If you're in the B2B space you'll know that sales is the toughest part to crack. The products are complex, the markets are competitive, the prices are often high and the sales cycles are long.
Some businesses are set in their ways and reluctant to change from how they have always done things. They think, “If it ain't broke, why fix it!”
Even those businesses willing to adapt and change, take their time to make purchasing decisions. There is a huge difference between a consumer making a typical online shopping decision to buy a new pair of shoes, and a business committing itself to what could potentially be a multimillion dollar contract.
When we talk influencer marketing people usually think of examples in the B2C arena. If you look at the case studies we have previously covered on this website, most of them focus on campaigns directly targeted at consumers. We have, however, looked at a couple of shining examples of B2B influencer marketing campaigns which prove that influencer marketing can be just as relevant for B2B companies as it is in the more traditional B2C sectors.
Summary: Quick Jump Menu
Below are four ways that B2B companies can use influencers to boost sales, and increase credibility in the market.
1 Use Influencers to help you communicate your B2B product in a simpler, easier to understand way
B2B products can be complex. It is often difficult to communicate to potential customers the benefits of your product. This is particularly the case when your product is cutting-edge and its benefits are not immediately obvious.
This is where influencers come in handy. By definition, they already have audiences who trust them; audiences who understand them and relate to them. Influencers know how to tell stories that their followers can understand. They inherently understand the correct level to pitch a message and the best language to use.
There would be no point in a B2B brand employing a celebrity, simply because they are well-known. The celebrity probably wouldn’t understand your product or your target market. Their fans are most likely not your potential customers. And if your product is in any way technical, the celebrity would be unlikely to be able to explain your product in a way that potential customers could understand. It is unlikely that they could clearly communicate or stress the benefits. No business is going to make a major buying decision based on celebrity stardom alone.
IBM decided that the best micro- influencers to become their brand advocates on social media were their own staff. IBM worked with Dynamic Signal to set up an easy way for their employees to promote IBM’s software through their personal social media accounts.
IBM worked with 1,000 of their employees to share up to six pieces of content per day on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Surprisingly, the IBM staff were only incentivized by a points-based leaderboard. They were not paid bonuses. However it clearly helped staff members make sales, and presumably, they were compensated for that.
IBM was probably helped by having a talented staff who were highly knowledgeable about the company’s products. Enough of them must also have had sufficiently high followings for them to be able to act as influencers.
According to the 2015 Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Report, eighty-three percent of online respondents in 60 countries stated they trust the recommendations of friends and family. This compares with just 70% who believe the content on a branded website. IBM products are very much business solutions. Yet the decision makers in potential customer companies clearly had positive personal connections with IBM employees.
IBM’s #NewWayToWork campaign, led by the IBM employees, accrued 120 million digital impressions and drove 141,000 clicks to campaign content. It also led to increased sales. IBM’s Marketing Social Business Program Director Amber Armstrong shared that the promotions “drove 50,000 new registrations to IBM Verse in the first two weeks of launch—a lot of that due to employee advocacy.”
2 Find influencers that already speak to your ideal target market
Business people are busy people. They are generally reluctant to trust claims you make without proof. And that assumes that they even see your claims in the first place!
If you don’t have a huge mailing list yourself, or a large marketing budget allowing you to undertake expensive traditional marketing techniques, your potential customers may never know of your existence.
Ideally, any content you create should be useful for some stage in the buying decision process. What other reason is there for creating content? That being the case, it makes sense that you increase its visibility before as large a base of potential customers as possible.
Unless you sell a really niche product with only a few potential customers (for instance you sell specialist equipment that only telephone networks would use), you are unlikely to have personal contacts with all of your potential customers. You need to work with somebody who enjoys excellent contacts and a spotless reputation to help you disseminate your blog posts, cornerstone content, white papers, specification sheets, technical papers, or other specialty content.
Indeed, if you think about it, B2B businesses do far more than simply providing content for their potential clients. They hold events. They make presentations. They even create training courses. However, none of these is of any value if the right people don’t know of its existence.
Influencers have established audiences, email lists, and followers in niche topics - you just need to find influencers that already speak to your ideal target market. Influencers can be the ideal way for you to spread your ideas as widely as possible, yet you still keep your focus only on those people representing companies likely to buy your product. Because when it comes down to it, although it may be businesses purchasing the product and paying the bill, it is people who actually make the purchasing decisions.
Influencers can enable greater reach for your content. Depending on the situation, they can also create their own high-quality content about your products and services, targeted to suit the tastes of their audiences. This may inspire even more buyer engagement, leads and signed deals.
3 Use influencers’ posts as social proof for potential customers
Social proof can be defined as being a psychological phenomenon where people conform to the actions of others under the assumption that their actions are reflective of the correct behavior. In other words, if people can see others report positive experiences from buying your product, it makes them more likely to buy it as well.
If you have enough influencers writing positively about your product they can form a blanket of social proof. If people can see that Influencer A, Influencer B, Influencer C and Influencer D are all users of your product, it certainly makes your product look good in the eyes of the influencers’ supporters.
According to Mary Fernandez in Optinmonster, there are six types of social proof:
- Customers (through testimonials or case studies)
Depending on the size and nature of their influence, you could consider influencers to be considered either experts or celebrities. As discussed above, IBM found that their employees could act as influencers to their friends, as well.
The nature of B2B means that you do not necessarily need to restrict your connections to influencers with huge follower numbers. You just need to work with influencers who are considered influential by the right people.
Moz’s Rand Fishkin has touched on this. He believes that even small numbers can work if you get really specific about the source of the numbers. He provides an example where he analyzes the claim, “141 restaurants in Portland, Oregon use GetListed to manage their online listings and SEO.” Now, “141 restaurants” is a very small number in itself. But “restaurants in Portland, Oregon” is a very specific statement. Therefore If you are a restaurant in Portland, Oregon, you would take more notice of this particular claim than you would of a generic, “40,000 small businesses use GetListed.org” claim.
With social media being so important, nowadays, it makes sense for brands to highlight the positive things that people say about them on social media. While the FTC will probably look askance at you highlighting positive tweets and other messages which you directly paid your influencers to write, the next level of messages are perfectly legitimate. These are the positive messages sent by people who saw and then interacted with your influencers’ messages.
4 Leverage influencers to write reviews
Reviews and testimonials are vital to the success of any B2B company. According to the B2B Content Marketing Trends Report, 89% of marketers believe that customer testimonials are one of the most effective content marketing tactics.
88% of people trust online reviews written by other consumers, a similar number to those who trust recommendations from friends. Nearly 70% of consumers admit to relying on online reviews before making a purchase. While this is not a B2B statistic, there is no reason that purchasing managers in companies will act differently to how they go about buying goods for themselves. Indeed, because of the extra scrutiny their business purchases receive, along with potentially higher transaction values, it is likely that B2B purchases receive even more research than B2C transactions do.
As mentioned above, you do need to be careful that you don’t break ethical and FTC guidelines here. Influencers only have that status because of their earned trust with their followers. It wouldn't take long for them to lose their influence if became known that they simply write reviews for money.
However, if you were to give/lend influencers your product (depending on its value and nature), and they like it, then any review they write will be genuine, providing highly valuable social proof.
All of the above factors are strong levers to help you boost sales, and grow your B2B company through influencer marketing.
Done well, influencer marketing can be an exceptionally useful tool for B2B businesses. It can spread the word about the benefits of your products to a larger pool of better-informed potential customers and ultimately lead to more sales.