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PHOTO: Jon Tyson

Does your B2B marketing involve influencer marketing? If you answered “no,” then a panel of marketing experts would tell you to re-think your strategy.

The experts were part of a panel discussion titled “If You're Not Doing Influencer Marketing, You're Already Behind,” at CMO Inflect 2018. Organized and hosted by TiE Silicon Valley, CMO Inflect 2018 took place recently at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. TiE is “the world’s largest global network with a mission is to foster entrepreneurship through mentoring, networking, and education.”

Influencer Marketing Panel

The panel discussion was moderated by Carter Hostelley, CEO of B2B social media agency Leadtail. The panel featured:

The panel shared insights from a variety of perspectives: an executive who oversees influencer marketing campaigns for clients (Hostelley), marketing leaders who oversee influencer marketing campaign for their brands (Gandhi, Mathieu, Steele) and a marketing leader who oversees clients’ influencer marketing programs, but also engages with brands as an influencer himself (Kramer).

Kramer shared an interesting story involving CLEAR, a service that helps travelers accelerate the process of going through airport security. At an airport, Kramer decided to take out his phone and record (on video) a CLEAR employee providing exceptional and highly individualized customer service. Kramer posted the video to Facebook and it went viral. It received thousands of impressions, along with numerous shares and likes. Kramer’s photo was placed on the walls of break rooms across CLEAR offices and the employee was promoted to regional manager.

The lesson here, according to Kramer?

Influencers hold great power in amplifying your service and brand. Kramer urged all brands to “take the people who love your product and put them in a position where they can share.”

Why Engage with Influencers?

If you answered “no” at the top of this article, you might be asking, “What could I really be missing out on by not doing influencer marketing?”

According to LeanData’s Steele, “Influencers have a point of view and are experts in their given field. They drive conversations in the market and help educate our buyers and provide a credible source.”

In B2B, Steele noted that influencers span a wide range of functional roles: bloggers, industry analysts, speakers and authors. In addition, leaders and practitioners also hold influence: CMOs, marketing managers, CFOs, salespeople, etc. Engaging with influencers is important, said Steele, because “Influencers want to educate and build a community around knowledge. You must surround yourself with them.”

Related Article: The Future of Integrated Marketing: When Influencer Marketing and Branded Content Collide

Feature Influencers on Video

Vantiq’s Mathieu built an interactive platform to feature influencers: it’s called Vantiq TV and features interviews with industry experts. Content is provided as on-demand video interviews, podcasts, transcripts and articles.

Recent guests include the Director, Digital Transformation Office at Volkswagen AG and the SVP Solutions and Technology at Avaya.

Mathieu does not pay guests to appear on Vantiq TV. Instead, each guest stands to benefit from the over 100,000 impressions that each episode receives. The visibility can help guests attract new clients or sell more books. Mathieu noted he also turns sales prospects into influencers by featuring them on Vantiq TV.  “It’s not about selling. Instead, we provide a non-threatening environment to talk about the industry or their needs. Afterwards, they literally become your friend,” said Mathieu.

Be Strategic in Selecting Influencers

SAP Ariba’s Gandhi shared her approach to selecting influencers. While some brands engage with influencers on a transactional basis (i.e., I pay you X amount in order to do Y), Gandhi prefers to foster relationships with a two-way exchange of benefits. Paying influencers can create misalignment: influencers do what they’re asked to do, receive their check and move on. There’s little buy-in from the influencer, as they’re probably on to the next brand’s campaign.

“I'm looking to work with somebody to help me build my business,” said Gandhi. She likes to ask influencers how they prefer to engage with brands and to provide input on the proposed campaigns. She finds more success when influencers buy in to the campaign and the brand up front.

In addition, Gandhi likes to evaluate influencers’ activities beyond digital: have they written a book, do they speak at conferences, what are they doing in the “real world?” Gandhi also likes to understand influencers deeply — even after a campaign is over, she likes to stay in touch and see what influencers are working on next.

Related Article: Marketers Beware: Influencer Marketing Fraud Is Real

A Simple First Step to Influencer Marketing

While you may have no influencer marketing expertise on your team today, here's a suggestion that anyone can get started with: ask employees, executives, partners and customers who they follow and read in your industry. After they give you some names, ask, “And why do you follow them?”

Filter out those where the “why” doesn’t quite make sense (e.g., “I follow him because he has 100,000 other followers”).

There. You have now a list of industry influencers. Start reading them and following them. Attend their talks at conferences. Soon enough, you’ll figure out how to engage with them. Happy influencer marketing.