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B2B influencer marketing is growing – but it’s a micro, not a macro, game

B2B buyers are better informed than ever before, and sellers have fewer opportunities to influence their decisions. While influencer marketing has long been a priority for marketers, Metia’s Pete Morgan explores why a disciplined focus on quality over quantity is required for success.

The typical B2B buyer and sales cycle has changed in recent years, with buyers taking more of a lead in defining solutions to their problems – with much of this done online. A recent study by CSO Insights found that more than 70 percent of B2B buyers fully define their needs before engaging a vendor, while almost half (44 percent) have identified their chosen solution before talking to a sales rep.

This shift means sellers have fewer opportunities

to influence purchasing decisions

. A recent Gartner study found that B2B buyers considering a purchase now spend only 17 percent of their time in the process of meeting with potential suppliers. When comparing multiple suppliers‚ the amount of time spent with any one vendor can decrease to just 5 percent.

This has upped the ante for B2B marketers. With fewer opportunities to directly influence purchasing decisions, the value of positive word-of-mouth has increased – and investments in influencer marketing have risen with it.

The Internet has democratised influence

Before the Internet, it was easier to understand who influenced purchasing decisions in an industry. Most influencers came pre-qualified by association: you didn’t write a column for Computer Weekly or a report for Forrester unless you were a genuine expert.

The emergence of blogs and social media provided a soap box for anyone to share their opinions – and the breadth and

depth of content on any given subject multiplied

. Brands struggled to gauge influence in the brave new world where popularity was claimed through follower counts and online engagement.

Many brands have stumbled by thinking that bigger means better when it comes to influence, but in business it is usually defined at a micro – not a macro – level. IBM’s CMO Michelle Peluso put it simply in a recent interview with Forbes: “It’s not necessarily about how many followers someone has, but rather what makes them valuable and interesting to their audience.”

IT Managers, for example, are unlikely to consult a self-declared influencer with several hundred thousand Twitter followers when evaluating new software. They are far more likely to trust the opinions of a small group of experts, who have built their reputations over many years within a specific field and who are part of modest but highly engaged online communities.

Engaging the wrong influencers can be costly, in lost time, money, and most of all credibility. Back the wrong horse and you’ll erode trust, rather than build it. Knowing how to separate the wheat from the chaff is a critical skill.

Influence depends on the human touch

B2B marketers should approach influencer identification with diligence and healthy skepticism. While a growing list of tech solutions claim to identify and measure influence, the reality is that influence is still a very human trait. For the time being, technology lacks the nuance and sophistication to provide a silver bullet.

Lists of influencers created from social outputs and evidenced with numbers can look like a seductively quick fix. But find one in a market you know well in order to assess their provenance. I’d suggest you may find legitimate influencers diluted by self-promoters, amplifiers and agenda-driven opinions (the PR team run the account).

To find the genuine influencers, you must immerse yourself in your target community. Start with your customers and prospects, and build a picture of whose opinions matter to them. Technology can play a supporting role from this point, helping you to plot connections between contributors – analysing their conversations and surfacing new individuals to feed into the process.

Be wary of scale and volume. Sending 50 tweets a day to 50,000 followers is a barrage of news, not a source of considered opinion. Also, genuine influencers don’t just broadcast – they engage. Can you see a genuine connection with the audience?

When it comes to engaging influencers, ensure you offer a fair exchange of value. But be aware that the most valuable influencers are typically those motivated by opportunities to learn and contribute, rather than by monetary compensation. In the words of IBM’s Michelle Peluso, “whoever you choose to associate with your brand – they have to have that authentic connection. It simply can’t be manufactured or bought.”


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