Running a B2B campaign can result in social proof of your brand and product, more useful feedback from the influencer directly and success in a longer sales cycle.
These days it’s easy to chalk up influencer marketing to well-lit photos of college-aged millennials posing with a brand product on Instagram, accompanied by the hashtag #sponsored.
But just as people look to friends and family for recommendations on consumer products, they also look to trusted peers and colleagues for recommendations on tools for their businesses, according to eMarketer. Independent content was a close second.
And an in-depth article on a product or service that can help them do their job easier or more efficiently is needed by professionals in all kinds of fields.
Influencer marketing is just as effective for B2B marketers, it just looks different and lives on other platforms.
A Conversation With Tom Augenthaler, B2B Influencer Strategist
Enter Tom Augenthaler, long-time B2B influencer campaign strategist. Tom has ran influencer campaigns for brands like HP, Dell, TIME and others and is the creator of the site, The Influence Marketer and the growing Facebook group Influencer Marketing (for badasses).
He coaches teams on how to turn employees into brand advocates and where companies can find trusted influencers in various industries.
Tom transitioned into influencer marketing from a long background in PR for global tech brands, (similar to how Katharine Ricci came to lead OMD’s influencer marketing department).
Curious about the overlap and differences of B2B and B2C influencer marketing, we asked Tom if he’d join us for a chat on the subject and he agreed! To see the full conversation, watch the video recording. We’ve also marked the questions throughout the video and labeled what time they show up below.
- Does influencer marketing work for B2B companies?
- Are there differences in the type of influencers for B2B and B2C campaigns?
- What are the hurdles for B2B when they are looking for influencers and trying to work with them?
- What are some good examples of B2B brands that have done really well in influencer marketing?
- Is ROI measured differently for B2B, then it is in B2C?
Curious about the overlap and differences of B2B and B2C influencer marketing, we asked Tom if he’d join us for a chat on the subject and he agreed. To see the full conversation, watch the video recording. We’ve also marked the questions throughout the video and labeled what time they show up below.
A Talk about B2B Influencer Marketing with Tom Augenthaler and Paul Traficanti from Reelio.
This transcription has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Paul (from Reelio): Does influencer marketing work for B2B companies?
Tom (from The Influence Marketer): The short answer is yes. It totally works B2B companies.
Because nobody makes a decision on billions of dollars worth of technology equipment or heavy machinery, or whatever is it that you’re doing - like that! - nobody does it off an Instagram post some photos or some tweets. It’s a very logical, thought out decision and usually it’s got a lot of evidence that ups the decision because the person making the decision - their job is on the line - and they’re not going to make light of something like that.
The other thing that’s important to a B2B person is: is the purchase going to last for years? If you’re going to be using [the product] for years to come, you want to make sure that you’re buying the right thing. So those are the things that they basically gotta keep in mind when looking at B2B influencer marketing.
Right, yeah, so I think what’s interesting about that is - because B2B and B2C are so different, the types of influencers that you might approach or target or want to work with is different, right?
Sure. Well, I mean the basic concept whether you’re doing B2B or doing B2C [is] to find influencers who are congruent and who are relevant to your brand, your product, your service, whatever it is.
“The difference is that on the consumer side, the influencer doesn’t necessarily need to be an expert.”
The difference is that on the consumer side, the influencer doesn’t necessarily need to be an expert. Let’s say we’re reviewing gadgets - like a cell phone or a laptop computer or something like that - a tablet / PC - that’s pretty easy to do. I mean you don’t have to go into deep tech to be able to review something like that and do it intelligently.
On the B2B side, it’s a different story. If we’re talking about Superdome computers, something that’s going into warehouses or heavy equipment - you gotta know what you’re talking about. You gotta know how they’re used, you gotta know what the maintenance rates are, you gotta know service contracts, you gotta know what’s the life of the product - the wear and tear on it. There’s a lot of different things to know there.
So, if you’re picking influencers for your B2B, you gotta make sure that they’re relevant, congruent, and often times they don’t have the same kind of appeal that consumer influencers do. Consumer influencers tend to be much more flashy. They’ve got Instagram accounts, they’ve got nice looking blogs filled with attractive pictures, whereas on the B2B side, you’re going to get people who go in depth in whatever it is that they’re talking about.
And there are going to probably be two types: video types and long-form written content. In my experience, many of the B2B influencers are consultants. They might even be analysts, or former journalists who are out on their own doing consulting work and they write white papers and things like that; so, they’re much more in-depth and dive deep into whatever it is that they’re an expert in.
Right, and thus their content reflects on that right?
Exactly, so for the B2B work that I’ve done, if you would look at some of these influencers from an outsider’s perspective, I would say “there’s nothing really special there.”
Maybe they don’t have a big following on some of the social platforms, like Twitter or Instagram. They might not even be present, but again, it’s congruence, it’s relevancy and expertise that you’re looking for.
“It’s congruence, it’s relevancy and expertise that you’re looking for.”
You’re looking for people that know what they’re talking about, they can help you - the B2B - tell your story in such a way that you’re not doing it or that others are not doing it- meaning journalists or even industry analysts.
You’re looking for people that have a direct connection to your target customer. On the B2B side, it’s a much longer cycle and it’s really going to be predicated on the willingness to build relationships with those people.
That makes total sense to me. It might be hard - sometimes with blogs - to demonstrate just how influential those blogs are. Maybe you could allude more on some of those huge hurdles for B2B brands when they’re looking for influencers and trying to find the right one.
Yeah, okay so, let’s go back to the beginning. You’re going to look for congruency and relevancy. Then you’ll start to look at things like reach and how big of an audience they have. But B2Bs have something else to consider and that is: is the influencer already tied to a competitor somehow?
When you’re looking for some B2B influencers, it might not be readily apparent, but they might work for a competitor or they might be with a partner company to a competitor, so you’re going to need to do close research on your influencers and make sure that those ties do not exist.
You gotta find people who are independent and are not tied to any particular competitor and that are open to talking to you. So again, when I said the word relationships earlier, I really, really mean it.
When you’re opening a dialogue with a B2B influencer, think of it as you’re trying to develop a friendship with that person. You have a lot of information that you would like to convey to them and at the same time, that influencer’s going to have certain opinions about the space that you’re in and where your company fits within it and those two things might certainly not have to match, but that’s okay, because the perspective that they can give you can be really, really valuable.
And you know, I found that that is sometimes some of the best gold that you can mine from influencer marketing. You could build what I like to call a braintrust of people that will readily give you information on what’s going on in the marketplace, that your focus groups [or customers] might not give you. These [influencers], are operating in that gray area between you and your customers, and often don’t know what the pain points are. [By nature of] being an influencer, they answer questions from their audience, like “what do you think is the best, you know, avenue to take with this kind of product? Should I look at this? SHould I look at that? Which one is better?”
So once you build up trust, you can start to learn from them what the hell’s really going on in the marketplace, and how can you fill that need.
That’s a great point and something I think rings true in B2C as well. We’ll tell our clients all the time to pay attention to the comments and things that influencers are saying because they are an extension of the customer base and there’s lots of valuable feedback in that if you pay close enough attention.
Oh yeah, you make a really good point there Paul. The B2C side - it’s the same thing.
Look at influencer marketing from a strategic perspective. You’re trying to build relationships with people that are going to last for months, years hopefully and you’ll be able to work with these people hopefully on an ongoing basis. And the insights that they have from a marketplace are going to be different from you know, in many cases, from what you’re hearing otherwise. That can be very valuable information.
So what are some good examples of B2B brands that have done really well in influencer marketing? Can you break down what the process was like and what kind of relationships they worked out with influencers?
Cisco has done excellent work with influencers for years. Actually when I was with HP enterprise, at the time they were doing a lot of the technology marketing area - and Cisco owns that space.
Cisco is like Apple right? Apple’s got tons and tons of fan boys and girls and they just love the product and they don’t want to hear about anything else.
Well Cisco in the networking space is similar in a lot of regards or it was. And we were trying to figure out - how do you crack that nut? And the best way that we found to do it was influencers.
If you find that [influencers are] independent [of competitors], bring them into the fold slowly, by educating them and giving them permission and access to your staff and executives so that they’re getting access to the inside of a company they wouldn’t normally have gotten access to.
And on top of that, as you build that relationship you’re helping them build a larger audience because the audience will notice: “hey, you know, Joe over here is now talking to this company and is getting into some of these events and stuff and wow - maybe I should get to know Joe a little more and follow him too.”
When I was still working with HP, our competitors started actually hiring the influencers away and bringing them on staff because they didn’t want them working with HP.
So we kind of joked around internally like “Hey HP, you’re king maker now, you know?” Because boom, influencer over here gets noticed, and six months later, they’re hired on by you know, Dell, or whoever.
That’s funny, that’s really clever.
So B2B is B2B, right? It’s a long sales cycle that requires lots of effort and a lot of grooming with relationships. And influencers really are different. Some of them like startups more than they like established companies, some of them like established companies more than they like startups. It’s just a matter of going out and finding them and really evaluating them.
And that’s where having an agency or a consultant can help because internally, I know that a lot of the staffs don’t have time to go out and really look at lists of influencers and look at their blog and YouTube channel - and figure out if the influencer has a relationship with the competitor or not. It’s not readily apparent, you gotta really dig deep, and working with Reelio or a consultant like me can help. We can do a lot of that fact checking and research to make sure that the influencers are appropriate.
Yeah, absolutely, so, you know, I always say influencer marketing is a person-to-person business, no matter how much of the process you will be able to automate in the future. In your experience, is ROI measured differently for B2B then it is in B2C?
Well, by nature, it has to be different, because, like I said; if you’re somebody that’s interested in influencer marketing all you really need to do is go to Instagram, buy some shoutouts from some relevant influencers there so that they drive traffic to your offer so that converts. You can measure that. If you’re a consumer brand, you can measure how the click-throughs are coming through - the traffic, the click-throughs, the purchases, you can measure all of that.
And you should be able to see where it’s all coming from and what’s driving most of it.
Now, on the B2B side, that’s going to be different, because, like I said, nobody buys $1m worth of equipment on a whim, right? If they do, they’re not going to be around long. It’s a considered purchase, so it’s a little bit different in terms of the ROI.
Now even then, it might not be an influencer directly that’s driving the purchase, it could be your sales staff that’s doing it, but if you’re doing a good job of getting those influencers to create good content for you, that talks about you in a positive light, you can take that content and repurpose it throughout your entire sales channel, which you should be doing.
So you know, if somebody’s looking at making a purchase with you and they’re on your website or they’re on your sales funnel at whatever step, and you’ve got third party quotes from some of these influencers sprinkled in there - I mean that’s only going to help you. That’s social proof.
“That social proof is valuable to you... You should be leveraging that content and those quotes to your advantage.”
That social proof is valuable to you whether you’re doing consumer stuff or B2B stuff. You should be leveraging that content and those quotes to your advantage.
And that to me is one of the biggest challenges working with B2B. They’ll work frantically to get all of this content generated, then they’ll develop a nice presentation deck - they’ll give it to the executives. They’ll say “look, I’ve got all this content generated, and all this great stuff they said about our company,” and then it just sits there in that deck and it’s not being leveraged. I mean you should be taking that content and asking the permission of those influencers to repurpose some of it on your website.
You should be linking back to those people so that you’re giving them some SEO juice too. And there should be a real quid pro quo. Influencer marketing is a two-way street.
It’s a lot more pay-for-play now, so you know, when I was doing this, even five or six years ago, in the technology space, we could not pay influencers to generate content for us. We would invite them to events, whether it was a small internal event, special to just them, or whether it was a large industry event, we invited them to come and participate in the event and of course cover the “quiet”, but of course they could cover the rest of the event too.
But you want to make sure that you’re bringing those people into your fold and once they develop the content for you, - you know, no we’re not paying them, but we were flying them in and putting them in a hotel and giving them some meals. So essentially they were being compensated but they were not being paid directly.
And, we didn’t even know, sometimes how many blog posts they were going to produce, we had a general understanding. These days, I would say, if you’re going to do that, try to have a bit more of a contract put in place, so that the influencer understands what you’re asking of them and what’s expected of them from you.
So, if you’re going to compensate them directly, well, you should know, “I’m getting 3 blogs posts out of this, I’m getting x, y and z”. And make sure that the influencer is saying that they’re doing sponsored content, so you don’t get a penalty with that.
That makes perfect sense. It’s really interesting to see how, you know, the minute differences between b2b and b2c, are really just in the nature of the business and - what I mean by that is longer sales cycles, invites to keynotes or events. It’s really just a compliment and an extension of what you already do, which is something that you pointed to earlier.
Yeah, it’s something you’re already doing. Any b2b company is probably inviting current customers in, partner companies in, you know, analysts, journalists - things like that. You know, you’re already doing that, so with influencers it’s just an extension of all that, it’s just that they operate a little bit differently.
Working with an agency or a consultant is just a way to scale things so that you can get to it faster. Because you can certainly do it internally on your own, but it’s going to take a lot of time. You’re going to trip up a bunch, before you start to really run, and why do that if you don’t have to?
Great, well, Tom, I have no more questions for you, you’re off the hook.
Hey man! I could go on all day about this stuff!
Yeah, no me too, me too! I appreciate the time.