RBL, Vol 6: B2B SaaS Bribes - IE Paying Thought Leaders and navigating ethical challenges
If you have ever worked for a vertical B2B SaaS company in any marketing or sales role, you are likely familiar with the concept of "thought leaders" in that industry. When developing a go-to-market strategy in a niche market, it is important to leverage the influence of these thought leaders to attract attention and gain traction. Their voices are the driving force behind your success and can pull crowds your way.
They are highly regarded and coveted individuals within your industry. Many people within the company begin to strategize, asking themselves, "How can we get them to speak positively about us?" And so it begins…
Would you like to join us at this exciting event at TopGolf?
We would love for you to be a panelist at a major conference.
Could you review our product on our YouTube channel?
We saw you speak at the XYZ conference. Can we have access to your presentation slides?
We noticed your end-of-year awards ceremony. How can we participate?
These questions provide pivotal insight into how these thought leaders operate efficiently in their niche.
If the thought leader is truly influential, they will respond with gratitude and humility, saying something like, "Thank you for your support! I report on industry trends and insights based on the activities of professionals in the field. I look forward to connecting with you in the future."
About 25% of the time, the response will be similar to the above.
However, in about 75% of cases, it may go like this:
Hi! We offer consulting services to individuals in the industry who want to gain a better understanding of it. Here is our engagement letter, which outlines our pricing options starting at $9,000 or $15,000, depending on the package you choose.
...and so begins a complex and strained relationship with that person.
Suddenly, you find yourself winning second place in their end-of-year awards. Great! We know we're better than the first-place winner...but how can we secure the top spot? Let me introduce you to this year's platinum consulting package. It's similar to the previous one, but we also provide a detailed report. The price is $20,000 or $32,000, depending on the level of depth you require.
...At this point, you approach your director and request an additional budget, as everyone knows this thought leader speaks at numerous conferences each year, making it a seemingly worthwhile investment...
And you win! First place, best technology, cool features—fantastic!
However, the following year, your B2B company shifted its focus to a new vertical and reallocated 90% of the budget to this new area. You attend all the usual conferences, but all other spendings are cut.
There are no more "consulting packages" for the thought leader.
...Fast forward 10 months, when the end-of-year awards are announced. Your company is no longer in the top spots. "What the hell? We’re now ranked fifth on the list! The first-place winner experienced two major security breaches and mistreated their customers...how can this be?"
Now you understand how some thought leaders operate. Credit is often given to the highest payer.
So, what do you do now that you know this? Is it ethical to pay for awards? Are "Best Places to Work" or "Best New Tech" awards legitimate? What is the right course of action?
Speaking from personal experience and regret, I can admit that I have, at times, succumbed to these tactics. The story above is a true account without disclosing any specific names. However, I realized that my actions were both deceptive and perhaps naive, and they only perpetuated dishonest practices within the industry.
I cannot determine what your conclusion should be, but if you value integrity, it is best to fight fair and avoid compromising your principles, even if it means sacrificing certain opportunities.