The Dos and Don'ts of B2B Influencer Marketing

Much of the marketing industry is confidently familiar with, if not incredibly well-versed in, influencer marketing. The home-grown celebrity touting praise for trending products is present in the social feeds of countless, and their reach and power to persuade has gone unnoticed by few.

Beyond increasing brand authenticity and building trust with consumers, influencers offer a solution to some of the most notable digital marketing challenges and opportunities today. With tweaks and adjustments to social media algorithms, brands are experiencing a noticeable dip in their organic reach across popular platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. The rising cost of digital advertising and increasing use of ad blockers also have added barriers to the communication flow between brands and their buyers. Influencers create a new path to communicate and connect with consumers despite these digital advertising challenges.

Though many have come to understand influencers through the lens of B2C marketing, in his CMO's Guide to B2B Influencer Marketing, Lee Odden suggests that the B2B marketplace has an opportunity to improve upon the strategy of engaging influencers and to reap the same benefits of their consumer-facing counterparts.

In the Guide, Odden highlights challenges B2C influencer marketing is confronting as pitfalls for B2B marketing professionals to avoid. He urges B2B marketers to stay mindful of cultivating a culture of opportunistic influencers. In the B2C space, concerns surrounding influencer legitimacy and the authenticity of their networks has diminished the perceived value of insights shared by genuine influencers.

To support a better culture in B2B influencer marketing, Odden advises against treating your influencers as a mere advertising distribution channel or approaching your relationships with influencers as transactional engagements. Influencer marketing should be a collaborative endeavor, with companies investing time and energy into helping influencers pursue their personal goals, just as influencers are helping companies achieve theirs.

Clarifying key differences between B2C and B2B influencer marketing, Odden explains that longer sales journeys, larger purchase decisions and decision-making committees that consist of more than one person change the way B2B marketers should collaboratively create content with their influencers. He emphasizes the subject matter expertise of B2B influencers as a key skill set to leverage in influencer marketing. Understanding this unique value B2B influencers bring to the table should also inform how B2B marketers strategize returning value to their influencers. An ideal way to structure relationships between B2B influencers and the brands they support is to position B2B influencer marketing as an opportunity to raise awareness among a brand's and a B2B influencer's mutual audience.

As Odden said in his Guide, “Pay an influencer and they’ll be your friend for the day. Help someone become more influential and they’ll be an advocate and friend for life.” B2B influencer marketing abounds with opportunity if you know the mistakes to avoid and best practices to abide by. Lee Odden's CMO's Guide to B2B Influencer Marketing is a great place to start learning.

What Exactly is Advocate Marketing? - Thoughts from Referential's Ryan Quackenbush

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Dudley Field Malone, someone you don’t need to know anything about, once said that one good analogy is worth three hours of discussion; I think many of us probably had a professor or two in school that could have benefited from this approach.

Along the line of analogies, if you’re like me, you’re always looking for a brief, simple way to explain otherwise complicated topics. I struggled with this in my past, working for highly complicated cloud-native software organizations, when my Grandmother would ask me what my companies did. “We work in computers, Gram,” I’d say.

The conversations would inevitably turn to a topic she was more interested about anyway: me, her loving grandson. She’d ask me something like “what exactly do you do?” My response, of course, is that I worked in advocate and customer-centric marketing. It’s at this point that I’m sure you’re picturing my loving grandmother’s eyes glazing over with confusion. You wouldn’t be wrong. If you tell someone you work in marketing, they generally understand what you do. But if you add the modifier “customer advocacy” to the term, suddenly, it’s like you’re speaking in Greek.

“What exactly is advocate marketing, Ryan?” She’d ask me.

Truth be told, it’s pretty simple.

“Think about it this, way, Gram,” I’d say. “I’ll give you a few different scenarios. Let’s say there’s a brand-new restaurant that opened up across town. You’re reading the Sunday paper, and in the middle of an article you’re reading is an ad that says ‘New Restaurant- best steaks!’ You kind of register that, you might check it out sometime.”

She nods, and I move on.

“Ok, second scenario - you’re watching the hockey game tonight,” (true fact: my gram loves watching hockey, but doesn’t care about teams), “and during a commercial break, an ad comes on for this new restaurant. They take you inside, show you food being put on tables, maybe the owner says ‘Come on down’ or something to that effect, and it’s over, and you sit through a few more minutes of ads before the game comes back on.”

Once again, she nods, patiently waiting for me to get to the point.

“Last scenario - Aunt Phil calls you, or I do, or your old co-worker Gene. Or maybe someone next to you in line sees the paper you’re reading, recognizes the steakhouse in the ad and says to you ‘Oh, I’ve been there - I really enjoyed the food they provide!’ I ask you this - which of those three scenarios is going to make you that much more interested in going to the new steakhouse?”

My grandmother responds that obviously the third, as familiarity with the product and personal experience is much more valuable than simply reading or seeing an ad.

“That, gram, is pretty much what I do!”

Advocacy is about building relationships, establishing trust, and enabling your existing customer base to get out and market – or advocate – for you, on your behalf. Most times, it’s a bit more strategic than a stranger looking over your shoulder in a checkout line.

At Referential Inc., we take our collective experience as a team to build our clients fully fledged reference and advocacy programs from the ground up. My restaurant analogy doesn’t take into account overseeing program goals, providing detailed reports and metrics or implementing launch plans, but at Referential Inc., expertise in these and other core aspects of advocacy program management drive our approach and service delivery.

At the end of my analogy, my grandmother responded by stating that it “sounds like what you do is very important to the company.”

An effective advocacy program truly is.

Verizon Creates a Campaign Based Entirely on Customer Stories

If you tuned into the Oscars in February or have since consumed your share of television commercials, you might have experienced Verizon's recent foray into the wonderful world of customer advocacy. In an ad series titled "Why they chose Verizon", the wireless network provider abandoned its cleverly comical, celebrity-studded approach to advertising to produce a collection of 30-second stories from real-life customers filmed in front of simple white backdrops.

As the half-minute ads play, the audience is introduced not to characters, but to people presenting as themselves, sharing stories from their lived experiences using Verizon's phone services. In one commercial, instead of being greeted with tantalizing statistics about quality of performance, we meet a husband who shares the story of how his phone provider enabled him to contact his wife in the middle of hurricane. In this moment, the audience gains an immediate and tangible understanding of the everyday value the wireless service provider returns to customers. It's a comforting, emotional moment that surely inspires Verizon customers in the audience to feel confident in their phone service while making others wonder what the "reliability" their provider touts means when it matters most.

Andrew McKechnie, Verizon's chief creative officer, shared in this interview: “The sentiment around the campaign is that these are real stories...As the stories come to life, it’s to show we have 130 million customers and they all have a reasons they chose us.”

The campaign is a compelling example of the different response a customer advocacy infused approach to marketing can elicit from an audience. Have you seen any recent commercials that leverage customer advocacy?

A Better Way to Ask for References

Strategic customer advocacy professionals approach customer advocacy as an opportunity to build relationships with customers, not simply ask for favors – an invaluable framework for asking for references shared in this SiriusDecisions blog.

The blog’s author, Amy Bills, teaches us that beforeapproaching customers for a reference, advocacy practitioners should take apause to consider the personal and professional motivations of customer advocates.The blog shares a great example of how leveraging customers’ motivations inrequests for references can morph a company-focused ask into a customer-focusedask that inspires action from advocates and nurtures more intimaterelationships with customers.

In the article, Bills also reminds us of the importance of ensuring program participation is simple for advocates. She shares how keeping in mind customer motivations and using them to structure acts of advocacy so that a customer can engage in those actions they are most interested in (and avoid laborious tasks like PowerPoint production) can improve customer interactions with your advocacy program.

Visit the blog for several other readily actionable tips for personalizing and enhancing your asks for references, and if you decide to put any into action, we’d love to hear about what you learn in the process!

Customer References or Advocates? Making the Transition

Customer references vs. advocates. Quite a topic of conversation. There are all sorts of articles about the differences between advocates and references. Simplistically customer reference programs have been a critical part of the sales process. Customers are recruited, requests are fulfilled, and sales increase. Usually ­­­customer reference activities are reactive. References are asked to participate in activities such as a call with a prospect or speaking at an event. Advocates, on the other hand, are proactive in their promotion (and defense) of your brand. An advocate will proactively engage in a community or at an event, amplify your message in social media, or help with new product input. And they will also take that important call with a prospect!

Here is an interesting article on how BMC made the transition from relying on references to a strong advocacy program. A valuable read.

Process review for us - growth for our clients

We have many clients and each has a slightly different advocacy program. Over time, added experience and viewpoints has increased our knowledge and capabilities. Together, those led to our decision to do a complete process review. It’s good to take a step back now and then to ensure we’re using the best processes and tools across the board. It’s also a chance to do some cross training. Team members who work on accounts where our services are very focused might not have yet had the opportunity to participate in the full range of our offerings. The first step was to update our master template. This will give us a refreshed starting point for new clients and updated documentation for training new hires. This process review is an opportunity to look for growth for our clients. We can share best practices and genericized information about where other clients are seeing the most impact. And we know there’s no better salesperson than a happy customer!   As we help our clients harness the power of their happy customers it leads to increased sales. And that’s really what we’re here to do, help our clients grow.

Summer Changes Begin

Some staffing changes are ahead for summer. We have a master’s student in communications joining us for the summer. She’ll be writing case studies and helping with social media. Several of our clients have communities for their advocates and we’re involved with both initiating and maintaining those communities. Lots of interesting updates to post and we’re seeing significant participation both from our client’s employees and their customers. With a few new client agreements that focus heavily on writing we’ll certainly keep her busy! We will also have an intern from one of our clients join the team. While the company is headquartered here in the Bay Area, we are fully responsible for their customer advocacy program. Our client decided it was best to locate their intern with us, in fact their interviews were here in our building. We can provide the necessary training and support, which can be substantial for an undergrad in their first true business role. He will have trips to headquarters to meet with others and participate in activities planned for the intern program overall, but home base will be with us. As we’ve hired several team members directly after their graduation.

Nothing like an intern or recent graduate to remind you to explain acronyms (even ones like EMEA or COO), clearly describe ‘business casual’ attire, and go over all sorts of other general business topics we otherwise take for granted!

Phone Flexibility

Our new offices are set up with the majority of us in one room, with executive space and financial records in another.   That means some of us work at two different desks and you never know when you’ll need to make a call. Our voice over IP phone system is proving even more useful here than in our previous location.   We have power cords specific to the phones at each desk and you can just pick up and plug in where ever you want to work, be it another desk or in one of our conference rooms or at the treadmill desks!   Very helpful when a call requires either privacy or a group and the speaker phone. The ability to have multiple phone numbers is extremely helpful, in fact necessary for the type of work we do. Many of our clients engage us to work directly with their customers, recruiting them into customer reference programs and then matching them to advocacy activities.   They prefer we answer the phone representing their company rather than our own, Referential. Easy to do with our phone system. As appropriate we set up a unique number and our phones notify us if the caller has dialed Referential or a number set up for one of our clients. Makes answering the phone so much easier, you know something about the call before answering!   This is just one facet of how we seamlessly represent our clients as we work with their customers on reference activities.

Referential is adding expertise in Mandarin

More and more of our clients have expressed a need for assistance with their customers in China so we are adding Mandarin capability next week.  Found someone with just the right background – past sales experience, in both China and the US, for high tech firms – a great match for what we need.   With customer reference activities we do find local language capability makes a huge difference and native speakers bring not only language skills but they also know important cultural nuances which aren’t as easy to learn in school. It’s exciting that we’re growing again!  We’re looking forward to a new team member starting next week!

 

Check what you already have first!

We’re helping a new client get a more formalized customer advocacy program off and running.  We’re contacting customers that have given high NPS scores recently, that have been part of early adopter or beta testing programs, or that were ‘known’ to product marketing.  But there are other treasure troves of advocates out there!  Stories on our client's web site and quotes in press releases are just two examples of advocacy in action. In the zeal to get new advocates you need to be careful to not overlook the ones you already have!  Make sure they are welcomed into any new program.  It’s a great opportunity to reconnect and understand the activities they are now interested in.  They have been there for you in the past, make sure they are a central part of your program moving forward.

Continuing to improve our skills

The primary role here at Referential, Inc. is that of reference manager.  Even though there’s one primary role, it has 3 levels.   We created a one page summary that highlights the different expectations of each of the 3 job levels for the following categories:  quality, productivity, communication, initiative, and judgment.  We feel those categories are critical for success and want to make sure everyone from the newest hire to the most senior knows what’s expected. To give just one example from the productivity category,  for the staff reference manager we know that solutions occasionally require rethinking before becoming effective.   For the mid tier role we would expect sharing best practices to improve team productivity, while the senior reference manager should implement process improvements with wide impact.  Each of the categories has several examples for each of the job levels.

This tool has been very valuable in setting expectations, as we write performance evaluations, and inspiring people to add to their skill sets with promotion to the next level in mind.  It’s also something that we need to keep current as our company evolves.  Right now we’re thinking through how the role will change in the future and of course we’ll update the competencies accordingly.  We all want to continue to grow and add to our skill set, this is just one tool that we have found to be very helpful.

Project 'Find the Customer Reference!'

We were recently asked to do a special project for a new client.  They had a high priority need for customer references for a specific product.  A rather new product at that. And, of course, a very short deadline.  Major events were on the schedule where they needed speakers and new collateral because who better to tell your story than a happy customer? Sometimes you need to call in reinforcements, which they did.  They didn’t have the bandwidth to take on this special project so called us.  We have the processes in place already, and the people.  We were able to supplement their staff and contact every single sales rep that had sold this product, discussed their customers, and then went on to talk with each customer who was a potential reference.  We were able to help frame the stories to highlight business benefits, not just the ‘speeds and feeds’.  Putting extra resources on this, in a very short window, was really successful.  We’ve uncovered several new references already and we're not yet done.

While typically we run major programs for our clients sometimes we’re asked to do special projects such as this.  It can be a huge help to have extra bandwidth when you need it – big or small we can help with your customer reference challenges!

Back From the Summit

Another successful conference!  We were one of the sponsors for the Summit on Customer Engagement which was held earlier this week.   It’s always a great opportunity to meet people, learn about new programs, plus share best practices.  It’s a very collaborative environment, with everyone willing to share ideas.  There was plenty of time in the agenda for deeper discussions and many left with a long list of actions they can immediately implement to improve their programs.  We look forward to seeing many of our clients at the summit each year.  In our dispersed and virtual world a face to face meeting is a pleasure.  One of our clients stayed additional days and used our offices for meetings, instead of coffee shops.  Our conference rooms sure came in handy!  If you're in the Bay Area and need a place to work or meet people keep our offices in mind!

We're Sponsoring the Summit on Customer Engagement

We’re again sponsoring the Summit on Customer Engagement.  The event is back at the Sofitel Hotel in Redwood City, California.   We’ll see you February 25-26, 2014! The event is for everyone active in customer reference and advocacy.  If you’re new to the field you’ll have access to experts through formal presentations and informal discussion sessions.  Even the experts will learn something new.   The workshops often provide tools and forms that you can put to use right away.  The summit also provides perspectives from experts in related fields such as social media, advisory boards and councils, demand generation, and other topics customer reference program managers need to be informed about.  It’s a great opportunity to meet others in the field and share ideas.

We hope to see you there, make sure to stop by our display.  For more information on the event itself see www.customerreferenceforum.com

2014 More Growth Ahead!

We’ve had many 2014 planning discussions with our clients recently.  It's exciting to see our clients expanding and there's lots of growth ahead for us too. The discussions remind me that 2013 has been quite a year for Referential, Inc.  We moved into new offices early in the year.  Being right across the street from Ebay not only makes us easy to find but some pretty good food trucks are nearby daily!  We hired several new people, more on the horizon.  Yes, training takes time but it’s been great seeing our company culture evolve.

In 2013 we also added important skills, such as support for more languages and expertise in additional industries.  Our business and technical knowledge means we can see the value our clients bring to their customers and we  highlight that value in all deliverables.

Finally we also added new services.  We’re often called upon to automate tasks, technical skills to the rescue!  This year we’ve also advised many clients on data issues  Spreadsheet or database and if the latter which one!  A conversation we’ve had often.

Whether our clients outsource the entirety of their customer reference program to us, having us do everything from initial program design through to fulfillment, or we do a smaller project such as a case study, all clients get nothing but the best from us.  Give us a call, let's see how we can help you get even more impact from your customer references.

Referential at Boulder Logic Customer Day

Earlier this week we participated in the Boulder Logic Customer Day 2013.  It was a great opportunity to meet with others in the industry.  We were asked to present so Helen led a session on reporting and ROI measurement representing one of our clients, Infor. Metrics is one of our key areas of expertise, we've done extensive work in that area and have targeted service offerings.  Many topics were covered over the course of the day and it was great to discuss and learn from each other; Jack from Kronos was bursting with ideas!  Thanks to Boulder Logic for organizing it and to Marketo for hosting the event.

Winning Visit

Referential, Inc. was a sponsor of the recent 2013 Summit on Customer Engagement.  At the event we had a drawing for a customer reference program metrics review and one of our winners came to our offices last week. It's always nice to get to meet face to face.  Tom and Jen from Acutate, who you see here, visited.  We got to know each other a bit better over bagels and coffee and since they're metrics pros we held a strategic planning sessionActuate_Tom and Jen receiving their award.  Here they are with their winner's certificate.  Congratulations Acutate!

New Customer Reference Program Metrics Review Offering

First off our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Boston. Hoping for quick recoveries for those impacted and even faster justice. We've added a new service for clients with existing programs, focusing on metrics. Look at the services page, metrics sections. You'll see a brief summary with a link to more detail. The perfect engagement to make sure your metrics are aligned with the company goals, showing the real value you bring, and helping you model how changes to resources can impact service levels.