Everybody understands the value of a celebrity endorsement. When a professional athlete or actress is shown driving a particular car or wearing a piece of clothing, it’s not long before their fans start clamouring to buy the same thing. Understanding how to replicate this effect in the B2B space, on the other hand, may not be quite as intuitive.
The idea of an “influencer network,” as they’re called by marketing experts, stems from a simple but very strategic idea: that establishing relationships with the right people could offer nearly as effective a mechanism for nurturing a sales lead as a traditional cold call or pitch meeting. Influencers are not necessarily salaried employees, but have an authentic connection with a target customer or audience that is used in ways that educate and inspire deeper connections with a company.
The fastest way to find the people who could be legitimately called “influencers” is to think of all the people your customers might be paying attention to – especially the people they are more likely to prioritize over, say, your company and its sales and marketing team. This could vary widely by company or sector, but influencers often fall into the following camps:
That last group is often forgotten. Even if their role is largely behind the scenes, influencers are essentially the people who are one step away from your key decision maker. As more B2B organizations move towards account-based marketing and selling, influencers may also be clustered into groups rather than seen as a set of individuals. Map this out before determining how you’ll approach and work with influencers.
Validate Your Way Into An Influencer Relationship
Influencers are powerful because they have your customer’s attention, and the quickest way to get closer to them and to your end target is by demonstrating you’re aware of their influence and the value it provides. In other words, if you become a follower or fan of your customer’s influencers, you’ll immediately look more relevant and connected to their interests.
Here’s are just a few tips to establish your credentials with influencers:
Engage Your Influencers Directly
If this kind of activity gets an influencer’s attention, look for opportunities to help them further. While the long-term objective might be using an influencer to help position or promote your products and services, this is very much about investing as much as possible into the relationship up front.
Everyone wants or needs something. In fact, it might make sense to think of approaching influencers the same way you might a new customer or prospect: starting by getting a solid understanding of their main challenges or goals, identifying where your company has a way to contribute, and formalizing an arrangement. The difference is that the result might not be a financial transaction but a goodwill gesture of some sort that ensures an influencer keeps your firm top of mind when they’re in front of your customers.
Introduce your influencer to someone who can help grow their business, for example. Offer free or trial versions of your products and services to let them understand why they’re useful. Invite an influencer to speak at your next customer event or buy tickets for your customers to attend their next speaking engagement. Or, if the influencer is merely an extended member of the customer’s team, offer content that helps them do their own job better. This could range from books to white papers, blog posts and more.
Clearly Credit Your Influencers
Customers don’t want to feel manipulated – it’s the surest sign of influencer marketing gone wrong. That’s why the relationship between a company and influencers needs to be transparent.
If you sell cameras and video equipment for example, you might run a program where talented videographers create a series of clips using your equipment. Don’t assume the nature of the relationship is obvious and over-communicate where necessary. Your paying customers should understand that the influencers were deliberately engaged to demonstrate the quality of the products and how the process worked.
The good news is that, when executed properly, influencer networks have a trickle-down effect on the companies that nurture them – to the point where the company starts to become more influential, too.