With paid advertising getting pricier and more competitive, the hype of tapping into influencer marketing has reached its peak. Many would argue the practice is now one of the cornerstones of digital marketing, and they are not wrong. In terms of B2C, collaborations with trendsetters is now a tried and tested marketing tactic, with many online specialists and advisors guiding you through to reap the best results. However, while influencers in B2B are not unheard of, the approach is still in its experimental stage.
Where to start?
The difficulties start almost at once, as most B2B marketers try revolutionising the B2C approach, believing that B2B Influencer Marketing requires a totally new methodology. That’s a big mistake because instead of comparing differences, the essential similarity must be acknowledged: the B2B buying process still involves people buying from people. Which means instead of targeting businesses, even in B2B, you should target humans first, addressing their psychology and behavior patterns.
Ads, where businesses talk purely about themselves, have lost their credibility with customers. Most customers are more keen to rely on reviews and opinions of those they trust when making buying decisions instead of just relying on the communications and promotional activity from brands. In fact, according to Convince and Convert, 91% of B2B companies are at least partly influenced by word of mouth.
Influencers in B2B are particularly important as they serve as a funnel to B2B decision-makers. Being sophisticated, educated and aware of most sales and marketing tricks, the latter will seek reassurance from other trustworthy sources. If someone they consider credible speaks highly of a business, they will be more keen to research and engage with the company. So, in a nutshell, B2B influencer marketing is not as difficult as it may seem.
B2B vs B2C
Despite the major similarities, the markets still have slight differences which will impact the influencer approach. These should be kept in mind when you begin molding a campaign. The key difference when it comes to influencers in B2B is the time frame. While building an organic relationship is important for both, it is bound to take longer in B2B. Unlike influencers in B2C, B2B influencers don’t often treat their ‘landscape shaping’ as a full-time job and share their insights and opinions out of sheer passion, treating it less like a source of income. Which means collaborating with a business, unless they are already an advocate, will not be their top priority.
To build an organic relationship with a B2B influencer it is important to first get noticed by them. Follow them, interact with them, make sure they see and remember your name as someone who takes a genuine interest in their thoughts – this way they will be more likely to collaborate with you, knowing you are aware of what they stand for.
Another thing that takes time in B2B influencer marketing is the result. B2B purchases usually involve multiple decision makers, whereas B2C companies may see an immediate increase of purchases once an influencer programme begins. This means working with a B2B influencer will take at least 6 months, ensuring the campaign reaches as many people within the buying process as possible – another reason why it is important for the influencer to have a natural affinity to the brand.
The final and obvious, yet overlooked, difference is the audience approach. A single Tweet or an Instagram story isn’t likely to bring much difference in the world of B2B. The audience of this market expects engagement with the influencers on different levels, such as events and collaborative content creation. To truly achieve outstanding results, B2B marketers must be bold, think outside the box and stand out from the crowd.
Choosing your influencers
Keep in mind the well-polished skills for B2C influencer marketing. It might be very tempting to go after people with the biggest following, however they may not necessarily cover your niche. This is Wrong! In fact, it’s a wrong approach even in B2C. And for B2B, relevance of the influencer is even more important: remember, they need to be heard by several decision-makers for a single business. A higher online following will not necessarily result in a higher engagement rate.
What you should pay attention to is their audience. Who are they? What kind of content do they interact with, what are their interests? It is advised to create a client persona and look for that type of person in the influencer’s followership. The content bit is the important one: people expect and follow a certain type of content the influencer provides. Put simply, if the content you have to offer is of a different type, the influencer is not the right fit for your campaign.
As previously mentioned, unlike B2C, B2B does not rely on social media platforms to such a large degree. In fact, one of the best influencers in B2B are CEOs. However, 60% of CEOs have no social media presence. So, as its been determined, social media is not always the most effective platform for B2B influencer marketing in terms of ROI and influencer search. In fact, the best influencers in B2B are not necessarily social mavens. Think of authors, speakers, researchers and journalists; many of influencers that can elevate your B2B campaign might not have a strong social footprint and yet are respected and held credible by your target audience.
Ironically, companies don’t always need to look for ‘fresh’ influencers; there might be some already within their ecosystems with proven affinity. Look through your existing fans, customers, partners, and employees: not only do they already have the experience and knowledge needed to advocate the brand, but some of them could potentially have authority within your target sector.
Working with influencers
As we have already mentioned, B2B influencer marketing is time-consuming. As a minimum, 60 days will be needed to research and approach the right influencers. Even longer may be required to discuss the strategy, figure out the possibilities and how to avoid any possible conflicts with the influencers. Such matters include payment: while in B2C it is self-explanatory, the B2B landscape is a little different. Influencers in B2B rely on the universal currency of trust, therefore you have to ensure you’re providing them with value. For example, you wouldn’t pay an influencer to attend an event, but you also wouldn’t charge them for the ticket. Additionally, you would introduce them to the attending contacts, giving the influencer a benefit for their time.
When working with B2B influencers, you should take a collaborative approach. Don’t expect them to retweet your content word for word. In fact, let them pitch you ideas instead. After all, they know their audience best and how best to engage with them: the insights they have may be different from what you know. Make use of it and build the content strategy together with them.
Remember, you don’t want influencers to simply repeat what you said – there are ads for that! You want them to put their unique spin, tone and approach on your products. If they are natural and maintain their usual voice, their input is more likely to be impactful and persuasive for it will feel organic. In summary: don’t just throw a pitch at them!
B2B influencer marketing is not a new concept and has been widely practiced before the era of the Internet. However, it has grown and evolved alongside technology, thus the rules have changed significantly. While it may seem difficult and threatening, especially after adapting to the B2C way, it is not. Time-consuming and more reliant on relationship building, yes, but not difficult. After all, the time and effort invested in B2B influencers will pay off in the long-run and the results may exceed your wildest expectations.