The uncertainty of 2020 created an environment of rapid digital transformation for B2B brands that impacted every area of business including marketing. B2B brands pivoted pre-pandemic marketing strategies to new go to market models for a digital first customer that in many cases is less trusting of traditional sources of information and paying more attention to industry peers, experts and influencers.
So what do these changes mean for the rest of 2021 and into 2022? Will B2B marketers continue to rely on partnering with trusted voices in the industry to drive full funnel impact for their marketing? Answers to these questions and more are essential in order for B2B brands to continue in their efforts to innovate on marketing effectiveness, differentiate from the competition and accelerate the sales journey. B2B marketing has evolved over the past 18 months and will continue to evolve with your help.
For more perspective, watch the video below to hear directly from our chief executive Lee Odden about why you should share your experience and contribute to shaping the future of B2B influencer marketing:
Hi, I’m Lee Odden, CEO and co-founder of TopRank Marketing. In 2020, before COVID, our survey of hundreds of B2B marketers found that 96% that work with influencers found their efforts to be successful.
This is an overwhelming amount of confidence, but is it still true in 2021? Will it be true in 2022?
We’d love to hear your opinion on this and many more important questions about the role of influence in B2B marketing by taking the second annual B2B Influencer Marketing survey.
With fresh insights from B2B marketers like yourself, we’ll be able to provide an analysis for post-COVID influencer strategies, tactics, measurement, technology and more for 2022 and beyond.
I invite you to take the survey using the link below. It takes just a few minutes. You can get early access to the report which will include rich data, case studies, and insights from some of the top voices in the B2B marketing world on the future of influence.
Together we can elevate the practice of influencer marketing for B2B brands. Thank you!
Your contribution to this year’s survey will help our team identify the key strategies, trends and best practices that will propel B2B marketing forward in 2022 and beyond. We’ll pull those insights into a special report, The State of B2B Influencer Marketing Research Report which you can get early access to when you take the survey. The report will feature important data about the current and future state of influencer marketing for B2B companies as well as case studies you can learn from and contributions from top B2B marketing experts and practitioners.
If this is your first time, Inside B2B Influence is a podcast series that goes behind the scenes of B2B marketing and highlights insights with top business executives on influencer marketing for B2B companies. At TopRank Marketing we’re doing our best to connect readers and listeners with B2B marketing insiders on strategies, trends, tactics and the future to elevate the practice of growing influence within and outside of B2B brands.
In Episode 17 of Inside B2B Influence we have a returning guest who needs little introduction given his accomplishments and yet, we’d all be missing out if I did not mention that Brian Solis is Global Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce, an 8X best selling author, global keynote speaker, digital pioneer and has been a good friend for over 10 years.
As someone who has been at the forefront of studying, innovating and practicing influence in the B2B business and technology world, I reached out to Brian for his thoughts on what the future holds for influence at B2B organizations inside and out, what to look for with business influencers and thoughts on how to scale influence.
Highlights of episode 17 include:
Advantages influencer marketing creates for B2B brands in 2022
The most important qualities B2B brands should look for in influencers
The importance for B2B brands to grow influence from within
The next evolution of influence for B2B companies
What B2B companies should consider in order to scale influence
Take a listen to The Future of Influence in B2B Marketing with Brian Solis:
Transcript – Inside B2B Influence Episode 17: The Future of Influence for B2B Marketing
In the first ever research report on B2B influencer marketing, you shared that “in a time of darkness, chaos or confusion, B2B brands have an opportunity to be the light for their customers.” As we finish off 2021 and head into another year of the pandemic, what kind of advantage does influencer marketing bring for B2B brands?
I think (B2B influencer marketing) is more important than it’s ever been. @briansolis
Brian: I think it’s more important than it’s ever been and kudos to you for launching that first report. I understand that it was incredibly successful, so thanks for letting me be part of that.
I’ll try to connect the dots this way for those who are listening. At Salesforce, our mission is to help businesses, not just transform, but to be relevant and to thrive in what’s going to be what I call, a novel economy. It’s the word novel, like in novel coronavirus means new and unusual, and that means that we’re heading into new years, a new genre of business without a playbook.
When we take that stance, that means that we have to have a very solid position on how we’re going to help you. What does business look like on the other side? What does every function look like on the other side? Marketing, sales and service? How do they all come together to essentially create the enterprise of the future right now?
And so that’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of thought leadership, a lot of content, a lot of video, a lot of articles, a lot of social media to reach those looking for insights – to connect the dots between valuable information and actions to those who need them.
We have all become marketers now. @briansolis
In that regard, you can’t just have the ideas. You can’t just have the solutions. You also have to have the ability to connect the dots between those ideas and people who need them. So, in a sense, we have all become marketers now. And I think that’s a good thing. I think marketing itself becomes a much more value added, it rises in the ranks of helping to serve, I guess, is the best way to put it, Not just to market or promote or to gain eyeballs, but to serve people.
I think it’s like a call to arms or this enlightenment that gives us a greater sense of purpose, a more noble sense of purpose. So with that said, I have a lot to read, a lot to learn and relearn in these times because there’s certainly a lot of really smart people out there. I’m just hoping to continue to, not just think about ways to help companies, but to also think about ways to reach people their way. And that has me “control alt deleting” a lot of assumptions, that’s for sure.
B2B marketers have learned many lessons from our B2C counterparts including what makes an influencer. B2B influencers are more than experts with industry credentials. They are increasingly creators as well. What are the qualities most important in an influencer that brands should look for?
Brian: Oh, man, let’s start with the question of what makes an influencer. You know, I think back to some of the conversations, how many years have we been having these really these awesome conversations? I really appreciate how long we’ve known each other. We’ve done a lot of really cool things together. I think this is a time where it’s almost as exciting as when we first met. You remember? Social media was just coming together. It was just chaos. It was the wild west. And I think this is that time. I don’t know that people are going to pick up that it’s that time, but it really is. I want to call it out for this reason. What is an influencer?
Because coming into 2022 I think we could all have these visions of some beautiful human being on a beach in Thailand. Somebody walking and seeing their back with their hand extended holding their hand. You know, that’s what I think a lot of traditional marketers think about in terms of influencer marketing. I’m not going to knock it. It has been, for B2C, some of the most innovative, creative stuff that I’ve seen in a long time. There’s nothing to say though, that when it comes to B2B that you can’t be human being either. I think that’s really where we should start thinking about this.
Every single day I get emails, “We need you to be part of this.” Very rarely does someone take the time to read my work and then reach out and talk about ways that we might be able to collaborate. @briansolis
I too, have been the recipient of these types of requests. Every single day I get emails, “we need you to be part of this. We want to give you some content to publish. Can you make a video? Can you do this?” And it’s simply because of the number of people who follow my work. Very rarely does someone take the time to read my work and then reach out and talk about ways that we might be able to collaborate, because there was some idea that they felt could help them connect the dots of markets they’re trying to cultivate.
That’s where it starts: who are you trying to reach and why? And then building bridges between those people who have earned the trust of those that you’re trying to reach, whether it’s a macro influencer, certainly in the B2B world, there are people with a lot of followers, more followers than I’ll probably ever have. And at the same time they have reached the micro influence that is so critical right now. The people that you trust because they will tell you something specific that you need to do and you believe that their insights are going to help you succeed in how you’re measured for success.
I’m a big believer in experimenting. So I’ll experiment with the wide swaths and the big audiences. But I also want to experiment with direct outcomes. If we can together, do some work that helps people make better decisions or move markets or launch products that help other companies, then that’s what I’m talking about.
For example, I remember some of my greatest work in the past, aside from what I’m doing right now. So I don’t know that I’ve ever had so much fun while having such an impact, was back in the day with Google when we launched, we introduced the concept of micro-moments. Micro-moments was our way of helping marketers understand that a mobile first customer does not go through the web journey like a traditional customer sitting in front of a big screen or a laptop journey.
You have to think about TikToK or Snapchat versus amazon.com, right, in terms of how you go through that. The work that we did cast a wide net because Google is very good at that. My responsibility was the micro stuff. Can we beat the drum of micro influence by talking about micro-moments in every single aspect of how a customer goes through the journey and what they’re missing and what they need from marketers, from digital marketers, from web marketers to create that ideal journey.
If I didn’t have that audience, I would go build that audience. @briansolis
So, we talked about micro-moments, we talked about mobile first things. We talked about stats, we ran all kinds of research. We did micro-moments for travel, micro-moments for insurance and micro-moments for auto sales. I was a mad man during that first year to 18 months, every single day developing new content, putting it in the places that were going to reach those people. If I didn’t have that audience, I would go build that audience.
That was my life for a year and a half. And I think the result of that is that everybody knows about micro moments and it’s still important after all of these years today. But that was the hard work, dedicated work of cultivating those communities, not just relying on somebody because they had the numbers.
I think that in this post pandemic economy that’s going to start taking shape, as soon as we can get people vaccinated, that the new world, that next normal needs more work like that. Not just intention to promote stuff, but to build stuff, to help those who are looking for insights, understand that we can build that playbook together.
What is your problem? How has the world changed and how can I help you? Go create (content) around that. @briansolis
I think there’s a lot of people asking questions. There’s a lot of people looking for help. For those influencers who are going to take the time to think about it, not just promote or say something, or try to get a lot of views or clicks or what have you. But to think about like honestly think about, what is your problem? How has the world changed and how can I help you? And then go create around that. That’s the answer to your question. That’s what makes an influencer and it’s not even an influencer at that point. That’s a business partner who’s helping you and helping others solve problems and create opportunities.
One of the significant trends we’ve seen with many enterprise B2B brands is growth of investment in building influence from within. This comes in the form of employee advocacy programs as well as building thought leadership and influence for key executives by collaborating on content with industry experts. How important is it for B2B brands to grow influence from within?
Brian: Such a great question. I joined this company because I wanted to be part of this culture. The Ohana, it is a very special culture, They, we, I should say, believe in that employee advocacy and empowerment. Because the frontline for us are those individuals who are having to help our customers solve some pretty big problems and transform overnight like most companies that got hit in March, 2020 with remote work and e-commerce, and chat bots and automation, and all of the things that had accelerated roadmaps, digital transformation roadmaps by 10 years.
So Mark Benioff, at our big corporate kickoff get together, he talked about how we all need to as individuals, as employees of the organization, not just sell technology, which is a really big thing for a CEO of a hyper-growth company to say. He was basically saying, he wants all of us to think about the outcomes that our customers are trying to solve for and the things that they don’t know, that they need to solve for and go be that go be that person, go be that resource so that they can trust you beyond just being a sales person or a service person.
Employee advocacy is the belief in your people that they can provide solutions and help. @briansolis
That’s a big call to all of us, right? Not just me and my colleagues who do this every single day, but for everybody. That’s employee advocacy. It’s the belief in your people that they can provide solutions and help, not just the things that are going to hit the bottom line. To build relationships, as my colleague Henry King, and I have written about it in a serious this last year, we talk about relationship transformation. What do you want the employee to do, or employees do in aggregate and as individuals? Well, essentially it’s to build relationships.
You know this better than anybody. You build relationships by adding value and consistently adding value.
Business outcomes are natural byproducts of investing in relationships. @briansolis
To do that, it means you have to understand what value looks like. Value is in the eye of the beholder. Then you train, you empower, you re-skill or skill to help people get there. And then you measure that because we’re all in the relationship business. You measure the relationships that you want to see come to life. Then business outcomes are natural byproducts of investing in those relationships.
So then it’s not just a conversation. How can we empower employees to create, to share, to answer questions that maybe haven’t been asked and to answer those questions en masse so that a lot of people find those answers. Essentially you build an infrastructure that can help create that type of advocacy.
I think that’s a pretty big deal, going beyond all of the apps to see, hey, what is it like to work there? You really start to invest in the culture where part of that culture is, you have smart people who are sharing smart things. I think that’s part leadership, but also you need a program that isn’t just about ghost writing for executives. It’s really about giving a voice to the executive who actually believes in those things and scaling them.
Thank you Brian!
You can find Brian on Twitter, LinkedIn, his website and you can watch Brian along with his co-host John Kao and special guests on their Intersections show every Thursday morning at 10:30am PT.
Be sure to stay tuned to TopRank Marketing’s B2B Marketing Blog for our next episode of Inside B2B Influence where we’ll be answering the B2B marketing industry’s most pressing questions about the role of influence in business to business marketing. If you missed one of our previous episodes of Season 2, follow the links below:
Have you taken the 2021 B2B Influencer Marketing Survey?
Help elevate the practice of influence in B2B marketing by sharing your experience and opinions about B2B marketing and working with influencers in our latest research project. The survey takes just 10 minutes and you’ll not only get an advanced copy of our research report featuring insights from Brian Solis and an incredible mix of B2B industry experts, but we’re also giving away some sweet incentives. Take the survey today though, because we’ll be closing it down soon.
Inside B2B Influence is a podcast and video series that goes behind the scenes of B2B marketing and highlights insights with top business executives on marketing for B2B companies. We’re doing our best here at TopRank Marketing Blog to elevate the practice of growing influence within and outside of B2B brands to drive thought leadership, create demand and grow revenue.
Episode 16 of Inside B2B Influence features a discussion with Sarita Rao (@saritasayso), who is President, Integrated and Partner Solutions at AT&T. Sarita contributed her expertise to the State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report last year and I have been following her closely (and learning) on LinkedIn and Twitter ever since.
For any senior executive wondering about how they might best use social networks to better connect with their staff and company employees, customers, prospects and the industry at large, Sarita is a great example of what you should do.
While the brand she works for and the level of seniority she’s achieved impart a certain level of general business influence, Sarita earns even more influence about the topics she cares about most on a daily basis. She’s a living example of how to build thought leadership and influence around the things she’s passionate about and engages on through social content.
To learn more about how a senior executive at a Fortune 11 company is able to be so effective on social channels, I invited Sarita to the Inside B2B Influence show. We talked about a range of topics from the value senior executives bring to their teams, customers and the business when they are active on social channels to smart advice for up and coming women business leaders.
Highlights of this episode of Inside B2B Influence with Sarita include:
What prepared Sarita best for her current leadership role
How social media engagement has impacted her career
Advice for B2B executives on becoming more social online
Advice for women who aspire to senior business leadership roles
Insights into collaboration tools and technology for interacting with current and prospective customers
Tips on making connections with employees more human
How Sarita is helping to redefine customer experience at AT&T
An example of what real human conversation and interaction looks like in today’s business world
The importance for today’s modern sales or marketing leaders to be active on social channels
You can listen to episode 16 (How B2B Executives Can Grow Influence with Social Media) of the Inside B2B Influence podcast here:
Watch the full video of my interview with Sarita here:
You have had an incredible career at AT&T. What in particular prepared you most for your current role as President, Integrated and Partner Solutions?
Sarita: You know honestly, I think it’s that I love this job. It’s like accumulation of all the things I’ve done. So I’ve been with AT&T gosh, 30 years. Thank you for not mentioning that, I just did though. But I’ve been with the company for over 30 years and I’ve had everything from sales to program management to marketing. And if I think of my last job in marketing, it really taught me about taking the complexity out of what we do in a technology environment. It can be rather complex.
I think things are complex when we make them complicated. There are simple ways to approach just about everything. @saritasayso
My team has both direct and indirect sales and we take some of our more value added services and really help our customers get through the complexity of network transformation. So I will tell you it’s a collection of everything. It’s taught me the importance of taking something big and making it something understandable. And I think that’s as important whether you’re doing it in marketing or whether you’re doing it in sales. I’d really say that in this job, where I actually helped launch the wholesale business so I also have that segment, feels like I’m coming home to a good group of corporate citizens and we have the opportunity to move the needle. So, it’s really a collection of multiple things.
You are pretty active on social networks like LinkedIn and you’ve become a business influencer with thousands of followers. Do you feel being publicly active on social networks and in the industry played any part in your career advancement either in terms of visibility, networking or knowledge?
Sarita: Right. I appreciate the compliment, I’m not sure about the influencer part. I do social for a couple of different reasons: One, it’s to connect my team, right? Across my career AT&T whether we’re on a direct team together now, or part of the larger AT&T ecosystem, staying connected is really important to me. I think that helps in many different ways.
I would tell you consistency for social media is important, but if I think of what I do today, since I have both indirect and direct sales, it’s a great way to connect with my customer base as well, for them to see what we’re up to. So I see multiple advantages of social.
Social Media is great way to amplify the work that your team is doing and frankly, our next generation of leaders. @saritasayso
During this pandemic, I will tell you, I used Twitter more to stay connected with the team because we were also remote from one another. I kind of joke that we weren’t socially distant, we’re physically distant. I found things like Twitter as a quick way to connect with the team, because you didn’t have those hallway conversations anymore and so forth. So I probably upped my game a little bit in social for Twitter, but each one of the platforms is, you know better than anyone, has a different purpose and a different reason.
While the number of business leaders active on social channels has grown, not everyone is comfortable with “being out there”. What advice can you share for business and sales executives who want to be more active on social networks?
Sarita: First I think you have to have the innate desire, right? Because then you’re going to be consistent and you’re going to speak with passion about things that you’re interested in. I don’t think you can be on social and be robotic about it. It has to be the authentic you. But you also need to remember each of these platforms is meant for something else.
I don’t do Facebook. Facebook is very personal, right? I don’t do business content on Facebook. Do I stay in touch with some friends via Facebook? Yes.
LinkedIn is a different experience, Twitter is different and so forth. So there are different ways that I think, as a leader or in that business world, you’ve got to think about what you want to be and how you want to be out there on social.
And then for me, there’s a couple of different ways that you can build your brand because that’s effectively what you’re doing on social media. First and foremost: personal and professional, they go hand in hand. It can be difficult to separate your personal life from your professional life, but make sure the content that you’re putting up there represents your best self. Again, I go back to, remember what the platform is for, I think that’s important.
You have to speak to be heard. @saritasayso #executiveinfluence
You have to speak to be heard, right? Ultimately, social media is going to give you a platform to share your ideas and connect with others.
It’s also a fantastic way to get a temperature, right? Some of the surveys that you can do of what folks are thinking outside of your world, especially in an environment where we’ve all been a little secluded from each other. I like using some of the different social polls and so forth as we’re thinking about, “how do you get back to work?” It’s a nice way to reinforce some of the thinking.
It’s important to always be yourself, to be authentic and not be robotic. @saritasayso #executiveinfluence
It’s important to always be yourself, to be authentic and not be robotic. I think that’s really important. Determine the right platforms. What’s the one you’re most comfortable with? What you can do on Twitter is very different than what you can do on LinkedIn. Make sure you’re investing in the platforms that can get the message that you want, put out there.
I love the use of hashtags, but let’s make sure they’re relevant. Let’s just not use hashtags and emojis for the sake of using hashtags and emojis, but make sure they’re really relevant. The reason why you’re using a hashtag is to connect in that conversation. It’s not just to put a hashtag out there. So let’s make sure you’re using the right hashtag.
They say content is king, but context is just as important. @saritasayso #executiveinfluence
They say content is king, but context is just as important. There’s a ton of content out there, but not all of it’s being consumed. So make sure you’re in the right context as well. I think those are some of the things that I would suggest folks look at. One of the things I had the good fortune to learn as I was starting my social journey was that social media is really a combination of art and science. So success really depends on the commitment you want to put towards it. But whatever commitments you’ve put towards it, make sure you’re consistent about it. That’s some of the advice that I’d have.
According to data reported by LinkedIn, 60% of marketing professionals are women as are 52% of CMOs. As a successful woman with a background in sales and marketing leadership, what advice can you share with other women in business who aspire to your level of success?
Sarita: Great numbers, by the way, I did not know those. It’s great progress and yes, there’s always room for more growth, but that’s a fantastic direction. It’s been really exciting seeing in social media, a lot of the changes and movement of some really strong marketing leaders, so that that’s been exciting.
I think from an advice perspective, first and foremost, I would say think broadly. Don’t limit your thinking. Think broadly, ask those questions. Which, to me, is really having that element of never ending curiosity.
Curiosity is just so important. Because you just never know what you’re going to uncover and when you ask those questions. @saritasayso #executiveinfluence
I loved going into marketing. I have an accounting degree by the way. So I remember when they asked me if I would look at marketing, I’m like, I have an accounting degree. And what that opened myself up to is that I always had to ask questions because I didn’t know the answer. And even when I know the answer, or I think I know the answer, I learned even more. So to me, curiosity is just so important. Because you just never know what you’re going to uncover and when you ask those questions, it allows folks to think about that answer. And sometimes they’re learning something in that too. There’s a great conversation always to be had there.
And then be agile. People think of agile as a process word. To me, being agile is the fact that you’re constantly ready to move, make quick and easy movements. It doesn’t have to be these huge, massive shifts. Sometimes we wait to make these big, massive shifts. Sometimes it’s just tweaks and adjustments along the way.
It is really is about thinking broadly, having that never ending curiosity and then being agile. I think those are the three pointers I would give, not just in the marketing world, but, in a career overall.
As we start to emerge from COVID, what unique tools or initiatives are you using to interact with current and prospective customers?
Sarita: All of them, right? Everything from what we’re on right now, whether it be Zoom or WebEx or Microsoft Teams, pick the one that you feel the most comfortable for those engagements.
I will tell you with those conversations, because I don’t have to get on a plane and pack my luggage, unpack my luggage, do all that other fun stuff. I can actually see more customers now, which is fantastic. I just picked up a global team, they’re in 26 different countries and I got to meet them all sooner, versus getting on a plane to go see all of them. We found different creative things to go do.
Even with our customers we do this. We have an advisory council and when we meet with our customers, we’re in meeting all day and they’re giving us insights and we’re showing them what we’re about to go look at. They’re giving us their feedback so we can kind of shape our product portfolio with their insights. But in the evenings, we’re still doing the social hour, right? Something we would have done when we were all in person. There’s something very rewarding about that.
We had a celebrity chef do a client dinner. About 20 clients were on this. And we got invited into their homes. That wouldn’t have happened before. So we got invited into their homes and they brought their family on the journey with them, which again, we wouldn’t have had that opportunity before.
So yes, trust me, I miss and crave face-to-face meetings. During this little bit of a break we had right before the Delta variant, we were back in our briefing center and it was absolutely exciting to go meet with one of our partners. We were face-to-face and we took the photos and did that stuff. And we advanced a lot of our conversations. So, it was a different conversation than some of the other experiences, but I will tell you, they both have their charm to them.
I see it as an exciting opportunity from a hybrid work perspective. I think customers are far more open. They’re not waiting for us to get on a plane to visit with them. And I think the team as well. @saritasayso
So, I see it as an exciting opportunity from a hybrid work perspective. I think customers are far more open. They’re not waiting for us to get on a plane to visit with them. And I think the team as well. Think about everything our teams have gone through, each of us as humans has gone through, many people homeschooling their children. To know that we could build an environment where they could still do that and still be very present at work and be really comfortable…I mean, if a dog was barking in one of our backgrounds right now, we wouldn’t say cut video, right and start again? This is us, right? And I think there’s something very charming about that.
All relationships have an emotional component whether they’re with industry experts or your own teams. For many, those relationships are happening through online meetings. How are you and your teams making digital more human?
Sarita: Absolutely. I have done a cheese tasting at 5:30 in the morning because that worked well in Asia. Right. It was a great way to bond with the team. Cheese at 5:30 in the morning not so much. If you think about it, during the first couple of months of the pandemic we all built our home office space and tried to find the place we could all be at home. We upgraded our cameras, we figured out the microphones, we hung guitars and ukuleles in the background. We started personalizing the space, right?
There’s this great Twitter handle called room rater (@ratemyskyperoom) where they rate the rooms and so forth. I think we all became conscious of that. I think one of the best selling books on Amazon during the first month of the pandemic was, I don’t remember the name of the book, but about reading and looking at the titles of the books on people’s bookshelves.
So we have that element and then many folks have kind of also managed to become teachers to their children and many adopted new pets and many just spent more time with their family and we’ve invited each other into our homes. We’ve had people comment on the space that we’re in. During the pandemic I was traveling between Dallas and where my family lives in Chicago. Folks knew where I was simply by looking at my background.
So it all did become personal. But if I think of what I encouraged my team to do first and foremost, I asked them to set boundaries. It’s really easy to be in front of these machines hour after hour after hour. I always ask them when they’re kind of working from home to take a moment to disconnect. And if you can’t disconnect, take that moment to go for a walk maybe while being on a call. That’s okay. Maybe we even take a moment to turn the camera off so you can have that time. Setting boundaries has been kind of an important guidance for my team.
Some parts of the organization did “no meeting Friday”. You actually saw a lot of folks on social media talk about doing a no meeting Friday. I’ll tell you when I came into more of a customer facing organization, I’m like maybe we alleviate video because ultimately if your customer is available Friday, we should be available Friday. The business doesn’t shut off. So I think no meeting Friday is something that has nuances to it.
I think you have to set a stressless tone. If someone’s child comes in a room or, or a dog is barking, you know, I see as a good sign that I have fewer people apologizing for that. @saritasayso
I think you have to set a stressless tone. If someone’s child comes in a room or, or a dog is barking, you know, I see as a good sign that I have fewer people apologizing for that. They now know it’s okay. I think that’s really important to set that stressless tone and take a vacation. You still need to take a vacation, right? Even if we were in the world of lockdown where you couldn’t travel as much, just a day away, a two days away is still really important. Find something, to go off and do and take your mind off of work.
For me also staying connected to coworkers, to family, friends that was really important. I used to love walking by someone’s office. I was just talking to someone earlier today where he was like, “you’d always pop out of your office, you’d ask a question”. He goes, “I feel somewhat disconnected from that”. I’m like, there’s still ways to go do that. I used to do this way back when I first started with the company. When we first went to a full go home environment is I would do howdy calls where I would just pick up the phone and call someone to say hello. I think folks like that. Something else, I have gone through so much stationary during the pandemic, a lot of handwritten notes. I think there’s something kind of special about getting those. We lost that art. Sometimes getting those handwritten notes was nice as well. It was another way that I tried to stay connected.
Customer experience is a focus and key differentiator for most B2B companies. How are you redefining the customer experience at ATA&T to build trust and deepen relationships?
Sarita: I would tell you when the pandemic first started, small businesses really struggled. And continue to with the open and close environments. One of the best examples I have of how we leveraged social media for our customers is our efforts with small business. As they were going through some of their challenges, we looked across our business to say, what can we go do to help? There’s an agency within AT&T as part of our Warner media family, Fullscreen, and, there were at a slow period. So the employees there got together and they built the social media playbook. So you have this professional agency building a playbook on how you establish your social media environment when people can’t come into your store and see your products and services.
They showed us this and this is beautiful. It’s a high cost for a small business to get that advice. It’s not just about opening Instagram and wallah, you’re there. There is a science to this as we talked about earlier. So we took that playbook and we offered it to our customers, to the community at no cost by any means. And that was just a fantastic tool. And we used social media to get that playbook out there to thousands and thousands of customers. That’s one way.
We also had different customers connect in different webinar experiences so they could learn from one another. I think those were a couple of the key ways.
We definitely used our digital space. We created an area specifically for small businesses within our AT&T business environment. We created a handbook on how you build a virtual business. How do you take your physical to your virtual business and so forth and shared that as well. So what we tried to do is, was take some of the things that larger companies have more easy access to and make those available to smaller businesses.
One of my favorite phrases from the pandemic, I remember a team member said, “Sarita we’re in this together”. I remember hearing that and I’m like, you’re absolutely right. We are in this together. @saritasayso
One of my favorite phrases from the pandemic, I remember a team member said, “Sarita we’re in this together”. I remember hearing that and I’m like, you’re absolutely right. We are in this together. And then I heard that phrase time and time again, and I’m like, wow, did we hear it from them or did they hear it from us? But the beautiful thing was that everybody embraced it. So it’s one of my favorite phrases, we’re in this together.
In the State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, you shared a quote about the importance of authenticity and that people naturally trust other people more than brands. You also mentioned, “Working with credible B2B influencers can help build brand authority through real, human conversations and interactions.” Can you share an example of what “real, human conversations and interactions” looks like?
Sarita: We brought Barbara Corcoran on to help us. She has done a series of webinars, we’re still doing them and I encourage folks to go watch them. You can’t get more real. Barbara also brought her friends in, like Rachel Ray. So someone that’s both inspirational and aspirational, right.
If you have somebody that is going out there to start that business, they’ve seen these individuals grow those businesses. What I loved about Barbara is we always offered up a Q and a section and it was like, “well, I’m thinking about starting this”. And she just said, you’re too late. You’re too late if you don’t start now. So she was directive and motivational as well. We’ve seen how Barbara has built so many successful businesses through her work. So I think it was a very relatable and it was somebody, again, that simplified something that was rather complex. She brought emotion.
Folks say this isn’t emotional. It is emotional. So she brought emotion into it and she brought a sense urgency where urgency was required. And this wasn’t anything that we charged our customers for. This was about us contributing to the community because that’s what small businesses are about, right? It’s the community. So I think Barbara was just a huge hit and just so incredibly authentic. That’s what I really liked. And I think that’s the power in bringing the right influencers on board.
How important do you think it is for sales leaders to be active on social networks and build community?
Sarita: Yeah. I think it’s key that you have to have a sort of full cadre of what your plan is. But social media, in my opinion, is one of the most important aspects of marketing. It provides incredible benefits but you have to know where you’re reaching your customers and where your customers are. For me the focus is, as you know, is LinkedIn and Twitter. I don’t use many of the others because that’s not where my team is or my customers are. So I think that’s going to be really important that you know where you reach your customers depending on your business. There’s others, where Instagram is going to be really important for that business. So just make sure you understand where you should be telling your story. I think staying active and up to date is important and staying relevant and the messaging of today is really important.
Social media, in my opinion, is one of the most important aspects of marketing. @saritasayso #executiveinfluence
I think it’s anywhere, right? Social really goes anywhere from awareness to consideration until the customer is ready to buy. So there’s multiple ways of looking at it. So I think it’s definitely relevant. I think you see more brands investing in social for their messaging because you get that broader reach and you get a greater return from that perspective. But again, remember to be active where your customer base. If you’re using it for customer acquisition remember to be active where your customers are.
More brands investing in social for their messaging because you get that broader reach and you get a greater return. @saritasayso #executiveinfluence
Be sure to stay tuned to TopRank Marketing’s B2B Marketing Blog for our next episode of Inside B2B Influence where we’ll be answering the B2B marketing industry’s most pressing questions about the role of influence in business to business marketing.
You can also download The State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report featuring insights from a survey of hundreds of B2B marketers plus case studies and contributions from marketing executives at brands including AT&T Business, Adobe, LinkedIn, IBM, Dell, SAP and many more.
Working with influencers creates an amazing opportunity to co-create and co-promote content for B2B brands. The brand can promote the influencer and vice versa. It’s a win-win.
Along with the win comes a responsibility to promote your B2B marketing content in a way that captures attention. It’s social media marketing after-all. To help you get the most out of your investment in content collaborations with influencers, here are 5 tips to spice up your social media posts. Follow this advice and the valuable content your influencers have helped you create will better reach, engage and inspire your customers.
Tips for co-creating share-worthy influencer content
Tip 1 – Tag, tag, tag
It’s important to give credit where credit is due, so be sure to mention and tag all influencers included in the content piece within the copy of your social posts. It’s a great way to spotlight and highlight your co-creators and add third party credibility to brand content. If an influencer is not on a particular social platform, you can mention them and tag their company.
When you @ tag influencers on platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter, the post can create a notification to the influencers and prompt them to engage and share. When influencers interact with brand social content, it can trigger the social network ranking algorithm to show the brand post in your community’s feed more frequently helping you stand out and reach even more influencers and customers.
Extra tip – having a hard time tagging an influencer on LinkedIn? Follow them first, and post it natively on the platform.
Tip 2 – Be concise
Social media, especially Twitter, is short and to the point. Think about social posts like you would a headline. If you were asked to write 3-6 headlines and subheadings for your post, what would you include?
You don’t need to call out that this is a blog post from MY BRAND. If it’s coming from your handle, readers will assume it is your post, unless you call out another source.
When writing for LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram, just because you can use more than 280 characters, does not mean that you should. If your goal is to get someone to click on a link, think short, sweet and to the point.
Tip 3 – Start with an engaging opening line
Have you read a social post that started with “Our latest post…” or “We spoke to…”?
Did it drive you to read that post?
The first line of your social media posts need to stand out and pull the reader in, so give them a reason to pick and click your content out of the hundreds of thousands of posts in their feeds. It’s just like the opening line of an article. Here are some ideas on optimizing the title of influencer social content:
Start with a statistic
Call out a great quote from the thought leader
Tease out an interesting point
Here is an example of a social post on LinkedIn that leads with a statistic and showcases influencers
If you start with the most interesting points from the content co-created with influencers in your promotional content on social channels, it will stand-out more for both customers and the influencers.
Tip 4 – Create engaging visuals
Your images need to be as engaging as your copy. Use the great content you co-create with thought leaders to find a stat, line or quote that you can use in visuals that will entice the reader to stop and read your post. Jeff Bullas calls out that tweets with visuals are retweeted 1.5x more than text tweets in his post on visual statistics.
When you include a great thought leader, ask them if you can include their headshot in the visual. It’s nice to show that your content contains great thought leadership.
Here is an example of a gif image that promotes our State of B2B Influencer Marketing research report that features statistics and a key contributing expert, Rani Mani from Adobe.
Tip 5 – Repurpose on Purpose
Many content collaborations with B2B influencers result in substantial content like an ebook, report or blog post as well as involve content opportunities like events. To maximize the promotion opportunity of including the most credible experts in your content, think about going beyond pulling out influencer quotes and sharing them on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
When you plan your brand content and where influencers will contribute their expertise, think ahead about how you might repurpose that content in different formats and on different channels. For example, you might pull all the influencer quotes from an ebook about a certain topic into an infographic that also includes key industry statistics.
Or you might have someone livetweet/blog a webinar given by an influencer, then create social graphics out of compelling comments the influencer made during the presentation. Those comments could be re-used in a wrap-up blog post and even added to articles about the topic contributed to industry publications.
Creating a Meaningful Experience
When working with influencers, you want them to understand you value their content and want to share it with your brand’s community. Taking that to the next level with great social content they will want to share with their followers is key. Giving them a good experience will lead thought leaders to want to work with you again, and help to drive positive outcomes.
If you would like to learn about B2B influencer marketing from the B2B brand marketers who are doing it every day, be sure to check out the Inside B2B Influence podcast.
As we collect data for the new State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, it remains to be seen whether last year’s 96% of B2B marketers feeling confident about influencer marketing will come out, especially after the effects of the pandemic. With the shift in B2B go to market models towards digital first, influencer engagement has increased for many marketers as an alternative to spending on field marketing, real-world events and trade shows.
As B2B buyers increasingly rely on digital sources of information, stats like 74% of B2B marketers say influencer marketing impacts customer and prospect experience, become even more important. While that confidence before and since the pandemic has opened doors to many more B2B brands experimenting with, piloting and becoming more familiar with influencer engagement, that increase in activity has increased competition. So how can B2B brands raise the bar on their influencer marketing efforts?
Here’s a pretty compelling statistic from the State of B2B Influencer Marketing Research Report:
12X more B2B marketers are very successful running Always-On influencer programs vs. those who engage periodically.
Always-On Influencer Marketing is the practice of ongoing relationship building, engagement and activation of a specified group of influencers to build community, content and brand advocacy. The importance of Always-On influence is more important than ever in a customer centric world of B2B Marketing. As Brian Solis, Global Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce says,
“Always-On thought leadership and influence are more important now than ever because the customer never turns off.” @briansolis
In our research and survey of hundreds of B2B marketers, we found some key benefits of an Always-On approach to working with B2B influencers:
75% Increased views of brand content
70% Improved credibility of brand content
60% Increased share of voice
55% Increased media mentions of brand
50% Increased brand advocacy
Always-On Influence Builds Momentum in B2B Marketing
The great irony of how many B2B brands work with influencers and an Always-On approach is that many marketers see influencer marketing the same as buying advertising on-demand. They want to work with influencers only when they need them to amplify content for a campaign. That’s just not how it works – engaging with influencers only when you need them to do something for you.
Influencers are people and Influencer Marketing is a relationship business. An Always-On approach to working with influencers still involves campaign level activations, but also a planned and persistent effort to intelligently using insights to monitor, engage and advance mutual goals between the brand and influencers. Smart B2B marketers apply Always-On best practices like ongoing nurturing, repurposing of influencer content, micro-activations, public and private influencer engagement, development of an influencer community and inspiring organic advocacy.
What does Always-On B2B Influencer Marketing look like in action?
LinkedIn has built relationships with a 75+ strong sales and marketing influencer community of industry professionals using an Always-On approach to influencer engagement.
Starting with an Always-On focused approach in the influencer marketing strategy, influencers were researched according to criteria, qualified and engaged. Then rather than activate them all for a short term campaign, those influencers were nurtured and activated on an ongoing basis through varying types of content tactics ranging from simple social interactions to contributions to content and eventually building up (for some) to be featured in marketing assets on the LinkedIn platform itself.
LinkedIn Always-On Influencer activations:
Social First Influencer Content on LinkedIn
In-Person Event to Co-Create Content
Ongoing Social Nurturing
Results from an Always-On approach over a small slice of time include:
2,000+ brand mentions by influencers & networks
84 Million in social reach through influencer shares
200-450% above benchmark social engagement
LinkedIn is very much in tune with how they want to be known in the industry and what that reputation, thought leadership and credibility means in combination with the importance of authenticity and trust. Developing relationships with the people who are actively driving conversations, opinions and actions in the industry empowers both LinkedIn with an on-demand community of advocates as well as the influencers who gain even greater credibility through association with the LinkedIn brand and the quality of the content collaborations.
“An Always-On approach means the relationship ceases to be “transactional”. Because of this foundation, we’ve been able to immediately activate influencers for external, public-facing advocacy and amplification.” Garnor Morantes, Group Marketing Manager, LinkedIn
Using an Always-On approach to engaging B2B influencers can help marketers achieve some important outcomes, especially with a digital first focus by customers on where they discover, consume and engage with credible information to make purchase decisions:
Strengthen brand awareness
Improve industry credibility
Warm the market for biz dev & sales
Drive demand & lead gen with content
Inspire word of mouth advocacy
Build trust for the brand & solutions
Become the best answer for the brand’s areas of expertise
Last week I talked about where B2B Marketers are seeing the most impact from influencer marketing efforts based on the research done with hundreds of marketers for the State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report. Three of those specific areas where influence can help B2B brands optimize for greater marketing impact include brand, growing the influence of key executives and driving leads / sales.
While just about everyone in B2B Marketing is aware of how working with influencers can add relevance, reach and engagement to content, not everyone makes the connection between their particular business problem and the influence solution. Here are three examples from many that can help you connect the dots.
Build Credible Awareness of Your Brand with Customers
Business Problem: The industry is not aware of your brand, solution or your category.
This is a situation many start-ups, new products or services, re-brands and challenger brands experience in the industry. These awareness issues are also especially present in situations where the target audience is not aware of the problem your company solves. Whether your company or solution is new, your business is in a crowded marketplace or your market isn’t aware of the problem you solve in the first place, credible awareness is essential for getting on the radar and even considered for modern B2B buyers.
B2B Influence Solution: Engage top category influencers to drive conversations about the need for solutions like yours.
There are multiple centers of influence for every business professional including industry publications, professional relationships with peers, industry experts, or special interest groups and associations. Building credible awareness of your solution and/or brand can be expedited in an authentic way by identifying trusted voices in your industry on the topic and finding ways to partner with them.
The outputs of those activations can include any format that matters to your customers from text (white papers, reports, blog posts, articles) to audio (podcasts, social audio), to video (recorded episodes of an ongoing “show”, livestream video, webinars, virtual events).
B2B Marketing Impact: With more credible awareness of the need for your type of solution and your brand, the warmer the market will be to your solutions. While the description of this impact is simple, execution and achievement of it is not.
Grow Thought Leadership of Your People and Brand
Business Problem: Customers value thought leadership from the brands they buy from but do not see your brand as a thought leader.
Even if buyers are aware of your brand and solution, they may not consider it seriously if you are not demonstrating leadership in the strategic direction of the category. Buyers want to know they are working with the best, not just today, but in the future. Thought Leadership for a brand means an active demonstration of strategy that is validated by credible third parties.
B2B Influence Solution: Identify and engage industry experts that already actively publish and promote thought leadership content in your category and partner with them. Find common ground and goals and use content like a research project or a visionary content asset to attract their participation.
B2B Marketing Impact: What better way to become a thought leader than to partner with industry experts that are already thought leaders in your industry? Trusted experts that co-create strategic content with brands builds the authority of those they partner with by association. Influencers can also provide the third party validation of brand thought leadership as they cross publish collaborated content on their own websites, in industry publications, newsletters and in presentations. Customers that see the resulting collaborative thought leadership content will see the brand as a thought leader as well.
Optimize E.A.T. of B2B Content with Influencers
Business Problem: Your content is well optimized and even ranks well but does not get great click through or engagement from organic search.
B2B Influence Solution: What good is ranking well in search if customers do not trust what they find? Google has articulated through their Quality Rater Guidelines, the value of E.A.T. (expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness) when it comes to content that deserves to be the best answer in search results.
B2B brands can optimize the E.A.T. of their content that is already optimized for search by building expertise, authority and trust by collaborating with industry influencers for target topics/keywords. Experts that publish well-read industry articles, research, and useful content on the topics that the brand is trying to be the best answer for, can be quoted, provide guest posts, or may even decide on their own to cite and link to your brand from their channels.
B2B Marketing Impact: Optimizing content with keywords as well as industry expert quotes and contributions can give brand content the kinds of signals that E.A.T. guidelines are used for to identify content that should have the best ranking in search engines. Content that is more trustworthy can rank better and also inspire more clickthroughs.
Once you make the important connection between a key business problem and where working with influencers can help optimize your efforts, what process can you follow to ensure the best results? From a content marketing perspective, there is a basic architecture for influencers and B2B content collaboration that has delivered efficient and effective marketing performance again and again.
This B2B influencer content checklist is something we’ve covered here extensively and that I’ve presented on numerous times at B2B marketing industry conferences and workshops. The exact implementation of a campaign asset like this really depends on specific goals and the organization of the effort. Of course, content marketing campaigns that involve influencers on their own are not nearly as effective as an Always-On Influencer Marketing program that combines influencer relationship building with content activations.
If you need help connecting the dots between your business and marketing problem and where B2B influencer engagement (especially in the technology space) makes the most sense, be sure to reach out. We have nearly 10 years of B2B influencer marketing experience at TopRank Marketing and have a huge library of insights and experience to leverage for just about any B2B marketing situation.
Sophisticated B2B marketers understand that the effectiveness of a given strategy or set of tactics is tied to goals.
When it comes to influence, there are applications across the customer lifecycle from increasing reach and attention from hard to connect with audiences to creating more credible and authentic content experiences to improving trust and inspiring decision making.
Of course, working with external influencers and improving the influence of internal experts is not a silver bullet across all marketing goals. However, in our research on influencer marketing for B2B brands, there are some outcomes where marketers are seeing greater impact.
Rather than simply provide a laundry list of the highest impact marketing outcomes, I’ve clustered similar goals together to provide more category level insight into where B2B marketers have seen the most success when working with influencers.
B2B Influence and Brand Impact
Brand Awareness 84%, Brand Reputation 58% and Brand Advocacy 32% were each well-represented in our research by B2B marketers seeking to create impact from their influencer marketing efforts. The bottom line with creating brand impact is that it is an investment which pays dividends across the customer lifecycle.
With brand trust, distractions and loyalty at stake, optimizing marketing efforts to reach interested customers with credibility and the impact of trusted endorsements is more valuable than ever. Intelligent B2B influencer activations that match relevant experts with content collaborations and promotion can help lesser known brands and challenger brands alike become more credible, trusted and inspire advocacy.
For example, a B2B employee engagement software platform implemented an influencer content campaign that involved a mix of influencers from business celebrities to industry professionals to employee and customer subject matter experts to reach and build trust with customers in a way that resulted in 80% of names captured were new to the brand.
B2B Influence Drives Leads and Sales
It is understood by most B2B marketers that a relationship driven strategy like working with influencers doesn’t yield a lift in sales automatically. And yet it is still possible when the right marketing program architecture aligns influencers with customer engagement opportunities.
With 69% of B2B marketers say Lead Generation is an area of impact and 20% cite an increase in Sales / Revenue from influencer marketing, there is a distinct opportunity for B2B brands to add trusted voices their customers are listening to into marketing programs.
For example, an ITSM software brand did the homework to align very specific audience segment insights to a content marketing program including the right influencers in the right way that drove 20% of annual sales pipeline from a single campaign.
External Influence Drives Employee Influence
While only 15% of B2B marketers cited Improved Staff Reputation as a top impact area from their influencer marketing efforts, we’ve seen substantial growth in this area since the survey data was captured last year. An increasing number of B2B brands of all sizes are investing in the influence of the brand through building up key executives and subject matter experts through social engagement and content collaborations with relevant B2B industry influencers.
For example, brands that range from an international travel platform that worked to build thought leadership with the CEO by posting content on LinkedIn in collaboration with industry influencers to ongoing social engagement for key executives at a large telecommunications giant have resulted in growth of social networks, reach, engagement and quality of interactions with customers and prospects.
Creating B2B Marketing Impact with Influence
As I’ve talked with B2B marketing professionals in 2021 about marketing trends and how our agency is doing, many have remarked how the shift in B2B to digital first and elevated the opportunities for working with influencers. They’re right – the pandemic and all the changes in business and the way customers have shifted their behaviors has indeed created new opportunities for B2B brands to accelerate marketing impact by partnering with industry experts to drive brand outcomes, impact leads and sales and grow thought leadership by partnering key executives with industry experts on social and content marketing efforts.
If you have experience working with influencers in your B2B business, be sure to share your insights in our 2021 B2B Influencer Marketing Survey. You can also check out the State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report which includes key trends, statistics, case studies and predictions for the future. Or you can reach out to our team and talk about how to take your influencer engagement efforts to the next level.
Diminishing organic social reach, distrust of brand marketing and information overload makes reaching and engaging today’s B2B buyer harder than ever. On top of that, the major changes brought by the pandemic have created new challenges and opportunities for B2B companies to better attract and engage customers in meaningful ways.
Out of the pandemic and the shift to digital first go-to-market approaches for B2B companies, Influencer Marketing has emerged as one of the most effective ways to connect with customers to create better experiences. Despite substantial growth in the discipline from best practices to software, many B2B brands are still experimenting or simply don’t know how to identify, engage and activate influencers.
As I’ve talked with prospective clients and my own team, many B2B marketers see the value in working with influencers to drive credible conversations and content about topics that customers care about. They simply don’t have enough information or experience to execute.
Evolving from this tentative stage to one of driving profitable marketing requires answers to several important questions:
How do you identify the right influencers?
Capturing the value of working with influencers doesn’t start by picking the most popular people in your industry to work with. There has to be a reason for them to do so and that purpose comes from a solid marketing strategy that identifies the topics, narratives and hooks that the marketing will use to engage customers. Those same marketing campaign elements will be used to then identify the people that have influence about the topics your customers care about.
Once topics of influence have been determined, there are a mix of ways to practically identify influencers from interviewing your key executives and customers to leveraging influencer marketing software which acts like an influencer search engine.
The important thing to understand about influencer identification in B2B is that not everyone who influences your customers thinks of themselves as an influencer. In turn, not everyone that identifies as a B2B influencer actually has influence. They might be better at creating engaging media and promotion than getting customers to buy.
The key is that there is tremendous value in working with both ends of the B2B influencer spectrum by matching them to the right kinds of content collaboration and activations.
How can you engage influencers and bring them onboard?
Many B2B marketers want to hit the ground running with influencers as if it were an advertising campaign and for the most part, that is simply not how influencer engagement works. More so than in B2C, B2B influencer marketing is a relationship business. Relationships take time to develop – you don’t simply “turn them on” by asking influencers to join your campaign or even to pay them to create content.
Most great relationships start with some romance where there are efforts to understand what’s important to the influencer and create value before getting any in return. Paying influencers to create content off the bat will get you a content deliverable, but it won’t make the influencer care about your brand. But if they do care, they will share and evangelize your brand, products and people organically.
Once you understand what motivates an influencer (sometimes you simply have to ask them) then you have context to invite them to participate in your marketing effort. Whether they are focused on advocating and growing a certain discipline in the industry or they are already a fan of your brand, you can put together the right kind of invitation to work with your brand to create mutual value and achieve mutual goals.
How do you engage with paid influencers vs organically?
Paying influencers for content deliverables or services has increased substantially in the past 2-3 years. And that is a good thing because it represents a growth in the number of professional influencers in B2B industries that understand how their role as an influencer can contribute to helping brands achieve marketing and business goals.
Typically, B2B influencers are paid for specific deliverables or for a commitment to deliver content over a defined period of time to specifications.
Organic influencer engagement is more about inspiring the influencer to be a part of the movement the brand is advocating. The purpose of the engagement is to join forces to achieve mutual goals and the influencer receives value in the exposure from being a part of the program, access to information, people and/or experiences from the brand.
Most mature B2B influencer marketing programs use a combination of organic engagement and paid. Always-On influencer engagement would typically be relationship building and organic. Asking 10 influencers to create 2 blog posts each or 2 videos each about defined topics to certain criteria would be something the brand would pay for.
Which collaboration efforts have a significant impact?
While content format trends in B2B are definitely leaning towards video, the best B2B influencer collaborations are those that align with customer content preferences. Once you understand how your customers prefer to consume content – most likely a mix of formats – then the task is to find influencers with specific skills or talents using those media formats.
In some cases the influencer can be a turnkey solution and produce content whether it’s a research report, webinar, podcast or video and deliver it to the brand for publishing. In other cases, the influencer is better as “on air talent” and can be the personality representing the brand engaging with internal and external influential voices – on a podcast, video series, webinar or a virtual / in-person event.
How can you integrate influencers with content marketing?
The topics of influence mentioned earlier help B2B brands match the people who are most influential about topics that drive the marketing narrative. Those same topics help guide the actual content influencers provide to the brand for use in content marketing.
Influencer content can be used to “optimize” brand content to be more credible, as in the use of influencer quotes in articles, research reports or as participants in webinars and events. Whatever topic the influencer is most credible about is matched with the corresponding content marketing asset.
Virtually any content marketing effort can benefit from including internal or external expert citations or contributions to give expertise and credibility to the messages intended for customers. Additionally, influencers that have the attention of customers that the brand is trying to reach can assist in promoting the content and reaching those customers.
How do you measure influencer effectiveness?
Marketing measurement has everything to do with the goals for the marketing so thought leadership is measured differently than a lead generation campaign. The same goes for influencer marketing.
When content is involved with an influencer marketing effort, all of the same KPIs are involved as with any other content marketing program. Is the content attracting the right audience, are they engaging with the content and is it converting?
With influencers it’s also important to measure the effectiveness of the influencers using tracking URLs to see how well their content resonates with audiences on delivering the above KPIs.
If a defined group of industry experts are engaged then it’s important to measure things like the brand’s share of voice within that group of influencers.
If the brand could get the most influential people in the industry talking about their brand in a positive way, that could have a significant warming effect if not direct impact on the marketing consideration of their products/services. Mentions and advocacy can be measured from benchmark to ongoing progress.
The trend in those influencer mentions can be overlaid with analytics tracking changes in more direct marketing KPIs to see if there is a correlation between increased influencer brand advocacy and lift in commercial content consumption, brand interest, leads and sales.
How does influencer marketing software help optimize marketing?
The influencer martech industry has grown substantially over the past 9 years TopRank Marketing has been involved with B2B influencer marketing. There are a variety of tools from specialty applications that are only used to identify Twitter influencers to enterprise level platforms that can handle everything from influencer identification to CRM to program measurement.
Picking influencers should be a data informed decision and influencer marketing software can comb through vast amounts of data to identify those individuals with the right mix of relevance, resonance and reach for your marketing program.
Communicating with influencers from initial social engagement to invitations to collaborate to contract management and deliverables management are all essential and best handled by software.
Monitoring your influencers and surfacing activation opportunities is essential for an Always-On program.
Measuring campaign performance as well as the share of voice and sentiment a group of influencers has about your brand is most effectively handled by influencer marketing software.
Influencer Marketing programs that work with 10, 20 or 100 different influencers simply cannot scale with any quality using a spreadsheet. Influencer Marketing software helps add both quality and efficiency to a program. That means more relevant influencers are identified, communications are more timely and effective and the performance measurement that you need is there for program optimization.
I will be digging into the details of each of these questions during a 3 hour workshop at the Pubcon conference tomorrow: How to Develop a B2B Influencer Marketing Program That Actually Works. Of course if you have any questions of your own, feel free to connect with our team at TopRank Marketing.
The past year or more has taught B2B marketer many lessons, especially the importance of creating digital first experiences that are credible, authentic and relevant to specific buyers. As part of the digital transformation of marketing, many B2B companies have adjusted their go-to-market approach to satisfy the changing customer expectations that have evolved during the pandemic.
One of those adjustments in B2B marketing has been the increasing role of influence in delivering credible, authentic and relevant digital experiences. Our initial B2B Influencer Marketing research from 2020 showed that going into the pandemic, confidence in working with B2B influencers was very high as were expectations of outcomes.
Despite the growing confidence in working with B2B influencers over the past year, today there are important questions to be answered as more B2B brands enter the realm of influence and grow more sophisticated with the practice.
Much of B2B influencer marketing has emphasized working with industry experts external to the organization, but what about growing influence from within? How does influencer marketing work across departments? How do employee advocacy, growing executive influence and working with industry influencers intersect to deliver better customer experiences and marketing performance?
At TopRank Marketing we are proud to work on influencer content marketing and executive social programs for some of the biggest B2B brands in the world. We also know that our blog community represent a wealth and depth of B2B marketing experience. We invite you to share that expertise in our 2021 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Survey.
Your insights will help elevate the practice of B2B Influencer Marketing and help the industry see what’s working, what’s not and where the future of influence is in 2021 and beyond.
For the 2021 report, we’ll be collecting data on all aspects of influencer marketing for B2B brands as well as insights from practitioners like you.
In the 45 page 2020 report we featured key findings and statistics about strategy, tactics, budgets and measurement as well as B2B influencer marketing case studies from SAP, LinkedIn, Cherwell Software and Monday.com. We also highlighted influencer marketing insights from B2B executives at Adobe, AT&T Business, IBM, MarketingProfs, Salesforce, SAP, Traackr, Treasure Data and more.
For the 2021 report, we’ll be sharing insights on growing marketing momentum with influence, the next level of Always-On influence, new best practices, budgets, technology and measurement plus all new case studies and insights from B2B marketing professionals. We’ve also been working on a fresh list of the most influential voices in the B2B world on the topic of influence in marketing and their predictions for the future.
If you have worked with influencers in the past year, then you’ll have valuable insights to share. You can also enter our giveaway of five $100 Amazon gift cards and early access to the findings of the report.
The survey takes just a few minutes and that investment in time will go a long way towards helping answer some of the key questions about working with internal and external influencers.
Optimizing marketing experiences with influence represents one of the most important digital growth strategies in 2021 and beyond. Take the 2021 survey today and join us in helping B2B marketers at all levels of influencer marketing experience level up their strategy, best practices and operations to build momentum in 2021 and beyond.
For many, the past few months have opened up giving us a taste of “return to normal” but what does that mean?
When most people say normal, what they often mean is comfortable. In the business world pre-pandemic comfortable is a dangerous place to be.
Any company that did not adjust, adapt or pivot over the past year and a half probably isn’t in business or doing as much business as they should. There have been many changes during the pandemic from digital transformation across all aspects of business to evolving expectations of customers. Companies and their marketers must be in tune with all of these changes in order to survive and thrive in a post-pandemic business environment.
One way customers have changed in B2B is that they expect more from the digital experience. Recent research shows 90% of B2B buyers will turn to a competitor if a suppliers digital channel doesn’t meet their needs. The elevation of expectations extends to service as well. “Expectations for experience have gotten so high that our traditional means of customer service simply aren’t sufficient anymore.” says Vivek Ahuja in a piece on Forbes.
Marketing is no different and the experiences companies create through their marketing are more important than ever.
As the former Salesforce chief marketing officer Kraig Swensrud, who is now co-founder of Qualified.com says, B2B marketers must prioritize “personalized, real-time experiences” to win over decision-makers who are increasingly digital-first.
There are important connections to be made between changes born of the pandemic and the trends that B2B brands need to be aware of as we enter the next phase marketing for 2H 2021 and into 2022.
Experience is Everything
“Research shows a strong correlation and interconnectedness between brand experience, customer experience and employee experience.” Forrester
Digital first B2B buyers expect continuity across channels for the information they seek as they pull themselves from awareness to consideration to decision in the sales journey. B2B brands that have adapted their marketing for digital first buyers must deliver best answer experiences that are both findable and credible.
Being the best answer for your customers with content that is comprehensive, relevant, engaging and actionable is more important than ever as competition for digital attention rises in B2B communication channels.
Optimizing best answer content experiences by making them easy to find and relevant is something many B2B marketers are tackling through renewed focus on SEO. Being found is a great start, but being found and trustworthy is even better. That’s why it is more timely than ever for B2B marketers to integrate efforts to optimize content for findability and credibility by incorporating influencers.
Many successful B2B marketers have already made this connection between SEO and influence when creating content experiences for customers. In our research for the State of B2B Influencer Marketing, we found that 50% of B2B marketers surveyed are integrating influencer marketing with SEO. We also found that there is a connection between the elevated credibility of content from trusted industry experts and the experiences B2B brands are so focused on. 74% of B2B marketers believe that influencer marketing impacts both prospect and customer experiences with the brand.
Content Really is King
“The average number of buying interactions has risen from 17 to 27 and 60% of purchases have 4+ people involved.” Forrester
Those interactions are powered by content. As B2B marketers have shifted much of their marketing efforts to digital, content plays a more important role in delivering information and experiences that satisfy the buyer’s intent. And there’s more buyers involved in the process creating even more reasons to produce highly relevant, engaging and trusted content.
While many marketers are already challenged to create enough content, our research found that by partnering with industry experts, content credibility and reach objectives are both positively affected. In fact, 70% of B2B marketers say influencers improve the credibility of brand content and 75% say influencers help drive more views of brand content.
The transformation of B2B to digital means B2B marketers must approach content intelligently and not alone. Partnering with the voices in the industry that have the trust and attention of the customers helps create a quantity of quality content that has credibility and reach that brands are having a hard time achieving on their own.
Executive Influence Drives Sales
“Salespeople must become recognized thought leaders in their fields and contribute to digital conversations in new and provocative ways.” Harvard Business Review
The value of influence for B2B brands is not limited to salespeople. In fact, there’s value in every public facing executive at a B2B brand to grow their influence in the industry and help drive revenue outcomes. Many B2B key opinion leaders and subject matter experts within companies may not have sales responsibilities, but the trust in their expertise can help create confidence in the brand and those who are tasked with sales.
Some B2B marketers area already seeing lift in lead generation and sales by working with industry influencers. For example, our survey of hundreds of B2B marketers found that 53% of B2B marketers have increased leads by working with influencers. 34% say their work with influencers have increased sales.
So why limit the value of influence to only working with external influencers? Why not develop the influence of appropriate subject matter experts and executives within the brand as well?
In fact, many B2B brands are finding the combination of developing social influence of their executives can be facilitated by partnering those internal opinion leaders with external industry experts. Whether it’s content co-creation, a LinkedIn Live event, webinar Twitter Spaces or Clubhouse chat, podcast interview or recorded video, there are many opportunities for B2B brands the create mutual value and lift for their executives in partnership with industry experts that can result in those internal executives having more influence on prospects and customers.
There are more than enough emerging technology trends happening with the transformation of B2B marketing and business to digital first. But there is a human side to B2B marketing that has too often been overlooked in the past. If there’s one thing that past 18 months has taught us as we’ve come to know our business customers better than ever, is that the human connection – the customer experience, the value of content and the power of your own executives being influential all play important roles in connecting with customers in ways they expect and are necessary.