You probably think of LinkedIn as a recruiting and job hunting network. It also serves as a valuable backoffice tool for analyst relations, consultant relations, and fully integrated B2B influencer programs.
The price is certainly right: basic services are free, and business upgrades are economical. Plus, the number of profiles keeps growing. As of last week, LinkedIn claimed more than 35 million members in 200+ countries. Finally, the general demographics are a good match.
I’ve been guiding influencers and clients alike toward LinkedIn since its debut in 2003. Used properly, it can boost influencer relations productivity. Over-reliance can run your program aground very quickly.
For best results in influencer identification, use LinkedIn for corroboration and expansion of facts gleaned through other research sources.
The reason is simple: LinkedIn contains user-generated content. Unlike Wikipedia, there’s no team of editors debating accuracy. Fact checking is your responsibility — not LinkedIn’s, not the person posting about themselves.
For best results in influencer engagement, use LinkedIn to find people who can introduce you to your targeted influencers.
Can you use LinkedIn to connect with an influencer you’ve never met? My advice is no, don’t go that way. First, learn influencer contact etiquette and develop a sense of how to interpret — not simply read — the LinkedIn profiles of influencers. You’ll develop a good sense of when you’re looking at a solid opportunity for breaking the common sense rules of engagement.
I’ll continue this thread tomorrow, with a look at how some influencers have been using LinkedIn.
It’s tempting to think of influencer programs as master plans for turning objective decision influencers into your company’s bona fide fans. The truth is, that’s not a desirable goal for your influencer programs.
Valuable influencers maintain a high level of objectivity. Some call it integrity. Others describe it as independence or ethics.
Whatever label you prefer, compromising it is a surefire way to dilute the effectiveness of the influencer. Once that happens, there’s no turning back. They play a lesser role in every decision making process because their viewpoint is clearly skewed toward your company.
How do you structure an influencer program to achieve good relations without compromising independent thinking?
A few of the best practices we share with Influencer50 clients:
Do assign senior people to managing relationships with your top influencers. These people should be knowledgeable about your company from a business perspective, in addition to having more tactical knowledge about your products, services, partners and competitors.
Do empower your relationship managers to engage key players across the company with your top influencers.
Do not aim standard marketing – including advertising, PR, collateral, direct marketing, events, or demos — at your top influencers.
To industry observers the situation seems clear: changes taking place in IT buyer decision processes require corresponding changes in how vendors deal with influencers, such as the industry analysts. However, the changes in tech decision-maker processes have been gradual and have varied greatly by market. Plus, critical aspects of buying decisions remain hidden from external view. As a result, few in tech marketing are aware of the extent of change taking place in their customer decision processes. Even fewer are thinking about how best to map the new realities to Analyst Relations programs.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with 3 of the people who are not only thinking about it, but translating their observations and ideas into practice: Evan Quinn, director of Corporate Analyst Relations at HP; Jennifer Bartolo, vice president of IT Influencer Relations for SAP; and Debashish Sinha, vice president of Marketing for HCL America.
They are pioneering analyst relations for the next decade. You can check out my initial notes in our newsletter, The Influencer.
It’s easy to fall into thinking that focusing on the top 15 or 25 or 100 influencers in a given market is a good idea for every company. That’s not necessarily so, unless you can vet their influence with decision-makers for your product or service in your market.
Mack Collier points out a good example: his experience with the “Pepsi 25″ campaign. Pepsi had targeted Mack and 24 other high profile bloggers with 3 deliveries of cans showing the evolution of the Pepsi logo over 100 years, right up to the latest logo. Most of the 25 bloggers were happy to blog about Pepsi and it’s logo. By contrast, Mack said:
I mean on one hand I appreciated the effort that Pepsi went to in sending these materials to me. Obviously they send the cans and promotional materials to myself and 24 other people because they thought we were ‘influential’ in the social media space, and that we would blog/twitter/podcast about this promotion, and hopefully in a favorable light… Now the problem for me is, I know I’m not influential to Pepsi drinkers, cause I don’t drink Pepsi (Dr Pepper here. Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too?).
He goes on to suggest that his spot in the Pepsi 25 would have been better used on a loyal customer — someone who would have behaved as an evangelist out of love for the Pepsi product. Someone connected to others who also would talk about Pepsi and encourage purchases, and so on.
Pepsi 25 hit a dead-end with Mack.
As Duncan says, it’s not about influence, it’s about influence with the right people.
Following on the heels of layoffs at Gartner and AMR Research, comes word that Yankee Group and iSuppli also reduced headcount. Yankee Group CEO Emily Nagel discussed the reduction in the company blog. Meanwhile, there is word of a reduction at iSuppli, a firm that just recently acquired Telematics Research Group (TRG). This much consolidation in the tech industry analyst community has implications for analyst relations and influencer programs.
Tech suppliers can react in one of two ways.
The most common reaction is list management. The premise is that you automatically replace one analyst name on your list of influencers with another analyst name. When somebody moves out, you move somebody up.
That’s exactly what the analyst salespeople want tech suppliers — and IT decision makers — to do. Swap one analyst with another. Treat them as interchangeable parts. Transfer your trust, no hesitation.
That strategy would work really well, if analysts were toasters.
The other option is research. This entails pulsing your salesforce and decision-makers and evaluating the overall market segment, to find out how influence is shifting on the ground. The idea is that you think outside the box, and make no assumptions that one analyst is replaced by another analyst out in the marketplace.
You may find that a trusted analyst is being supplanted by a consultant or a thought leader from an IT association. You may find most decision-makers taking a wait-and-see attitude, opting for no immediate adjustments to their circle of advisors.
In the end, trust is not about lists or toasters or interchangeable people. Trust is personal, especially when company or career is on the line.
Short-term, there’s little likelihood that you can uncover every decision where an exiting analyst was advising. Look into the priority transactions in your pipeline; assess and act on those situations on a case by case basis.
For the long haul? My advice is don’t rush to revise your influencer list. Live with the gaps until the dust settles and you can figure out what’s really happening.
Marketers tasked with building online communities learn quickly that size matters. Which would you rather aim for: building one community of 50 members, or 50 communities each with one member?
Odds are good you’ll go for the one larger community. It’s a matter of survival, isn’t it? Your professional reputation, job security, and next quarter’s budget may hang in the balance.
Yet, when you design an influencer program, your focus shifts to the other end of the scale. Your goal becomes building 50 communities of one.
Influencers have their own networking patterns. An influencer program taps into those existing patterns as a way to join the conversation and meet the influencers.
If there’s no opportunity for influencers to converge naturally, an influencer program can step in and create a group. This might take the form of a council, an advisory board, or an exclusive networking dinner held in conjunction with an industry event.
Either way, the group is not the end goal. It’s the individuals within the group that matter.
The goal is building 1-to-1 relationships with influencers in the group, so that they get to know your company and want to talk about it.
In the world of influencers, 50 communities of one will outperform one community of 50 every time.
When you think about the people capable of influencing your customers and prospects, take a good long look at your sales channel partners. A channel partner’s sphere of influence can extend far beyond their own customers and territory. Put their influence to work for you by incorporating them into your influencer program.
Success depends largely on choosing the right channel partners. This means curtailing internal politics during the selection process. Likewise, it’s not a popularity contest. Focus on partner attributes that will serve your company well, both out of the gate and over the long run. For example, look for channel partners:
- Aimed at the same core markets and segments as you are
- With an established positive reputation in your core markets
- Willing to invest in their relationship with your company, such as participating in your training and co-marketing programs
- Able to provide reliable customer references
Once you’ve shortlisted the partners, it’s a matter of picking the people within those companies that you want to induct into your influencer program.
An influencer program can be a powerful asset in countering sales objections. Here are a few well-proven tips from our collection of case studies:
1. Compile and prioritize specific sales objections. Don’t accept generalities at the outset. You can generalize later. Start with clear, articulate objections. Get a good sense of frequency, too.
2. Identify external influencers who have both the credibility and the message to address each sales objection. Remember, your focus is finding 3rd party influencers with credibility in the eyes of your customer decision-makers. The “right” influencer is one who has the credibility and already has the counter-argument to the sales objection.
That’s an important point and it bears repeating:
Your role is to find the right influencers — not to manufacture them.
3. Design appropriate vehicles for capturing influencer counter-arguments and conveying them to decision-makers as objections arise.
It’s straightforward and sheer common sense.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
“My heroes have always been cowboys.
And they still are, it seems.
Sadly, in search of, but one step in back of,
Themselves and their slow-movin’ dreams.”
- Willie Nelson
Promise yourself and your company that your 2009 influencer program will be much more accountable for results, and much less susceptible to A-listers and marketing heroes.
Achieving greater accountability requires 4 things. Know where your company is. Know where you company wants to be. Chart a sensible map to get from one point to the other. Agree on the milestones you’ll use to guage your progress.
Being less susceptible to A-listers and marketing heroes requires 2 things. Evaluate influencers from the viewpoint of decision-makers. Become well informed about the agendas of your chosen influencers, especially those who promote themselves aggressively.
Factor out ego traps and other influence gaming tactics when determining the reach of an influencer’s influence.
The most valuable influencers are the ones who play a key role in your decision-maker ecosystems.
The rest are colorful cowboys.
Rely on simple, straightforward litmus tests to distinguish between the two. Try this one:
Traditional AR programs focus on trend watchers at the analyst firms.
AR programs moving towards influencer relations focus on trend watchers and trend makers.