Influencer marketing - where brands focus on influential individuals rather than the target market as a whole - is not just a business-to-consumer (B2C) phenomenon. Business-to-business (B2B) companies also acknowledge how essential it is to have support from influencers to help market their brands.
Indeed, innovative B2B marketers are increasingly connecting with industry analysts, industry bodies, thought leaders management consultants, independents and online influencers - capturing insights/knowledge that they may then share with their audiences, and capitalising on their sway with their buyers.
So what is the particular appeal of influencer marketing to B2B organisations?
From identifying the business issue that you need to solve, through to research, selection and implementation phases, B2B sales journeys typically occur over a long sales period, and commercial decision-making often involves multiple people being involved throughout any procurement process.
Third-party sources of information that are trusted and influential can create substantial advantages for B2B companies ranging from shortened sales cycles to larger deals to an increase in leads and revenue.
With those potential benefits in mind, let's examine some best practices for B2B influencer marketing.
1. Influencers come in all shapes and sizes
Not all influencers are created equal, and not all live their lives online. If you are currently undergoing a strategic planning review to identify new and prospective B2B buyers, segment your audience, consider the topics that matter most to your influencer targets and fish where the fishes are.
Also, it's important to look at influence as something everyone has, to some extent. Yes, even your customers have it. In fact, niche influencers such as industry analysts can be even more effective than well-known (and usually paid) consultants or ‘brand advocates’ with massive social media followings.
Elsewhere, if you are looking only to identify influencers who advise mainly B2B buyer professionals you could do worse than consulting the advice of Forrester’s Marketing Council, Gartner for Marketers, IDC’s custom solutions or Ovum’s Augmented Customer research team.
A lot of them provide action-based market intelligence, tweet regularly and blog furiously about wider industry trends. And they could be open to a well-timed RFP or requests for partnership or content collaboration on a paid media basis.
2. Influencer advocacy need to be earned, not shared
I’m not trying to insult anyone’s intelligence here, but whether reaching out to an industry or tech analyst, CEO of a prospective partner, or the head of a channel sales rep in your chosen area of business, all should be handled slightly different.
Ensure you avoid a one-size-fits all approach to influencer outreach. This means you should tailor-make your pitches, and respond to the individual and not a collective.
Think of influencer work as a long-term partnership or maintaining an ongoing dialogue with them. It won’t be one-time work, and you will have to put some effort in.
By developing specific relationships with industry influencers as well as internal subject matter experts, influential community stakeholders or your prospects, B2B companies can tap into resources such as business accelerators or impartial company advice can be invaluable to content collaboration and priming your sales targets.
These softer, side benefits can include:
- The addition of an authentic, respected “non-marketing” voice to your content.
- With industry analysts, tapping into subject matter expertise can lend your content the effect of impartial advocacy, strength and gravitas.
- It helps amplify the voice of your organisation, particularly content that a smaller marketing team can create on its own.
- Analysts are very well respected in their corner, so utilising them to offer third-party endorsement (even though their advice is often neutral in nature) can increase the reach of branded content to coveted influencer networks and communities.
Companies like Salesforce, IBM and Cisco regularly collaborate with influencers via their partner pages for many of their own content marketing efforts, and better able to realise influencer activation benefits by doing it via specific campaign or branded microsites.
3. Take a strategic approach
Many marketers are starting to utilise the same principles in B2B marketing as in B2C: the notion of influencer engagement through growth science. A recent article on CMO.com by B2B marketer Jeff Hirsch summarises it this way:
“Brands truly committed to customer satisfaction focus on informing and educating. For every sale, marketing teams ought to identify and recommend the next-best action for the customer to take to maximise his value and utility of the product or service. This breeds loyalty to gradually compel a second conversion. Delivering relevant, useful information keeps the customer engaged and continues the evolution of the relationship.”
Your influencer engagement strategy should be the same: think of your next course of action as your next engagement with that influencer, and how you intend to progress it. Then plan appropriately for the right stage in your commercial relationship to see the most beneficial result.
For instance, if you are looking to deal with specific influencer groups think about where they live: if they are tech analysts they probably attend tradeshow events on a regular basis, in which case you could look to group them with some of your sales meetings the next time you are at a major show or event. That way the commercial benefit of meeting with your prospects, and the ability to stress-test your sales message first with a well-chosen analyst interview can really drive your message home.
Taking a structured and strategic approach to influencer partnerships can pay dividends - a recent study by EpicSignal on influencer engagement concluded that an influencer partnering strategy can be just as important for your marketing outreach as the actual outreach is.
If you’re interested, I have plenty more ideas about influencer relations, activating your sales message and ways of making your marketing messages more impactful, so get chatting on Twitter if you want to discuss this with me.