In recent years social media influencers have become a centerpiece of business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing strategies, but as its popularity grows, business-to-business (B2B) brands are starting to follow suit.
A recent study found that 75 percent of marketers are utilizing influencer marketing, 43 percent of whom plan to increase their spending in the next year. Of those who are yet to engage with influencers, 27 percent intend to do so in the next year. At the same time, however, a 2017 survey found that only 15 percent of B2B companies are running influencer marketing programs.
In spite of this significant imbalance, B2B marketers are increasingly looking to incorporate influencers into their strategies. Before they can successfully do so, however, they first must understand how the purpose, approach, and ultimate outcome of influencer marketing is unique to their domain.
Influencer marketing for consumer products typically requires marketers to identify social media users with large audiences that align with their target market, and engage them in an advertising campaign using an influencer marketing platform. Marketers then work with influencers to explore unique and engaging ways to showcase the brand to that audience.
B2B influencer marketing, however, isn’t as straightforward. After all, you can’t ask an influencer to take a selfie with your SaaS platform and post it to Instagram, or give away a free vacation to your data center on Facebook. Even if you did, it’s likely that you’ve got more than one decision-maker to win over, and they probably aren’t going to click on a link to a product they see for the first time on social media and make a purchase right then and there.
In fact, the minimum average sales cycle for enterprise software is about 6 months, and these days most B2B buyers only contact the vendors that make their shortlist once they’re two-thirds of the way through the decision-making process. As a result there’s often little room for salespeople to engage with early-stage prospects.
Research has found that 87 percent of B2B buyers give more credence to content created by influencers in their industry.
Influencer marketing, however, is increasingly being utilized as a solution for augmenting or replacing cold calls, email marketing, and other early-stage B2B sales strategies. After all, buyers increasingly don’t want to hear directly from the vendor until they’ve finalized their shortlist, so reaching prospects in that preliminary research phase can be as vital as it is challenging. That’s where B2B influencers come in.
Research has found that 87 percent of B2B buyers give more credence to content created by influencers in their industry. Unlike with B2C influencer marketing, however, that content is unlikely to take the form of an Instagram post, YouTube video, or other social media content. Instead, B2B influencer partnerships often seek to produce industry-specific educational materials like LinkedIn posts, E-books, videos, live appearances, lectures and product testimonials, as buyers typically look to these influencers for more in-depth information and analysis.
B2B influencers themselves are also distinct from typical social media influencer personalities and speak to a much different audience. Rather than earning their credibility through social media activity, B2B influencers become recognized authorities through tangible success in a specific domain, or their unique position within an industry. For example, many B2B influencer campaigns utilize internal subject matter experts, influential community members, industry-recognized authorities, existing or former clients and industry specific analysts and consultants.
With its unique style of influencer, audience and platform it should be no surprise that the key performance indicators (KPIs) of these partnerships are unique as well. While clicks, comments and views are still of value, so too are downloads, demos and business inquiries. Furthermore, while these short-term benchmarks can help measure the initial reception of the engagement, B2B sales strategies are typically built on longer-term relationships and sales cycles, and many of the most important KPIs will emerge months after the campaign has ended.
In short, an Instagram post, YouTube video, or Tweet alone might not shorten a lengthy sales cycle, or encourage a CEO to narrow down their shortlist, but most B2B decision makers lean on industry-specific resources to inform their buying decisions, and those resources are worth investing in.
Like traditional influencers, however, B2B influencers trade in credibility, and are unlikely to engage with brands they don’t already use, trust or see value in themselves. They similarly have a reputation to uphold and are unlikely to trade their name for short-term profits. Instead we find that these partnerships are most successful when the influencer aligns well with both the brand’s audience and values, and when the resulting content incorporates brand interests while providing value to the target audience.
Unfortunately, however, the tools and resources that currently exist to facilitate influencer marketing campaigns are optimized to service consumer industries, but that won’t always be the case. Don’t be surprised if you start to see new products and services aimed at B2B marketers in the future.