We’ve all heard of influencers in the consumer brand space, real estate, restaurant or travel industry.
Increasingly, however, B2B brands, e.g. in the industrial space, are relying on influencers too. For many traditional manufacturing companies, it is not easy to understand and manage this transition.
Why use B2B influencers?
Influencers should always be part of a successful inbound marketing strategy. Influencer marketing is without a doubt a trending area for marketers and public relations professionals. In retail, travel, and entertainment, savvy marketers are connecting with people who have a great number of followers and compensating them with cash, gifts or experience, such as a stay in a resort or a cameo in a show.
The idea of connecting with the right people and working on those relationships is both a refreshing and seemingly simple approach. However, how does influencer marketing apply to complex selling environments, such as within regulated industries such as industrial solutions, environmental engineering, manufacturing, or healthcare?
An Instagram or Facebook mention by a celebrity is not going to have a meaningful impact on shortening long sales cycles. There are, however, people and organizations that have pull with buyers and industry organizations that are worth investing in relationships with.
Read also: Inbound Marketing Explained
Your success is made easier with positive relationships with outside influencers. Using manufacturing as an example, your influencer strategy must achieve the following targets:
- Convince the client (usually the owner of the company)
- Satisfy a host of people involved in the decision, which may include the board of directors, IT department and procurement.
- Reach the right audience in the right country
- Assure the legal department you don’t run afoul of compliance
- Demonstrate that your company is reliable and competent enough to satisfy the client.
For technology sellers, companies are also faced with demonstrating integration with at least one other existing critical system, such as a “core” platform and demonstrating that the company is operationally mature and disciplined enough to handle the prospect’s business.
Who are the right influencers for your industry?
The right kind of influencers are people who advise or provide services to your prospects and maintain stable relationships of trust with them. They should have the ear of key decision makers, such as the Head of Purchasing or CEO. They are trusted industry authorities or other vendors that are already serving the bank. Some examples of super-influencers include:
- Senior consultants with decades of experience in a particular industry
- Attorneys who advise management
- Consultants hired to manage a transition or guide strategy.
- Executives of industry associations who drive education and governmental affairs
- Industry analysts covering specific operational areas
- Regulators who advise what changes would be acceptable to them
- Key vendors that are already entrenched in the industry
- Media and event organizers who drive conference agendas and what topics are elevated within their channels
For Asian manufacturers and anyone engaging in international B2B authorities, there are also
- Expats with wide networks of business acquaintances
- Chambers of commerce in a foreign country
- Global brand and industry influencers keen to expand their own following in a market
While media is often the target for public relations outreach, trade media is frequently made up of industry experts in their own right. These people deserve an intelligent approach to building relationships.
Super influencers typically have the power to sway a decision. As such, super-influencer marketing is a programmatic approach to identify them, reach out and build relationships.
Read also: Micro-Influencer Marketing: The Ins and Outs
What is the key message an influencer should bring across?
Just as you expect a trusted friend or mentor to provide sound counsel, so do those who turn to their accountants, attorneys and key executives for professional services. As such, these super influencers continue to invest in their development and understanding of forces shaping their industries.
Manufacturers need solutions that meet demands of efficiency, reliability, or regulation (such as ISO standards. Doctors read about new treatments. Researchers seek answers to challenging questions. And educators study, write and publish to broaden their understanding and to influence others. This quest for knowledge is the basis for connecting with great influencers.
When determining the story, consider the following:
- How are you changing the industry?
- Is there an example of a client company that is achieving outstanding results?
- How does your product or service fit into the landscape of the target country
- Are you applying lessons from another industry?
- Are you working with partners to provide more comprehensive solutions?
- Does your solution meet the target markets requirements and regulatory demands?
Piggybacking on the industry giants
One of the best influencer strategies is to backpack on the vast global network of industry giants. I have worked with huge multinationals such as Microsoft, SAP, Siemens, and Deutsche Bank, to engage influencers on a global scale. Likewise, we have identified key influencers for various Asian markets to carry the message of multinational companies across.
Regardless of the channel or communications tactics, the underlying strategy for reaching super influencers has to be based on appealing to their curiosity, helping them broaden their understanding of their industry and doing a better job for their customers and the business community.
How much do you pay good influencers?
Many super influencers are paid to recommend the right solution or company or provide an informed opinion or guidance. Consider the people and organizations you know with strong reputations — protecting their reputation drives their actions and decisions. The bottom line is that tactics found in retail or entertainment influencer marketing programs do not translate well to business-to-business (B2B) super influencers because they do not trade their reputation for short-term profits or trivial gifts.
In broad strokes, utilizing super-influencer marketing requires you to build and prioritize audiences, determine what assets or content you’ll need for them and continually foster mutually beneficial relationships.
How to manage your relationship with influencers
While some relationships can be based on information sharing or leads, others can provide opportunities to work together on projects that would reflect well on both parties. For example, an attorney and PR practitioner could collaborate on articles about crisis planning and responses. An accountant and consulting firm might create webinars that address operational risks associated with new regulations. And two complementary software companies might create co-branded educational materials about transforming a segment of the industry.
In manufacturing, it often makes sense to identify which complimentary or associated products your clients are buying from another company (e.g. the controller for your machine from a separate software-focused partner) and develop an influencer strategy that benefits both companies.
If you are a B2B marketer operating within a complex environment or regulated industry, you know there are no shortcuts. Embrace the complicated and practice these super-influencer marketing tactics — together they represent your competitive advantage. Partner with truly influential people rather than trying to save money by engaging minor B2B influencers.