The role of influencers in marketing is an untapped resource across all B2B industries.
Leveraging these experts and thought leaders to build your brand is a competitive advantage that simply cannot be wasted.
Fortunately, guest Patrick Ward is here to help listeners set up and succeed with B2B influencer partnerships. The VP of Marketing at Rootstrap explains:
- How to identify influencers your buyers trust
- How to approach and initiate a partnership
- How to tap into and optimize their network
- And, how to build a roster of in-house influencers to further your reach
Listen now and be the first in your market to exploit the power of B2B influencer marketing.
Mentioned in this episode:
Voiceover: This is Performance Delivered. Insider secrets for digital marketing success with Steffen Horst and Dave Antil.
Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host Steffen Horst. The topic for today’s episode is b2b influencer marketing. Here to speak with me is Patrick Ward, who is the VP of Marketing at Rootstrap, a custom software development agency that digitally transforms companies like MasterClass and Google, along have a list celebrities like Tony Robbins and Snoop Dogg. Patrick is a writer by trade. His international brand and b2b marketing expertise has been featured in Forbes, Ad Age, Fast Company, Morning Brew, Hacker Noon, HuffPost and Business Insider. He earned his Bachelor of Commerce, majoring in Marketing and Political Science from the University of Sydney. Patrick, welcome to the show.
Patrick Ward: Thanks for having me, Steffen.
Steffen: Now, Patrick, before we before we start exploring today’s topic, tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself. How did you get started in your career? And how did you end up in marketing?
Patrick: Yes, so like many people, I started in marketing by going to school for marketing. That was my degree. That was my major. And I started, like many of us in the ad agency world. I was working for a small boutique agency back in Sydney, Australia, where I’m from as my accent belies. And then early on in my career, I made the leap to the United States. So I was fortunate enough to, to win the green card lottery. And that’s what sent me on the path towards working here. So I moved over, started with finance, then went into some ad tech, did a bit of real estate, insurance, and finally have found my way into b2b technology where I am currently as the VP of Marketing at Rootstrap.
I came on board a couple of years ago as the original marketing person, so a team of one since grown that to 11. And it’s been a really exciting journey as we’ve been growing quite substantially like many of the clients that you just mentioned, like MasterClass and Google. And really, my focus this year has been becoming more of a brand evangelizer which I know we’re gonna talk about a lot today, Steffen about how to create influence, specifically within the b2b space.
Steffen: Yeah. Now for for the listeners. Obviously, we’re all aware of influencer marketing as it relates to more ecommerce, you know, for b2b, I would assume it’s a little bit different. So why should b2b brands invest in influencer marketing?
Patrick: It’s a really good question because the problem with the way that influencer marketing is currently conceptualized is everyone thinks about it in terms of the b2c space. They think about shopping a certain look on Instagram or they think of buying a certain makeup line or cosmetics or maybe it’s some other form of ecommerce or an Etsy shop. But really b2b influencer marketing is even more important, because when you think about influencer marketing in the b2c space, it tends to be low volume purchase. And these are low involvement, you know, something in the range of a 10, 20, even a $50 purchase. But if you get b2b influencer marketing correct, from a high ticket value perspective, suddenly you’re looking at $50,000 deals, $100,000 deals, $150,000 deals. Now why does this matter to a b2b company? Well, it doesn’t matter how good your company’s marketing is, you can put all the campaigns in the world under one brand.
The fact of the matter is, your prospective consumer is going to view that within the same lens that they’re going to view it within a certain ecosystem of content that’s coming from, admittedly a bias source. Now, you are still trying to be truthful, you’re still trying to be honest, but let’s not beat around the bush, the consumer is still going to view it that way. So when you can tap into other people’s networks, when you can tap into those trusted resources, when there is that prospective buyer in an organization that’s looking at a number of different solutions and services. If you’re tapping into an influencer’s network that can really suggest and promote your particular product or service versus another. That’s where the power of b2b influencer marketing really lies.
Steffen: So let’s talk a little bit more about what you just said. Tap into a network of a b2b influencer. So first of all, who are those b2b influencers? How do you identify them for your company?
Patrick: This is where it gets really challenging because unlike with the b2c system, let’s be honest, the b2c influence the network has already built out a very sophisticated network. We have a number of different firms that can help you identify appropriate influencers. We have a number of different firms that can help identify things like influencer fraud. You know, whether the followers they have are true. But here’s where the rub is when it comes to b2b. Often when you’re thinking about a b2b influencer, you need to stop measuring them based on the metrics that we would normally associate with influencer marketing. We’re not looking for virality.
We’re not looking for, do they have millions of views necessarily, because when you go towards that profile, it often isn’t someone who influences. The better way to think about it is actually a very different area that has been somewhat misused as a term. And that’s thought leadership. When you think of someone who is a true thought leader in your industry in your space. Those are the types of people who are ripe for a b2b influencer campaign. Because the fact of the matter is that these are the types of people that truly have sway over your buyer. So what do we mean by this? They are the people who are giving keynotes at industry specific conferences.
Maybe they have a particular podcast that is well respected within your niche. Maybe they’re the ones who are influencing your buyers at enterprises. These are people like Gartner or Forrester analysts. So you have to get a little bit more creative with how you conceptualize over b2b influencer. Because the irony of the space is that most b2b influencers will despise the term b2b influencer. They will prefer a term more like expert evangelists, thought leader. And even those terms can sometimes rub those people the wrong way. So really what you’re trying to look for is who are the people within our industry that everyone looks to as a source of authority and a source of truth?
Steffen: So how do you go about that? Identifying those people?
Patrick: So the first way you start is where does your industry come together and share ideas and share expertise. One of the key areas here is looking at those industry specific conferences. So what is the must attend conference in your industry, where there are certain people that suddenly everyone knows that’s the person you want to go in here and speak. Those are the people who really drive the change. Beyond that, you also want to be looking at who are your competitors finding for their keynote speeches, for example. You can find that a lot of competitors might be running a certain annual summit, it might be an annual kickoff, and they’ll be very flagrant with who they brag about, and who they are trying to attract in to make their events standout. Those are also going to be ideal. Beyond that, you also want to start getting an understanding of that buying committee.
Okay, so when a buying committee is making a decision on a product or service, who are they turning to? Who are they looking for outside perspective on whether they purchase a particular product or service. And then beyond that, there are an emerging class of concierges that tend to be less sophisticated than the b2c side, but nevertheless are appropriate. A good person in this space is a good friend of mine Tom Augenthaler, who is based in Austin, Texas, and he specifically acts as a matchmaker for brands and b2b influencers. So there are starting to become more firms that are doing a done for you style service of concierge allowing you as a brand to be matched with an influencer. But it does take a little bit more extra effort to source those influencers, because they’re not immediately obvious. These people can sometimes be on platforms like LinkedIn with, you know, as little as a couple of 1000 followers.
Steffen: Interesting. Now, once you identify the people that you would love to talk to, to help you influence decision makers, how do you approach them? How do you work with them? How, you know, there’s always an exchange, obviously, for what they do to help you get to a certain point. So how does that look like?
Patrick: Yeah, so this is really once you’ve done all of your grunt work up till this point, this is where you’re faced with a pretty crucial decision, and both ways can be effective. The first way is, like I said, partnering with a particular influencer. Now, when you’re partnering with a b2b influencer, you have to acquiesce to their demands, even more so than you might otherwise do with a b2c influencer. And that’s because their expertise that you’re tapping into is really the true value. When it’s a b2c influencer somewhat, you’re paying for followers, you’re paying for viewership, whereas with a b2b influencer, you are paying for true authority, and someone who’s not going to take that very lightly.
So because of that, you need to make sure that how your brand is embedded into their particular campaign, you’re often going to have to give a lot of creative freedom to that influencer. Now, yes, of course, you can still try and give them the appropriate messages that you want, you can shape the narrative in the way that suits your brand best. But it’s still important to factor that in. That, needless to say, you don’t have as much creative control as you might have in the b2c space. So that’s one angle. The second angle you can take is a much more longer term play. But it is one that I strongly encourage. And this is what I call creating your own in house b2b influencers.
And many companies in the b2b space have this potential. Now they need to leverage their particular different executives within different functions to speak to different audiences. So if you have a CEO that can obviously speak to a business leader, audience. With a CTO, they might be focused on a more technical audience, Head of Sales might focus obviously, on a more sales oriented audience. Whichever type of customer persona you are trying to target, you can create these influences in house. The key again, is how do you drive effective thought leadership, and there’s no shortage of firms trying to sell you that dream.
More often than not, it tends to be towards an ego play for the executives. But if you’re a truly astute marketer, what you really want to focus on is how can I turn one of my executives into the go to authority in the space. Now, you will have to build some traction, maybe it’s getting them some guest placements on some podcasts that are relevant for your industry. Maybe it’s leveraging those into some speaking opportunities. Maybe you hire a ghostwriter to take the executive’s thoughts down and turn it into a book.
These are all tactics you can use to build that credibility in house. And the great thing is, if you do it successfully, you suddenly have your own influencer, that can be shipped out for certain other campaigns with strategic partners. But more importantly, you’re not incurring ongoing costs. You know, when we look at certain examples, the classic is the CMO, Udi, from Gong is a very good example of this approach of you can create an influencer that can truly be well respected within their space inside your own company. It doesn’t always have to be tapping on outside help.
Steffen: Yeah. Now, when you use executives from within the company, obviously, the cost for them to become the influencer is you know, time and material that is required to be on podcasts, you know, to write books and other things. How are influencers remunerated that are outside of your organization?
Patrick: So when you look at remuneration outside the organization, it kind of depends on the model that you’re looking for. Obviously, you can renumerate based on, you know, a standard sponsorship type deal. For a certain amount of social media posts, you can certainly renumerate them based on speaking fees. But really when you look at the core of b2b influencer marketing, a lot of it, and certainly the most successful engagements I’ve seen, tend towards more of a referral based. Because at the end of the day, why you doing b2b influencer marketing? You’re doing it because you hope it will be an extra channel, an extra arm in your arsenal in order to drive more sales qualified pipeline. And if that that influencer that you partner with truly is influential, then they should have no problem in driving significant business.
So a typical agreement that you might have with a b2b influencer tends to be very similar to something you might give to a partner in terms of a referral arrangement. And this is often mutually beneficial, because on the one hand, it allows the influencer to retain a considerable amount of creative control in how they shape the campaign. As opposed to where they’re getting sponsored directly, they might feel a little bit of pressure to shape their message slightly differently. And that might cannibalize the effectiveness of the campaign. But also, more importantly, for you as the brand, it means that you’re aligning both of your incentives towards yes, I’m getting some demonstrable value out of this influencer engagement. But I’m also making sure that it’s tapping into a channel that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to access.
Steffen: Now, a second ago, you talked about the probably in middle long run, it would make sense for companies to build out their own in house influencers, so the executive team, for example. What is the general strategy for a brand that you would recommend?
Patrick: So the general strategy, I would say is you want to start with influencer engagement early. That is the short term focus. And the reason you want to do that is because like we said, it is a long term play to build your own in house influencers, and it’s not going to be built overnight, you’re not going to turn your CEO into a thought leader within your space immediately, unless they’re already won. And so the better way is to tap into other audiences. Because by doing that, you’re in a way, the way that I like to think about it is audience hijacking. You’re tapping into an audience that is pre built by the influencer, that can flow through to your brand, you certainly want to be doing that at the start, particularly if you have very aggressive growth goals.
Because the fact of the matter is, when you look at the other channels that are available, things like paid acquisition, organic acquisition, referral partners, even review sites for b2b companies, all of them are fine having significant cost pressure, because everyone’s flooded to them, even though events are slowly starting to come back. The fact of the matter is, most acquisition that is happening right now for clients is happening through digital means. And so by adding that extra arm via an influencer, you’re just creating additional optionality for creating pipeline. And marketing teams, particularly in high growth b2b startups have very aggressive growth goals that they need to hit, certainly when they’re getting pressure from particular VC funders.
And so as a result of that, giving yourself a diversified stream via b2b influencers is really key. You do that in the short term. But the long term, you do want to build those influencers in house. And the reason you want to do that is because that’s what helps make your brand sticky. Every b2b company will tell you, depending on the space, they’re often fighting, commoditization. How do you avoid your solution being compared to another’s, purely based on price? And that really starts with having a strong brand. Now, often, I argue most companies don’t actually have a strong brand. They think they do, but if you ask the average person, even the average person in their industry, do you know anything about this company?
Chances are they don’t say anything. And that comes back to brand building as a concept. And one of the key arms of that is how well known are your in house executives. Because before you become an Apple, a Facebook, an Amazon, you start with your executives. People do trust people sooner than they trust companies. And so it’s better to in that mid to long term, build those in house influencers, so that you have an additional arm and a personalized arm of what your company is all about, rather than just the cold corporate exterior.
Steffen: That makes a lot of sense. Because in the end, what you’re doing with this b2b influencer approach is you’re just creating another sales channel for the company, right? I mean, you have the traditional one, you can put money in media and try to generate leads, you can have your own sales force that calls people or works off the inbound leads. And then there are all the other tactics that you can do in order to create a pipeline. But doing that can have from my perspective, several positive effects. You know, first of all, you get your CEO out and then you increase awareness, visibility, and that can lead to you know, filling up the pipeline as well. Now, when we talk about b2b, excuse me, b2c influencers, you know, companies tend to have you know, if they work with they tend to work with a lot of influencers, you know, micro influencers. How, how is that for b2b? Is the approach having an army of influencers or does it make more sense to have a handful of specific ones that, you know, carry the word out about your company, your product?
Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. So you’re 100% right. In b2c, it generally becomes a numbers game. And particularly because mostly when you’re dealing with ecommerce or cosmetics as industries, you’re looking at high volume, low purchase price sales. And as a result of that, it makes sense to diversify across as many different influencers as you can. When it comes to b2b, you really do want to concentrate it down to a very small handful. Certainly, many of the campaigns from not only that I’ve run, but other colleagues of mine have run in other companies, they tend to stick no more than about five to 10 influencers when it comes to b2b. And that’s for a very specific reason. Particularly if your niche is, you know, ultra specific, there just isn’t that many people who influence those buyers. Because let’s not beat around the bush, when you’re looking at b2b, particularly high ACV b2b deals, there aren’t that many people who can spend 50,000 100,000, 150,000 plus on a particular engagement.
And that’s by design. And so as a result of that, you really want to build a deep, strong relationship with a couple of key influencers within the space, rather than the spray and pray approach. Because the fact of the matter is, most b2b deals are fairly complex, even the shortest b2b deal is still going to be a couple of months. And as a result of that, there’s a lot of considerations. So you really need to think hard about who is the person who’s really going to move the needle for me here on influencing those buyers within those key accounts that I’m targeting, in order to be a true successful sales channel that you’re building with your influencer practice. You can’t just do it on a numbers game like you can with b2c and go well, if I get a million views, then a certain percentage will convert. It just doesn’t work like that in b2b.
Steffen: Yeah. Now, Patrick, before we come to the end of today’s podcast episode, what is the one pitfall where you say in regards to b2b influencer marketing, don’t go that route, don’t do that. And what is the one thing that you say everyone should do when it comes to b2b influencer marketing?
Patrick: The number one thing to avoid is actually a pitfall that my own company fell for in the past. And that’s purely going for virality. We had done that within the b2b space, we were getting millions of views on a number of our posts, particularly on content on LinkedIn. And the fact of the matter is, none of it drove any sales. It was getting a large mass audience appeal. And sure, it looks great to have a couple of million views, you know, everyone gets that dopamine hit. But the fact of the matter is, it did not add an ounce to pipeline. So you really have to avoid that. Do not fear if your content is not getting seen by that much.
Because on the flip side, the biggest deal that I ever closed, which was 150k deal came from one of our least performing posts. It only reached I think about 2500 people. And yet, it was because that was ultra targeted. So that’s really what you need to focus on. Can you get a message in front of the right buyers at the right time with the right person? That’s what will be the key to turning an influencer marketing strategy into from a nice to have into an absolute necessity. Because if you get it right, you are going to influence a whole bunch of buyers who may never have considered your company, may never purchased from your company because it is a true, trusted source of wisdom as opposed to a corporate message that is likely to be viewed with skepticism.
Steffen: Patrick, thank you so much for joining me on the Performance Delivered podcast and sharing your knowledge on b2b influencer marketing. If people want to find out more about you, and Rootstrap, how can they get in touch?
Patrick: You can either visit our website www.rootstrap.com Or you can connect with me on LinkedIn. linkedin.com/in/patrickjamesward, all one word.
Steffen: Perfect. Well, thanks everyone for listening. If you like the Performance Delivered podcasts, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again, and see next time.
Voiceover: Performance Delivered is sponsored by Symphonic Digital. Discover audience focused and data driven digital marketing solutions for small and medium businesses at symphonicdigital.com