According to Forrester, 71% of B2B shoppers reach selection at the end of the digital journey — without using traditional sales processes and demos. This means, if you’re a vendor, whether large, medium or small, you may have lost a deal without even knowing there was a deal.
When so much of the buyer’s journey is done before talking to a vendor or sales person, influencers play a critical role in building the story around your products and services.
While the idea of influence is becoming more and more common in today’s market (paid social media), it’s so much more than that. It’s someone with the ability to influence a potential buyer by promoting, recommending, and referring a product or service either online, in person or some other way.
And going forward, these are the kinds of channel relationships that vendors must turn to for getting in front of customers earlier in the journey. Here’s why:
- 65% of buyers said they prefer credible content from industry influencers (DemandGen)
- 91% of B2B purchases are influenced by word-of-mouth (Incite Group)
- 84% of B2B sales begin with a referral (Harvard Business Review)
Done well, influencer programs will help you fill the top of your funnel while simultaneously pushing leads further down the funnel.
You might already have a few influencer programs in place today — they just might not be called that. For example, here are some “influencer” activities that you may already be implementing or re-thinking.
- Referral program – You engage influencers to refer your brands to buyers when appropriate.
- Sales and solutions engineer programs – You offer training, certification and sales skills for the technical experts designing client solutions.
- Press events – You host an event or activity geared toward getting media to spread the word about your brand.
But to truly optimize your efforts to persuade prospects, you have to understand and map your influencer ecosystem through partner data collection and segmentation. And it’s critical for your strategy to include measurement, attribution, and knowing exactly what you want these partners to do. To develop specific programs for your influencers, start by figuring out these key elements:
- Who your ideal buyer is (or buying group);
- Where your buyers go for information (when, why, how);
- Who holds the influence over a purchase decision for your products or services;
- Spheres of influence inside your industry or specialization; and
- What will motivate them to influence others to seek out your brand.
Breaking your influencer channel away from your transactional programs will help you create better onboarding, better enablement and better marketing initiatives. Additionally, identifying and segmenting other influencer channel partners inside your current ecosystem will help you map partner coverage and reveal gaps where you can start to recruit new influencing partners.
If you’re ready to dig into even more influencer program strategies and measurement tactics, here are the highlights. Each influencer partner you have will fall into one of these categories:
- Status & Recognition – Thought leaders, industry leaders, solution influencers: These are the influencers who won’t be swayed by monetary incentives. Their power to influence your ideal buyers is cemented in this idea of independent thought and their expertise as currency. The things that matter most to this group are status and recognition.
- Prosocial – Consultants, advocates, brand ambassadors, customers: These influencers are the people who have strong peer networks where a relationship and reputation matter most. Because of this emphasis on personal reputation with their peer groups, a prosocial program makes the most sense—giving them the power to improve someone else’s well-being through recommending your brand.
- Monetary – Alliance partners, affiliates, affinity partners: Relationships with these influencers include mutually beneficial agreements, offers of commissions for marketing a product, or cross-marketing activities by brands or people that don’t compete against each other.
Each category has very specific needs and desires (i.e., their motivation) you can tap into in support of your brand. Going into each of these would make this ChannelView infinitely longer than it already is, but I don’t want to leave you hanging!
In my white paper — Influencer Channels: Maximize Your Brand Visibility & Lead Generation – you can get the details on how to effectively engage each of these influencers. You can access it here.
Ellen Linkenhoker is the Insights & Strategy Leader for ITA Group’s channel partner solutions and incentives practice. She has worked in technology, software and service companies both as part of the channel and as a vendor. She is an award-winning marketer and navigates all things channel, marketing, incentives and engagement in her role with ITA Group including pioneering thought leadership on channel partner ecosystems and the partner experience.
This story premiered on our sister site, Channel Marketer Report.