At MarketingProfs’ B2B Marketing Forum in San Francisco, I attended a panel discussion on B2B influencer marketing. Moderated by Lee Odden, CEO, TopRank Marketing, the session was titled “The Confluence Equation: How Content & Influencers Drive B2B Marketing Success.”

B2B Influencer Marketing Expert Panel

The panel featured three leading strategists and practitioners in influencer marketing:

Dr. Konstanze Alex (@Konstanze), Head of Corporate Influencer Relations, Dell

Amisha Gandhi (@AmishaGandhi), Vice President, Influencer Marketing, SAP Ariba

Luciana Moran (@lucymoran), Senior Vice President, Content & Digital Demand Generation, Dun & Bradstreet

Here’s a short video taken at the start of the session:

Influencer Marketing Defined

Lee began the session by giving TopRank Marketing’s definition of influencer marketing:

B2B influencer marketing definition from TopRank Marketing

Image source: an ungated eBook from TopRank Marketing, TheBusiness of Influence – Formulas for Success from Top B2B Brands.”

“Influencer Marketing activates internal and industry experts with engaged networks to co-create content of mutual value and achieve measurable business goals.”

What I like about this definition:

  • It includes internal experts, whom we often forget about!
  • It references the co-creation of content
  • It references mutual value between the brand and the influencers
  • It ties the activity to measurable business goals

In this post, I’ll share insights I picked up from the panel.

Benefit: The Human Connection

In a world that’s gone 99% digital, the human connection (i.e. an influencer!) can cut through the noise. Across our laptops, tablets and smartphones, we see and hear thousands of forms of digital media each day: tweets, posts, snaps, articles and podcasts.

When people hear from humans, especially those with influence, the message is more likely to be noticed. While the message is often delivered via digital channels, the difference is the person delivering the message.

My recommendation: in addition to digital, think of ways to connect influencers “in real life” to your audience: industry conferences, custom events and organized dinners.

My friends here at Leadtail regularly host dinners that connect B2B marketers with a featured influencer. Here’s a photo from one of their dinners, shared by global social influencer Tamara McCleary (@TamaraMcCleary):

Understand the Balance: Reach vs. Expertise

There are two sides of the coin with influencers:

  1. Reach (e.g. Kim Kardashian in the world of celebrity and pop culture)
  2. Subject Matter Expertise (e.g. Albert Einstein on quantum theory)

While some influencers give you both, it’s more likely they’ll be strong in one or the other. For B2B marketers, the key is to understand which one you’re getting (e.g. reach vs. expertise) and plan your programs accordingly.

While pure reach may be attractive for B2C, the panel stressed that subject matter expertise is a requirement for B2B. Ensure that your target audience has familiarity and respect for your selected influencers.

If influencers don’t hold subject matter expertise in your chosen domain, your program will fail before it begins.

Here’s a good quote from Dr. Konstanze Alex:

ROI is Not Instantaneous

You launch your company blog and a month later, your CEO asks, “So show me the results.” Unfortunately, you won’t have meaningful results to report just yet. There’s a long ramp-up time to drive results with blogging and you’ll want to set those expectations with your CEO.

The same is true with B2B influencer marketing. According to the panel, it may take 6-9 months just to identify influencers and establish relationships with them.

More timely results may be seen in B2C (e.g. an Instagram post can drive immediate product sales), but in B2B, expect a multi-month period before tangible benefits are seen.

Help Them Help You

You might think of an influencer campaign as one-sided: you lay out the program, identify actions for the influencers to take and provide an equal exchange of value in return.

How about asking influencers for their input on the program?

“Ask influencers for their feedback on your program. They will give you ideas that can make your program better,” said Amisha Gandhi.

I like this suggestion, since influencers can have a deeper understanding of your target audience than you. Better yet, influencers often come from your target audience.

Supplement Technology Tools with Human Judgment

There are lots of B2B influencer marketing tools and platforms available.

Two products mentioned during the panel were Traackr and Onalytica. The panel praised the benefits of influencer marketing tools, but stressed that a layer of human judgment be applied atop them.

For influencer identification, you ought to manually review the influencer lists identified by software. You should also develop an internal checklist on evaluating B2B influencers.

Are employees in your company familiar with them? Ask your partners and customers: do you follow these folks or read their content? You can also ask, “If you’re not familiar with them, whom do you follow?”

Think of Influencer Engagement as a State of Being

In response to an audience question about launching B2B influencer marketing with limited internal resources, the panel recommended using an external agency. They also suggested starting small, to get a taste for influencer marketing and assessing results.

In other words: you don’t need to think about it as “launching this thing,” said the panel.

Instead, start by experimenting. Make influencer identification and engagement an “always on” activity for your team. Then, it becomes a state of being, rather than a campaign.

Wrapping Up

Thanks to Lee Odden and the expert panel for sharing their B2B influencer marketing wisdom. Here’s a nice photo from the session that Lee shared:

Are you actively running B2B influencer marketing campaigns? Just looking to get started? What questions or comments do you have — feel free to share them in the Comments section below. Thanks for reading!

If you found this post useful, you may also like these related posts by Leadtail’s Carter Hostelley — 9 Do’s and Don’ts of B2B Influencer Marketing and 4 Rules of B2B Influencer Marketing.