Influencer marketing in B2B is a form of word-of-mouth marketing that uses trusted and authoritative individuals to reach potential customers and drive leads, sales, and brand awareness.
It is often used to reach a specific niche audience that is hard to reach through traditional marketing channels. In B2B, influencer marketing is typically focused on educating and demonstrating the value of a product or service, rather than just promoting it.
A brief overview of b2b influencer marketing:
- According to a survey by Forbes, 66% of B2B marketers use influencer marketing in their campaigns.
- A study by Linqia found that 84% of B2B marketers believe that influencer marketing is effective in reaching their target audience.
- The technology and software industry has been a major adopter of B2B influencer marketing, followed by the healthcare, finance, and manufacturing industries.
- According to the Content Marketing Institute, the majority of B2B influencer marketing campaigns are focused on the following objectives: lead generation (41%), brand awareness (34%), and thought leadership (23%).
- A report by Digiday suggests that B2B influencer marketing is most effective when targeting the decision-makers, including business owners, executives, and managers.
- In terms of demographics, a survey by Influencer.co found that 71% of B2B influencer marketing campaigns are targeted towards male decision-makers, while 29% are targeted towards female decision-makers.
- According to a survey by Tomoson, B2B influencer marketing campaigns have an average return on investment
Why B2B marketers do not leverage influencers?
Though a common practice and a widely known tactic in the b2c world, influencer marketing hasn’t quite been leveraged the same way in the b2b world. Understandably there is a huge difference between direct to consumer or business to consumer business model and the business to business model, but this tactic should play an equal role in both modes of business.
There are generally two main excuses for not having a b2b influencer marketing strategy.
1- Lack of attribution
2- No clarity on who is an influencer & logistics
Let’s talk about point no.1 first,
Attribution is a big challenge in marketing and an even bigger challenge when it comes to the b2b side of things. Longer buying journeys, multiple touch points, multi programs , multi decision makers, long sales cycles and unclear buying paths all of this makes attribution a marketing nightmare. How is this relevant to influencer marketing?
Well, simply because it is hard to demonstrate in an excel report what role did the influencer play in a sale, while they undeniably provide value, external validation, social proof and a degree of trust ( transitive from their credibility ) all of which key factors in b2b buying decisions, it becomes a challenge to prove this in quantitative manner. And if you are a b2b marketer you already know the importance of being able to prove the results of your campaigns in a quantitative manner * WINK *.
So simply put most of the time influencer marketing plays get cut because of this challenge in b2b marketing.
Now excuse no.2
There are not many b2b influencers out there.
Let’s be honest b2c businesses do have an edge because they can just use celebrities and famous people, we b2b marketers need so many things to align for someone to be considered an influencer for us influencer, no competition , deep subject matter knowledge, trust , reach , respect, industry acknowledgment and a narrative that aligns with us, all this combines to make a b2b influencer.
Finding influencers in your niche and convincing them to do something for you has its challenges. Where are they? What’s in it for them? How aligned are your motives? How engaged is their audience? Are they available?
All of these questions pop up when you try to work with an influencer which requires a lot of research , outreach and strategy.
Easier to avoid them and just run google ads right? That’s exactly what most marketers choose.
Despite the challenges for attribution plus logistics and low adoption rate through the industry, having a proper influencer marketing strategy could be the X factor in your business. Because the upside is way bigger than the down side.
Types of Influencer(s) Marketing in B2B
Trust is the currency of b2b, every business in this category wants to earn the trust of their prospects. But, unfortunately people always have and always will trust people more than brands and that is exactly the solution that influencer marketing brings to the table, an instant hit of credibility based on affiliations or collaborations with trusted people in your niche.
They can also bring access to niches that might otherwise be harder to penetrate.
Like any other form of marketing, influencer marketing could have multiple objectives and mediums of execution.
What kind of influencer strategy you build will depend on understanding your objective and the different types of influencer marketing along with knowing these influencers well enough to know whether the narratives align or not.
Some popular types of b2b influencer marketing are listed below:
Employee personal brands:
This type of influencer marketing strategy involves leveraging the personal and professional networks of a company's employees to promote products and services passively.
The ultimate goal is to have many prominent personal brands inside the company as employees that fuel credibility and targeted awareness within the industry. This is probably the hardest form of influencer marketing to execute as it often means hiring A players which come at a high cost and high competition.
Subject matter expert or expert influencer marketing involves partnering with experts or thought leaders in a specific industry to promote a company's products and services.
These people could present themselves in various formats like an analyst, author, serial entrepreneur or professional speaker etc. These people are known and respected based on their work on some specific niche which has given them the trust of the business world.
These people are mostly keen about collaborations as this gives them access to newer audiences and more platforms to tell their stories and they are active in building, retaining and growing their reach when it comes to the word of their expertise.
Customer Influencer Marketing: (aka champions / brand advocates)
While the name clearly says “Customer Influencer marketing”
This has more to do with the product and product strategy rather than the customer.
The whole idea is that a customer gains so much value out of your product that they become a champion and an advocate of it, driving word of mouth and bringing ZERO CAC customers.
This starts from building the right product, around the right problem geared towards the right people. While that is the best way to do it, modern day marketers do have ways of engaging customers and driving revenue through them without a world class product. How?
- Network effects
- Excellent customer service
- Social proof
Incentivizing your customers to bring in more customers by offering discounts ,cash bonuses, extra features.
Similar to referrals perhaps, but the incentive is not monetary, rather, tangible i.e. your use becomes better when other people on your network use it.
For example: the internet is useless with only one person on it, WhatsApp is better if your friend is on it too, and in b2b land slack works seamlessly when your colleague is on slack too.
Excellent customer service:
I won’t even explain this one.
A commonly used tactic especially on the modern day b2b SaaS website. Displaying logos or testimonials of well reputed / industry leading customers who have worked with you or used your product is the ultimate “passive influencer marketing strategy”. I call it passive because the customer doesn’t have to do much more than just stating the facts once which then serves as a credibility shot in marketing and sales messages.
Social Media Influencers / Blog sites:
All these fall under the realm of digital marketing or more precisely, digital PR.
The idea is to look for people or businesses with strong digital or social media followings and incentivizing them to introduce your company to their audience, this can be done via co creation of content, collabs and partnerships or shoutouts.
High traffic and high authority blogs which are vital for Search engine optimization are also a form of influencer marketing if the content is being hosted on a third party site with links pointing to our domain.
Identifying the Right Influencers for Your B2B Business
Finding the perfect influencer for your business is a tricky business as we discussed a little at the start of this article. But the steps below might help make the process a little easier.
Define your target audience
This is a simple one yet, most commonly missed. Don’t be one of those businesses, which do not have a deep understanding and identification of their target audience. Because if you do not know the people you are trying to influence, there is no chance that you’ll find the right influencer.
Some make sure you know who you are communicating to and more precisely make sure you know these things about them
1- Problems and jobs to be done
2- Industry conditions
3- Business stage
4- Belief systems and business philosophy
5- Style of conducting business
6- Are they progressive and open to new ideas? Or are they set in their ways?
Identifying the right influencer
So now that we know who our influencer needs to influence, it’s time to find the influencer themselves.
Below are the factors that should inform your decision on this:
The influencer should have a strong understanding of your target audience and the industry you operate in. Ideally experience operating in it so that they resonate more deeply with your audience.
The influencer should have a strong reputation and be well-respected within the industry. No brainer!
The influencer should ideally have a large and engaged following on their social media platforms. While this is a nice to have it’s not a must have, it goes back to what is your objective for a campaign? Awareness? Conversion? Access? Or Driving a narrative?
The influencer's values and beliefs should align with your brand's messaging and objectives.
The influencer should have a high level of engagement with their followers, including comments, likes, and shares. People these days can buy followers and fame, but those audiences have a miniscule level of affinity and engagement towards the influencer.
You want to identify that your selected influencer has genuine affinity with their following and there is a decent amount of engagement happening with their content.
The influencer should be willing and able to participate in your campaign.
The influencer's fee should be within your budget and align with the value they bring to your campaign.
Using technology can make the process of identifying the right b2b influencer for your company much easier.
To conduct research and identify the right people we recommend the following tools:
How to measure the influence of the influencer
Now this one is a mixed bag, there are many ways to skin a cat as they say (why do they say that has never made sense to me).
You could either be fully qualitative and work the market feedback and chatter.
However if you want to be more data driven, there are influencer managers and platforms like TRIBE which solve this problem.
Most of the time though, the engagement levels on an influencer's social media content is a good indication of authority and influence.
The Process of B2B Influencer Marketing
While there are some great tools for influencer relationship management, some of them mentioned in the previous section as well. Most of them are optimized for the B2C model and not for B2B.
In the B2B world the process is still mostly manual. You can use the strategy and tools mentioned in the previous section to identify these people and once you are done you can reach out via Email or direct email.
A great little tool is Appollo which gives you the contact information for a lot of b2b companies and their employees, so if your influencer is on linkedIn or a part of a company you can use this tool to extract their contact information.
Most of the time the Dm’s for these people are open and they share their contact information like email publicly in their respective channels.
Creating a win-win relationship
Here is a break down of what it takes to build a mutually beneficial relationship with an influencer:
Clearly define the goals and objectives of the collaboration
Most of the time when businesses are not clear on what they want to achieve out of their influencer strategy they get into a toxic professional relationship with the influencer.
You might be expecting direct sales out of a campaign whereas the audience of the influencer is not in a buying stage and needs to be nurtured, so it would be wrong to have a big hit of sales immediately after running a campaign with them.
So we need to clarify internally and with the influencer what are the objectives of the collaboration and how will they be measured.
Offer the influencer something of value
This collaboration needs to be a 2 way street, what are you giving to them? Monetary benefit? Exposure to new audiences? Resources? Or a respected platform?
Unless you provide clear and equal value to them the relationship might not work.
Continuously evaluate the relationship and make necessary adjustments
Like any marketing campaign and business initiative your relationship with the influencer needs to stay in check where you are regularly monitoring the exchange on value and making sure that alignment continues to stay between the involved parties whether that is content, deal structure, performance or change in strategy.
Be respectful and considerate of the influencer's time and expertise
You have to remember that an influencer is not just a gun for hire. They have a voice and that too a prominent and respected one. So in essence they do have certain expectations from their audience that they need to meet in order to maintain their reputation.
This acknowledgment needs to be baked into the deal structure / relationship so that the influencer continues to have creative freedom and do what they do best.
Provide the influencer with clear and comprehensive guidelines
Provide documentation around brand guidelines , brand voice , target audience , product and any legal implications.
This will ensure that the influencer knows where the fence is and can align themselves better with your brand.
Measuring the success of the campaign
This is really hard to pinpoint but as a best practice you can set out key KPIs or metrics and monitor any uplift in those metrics compared to historical benchmarks.
Some general metrics along with potential goals are mentioned below for reference:
To increase brand awareness and recognition among a target audience
Increased website traffic, increased social media followers, increased brand mentions, increased engagement rates
To generate high-quality leads for the sales team
Increased lead volume, increased lead quality, increased conversion rates, increased time-to-purchase
To acquire new customers and increase revenue
Increased customer acquisition rate, increased revenue, increased customer lifetime value, increased customer satisfaction
To establish the brand as a thought leader in its industry
Increased industry mentions, increased media coverage, increased social media engagement, increased industry awards and recognition
To increase customer loyalty and repeat business
Increased customer retention rate, increased customer referrals, increased customer lifetime value, increased customer satisfaction.
Examples of successful B2B influencer marketing campaigns
Microsoft’s “Windows 8 Heroes” Campaign:
Microsoft’s “Windows 8 Heroes” campaign was designed to promote the release of the company’s new operating system. The company partnered with influential technology bloggers and industry leaders, who were given early access to the software and were able to share their experiences with their followers. The campaign was a huge success, and helped to drive sales and increase brand recognition for Microsoft.
HubSpot's Inbound Marketing Campaign:
HubSpot, a leading inbound marketing software company, worked with influential marketing bloggers to create a buzz around their services. The bloggers were given early access to the software and were able to share their experiences with their followers. This helped to create a groundswell of interest in HubSpot, which ultimately led to increased sales and a significant increase in brand recognition.
While most of b2b marketing tactics have been overplayed particularly in the b2b SaaS marketing space where venture money poured in last few years, influencer marketing remains a tactic which is still underplayed and wildly beneficial.
Make sure to catch this trend before this one is over played as well.