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The One Hundred Influentials
by Aaron Kleiner

On behalf of the Forum, I would like to congratulate Mead Wyman and Pete Lazarkis for the outstanding job they did in co-chairing this year's annual workshop. It was a delight.

While attending this year's workshop, I flashed back on the many insights I have gained over the years from these sessions. One such insight, the significance of which seems to grow with time, came at last year's workshop in a presentation made by Regis McKenna.

It was his contention that there are at most one hundred people who "control" any given market from sneakers to PCs to frozen foods. Regis' framework says that the primary purpose of the marketing department is to identify these key individuals -- let's call them "influentials" -- and to win them over to your side.

These people, depending on the market being addressed, can range from reviewers in key publications (e.g., a theatre review from The New York Times makes or breaks Broadway shows, key trade publication reviews are almost as influential on software packages to certain buyers for distribution to bell cow customers often associated with influential institutions). Consultants, industry experts, third party developers, key dealers or retailers all can be in the group of 100 that must be seduced into supporting your product or service.

Identifying the influentials is not easy. It requires a clear understanding of the dynamics of the market. Who influences whom? Take, for example, ethical drug sales. A physician friend of mine told me that if a drug company salesperson cites a double blind study done at a No Name General Hospital as opposed to a prestigious teaching hospital, he is very unlikely to be swayed.

The essential lesson that Regis teaches is that you can think of your market as a very small universe thereby increasing your ability to target and then impact it.

Reprinted with permission from The MIT Enterprise Forum, Inc. of Cambridge. The article first appeared in the "Forum Reporter," Volume 8, No. 4, December 1989.

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