Almost a century later, the iconic “How to Win Friends and Influence People” still has lessons to teach. Sure, when Dale Carnegie published this manifesto in 1936, he was talking primarily about interpersonal relationships—how to create strong bonds, build camaraderie, and become a leader in your social circle. But Carnegie’s ideas still have merit today—in ways he may never have imagined.
As B2B marketing mimics B2C more and more, personalization is paramount. Both B2B and B2C buyers want information targeted to their specific wants and needs. They want the brands they buy from to know them, how they want to be talked to, and where they want to receive messages.
With the shift towards personalization, B2Bs can take a page out of Carnegie’s book—figuratively. (Please don’t upset your local library by ripping out a page; we’ll cover the key points in just a second.)
B2Bs can influence people and win customers by following a few simple Carnegie-inspired rules, avoiding common misconceptions, and embracing the latest shifts in digital marketing.
Three Rules to Follow to Win B2B Customers
Rule #1: Be diplomatic.
Trustworthy, credible, reliable, and authentic. These are all qualities people seek in interpersonal relationships—characteristics that, according to Carnegie, can give a person the upper hand with others. But these are also qualities B2B customers look for in brands. They want the companies they support to be honest and dependable. They want to feel like they are doing business with a trusted old friend.
The Split of Social and Media
Social media is splitting in two.
Social media’s “social” side is about connecting with friends, family, and peers. The “media” side is centered around consuming content, usually from strangers. This can be in the form of scrolling TikTok, following influencers, watching YouTube videos, and more.
Related reading: Hacking the TikTok Algorithm
The conversations that happen on social typically start on media, but they don’t continue on media—they continue on social, or even on dark social (more on that in a second). Think of it this way: you see something funny on Facebook, or a useful Reel, or a relevant article—then you share it within your communities in private chats. This is why rule #1 is so important: creating a reliable, authentic, and trustworthy brand means that your audience will see your content on the media side of social and is more likely to share it in their private social spheres.
The more often your audience sees your content, the more frequency bias is developed. You build familiarity through exposure—by creating great content and leveraging earned media. Familiarity turns into trust. And the majority of the time, B2B customers are going to go with who is most trusted.
Related reading: Why Every PR Campaign Needs Social Media Marketing
Myth: Your prospects care about your competitors.
In a B2C transaction, the consumer wants to avoid regret. In a B2B transaction, a buyer is trying to avoid blame. What happens if you choose something that your boss says was a colossal mistake? Not every organization is that punitive, and not every purchase decision is that important, but generally, it’s an organizational decision, so people feel bound to make the best choice available.
But as B2B customers peruse their options—going from an expansive exploratory period to a narrowing evaluation period—they compare you to every other experience they have had.
You may think that your industry is so behind the times that just having a functioning website puts you lightyears ahead of your competitors. And you may be right, but when your B2B customers come to you, they aren’t comparing you to just their competitors; they are comparing you to ALL other experiences they’ve had.
By embodying rule #1 and understanding the split between social and media, B2B brands can build reliable relationships with prospects, so when it comes time to buy, they already have their old friend in mind.
Rule #2: Make them feel important.
It’s a natural human inclination. People want to feel important. In Carnegie’s viewpoint, this means asking thoughtful questions, remembering their name, and actually listening when they speak, not just waiting for your turn to talk.
In B2B, making consumers feel important means addressing their specific needs in a personalized way with quality information and content. About 85% of consumers (across a variety of industries) say they are more likely to buy from a brand that provides a tailored experience—and 91% are more likely to shop with brands that recognize them by name, remember their preferences, and provide them with relevant offers and recommendations.
The Continuation of Dark Social
Your audiences are making decisions that you can’t see. Almost every person’s most-used app on their phone is a dark social communications app. Whether it’s Slack channels, LinkedIn messages, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, text messages, or other channels, people’s social interactions with family, friends, and peers can’t be tracked by traditional digital marketing tools.
Think about how you consume B2B content and how you share ideas. Do you typically comment, react, or share every social post you find interesting, funny, or useful? Or do you occasionally comment, react, or share, and more often send the post to like-minded friends or colleagues who will also find it interesting, funny, or useful? We’d bet it’s the latter, considering that 84% of content is being shared on dark social channels.
The “watercooler” talk that happened in offices around dinner tables still exists; it just happens online. This gives you a great opportunity to connect with your audience and influence them. Know they are having conversations on dark social. Then, make sure your content is likable, credible, and trusted (rule #1) and ensure your ads are perfectly targeted, your emails are personalized, and you engage your audience by asking for their thoughts, opinions, and experiences (rule #2).
Related reading: Dark Social: What It Is and How To Deal With It
Myth: You can control or track these aspects of dark social.
As marketers, we typically want to measure everything. We need data to prove our usefulness, right? Well, that depends on the data. Unfortunately, much of what happens on dark social is untrackable. You can’t control if or how your audience shares your post or what they say about it (or don’t) when they share it. But you can influence it. If you take rules #1 and #2 to heart and make your content likable, credible, and trusted, your audience will remember it.
Related reading: How To Make Dark Funnel Marketing Work For You
Remember that idea of frequency bias? Helping your audience become more familiar (i.e. more trusting) with your brand will influence their decision-making process when it comes time to make a purchase choice. By making your prospects feel comfortable and important with your brand, you can become the default option in their minds. So while you can’t exactly shepherd your prospects down the funnel and keep tabs on them the whole way through, you can influence their decisions with consistent branding and strong marketing messages. This brings us to rule #3.
Rule #3: Make them want to act of their own accord.
In interpersonal relationships, we can’t control another person. And we certainly don’t want to manipulate them, either. But influencing—that’s another story. Simply by being kind, genuine, and trustworthy, a person can influence others. For example, if we put Mister Rogers in a lineup with a bunch of other folks, famous and not, a lot of folks would probably gravitate towards Mister Rogers. He made people comfortable by being genuine and dependable; he made people feel important, even through a television screen. By doing those two things, he has accomplished rule #3. People wanted to support him of their own accord. He didn’t need to manipulate or control—he just influenced.
The Rise of the Messy Middle
We cannot control dark social—the place where buyers spend most of their time conversing about and contemplating purchase decisions—but we can influence it. Dark social is home in what we call the messy middle. The messy middle is an untraceable area between consumers’ exploration and evaluation processes during their purchase journey. In addition to dark social, the messy middle includes the consumers’ own research and their offline conversations.
For B2B buyers, there is a trigger moment. “We need software for a better CRM,” a business leader thinks. Then that leader goes through the process of exploring and evaluating their options. Buying doesn’t happen when that prospect reaches out to your sales team. Buying happens in the messy middle, which is why exerting influence in and around the sales journey is imperative.
Myth: Buying is linear.
We’ve already talked about how buyers cycle through exploration and evaluation. In the messy middle, brands have an opportunity to influence their buyer using paid, shared, earned, and owned media. But even with that influence, buying isn’t a linear process. Like the name says, it’s messy. We like to imagine a clean little funnel where we guide prospects to convert, but that is only in our imagination.
Like building a new friendship, there isn’t a set of steps we take every single time until we declare, “Hey world! This is my new friend!” Building relationships, like making sales, is messy. There are highs and lows, exciting times and bumps in the road.
But keeping these rules, misconceptions, and marketing shifts in mind, every B2B can learn to influence people and win new B2B customers. And if you’d like some help along the way, reach out. That’s what we’re here for.