Uncover your hidden influencers

BarbaraInfluencer marketing, influencer relations

This is a reprint of my article in ‘The Influencer’: Q3’09. Register now for alerts on future issues.

Nick and I were fortunate enough to spend quality time with a number of new clients and prospects in Silicon Valley during the first half of the year. One of the influencer topics that cropped up again and again during our conversations was the ‘hidden influencers’. There’s a particular interest right now in understanding how to spot hidden influencers and what to do about them.

Hidden influencers can represent up to half of a tech company’s top influencers in a typical B2B market. We’ve identified more than 24 categories of these influencers. They’re considered ‘hidden’ because they don’t have business titles reflecting their roles as decision-maker influencers. Most lie beyond the reach of product marketing, public relations and analyst relations programs. At best, they are scattered across various silos: direct sales, channel, alliance, developer, corporate and product marketing. Many simply fall through the outreach net.

When it comes to hidden influencers, awareness is the first step in a revolution. Once you become aware that your programs are ignoring up to half of the people influencing purchases of your products and services, you’re ready to take some sort of corrective action. Here are three essential steps you can take right away.

1. Conduct research to identify the top influencers operating outside the company envelope. Identify a realistic market segment and then talk to typical decision-makers, known influencers, successful salespeople and trusted partners within that segment. Who do they respect as experts? Who do they run into during the normal course of business? What specialist knowledge do they value? Where do they turn for information?

This research begins to shed light on influencers you don’t know. Just as importantly, it indicates what you need to know about them and their motivations.

2. Use your research to model a typical decision-maker ecosystem. Every single decision-maker puts together a unique ecosystem of advisors for an important purchase. However, you’re likely to find that certain categories of influencers are common to many individual ecosystems.

This exercise gives you insight into the types of influencers you should be addressing, even if you are still unclear at this point as to the specific names and faces. Don’t be surprised to find 10 or more categories of influencers joining the more familiar categories, such as journalists and analysts.

3. Map your influencer categories across the decision lifecycle. Different types of influencers play different roles during a decision process. Some are active early in the decision process, such as those who help decide whether a purchase is even appropriate. Others are active late in the game, such as those who advise on pricing and terms.

This third step helps you visualize the way that influencers interact with decision-makers and with each other. You may find that some influencers engage at multiple stages of a decision process.