Inside B2B Influence: Brian Solis of Salesforce on the Future of Influence in B2B Marketing

Brian Solis

Brian Solis

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.

Lee Odden Valerie Combs Brian Solis
Lee, Valerie, Brian – 2008 (Photo: Brian Solis)

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?

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.

The post Inside B2B Influence: Brian Solis of Salesforce on the Future of Influence in B2B Marketing appeared first on B2B Marketing Blog – TopRank®.

Inside Influence EP09: Brian Solis from Salesforce on How B2B Influence Adds Value to Customers

Brian Solis Inside Influence

Brian Solis Inside Influence

According to our research in the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, 74% of marketers surveyed believe that influencer marketing improves prospect and customer experience for B2B brands. If there’s one industry expert to tap on the topic of customer experience, I can think of few more qualified than the author of X: The Experience When Business Meets Design, Brian Solis.

As an 8 time best selling author, keynote speaker, analyst, futurist, digital anthropologist and Global Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce, Brian is a longtime friend that I’ve been able to collaborate with numerous times on marketing topics.

In a time of darkness, chaos, or confusion, B2B brands have an opportunity to be the light. @briansolis

Brian has a lot of inspiring insights when it comes to the intersection of experience and influence. Not only did he author the Influence 2.0 report that we partnered with Traackr on to research, but he contributed to the introduction of the first research report dedicated to B2B influencer marketing: The 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing. Here’s an excerpt:

“In a time of darkness, chaos, or confusion, B2B brands have an opportunity to be the light for their customers and customer’s customers. Meaningful customer engagement starts with discovery. When someone begins their discovery process, what do they find? How do they react? Does your content resonate in a relevant and empathetic way or does it push customers elsewhere?

B2B marketers now have an opportunity to reimagine engagement to ignite a new type of connection with customers. Beyond designing for and measuring the potent for engagement, design for humans and their intentions, needs, and desired outcomes. Engagement becomes a function of intent and purpose.

This is where influence and thought leadership transcend marketing to become partners to drive business growth.”

I recently had the opportunity to connect with Brian to record this latest episode of Inside Influence to talk about a range of topics based on Brian’s experience as an analyst and as one of the most sought after and respected influencers in the business world.

In our discussion, we covered:

  • Brian’s role at Salesforce as a Global Innovation Evangelist
  • The importance of Always-On Influence and creating value for customers
  • What B2B brands should expect from influencer marketing
  • The closing gap between B2B and B2C influencer marketing
  • What B2B executives should consider when incorporating influence into the marketing mix
  • What B2B marketers should expect from influencer marketing agencies
  • Most rewarding experience with a B2B brand as an influencer
  • The role influencer can play for B2B brands during times of uncertainty
  • Tips for B2B executives on becoming more influential (and why)

Below are some of the highlights of our discussion with the full video interview embedded below.

You’ll be coming up on a year into your role as Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce in a few months. Tell us about the work you’ve been doing and what you’re looking forward to in 2021.

Brian: A lot of what my role is what we’re going to be talking about. The word evangelist at Salesforce means something deeper than simple evangelism. It really gets to the core of what you and I have been talking about over the years, which is true influence.

We think about [influence] as adding value to people who need to make decisions about the future of their business. @briansolis

Influence is something that we don’t think about in terms of marketing. We think about it as adding value to people who need to make decisions about the future of their business. Therefore, taking the insights, thought leadership, and ideas to help them do something in a new, different, or better way. So it’s essentially bringing influence down to cause and effect. What is the effect or what is the outcome that you want to see and how you share content, ideas, or whatever package that is, to help that individual or help that organization move forward in ways that they couldn’t have otherwise, without hopefully seeing your work.

When we talk about B2B influence, let’s take out the, “How many followers do you have?” or “How many impressions are you going to drive?” and let’s look at it for what it is, right? A business or an executive needs help in these times of great transformation and disruption. And where do they turn for that when there is not a playbook about building the future? That doesn’t exist, right? What do you do? Where do you turn? Who do you listen to? Right? That’s the role of someone who adds value to the conversation.

You’re essentially building a community around people who are helping one another invent forward, right? To break convention or break mediocrity.

I want to thank you for writing an introduction to our 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report – the first dedicated study of B2B influencer marketing. You mentioned that the need for influence is Always-On. Can you drill down into that?

Brian: Influence never sleeps because people are always in need of information. There’s always something new. There’s always a new opportunity. There’s always a new way to do something differently moving forward. And so this is an opportunity to build an infrastructure within your organization that is constantly adding value to business customers as they seek it in a variety of contexts in their journey.

Influence never sleeps because people are always in need of information. @briansolis

If we think about customer experience in the B to C world, one of the biggest transformations that I hope we’ll see is we’ll see organizations be always on and always connected from within so that the back office and the front office then facilitates a much more intuitive, always on and personalized customer journey.

The same is true for business to business. Business customers are going through that journey. There’s different stages all the time, and they’re always in need of insights, information and engagement. That means the opportunity to engage, the opportunity to provide content, the opportunity to guide their journey is always on. That takes influencer marketing.

We can help that business customer at every stage because of the influencer program that we’ve put in place is designed to add value. @briansolis

Maybe this isn’t so much about influencer marketing as it is about influencer experience. We can help that business customer at every stage because of the influencer program that we’ve put in place is designed to add value. That takes the concepts of influencer marketing, content, and product marketing and essentially creates this much more powerful alliance of ways in which we can think beyond, “Hey, how many views did we get?”, “How many impressions did we get?”, “What was the reach on that last piece of content we created?”

Then we can start measuring things by how many questions we answered, how many people we drove towards the stage to want to know more. And how did we change the thinking among executives and really start to get to a much more meaningful place where influence is essentially a code word for helping people?

A few years ago we both worked (much more you than me) with Traackr on the Influence 2.0: The Future of Influencer Marketing research report where there was quite a gap between B2C and B2B influencer marketing adoption. Has that gap closed much in the past 3 years?

Brian: You know, I don’t have the data around me, but I have to imagine that you had a big deal to do with closing that gap because you’ve been a champion for B2B influence for a really long time. You’ve been a pioneer in actually making this a formal construct within companies. That report that we worked on was our way of not only showing the discrepancy between the two, but actually showing the need for them to be actually more similar than dissimilar.

Influence 2.0 is a concept that was introduced to help marketers think about influence differently than the way that it’s still largely thought about, which is a broadcast mentality or what I call a drafting someone’s social capital. That’s when a person has street cred within an industry and brands want to partner with them so that they can draft their credibility and attach it to our brand.

That’s all fine, but if you’re consistently adding value through strategic partnerships, building trust, and also becoming an influencer yourself, I always believed brands needed to become influencers as well, then we actually can forge an ecosystem, essentially a community of belonging together to make that community stronger for one another and for the market.

I always joked when I spoke to B2B audiences, I specifically loved to use the best B2C examples.  I mean anything besides the traditional stuff where we see influencers getting free products and they put it on Instagram.  That’s to me, the same as celebrity endorsements, I’m talking about influences outcomes. Like, “I trust you. I value what you’re thinking. You’re guiding me in my decision-making.”

I want to push business to business forward to remind them that there are human beings on the other side of that screen. @briansolis

Whether I’m a consumer or whether I’m a business customer, that’s what I talk about with influence. I want to push business to business forward to remind them that there are human beings on the other side of that screen, right? If you could humanize something, then people will find it more relatable. It’s not like as a business customer, they’re not consumers. It’s not like they say, okay, I’m done shopping for headphones and now I have to look at B2B enterprise systems here, so I’m going to forget what it was like to be treated as a human being. I actually think that humanization is what can make B2B even stronger.

Our research found that 77% of marketers say that their prospective customers rely on advice from industry influencers and yet 60% say they do not have the skills or expertise in-house to execute influencer programs. Of course many of those marketers trust outside experts like agencies to help. What do you think B2B marketers should expect from agencies or consultants when it comes to influencer marketing programs?

Brian: I hope that agencies think of themselves as partners in trust-building. Because it changes the conversation from marketing. Part of the challenge is, what’s the brief or what’s the remit? And how does someone respond to that?

I think for thoughtful organizations on the outside, you should probably consider influencing the decision makers as well. Meaning, that you should become an influencer in helping your customers understand that what they’re buying from you is not just the ability to connect them with people who have a lot of followers or audiences or networks or proven track record of content. But you’re actually partnering with them to build a market of trust, to build a community, an Always-On community. When I research the decisions I need to make it happens at midnight, you know? Influence never sleeps, right?

You have to find the things and the trusted voices when you can and you want them to be recent. You want them to be contextually relevant, which means I can’t just find an article. Maybe I want data visualization. Maybe I need a video, whatever it is, right. I need to find it my way. So, I actually think that this is an opportunity for agencies, partners, or consultants to influence their buyers so that the briefs now start to ask for bigger, better things.

This is an opportunity for agencies, partners, or consultants to influence their buyers so that the briefs now start to ask for bigger, better things. @briansolis

I wrote, I think, the first industry report on digital influence back in the day about 2011 and in that, I talked about authority and popularity and what I see, especially in B2B, we see it in B2C too, the authority part of this was always under appreciated. Authority essentially says, I not only know what I’m talking about, I know what you’re going through. So therefore, that’s what’s inspiring a lot of my work and hopefully I can earn your trust because that’s the consideration set I’m bringing to the table.

That’s the work that external partners need to do to help internal partners who are caught up in everything that they have to deal with beyond influence – everything that they have to constantly substantiate and try to justify all of the work in the investments that they’re making. Those things will become much more valuable within the organization if they can tie it to business outcomes or to customer lifetime value or to things that actually have an impact on the business.

I can tell you after doing this for so many years,  tying my work to those things, that’s all a customer is looking for: real help. And a business is looking for outcomes and the two are mutually beneficial. So let’s help those decision makers think beyond influencer marketing and more about influence.

The pandemic and many other forces driving a feeling of uncertainty and change have created an environment where there are new challenges, yet also opportunities. What role do you think influence can play in helping brands during these “uncertain times” better connect with customers?

Brian: I think ultimately, yes. It’s not that it’s never not been important. There’s just a lot of uncertainty right now. There’s also a lot of fear, anxiety, stress, and anger. These are just human, natural human feelings that exist. These are things we’re dealing with. We’re coping. We’re not just working from home or trying to work from home during a pandemic with a whole bunch of other stuff like remote learning or whatever it is in our households. Right?

So that importance of light that we talked about in the ignite moment, that’s more important than ever. Add to that the digital distractions that everybody’s dealing with that’s now compounded more because we have to be digital first. Those opportunities to deliver value and build trust are more important and actually more valuable than ever before.

Those opportunities to deliver value and build trust are more important and actually more valuable than ever before. @briansolis

That’s what I think we want people to think about here leaving this conversation. If I had to reinvent my definition of influence and my approach to it because of 2020, what would I do differently? If I could set aside 20 years of work in March and start all over again, you can do it, because it only makes you more relevant and better. That’s ultimately all we want to do and that’s ultimately what people are looking for.

Any tips you can share with senior B2B brand executives on becoming more influential themselves?

Brian: There are individuals that I think do a really amazing job within brands, whether they know it or not, that make that brand trusted and much more influential within the customer community.

Talk to Paul Greenberg for example. Paul’s a dear friend and an incredible, Godfather of CRM, an incredible analyst and also an incredible human being. He empowers individuals who feel like they want to change within organizations to go and change within these organizations because they know it’s what’s right for the community.

So, I think the first part is caring. You’re not just trying to be an influencer and run an influencer marketing program, because you care about the fact that customers are struggling to find information. They’re frustrated because they couldn’t previously do the things to make the impact that they really wanted to make. Influencer marketing or influence in that regard just becomes a means, a mechanism of which to activate a community.

What does it take to be a thought leader? Well, you have to be a thought leader. @briansolis

So that part is about caring, which is actually a rare, rare gift out there. The other piece is, what does it take to be a thought leader? Well, you have to be a thought leader. And that means you have to actually know what is happening out there, what people are struggling with. And you have to care so much about solving that, that is the heart of everything that you do. Then, hopefully it inspires you to see a different path forward of which becomes your unique voice.

Ultimately, what influence means is, “What impact did you have?” @briansolis

Of course, the mechanics of making that voice heard is not just about how loud you are or how you put fear into people or how popular you get. Ultimately, what influence means is, “What impact did you have?” I think those things are where businesses need to focus and where business leaders need to rethink what it takes to build that brand, that trusted brand out there.

To see the full Inside Influence Episode 9 interview with Brian Solis, check out the video below:

To connect with Brian, you can find him at BrianSolis.com, on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Be sure to check out our previous Inside Influence B2B Influencer Marketing interviews:

The post Inside Influence EP09: Brian Solis from Salesforce on How B2B Influence Adds Value to Customers appeared first on B2B Marketing Blog – TopRank®.