By Michael Quoc
Influencer marketing is like word-of-mouth on steroids: people trust influencers just as much as their friends and family, but influencers have a lot more reach than individual customers.
According to McKinsey, influencer marketing campaigns bring in $6.50 for every dollar spent, and twice the sales of paid advertising.
So how come only 15 percent of B2B companies are doing influencer marketing today, compared with 55 percent of B2C?
Well, influencer marketing for B2B is a bit of a tougher nut to crack, but the efforts are well worth it. Influencer marketing delivers 11x higher ROI than other forms of digital marketing, and it pays off in more ways than one.
How Influencer Marketing Is Different for B2B
Like most elements of B2B marketing, the approach to influencer marketing requires more finesse than for B2C.
While many Instagram influencers are happy to take a photo with a random product for cash, a B2B influencer tends to be someone who’s an executive at a company, a blogger, or some person whose credibility affects their bottom line. They can’t suggest products without investigating them, or they’ll lose all respect. For instance, a B2C influencer doesn’t risk much when they say they enjoyed a meal kit delivery service, but a B2B influencer who promotes a SEO software that’s missing keyword research tools will look like an idiot.
As a result, B2B marketers have to put in the work to build genuine relationships with their potential influencers. They need to gain the influencer’s trust, both in the marketer and the product. In fact, for B2B, it might as well be called relationship marketing.
When approaching B2B influencers, you are as much of an asset for your brand as your product is. Find common ground beyond how they can help your brand, and how your brand can help them. Do you have similar backstories, shared interests, or attend the same industry events?
It takes more work, but developing genuine relationships can be incredible for the return on your investment. If you see this solely as a transaction, you’ll send some money and the influencer will give you a token shoutout. But if you get to know the influencer, you might discover other ways you can collaborate that wouldn’t have otherwise come up. For example, they happen to be part of a Young Business Leaders network in need of sponsors for their monthly happy hours.
B2B Influencer Marketing Step 1: Define Your Audience
Ready to get started with B2B influencer marketing? We’ll cover common type of B2B influencers in the following section, but before you go prowling for influencers, you first need to know what you’re looking for. And that starts with your audience, not the influencer.
Influencers influence consumers of all kinds. You want to find influencers who influence the kind of customers you want for your business. For influencer marketing to be successful, you have to have a solid understanding of your user personas.
Who is your target audience? We’re talking beyond basic demographics like age, gender, salary, and location. What are your customers’ goals and motivations? Those goals and motivations influence their purchasing behavior, as well as the kind of influencers they admire. Influencers often end up being people who have reached those same goals.
As you define your user personas, remember that with B2B, your target audience is often the end user of your product or service, not necessarily the buyer. For example, while the CEO may sign the check for the UX firm, it’s really the marketing director who will be working with them and ultimately chooses the vendor.
B2B Influencer Marketing Step 2: Find Your Influencers
As with anything, B2B influencers come in a variety of different forms, but you’ll spot a few trends. Look for these kind of folks as you search for potential influencers.
1. Industry movers and shakers
When people hear the word “influencer,” they think of the people shaping industry trends. Of course, some of these people will be your competitors, so they’re obviously not a good fit. However, many of these people will be bloggers, affiliate marketers, or leaders of brands with complementary services.
These are the people you regularly run into at trade shows. Look for speakers, not fellow sponsors: you want thought leaders instead of people who just happen to be around.
2. Journalists and trade publications
There are the people who shape the trends, and then the people who report on those trends. This is where journalists and trade publications come in. You want to curry favor with the journalists regularly writing about your industry, your company, and your competitors.
Remaining unbiased is of utmost importance to these folks, but developing a relationship allows you to help them stay positive when speaking of your brand, or better yet – turn to you first when they need an expert quote.
3. Your employees
When it comes to finding influencers, don’t spend all your time looking outward. Look within – to your own employees. Who’s active in the community or industry events?
Don’t limit yourself to the C-suite, either. As long as they are active in the community, have a good reputation, and regularly hobnob at networking events, any employee can become a brand ambassador.
4. Your clients
Just like employees, the apple doesn’t have to fall too far from the tree. Your own clients and customers can be influencers, too. Mine your CRM and ask your salespeople for their big name clients.
While clients with a large presence are great, keep an open mind when it comes to the size of the influencer. Even if you’re a national company, a small brand that’s prominent in their region can work wonders for you on the local level. The same goes for niche clients who are well-known within their industry. According to Upfluence, people trust the content on a niche blog almost as much as their friends’ recommendations on Facebook.
Pro Tip: As you begin influencer outreach, pay attention to the way the influencer speaks of other companies, and how their audience reacts. Some are rowdier than others, and the big following may not be worth it, depending on how it reflects on your brand. Avoid influencers that trash brands. As tempting as it may be to have them hate on your competitor, remember they could turn around and do the same to you one day.
5 Best Practices for B2B Influencer Marketing
Now that you’ve defined your target audience and the influencers that inspire them, it’s time to start marketing! The following tips will help you attract, retain, and delight your influencers – ensuring a beneficial relationship for the long-term.
1. Don’t oversell.
B2B influencers tend to be much more discerning than their B2C counterparts. They’ll want to really understand the ins and outs of your brand in order to promote it most successfully. Highlight your strong points, but don’t evade questions about your weak points – this will come off as disingenuous, and may even scare them off from working with you.
Remember that they’re on your side – they want to help you sell more, because it ensures you keep working together. The more information they have, the better informed they’ll be – and the better they can pitch your brand to accentuate the positive.
2. Create content together.
The wonderful thing about B2B influencers is that many of them are subject-matter experts you can use to amplify your own marketing efforts. Maybe they can write technical content in areas your marketing team isn’t specialized in, or promote you on a social network your team hasn’t quite cracked yet.
Creating content together strengthens your relationship and benefits both parties. Guest blog on their site, and invite them to do the same for you. Write roundup blog posts or videos where you feature expert quotes from your influencers. Co-host webinars together.
GetResponse’s content-based B2B influencer marketing strategy increased traffic to their blog by 30 percent. Their Marketing Automation Hub curates content from experts in marketing automation:
3. Don’t forget reviews and testimonials.
Reviews and testimonials are the original form of influencer marketing. 92 percent of consumers trust recommendations, whether they’re from friends or complete strangers.
How can you expand your case studies? Is there a way you can retell it from the customer’s perspective so they can publish on their own blog?
Find comparison sites for your industry. If there are any mentioning your competitors but not you, ask for a review.
Identity and device management company Okta heavily invests in their case studies, creating dedicated landing pages with videos, slide decks, and blog posts, all for an individual client. They also make their case studies easily searchable so potential customers can find one of “thousands” that matches their unique circumstance.
4. Give them something in return.
Sure, all influencers can be bought, but the most loyal influencers stick around because they enjoy perks beyond cold hard cash.
This goes back to the importance of the relationship. Understand your influencer’s own business strategy, goals, and challenges. Then provide them with exclusive assets or content that helps them do their job better.
Give your influencers sneak peeks and product betas so they can prepare content early and get their audience excited about your brand. Let them be a hero with exclusive promo codes they can share with their audience. Introduce them to a wider audience by featuring them in your content and resharing their own.
5. Make them feel like a VIP.
Influencers didn’t work so hard to go unnoticed. Feed their ego by highlighting them as experts. Give them shout outs and accolades on social media. Feature them as a keynote speaker at your next event. Interview them on your podcast.
LinkedIn wants to establish itself as a viable marketing tool. To persuade marketers, it went to the experts – featuring several B2B influencers in its annual Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to LinkedIn:
While your influencer may have one main point of contact, give them the true VIP treatment by making sure everyone else on your marketing team knows who they are and acts accordingly. This way they can say hi when they see them at an industry event, and your social media person can notice and reshare their latest posts.
The best part about B2B influencer marketing is that you’re probably already doing a lot it; you just didn’t know it.
Use a similar approach to your account-based marketing. Take it slow, and build the relationship first. Chat influencers up at industry events. Comment on their blogs and Medium posts. Follow them on social media and subscribe to their newsletter. Do not send a template email talking up your product. See your influencers as valued partners and potential colleagues you’ll work with, not an advertising outlet.
Unlike the one-off product reviews and sponsored posts of B2C influencer marketing, B2B influencer marketing relationships are more often for life. When done right, these influencers become outspoken evangelists and supporters of your brand.
Your influencer marketing strategy will go hand in hand with your Social Media strategy. Download this helpful Guide to Social Media Marketing and learn how to leverage both to increase your brand awareness and build trust with your audience.