The Business of Peers

When the practice of using peers to influence outcomes or gut-check decisions becomes more intentional and strategic, the results are considerably more profound.

As a marketer, the collective voice of my peers has always been one of my most powerful tools. The global marketplace, as we know it today, is built to encourage dialogue, share data and value information in a way that has fundamentally changed the playbook for my industry, as well as most others.

For me, knowing the value of "word-of-mouth" is intrinsic to what I do. A McKinsey study found that marketing-inspired word-of-mouth generates more than twice the sales of paid advertising, and those customers have a 37-percent higher retention rate.

That same "word-of-mouth" logic follows in how I use my peer advisory group. I don't use my peers for validation. The power of their influence is more expansive. It's when I'm creating new strategy based on decisions or assumptions that I haven't tested on anyone, externally, that my group becomes indispensable. When the practice of using peers to influence outcomes or gut-check decisions becomes more intentional and strategic, the results are considerably more profound. You're now creating peer advantage.

Whether you're a C-suite exec, business owner or a senior leader in your organization, finding a select group of peers who align with your vision and goals is a tremendous first step. But influence alone won't produce the kind of game-changing results you could achieve. To do that, you have to make a greater investment by being more precise in who you choose to surround yourself with, as well as how, where and when you engage them.

For example, you were probably one of the 100-million plus who watched the Super Bowl. I was, too. And, like many of you, one of the things I look forward to most is the commercials. Say that I decided to spend $5 million on a Super Bowl spot, like this guy did—or, more generally (and more realistically), invest significantly in television ad spending.

Such a move would represent a hard left turn in how we've strategically approached our marketing efforts to this point. There would be a million questions to answer, challenges to work through and issues to resolve. I could choose to go through that process on my own or with just my internal team. But then I would miss all the real magic of belonging to an objective group of outsiders with no skin in the game. This is the kind of scenario when I'm looking to my peers for their feedback, questions, criticisms and recommendations. And not only am I locked into a super safe space with them as I listen to their insight, they are informing my decision-making and the actions I take next.

"Peer to peer interactions may be the single most neglected lever of change. When enlisted, they are change's most powerful ally; when resisted, they are its most stubborn foe. … Whenever significant numbers of peers interact formally or informally, they constitute a force to be reckoned with. When they share mutual respect, they will listen to, learn from, and secretly support one another in ways that can shape opinions, create resistance, or generate energy." – Harvard Business Review; April, 2010

Wherever you're placing the biggest strategic bets in moving your organization forward, that's where you fully leverage the power of peer advantage. And as all industries continue to shift rapidly, and often dramatically, the decisions you make come with higher stakes. "Power in numbers" is more than a phrase—it's a vital part of how we, as business leaders, will continue to push boundaries, create new ways of operating and drive innovation the marketplace.

In the new book THE POWER OF PEERS: How the Company You keep Drives Leadership, Growth, & Success, authors Leon Shapiro and Leo Bottary introduce "peer advantage," a concept that transcends peer influence by accelerating business growth. The book comes out March 22.

Kathleen Delaney joined Vistage in 2014 as Chief Marketing Officer. She is responsible for all branding, direct marketing, communications, social media and sponsorship initiatives.