As a B2B marketer, you probably spend most of your time on direct marketing activities like lead generation programs, content creation and trade shows. But there is a key aspect that many B2B marketers ignore - influencer marketing. Rather than marketing directly to your customers, influencer marketing means creating relationships with thought leaders, who in turn influence your customers. Done well, this is an incredibly powerful marketing strategy, since you are in effect recruiting industry experts that your customers trust.
Identify Your Buyers
The first step in setting up a B2B marketing initiative is to understand who you want to influence. It's important to have a detailed understanding of your potential customers, since this is the only way you can identify the best way to influence them. For example, let's assume that you're selling a marketing automation technology. You might have to decide whether you need to influence marketing executives, sales executives or CIOs - or a mix of these.
To characterize your buyers, create a set of buyer personas - these are detailed profiles of each type of buyer that you have. Who are they? How old are they? How much do they earn? What are their interests? What key business challenges do they face? What types of magazines or websites do they read? This will allow you to crystallize your influencer marketing strategy around a set of "real" people that you need to influence.
Identify The Right Influencers
Now that you have these buyer personas, it's time to identify key influencers. See who speaks regularly at events in your industry. Read through trade and industry journals - both print and online - to find authors who contribute frequently. Ask your salespeople and your customers about the thought leaders they respect. This will give you an initial candidate list of influencers.
Once you have this list, you need to do further research to narrow it down. Check who these influencers work for and whether their company is a good fit with yours. See whether they're in a position to make a real impact on your buyers. To use our marketing automation example: if your target is marketing executives, look for thought leaders who are active in marketing forums. If your strategy is to go after CIOs, then you need to engage with technology visionaries who are published regularly in places such as CIO Magazine.
Engaging with influencers - especially thought leaders who are established in your industry - takes more than a casual email. High-powered influencers are busy people. They don't have time for frivolous requests. To engage effectively, you need to build credibility. Start with online conversations in forums that they frequent, or strike up conversation with them at industry events. Make sure that what you say is well thought out and relevant to them - not just to you. Don't spend time talking about your product - your goal is to create a relationship, not make a sale. Then, as the relationship develops, start to explore how you can work together to address industry issues. If you do this, you can convert influencers into advocates for your brand just on the strength of your relationship with them.
Turn Your Customers Into Champions
While industry experts are powerful influencers, so too are your customers. In fact, using influence is nothing new to you as a B2B marketer. You're always looking for customer quotes, endorsements and case studies - and if you're not, you should be. However, social media and other online channels offer an opportunity to take this strategy to the next level.
For example, byline articles are a very effective way of getting customers to promote your brand. These are articles published under the customer's name in online publications and industry forums. Typically, you write the article on behalf of the customer and then have them approve it. The advantage of this approach is that readers will trust what your customer says, whereas they are always wary of articles published by product vendors. To maintain that trust, though, you need to avoid writing a blatant product pitch. Instead, have your customer talk about a problem they faced, how they solved it, and what the results were. Just give your product or service a passing mention - if someone has a similar problem that they need to resolve, they'll take note of your name anyway.
Don't Ignore Blogger Outreach
There is another group of influencers that you need to target - bloggers. Blogger outreach is a widely used technique in B2C marketing - in fact, there are well-established platforms such as Tomoson that marketers use to engage with bloggers. This type of outreach can also play an important role in B2B influencer marketing - good bloggers are thought leaders and have a large and receptive audience. Many bloggers focus on specific industries, or write for a general business audience. For instance, if you're in the BPM space, you'll find lots of independent industry consultants who write blogs about best practices for establishing effective business processes.
However, you need to be selective when engaging with bloggers in a B2B context. Not only are there good bloggers and bad bloggers, but each one tends to have a different audience. A blogger may have a large following, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're talking to potential customers for your product or service. In other words, B2B audiences tend to be much more finely segmented than B2C audiences. If you're trying to sell luggage, for example, there are a huge number of fashion bloggers and travel bloggers you can target. But if you're selling marketing automation software, then your choices are much more limited. When you engage with bloggers, take a look at the comments they receive from readers. This will help you to decide whether they have the right type of audience, and will also give you a feel for how engaged their readers are.