cut on this one, but that’s okay, my experience speaks for itself – are:
1. The so-called criteria was really sketchy. We used a collection of tools like blah, blah, blah to help us inform our choices, they said. I did a little checking. Using the criteria they said was used, I found it difficult to understand how some of the people even made the list. In fact, one social selling expert on that list doesn’t even list social media presence on his website nor does he even conduct training on social selling. Okay, you have a Twitter following. There is a little more to the strategy behind social selling than that.
2. It was a SALES list but more than half the people were marketers. I know I’m a stickler for such details, but folks marketers are NOT salespeople.
3. The list included people who either owned the company that created the campaign OR they were investors and company founders of some of the tools used to determine the influencer list. Am I the only one who thinks this is a conflict of interest?
I’ve thought about this list for more than a year. The psychology behind it is fascinating. How is it that smart people couldn’t see the ruse for what it was? Are they so giddy at the sight of their name on a list that they lost all common sense? Is it lack of integrity or pure ignorance that those noted on the list began claiming Forbes deemed them experts when that is absolutely not true?
Clearly this list drove the intended result. The company and CEO that paid for it were relatively unknown at the time. The CEO has now shown up on panels and on webinars, as yet another social selling expert, but I take comfort in knowing that after all the noise of that list died down, he’s still not that well known. Using cheap stunts to try and boost your credibility might work in the short-term, but pretty soon people figure out if you know what you are talking about or not. If all you do is repeat what everybody else says, how does that make you an expert?
In the final analysis, if you are a buyer, I urge you to use caution when considering any “list” that proclaims that “these are the experts”. That includes the lists I’m on too! Do a lot more digging to be sure that the people you think are experts truly have the background and experience to back up the claim. You’d be surprised at how many social selling experts are out there these days. Most have little to no experience in sales or social media, so whatever you do, do your due diligence.