According to TrustRadius’ 2020 report on the state of B2B marketing, the average B2B customer considers product demos, vendor product websites, user reviews, vendor representatives, and free trials most relevant when making buying decisions.
Product websites views and user reviews are important initial touches that customers make with you, and it’s important to make a good first impression.
While creating great website copy is in your control, how can you manage user reviews? Can you enhance the quality of reviews you receive? This is where influencer marketing enters the picture. Having an influencer advocate for your product is increasingly critical these days since buyers don’t rely on traditional sources of information anymore.
According to TrustRadius, 62% of B2B buyers surveyed relied on customer reviews and 64% relied on customer stories and case studies.
There are 5 kinds of B2B influencers you can work with and all of them play different roles.
Case studies and customer testimonials are two of the most powerful ways to engage a B2B audience. They directly communicate your product’s value and are created by people who have actually used it. Creating this form of content can be challenging though. Despite positive experiences, not every customer is going to find the time to leave glowing reviews.
Source: TrustRadius B2B Buying Disconnect Survey data collected from 907 technology buyers and 227 technology vendors in September 2020.
Even when they do leave it, their choice of words and the aspects of your product they highlight can create less than desirable consequences.
The key is to start looking for product champions early. An interesting example of this is the method used by the Invoice2go, a company that functions as a platform for small businesses. According to Invoice2go's VP, Marketing Pranav Piyush, the company uses social media groups on LinkedIn and Facebook to drive conversations that result in higher engagement with the product.
A side effect of this has been the rise of produce champions within these communities.
Piyush notes that influencer marketing’s ROI is tough to measure for his company at this point. However, by pursuing a smart social listening strategy and by paying attention to what their customers need, Invoice2go is making it easier for their customers to become influencers of their product.
The Recognizable Expert
The most visible type of B2B influencer is the recognizable expert. These people or publications wield a great deal of influence in your industry, and drive opinions and thought leadership. Their followings are massive and if you manage to convince them to champion your product, the results for your brand could be special.
Thanks to them being recognizable, you’ll have to cut through a lot of the competition to gain their attention. Doing this isn’t an easy task. It’s hard to get such people’s attention without knowing someone in their network first.
Alternatively, if you or your executive team have stellar industry profiles, you can get them to profile and use your product.
Despite the heft that these influencers bring to the table, you shouldn’t be swayed by the size of their audience. The quality of content they produce and the relevance to your product should come first. For example, Forbes or a nationally recognized magazine has huge traffic numbers and you will attract attention by publishing thought leadership pieces there.
However, you’ll struggle to drive highly targeted traffic to your product pages. If your aim is to build brand recognition, as opposed to driving deep engagement through an ABM program, choosing to work with large influencers is a good option.
For example, Sisense, the data analytics company, regularly uses Techcrunch, Forbes, and other major publications to increase brand awareness.
Combined with their efforts to maintain analyst relationships in their industry, Sisense manages to position themselves as a major player in their industry.
Niche Focused Experts
Niche experts are at the other end of the spectrum from recognizable experts. This doesn’t mean they have small audience numbers or aren’t recognizable in any way. It’s just that people outside your industry are unlikely to have heard of them.
In fact, a niche expert might specialize in just one area of relevance as far as your product is concerned.
If your product is relevant to varied use cases, working with a collection of niche experts is a good strategy. Niche experts are also a great choice for smaller companies who lack the networking heft to garner attention from recognizable experts. These influencers can help you narrow your focus to your core users.
The traffic they send you will be hyper-relevant. As a result, this influencer strategy works very well with an ABM program.
It’s best to build a long term relationship with these influencers since they’ll always be a reliable source of credibility for you. The flip side is that you’ll need to spend more time vetting them. Due to their relatively small reach, verifying their authority can be difficult. Their hyper-specialized focus leads to a smaller web footprint.
Spend some time viewing their content and engaging with them. In the case of a publication, evaluate how sharp their focus is and whether they deviate from it for any reason.
A good example of this is the approach taken by AI-driven cybersecurity firm Cymulate. The company routinely publicizes their product and efforts in niche-specific publications. By targeting relevant publications, Cymulate zeroes in on their core audience without having to worry about qualifying any prospects that these avenues might generate.
A rising star is a person who’s motivated to share content and is actively networking in your niche. This type of influencer is usually a person, not a publication, and they’re probably not the best fit for a well known company. A common mistake that B2B companies make is to discount the value that these kinds of influencers present.
Source: TrustRadius B2B Buying Disconnect Survey data collected from 907 technology buyers and 227 technology vendors in September 2020
Thanks to them being highly motivated, they’re easy to work with and will bring creative ideas to the table. Conducting a case study with them or creating a series of videos that allows them to engage with your product is a good way to build some buzz.
Despite these positives, there’s no denying the possibility of things going wrong, or worse, having zero effect on your brand awareness.
Evaluating such influencers properly is critical. There won’t be a large audience for you to analyse. However, looking for high engagement numbers and consistency of content creation is the key.
Smaller audiences tend to have higher engagement than large ones. An influencer who is consistently engaging with other media in their industry is clearly networking to build their authority.
Evaluate how broad their focus is and whether this is a good match for your product. It’s always better to err on the side of a narrow and deep focus than broad and wide with such influencers.
It’s important to manage your expectations when working with these people. You’re not going to receive a million signups to your product demo list.
However, if your company is relatively new to your industry and if you don’t have any relationships to leverage, creating a buzz using an up and coming influencer is the right approach to adopt. Focus on product relevance and on its use cases, instead of trying to drive conversion.
A prolific example of this method was American Express’ decision to partner with blogger Grace Bonney to publicize its small business offerings. The “Love My Store” campaign was eventually nominated for The Shorty Awards which recognizes the best digital media campaigns across all industries.
By partnering with an entity that was much smaller than them, Amex humanized themselves and ended up publicizing their products to their core consumers.
An increasing number of companies are turning to their employees to build thought leadership. When done right, it can boost your credibility immensely. When done wrong, it can come across as being overly salesly.
Your audience might think your employees are being forced to say nice things about you. Being genuine is the key when you turn to your employees. Some companies try to push their product through employee created content but that’s the wrong approach to take.
Instead, seek to build trust with your prospect. You need to communicate a feeling of integrity and professionalism when turning to internal experts. For example, instead of having your employees talk about how great your product is, have them talk about the problems they noticed and how they went about solving it.
Instead of having them demo your product, have them demonstrate some under the hood features that will engage a more technical customer persona.
Create content that challenges existing norms in your industry and establishes your company’s view on a topic. This method is great if you’re an up and coming company and need to establish a distinct voice.
Establishing that voice through your employees is a great way to pull everyone together onto the same page.
A good example of this type of campaign was when GE partnered with Lena Dunham’s feminist publication Lenny Letter to encourage women to pursue careers in STEM fields. The centrepiece of the campaign featured Dunham interviewing GE Vice Chair Beth Comstock about how GE encourages women in technology.
Combined with female focused recruiting ads, the company was able to reach their desired audience and established themselves as an inclusive company to work for.
The Right Influencer for the Right Company
The type of influencer you choose to work with depends on your goals. Many companies rush to work with the recognized experts in their fields and this is a mistake. It might make more sense to choose a rising star and rely on customers to generate content that resonates with your audience.
Whoever you choose to work with, there’s no denying that B2B influencer marketing should be one of your primary strategies.