Lots of people play a part in a typical B2B purchase decision and naturally, identifying them is an important activity for any influencer relations program. You need to know who they are, including their name, job and location. First, you have to figure out who they are. That’s no so easy.
The big temptation is to start by asking the primordial question, “Who’s influencing the decision-makers at my accounts?”, and then jumping right to the obvious answers.
Not so fast!
It pays to back up one step. Start by thinking about the different kinds of people likely to be involved in purchase decisions for your products and services. This exercise helps you form a more complete picture of the influencer landscape. It also helps you avoid falling into ruts. This step encourages you to think about new types of influencers that may have emerged in your market and types of influencers your company tends to overlook.
In my case, I use the 24 categories of influencers from the Influencer Marketing book (page 55) with some additions for some clients. Generally, this basic list covers the ground and more:
Authors and management thinkers
Bloggers (and microbloggers)
Business and trade journalists
Buyers groups, purchasing lists and procurement authorities
Commentators and other individuals
Conferences and events
Consumers and consumer groups
Government agencies and regulators
Individual and niche consultants
Industry bodies, forums and federations
Peers (role-based, industry-based)
VARs, distributors and similar channel partners
Venture capitalists and investors
Get the most out of this exercise by concentrating on the types of influencers likely to have an effect on decision-makers during the actual decision process. Influence can be exerted directly — one-to-one, influencer to decision-makers — or indirectly. Indirect entails exerting influence through intermediaries.
Influencer relations programs focus on 1-to-1 relationships and therefore can be resource-intensive. So it’s a good idea to figure out where you can achieve economies of scale and how to go about doing it. Here are 3 areas with big potential.
Flexible, modular playbooks. A grand plan may work well with a handful of influencers, but it won’t scale across geographies or different types of influencers. Instead, do what the software programmers do. Develop program components that can be reused again and again in various combinations and with minimal tailoring. Communications people have been doing this for decades with collateral. Apply the same principle to influencer interactions.
Examples might include guidelines for an introductory phone call with an influencer, requesting and capturing feedback from influencers on important market issues, producing speaker panels mixing different types of influencers, and templates for frequency and mix of influencer outreach.
Training. Influencer relations requires a baseline of people skills plus some specialty skills. Distance learning, mentoring and shadowing offer different levels of scalability. Distance learning and mentoring offer greater scalability for local and remote one-to-many training. Shadowing is less scalable yet more effective. This approach matches learners with masters, enabling them to observe each other engage with influencers in the real world.
A combination of these 3 models is best, company culture allowing. And, if you’re serious about scalability, couple any or all of these methods with a collaborative knowledge base.
Monitoring. Centralized procurement can help negotiate better pricing on the products and services used for monitoring influencers. You need to listen online and offline. That means monitoring across digital (and possibly physical) media, virtual and physical events, and virtual and physical communities. For multinational programs, consider negotiating with a short list of providers. That’s still the best way to secure consistent levels of quality and coverage across different languages and cultures.
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.
“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.
One of the top 10 questions we’re asked by new clients is, “what’s the best way to measure our influencer program?” Today, there’s no single “right” answer to that question. The answer varies according to the state and direction of the organization, its business objectives, and the market it’s addressing.
Each organization undertakes an influencer program for its own unique set of reasons. Even head-to-head competitors — targeting similar influencers in the same market — often declare different objectives and apply different measures.
That’s not to say there’s a lack of valid techniques for measuring the impact of influencer programs. Quite the contrary. It’s just that there’s no one-size-fits-all formula.
The Word of Mouth Marketing Association is one of the industry groups recognizing the need for a selection of valid measurement approaches. Their measurement research committee suggests that at least 4 measurement models deserve serious attention:
- Customer Value Matrix
- NetPromoter(TM) Economics
- Social Value of Opinion Leaders
- Conversation Value(TM) Model
Thought leaders like Ogilvy’s John Bell are paying attention, just as we are. These models will evolve rapidly. We can all help shape the thinking. We all have a hand in the rate of adoption.
Meanwhile, don’t hesitate to adopt a measurement model that makes sense for your organization.
No high tech influencer program is complete until it addresses sourcing and vendor management executives. You may think that this group of people is buried deep in your customers’ accounting departments, removed from actual decisions. You may think of them more as gatekeepers on properly filled out forms, credit checks, and other accounting records. Not so. These executives wield enormous potential for influencing computer, software, service and device vendor selection, pricing, Ts&Cs, and more.
The current economic condition makes this an ideal time to take a hard look at sourcing advisors and vendor management executives. Check out the insights one group shared with Forrester Research CEO George Colony.
Take a little of our Influencer50 advice: don’t limit your knowledge of these influencers to what you read in a market research report. Get out there and identify them. Then, engage with the ones who matter the most to you in each of your markets.