Welcome to Not Another Marketing Podcast where I’m talking to award winning marketer & the author of Brand Breakthrough, Margie Agin about Business to Business influencer marketing.

Episode 80

We all know about business to consumer influencers, most are found selling other people’s wares on Instagram but what about influencers within the B2B world?

On this episode of Not Another Marketing Podcast I’m talking to award winning marketer & the author of Brand Breakthrough, Margie Agin.

We discuss B2B influencer marketing, how it works and if it’s worth it. Margie talks us through the process of how to find influencers, how to keep them happy and work with them as partners to help achieve both parties goals.

You can find Margie on LinkedIn; her book is called Brand Breakthrough and looks at the process of developing an authentic brand personality. The Action Guide mentioned in the podcast can be found here.

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Transcript (Edited for clarity)

Can social media influencers can be used successfully within the business to business world?

Yeah, absolutely. It is a bit of a different animal. You may not find them on Instagram. They may be on LinkedIn or other venues, but definitely it’s becoming much more important in B2B. And I think whether you’re in B2C or B2B, the fact is, increasingly, people don’t trust brands, but they do trust recommendations from individuals, even if they don’t know them over brands or businesses. And that’s true for both B2C and B2B. Word of mouth marketing is huge, and in fact, in B2B, the vast majority over 90% of transactions are at least influenced by word of mouth in some way.

I think that B2B purchases involve a lot of risk, their more expensive. There are more decision makers. There are more eyes on you when you’re making a decision so it’s harder to justify and harder to take on a new risk or a new vendor and or change from an existing vendor from the status quo. So it becomes even more important to build trust, especially if you’re the new guy on the block or the challenger brand.

If a customer can say ‘so and so’ who I really respect is connected to these guys, that reduces the risk, and it makes it more likely that they’ll at least welcome a meeting and an attempt to change their status quo.

A lot of brands are trying to behave like people at the moment aren’t they, which is sometimes quite painful to watch. It’s like, Oh, will you stop doing that, please? But business to business has always been business to people, really, hasn’t it? You don’t sell to a business you sell to a person at end of the day.

It’s still people. There’s still people making those decisions. There might be more of them, but they’re not robots. I mean, we used to think that B2B decision makers were all about logic and no emotion, right, and we’re really finding that that’s not true, that they still have the idea of avoiding risk, right? Is it partially an emotional decision? So you might get in the door? You know, they might have all their logical reasons stacked up in an RFP but at the end of the day, they still may choose your brand because they feel an affiliation and a connection to it.

It’s funny you say that bands are behaving like people. We kind of call that brand voice or brand personality, and I think if it’s authentic and it really, truly reflects your company’s culture and values, and if you can execute it consistently so it doesn’t feel like you’re just, you know, putting lipstick on a pig, you feel like you really can live that then that comes through. And that’s not that’s not painful like you were talking about.

What’s painful is when somebody tries something for a little while. It tries to be jokey on social media, you know, just does their home page of their website, but then doesn’t sort of have the depth to follow through.

Yeah, it can get a little bit painful, but I think brands like Patagonia and North Face that which have spoken about before on this podcast. They kind of back it up with actual actions and campaigns that they do as a company don’t they?

Yeah, absolutely. Although it’s easier in many ways when you’re a consumer brand. But a B2B company can also share a personality. I mean, look a Slack, for example, which has just shot to the top of the must have tools for for tech companies and a lot of types of businesses, their personality comes through with their colours, with their tone of voice, with the language they use in their automated communication. So they’re finding a lot of ways, even as a B2B company, to express a personality.

That’s a good example. Slack. It’s a bit of a boring tool, really, isn’t it? It’s a communication tool at the end of the day, So how would it work with influencers if you’ve got a software product or you’ve got maybe a business product or widget or something that you sell. Would you just give it to an influencer and say “There you go have fun with it”, tell everybody about it. How does it kind of work and a B2B world?

I think that there are reviewers, so you could certainly give a product to a technology reviewer and say have a go at and let us know what you think. So that’s one avenue another is going through a content channel.

A lot of influencers in the B2B space they back themselves to their currency. They want to be thought of as thought leaders. They want to be known as experts in their space and you’re not paying the money necessarily is to associate with your brand, but you’re giving them value in exchange in the sense that if you have them contribute to content, perhaps have them do a guest blogger, a guest post or ask them for a quote, you’re incorporating them as a thought leader and kind of raising their profile.

You also might share and engage with their content so that they already have a public voice and they’ve been posting and sharing on social media are putting out reports or writing about the topic that you care very much about.

Then it becomes more of a two way street so that they see it more as a partnership relationship rather than just one where you’re sort of paying them or giving them a product to have them shill for you.

Is there a difference between an influencer and a micro influencer, brand Ambassador? I mean, the markets a lot smaller. You’re not going to find that that Instagram influencer that’s got, like, 15 million viewers and they show a handbag and you just sell out of handbags. It doesn’t quite work like that in B2B does it?

No, that’s true. And B2B can get very niche. It might not matter if there’s 100,000 followers, it might be 1000 or 2000 but if they are the right people in the the right niche market that you care about then that’s more important because they they’re more engaged.

These smaller groups sometimes tend to be much more engaged. In a larger group most people aren’t really doing anything and aren’t really engaged to begin with but in a smaller, tight knit group, the influencers voice has a lot more impact and also they’re more closely connected to what you might do as a brand.

So, for example, if I was say, a cyber security company, right, I wouldn’t just look for an influencer that’s really involved with technology. In a broad sense I would look for somebody that’s really into cyber technology and even within cyber security you’re gonna find these little slices of different types of angles on the market and it’s ideal to try to find one that is really writing about the topic that is the closest to what your company focuses on and what you might write about and what your customers are reading about.

So it’s in many ways it’s better to go niche then then to go super broad.

I think it’s that word ‘influencer’, and it is trying to connect with the people who influence the person who makes the buying decision. If I’m talking to customers of a company that I work with, one of the questions I always ask is; What are you reading? Who are you following? Who do you listen to? What sites do you go to? What communities air you part of?

You do find names pop up that you would not necessarily have thought of and might not have been on your radar so I definitely talk to customers about whose opinion they care about and they’re not always in the social sphere. I mean, it’s great if somebody has sort of a public voice and there are many tools that can give you a ranking of where people are posting or where they’ve been a guest author, or how how large they’re following is and are people sharing their content.

So if they have some kind of public voice you can kind of rank that and see how big a presence they have but in B2B you might find sort of niche communities that are behind gates like like a little media publications or they could be speakers and events and not necessarily in a in an online space. So there’s a lot of different types of relationships, and in B2B analysts have a huge impact on the market, the gardeners and the foresters of the world and they move markets with their peer reviews and I would never call them a brand ambassador, they’re much more of an influencer because they try to stay unbiased and they review a broad range of the market.

So that’s that’s a different type of B2B influencer that it’s inevitably important to build relationships with.

Is the brand ambassador more basically a Fanboy. The person I’m picturing is the person who has their entire office decorated with your swag, A T shirt with your logo. I don’t get it. There are those brands that just inspire loyalty and Evernote always springs to mind because I think there were Evernote socks, right? People wore the darn things.

It’s funny. Socks actually is a huge swag that people give away trade shows now and now that we’re all working from home, you really want some cozy socks? You know there’s brand ambassadors that are our employees, and sometimes it’s even part of somebody’s job description. They’ve tapped us through the the evangelist, or sometimes there’s just somebody within your organization who also really likes to write or is involved in different kind of communities or they’re an MVP or something and part of their job as an MVP from Microsoft, they have to go to certain events and speak a certain number of times a year. So finding them within an organization can be gold and I would call them a brand ambassador because you know that they’re not unbiased, but they’re also considered a subject matter expert so when they talk and when they share information, they’re not just talking about how great the brand is, they are also talking about the trends in the market and what you should expect for the future and how you make decisions and things that actually provide value. And so just because you’re a brand ambassador, it’s not like, you know, you’re wearing this belt and you know you’re showing how awesome it is and taking pictures of it. You’re also really providing value to your audience and helping to educate them so they feel like you’re not just filling the brand.

Yeah, I’m just I’m getting that image, I don’t know whether you remember that episode of friends where Joey was wearing everything with Porche on it and it was like a Porche had thrown up on him. I’m just getting that in that impression of these brand ambassadors walking down dressed in slack gear from head to toe. Do these two influences want paying?

There are some that that you can pay. Typically, I have not paid influencers. You know, as I said, I think they get their value also from having their profile elevated but there are ways that you could if you’re allowed, there is certainly, in some businesses and in government in particular, you’re not allowed to even give them any kind of payment, right? But if they are able to accept gifts, you could reward them in other ways. So, for example, a number of years ago, we had a major event a customer appreciation event called BB world and we have thousands of customers and industry experts in the education technology industry that attended. So we handpicked some customers and some other influencers to basically to sit in the front row at the keynote and other sessions and, I believe, paid for their ticket to attend the conference, right, so they got that value but in exchange they were asked to blog about their experience. We didn’t tell them what to say, right? We just ask that that they share and they had special badges that, you know, denoted them as an ambassador. And they were able to put something on their social media profile that kind of had this so they felt like special people. They got a podium basically to share their thoughts on the day and got a free ticket to the event. So that’s one way to reward people.

Another tactic I’ve had success with is customer awards programs. So, an Ed Tech company I worked with had an annual awards program. They select customers who do an amazing job not just using their products but achieving their goals right. So things like retention or increasing graduation rates. Closing the equity gap at their school, right, so they showcase the customers, they make a big deal out of their story, again, kind of the badges and the awards and the trophies. Then in return, the customers share their stories right and they kind of develop that persona as a brand ambassador with the help of the brand. So it’s more working in partnership with somebody.

Would a business promote what their influences is doing amongst their own channels?

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s a two way street, right? So and you might even start that way before you go to somebody and introduce yourself and ask them to kind of work with you. Follow what they’re doing, share what they’re doing, comment on what they’re doing. Then you become noticed by them, but also you’re showing that you’re going to do your part in helping to elevate their brand.

So what’s the best way to find influences? Is there like a big influencer directory or something? Or do we just have to put in the hard yards?

There’s a lot of different types of directories and I played with a lot of them. OneI really like is BuzzSumo, it’s more kind of a social listening tool, right? So you can listen to what you’re reading about who is posting what, where and what kind of reception it gets, right so again in B2B, you might be looking for a very specific topic or very specific media publications that you care about so you can kind of type in this specific topic that is relevant to your audience and that is also something that you think you would you would want to be known for right? And that’s who you want to associate yourself with. So there’s tools like that. There’s other tools, one I played with is called Tracker, which can really tell you how the influencers were connected to each other. So you might find one influencer that look very niche but it turns out that they’re actually connected to these five other people, and those five other people are connected to this much larger groups or there’s sort of a little tribe of people that are talking about a certain topic, and so it’s cool. You can actually map out a new entire network of different influencers and see how they’re connected to each other. It does take a little work because the tools are a little different, the directories air different. You do have to sort of dig in and and look at these people individually and say, are they really writing about what I what I care about? Are they somebody that I want to stand next to? Feel like they would be a good representative of my company? And then you can see how engaged they are, so there’s a lot of different criteria that you can look at and to prioritize. And then you can pick a small group of people and you say, this is really my wish list of the people that I really want to be connected with and kind of go in and do all you can to try to build relationships with them.

It’s interesting you mentioned about looking at engagement and It always amuses me when you look at, say, a Twitter or Facebook account and there’s like 25K followers or something, but nobody’s retweeting, nobody is replying. Nobody’s engaging and you think to yourself, this could be something a little bit Dodgy because, I mean, I don’t have too many followers on Twitter, I’m not huge, but I would say probably over 50% of what a post gets some sort of a reaction. So is it a good signal?

I think there’s a lot to look at in the engagement level. Twitter keeps trying to sort of weed out the people that are, you know, fake accounts but there are people that have accounts that are not associated with actual people and even when thery are associated with people most people are lurkers, right? And readers and don’t necessarily share or comment, but again it may be OK to find somebody that has a much smaller following and you find that following is highly engaged.

So how do we keep our influencers happy and engaged with us? Do we need to communicate quite frequently?

Yeah, you just keep sending them socks every holiday! I do think holiday presence, socks, you know, cos swag is definitely appreciated. Really authentic appreciation is very nice. You know that’s why I think a smaller group might be easier to manage, right? Then you may only need 5 or 10 people, and then you can kind of shower the love on them. So, you know, appreciation in terms of gifts, communication, we talked a little bit about kind of giving them little assets, like a badge or another graphic to include in their portfolio but you could give them other things to just make their job easy so they don’t have to do the heavy lifting on their part. So, for example I have a client where we every time we we create a piece of content, we also create five or six different sample social posts that might share the content. Right. So you could provide those even with graphics to your network of influencers so they don’t have to try to create something themselves. Their job is to respond and comment on what you’ve done and here you’ve given them sort of like a pre-canned, preset template way to do that. And it’s not to say that you want them all to parrot the party line or that you want them all saying exactly the same thing but you’re just giving them a head start, right? You’re you’re sort of giving them 85% of the stuff that they need then maybe add their own personalized thought on top of it. Because they may be approached by dozens and dozens of companies just like yours so you can’t expect them to do all the heavy lifting and, you knowt here are tools that help you do that, so that you can kind of have almost a portal of different posts and different types of content that they can share so that they don’t have to go try to make it all up on their own.

I think it’s important to let the influencers speak their mind in a way, because I had an experience quite a few years ago, when I was approached by a pretty big company to become a brand ambassador. I’ve filled in a little form. I answered a few questions on their software and they gave me a badge. They gave me all sorts of other little bits and pieces that I could use on my website and during training sessions and things like that. But then a couple of years later, they sent new terms and conditions that said I couldn’t promote any of their competition. I couldn’t say anything negative about their brand whatsoever, even if I thought that their business wasn’t right for another business. Do you know what I mean? It worried me a little bit so would you advise people to stay away from that type of control?

Yeah, I think that’s a turn off. I think it’s not like you’re you’re going on a commercial and you’re saying and they’re saying, well, you can’t do another commercial for my direct competitors. The value is that you’re supposedly an unbiased third party expert, right? So I would think if you really believe that the product is not something that you would recommend, then probably you’re not going to sign up to be the influencer to begin with. All you can do is your best job to give them a great experience. And the fact that they might include, you know, a couple of little negatives along the way just makes it more realistic and authentic.