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About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.

Written by: Vickie Sullivan  |  February 24, 2011

The Bias of the Buddy System

Favorite thing to do in my market analysis:  talk to real people.  Had a rollicking good conversation with an anonymous source (you’ll soon see why) who sits on several national program committees.  Want to know how these folks really select speakers?  Fasten your seat belt…it ain’t pretty.  His frank observations:

  • Speaker recommendations are based by the last person they saw.  So if they loved you six months ago, you’re dead to them now.  Typical discussion goes something like “hey, I just heard Billy Bob; I think he’ll be good.”  Doesn’t matter about the content or if the message fits the theme.  No thought on what the audience needs or who else is already on the agenda.
  • Got a relationship with staff?  Not gonna help you.  Staff won’t facilitate; “they just let the volunteers run wild”.  When staff does speak up as the voice of reason, committee members listen and agree.
  • The buddy system is alive and well.  Direct quote:  “The information is obsolete and the guy barely has a pulse.  The only reason why this dinosaur got in is because the chair supports him…I can’t believe it!”
  • That said, the loudest “buddy” will win.  If you don’t have an advocate who is assertive, you won’t get on the radar.  Comment:  “The guys will talk the loudest, but the assertive women get a word in edgewise.”  Moral of the story:  ask your advocate “are you willing to push hard for this?”  In general, advocates are well-meaning, but lazy.
  • What about RFPs (requests for proposals)?  Yep, the committee looks at them.  And takes everything you say about yourself as gospel.  No one checks out the details.  His comment:  “They want to think as little as possible.”

Now, you know one person’s experience doesn’t make a trend.  But as someone who has sat on national committees before as well, I’ve seen most of these dynamics in action, too.  Bottom line:  if someone says you’re great and gets rowdy about it, and no one objects with equal force, then you’re basically in.

Navigate the mine field with this one-two punch:  first, get out there and speak.  Showing up is now a premium.  Second, fire up those advocates.  Fans with the biggest mouths are worth five who only cheer you on from the sidelines.


About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.