Face it, sales professionals: You can’t go it alone. And one of the newest ways to win sales is with influencer marketing.
You might even consider it a relief: You don’t have to be the only one influencing prospects to buy. You have a logical, trustworthy partner letting buyers know the advantages of your solutions and helping with sales development efforts.
With influencer marketing, you find and use thought leaders to drive your brand, product or service to a larger or different market. They most often get the word out through social media, and their work often goes hand-in-hand with your other social selling efforts.
“It’s about building brand trust,” says Brandon Brown, CEO of GRIN, an influencer marketing software solution. “Influencers help make a more meaningful connection with your customers.”
Those connections have a broad reach. They can influence buying decisions with people who aren’t familiar with your solutions, prospects who are already on your radar (and you’re on theirs) and even current and loyal customers.
Here are nine keys to creating an influencer marketing plan that builds sales.
Find your influencers
The good news about this kind of marketing: You probably already have influencers. They might be your biggest customers, raving fans, advocates, largest referral providers … or just promoters.
“The company decides if someone is an influencer,” Brown says. “And eventually the customer decides if he or she is an influencer. But the influencer doesn’t make that decision.”
To choose influencers:
- Look closely at your existing customers, fans, business partners and employees for proof of advocacy and their current influence. You can do a grassroots search – check their profiles and reach, plus your mentions. Or you use one of the many social media analytics tool.
- Consider who your customers already listen to, read and watch. You want to know who is already influencing your customers – and likely connected to your potential customers, too. You can reach out to customers and ask who they follow, listen to, read and watch. Or, even better, ask them to rank their favorites. Also, you can use one of many audience intelligence platforms to dig up these details.
- Use the data to figure out blogs to read, podcasts to listen to, videos to watch and social media accounts to follow. Then you can determine which influencers will be your best fits. You’ll want to look at and compare potential influencers’ strengths and weaknesses in these areas:
- topics covered in each social media channel
- hashtag use and relevance
- best performing content
- history and relationship with your industry
- feedback and engagement with followers, and
- non-social platforms such as books and speaking engagements.
Create, build the relationship
Some of the best ways to create and build relationships with influencers is through flattery and partnerships, according to Jay Baer, author of Talk Triggers: The Complete Guide to Creating Customers with Word of Mouth, and founder of Convince & Convert.
Baer suggests building bonds incrementally. Perhaps you can name an potential influencer to a trendsetter list for your industry. Also, ask an influencer to give thoughts to share on your social media platforms or during a podcast about changes in your industry. Then you might ask them to partner with content creation and sharing.
When you find that a influencer relationship will be beneficial, Baer encourages education. Spend time with influencers teaching them about your company, products, culture, customers and competitors. The more they become engaged with your company the more likely their experiences will be, sound and feel authentic.
Companies and sales professionals can capitalize on influencer marketing to increase brand awareness and reach broader markets as the trend emerges and takes shape.
“The rules are still being written,” Brown says. “Over time, the definition of influencer evolves beyond a social media personality or a blogger. And there’s a lot of potential.”
To make an impact with influencer marketing, embrace change, flexibility and patience. Some early adopters have said they shift gears often, and it can take up to a year to see the benefits of influencer marketing in B2Bs.
Help – but don’t direct – influencers
The beauty of educating influencers is they can become so intimate with your products and customers, they’ll be armed to create content that intrigues buyers and boosts sales.
Try co-creation. Give them some direction by explaining what you want to accomplish through influencer marketing and why. Then let them put their own spin on the benefits and value in your solutions.
Listen to their pitches on content around your solutions and how to promote your events and other social selling efforts, how to engage customers and how to respond to the customer engagement that should arise.
Keep it real
Customers will see through anything that’s not authentic. Any recommendation or promotion that sounds, feels or looks more like a paid endorsement than true affinity for a product or service will flop.
“Never sacrifice authenticity for reach,” Brown says. “It will come back to bite you. If customers feel like it’s fake, they’ll take a revolt approach.”
Exactly what you don’t want to happen with an influencer.
That’s why it’s important to choose influencers who use, love and care about your solutions. Then allow them to share their feelings and experiences in social media channels they’re comfortable with.
Pick your reach
Not all influencers will have the same kind of reach. You’ll want to consider what works best for the buyers you want and level of influence you hope to have.
“If your goal is reach, you want influencers with big followings,” Brown says. “If your goal is to gain trust and create better lifetime value with a solid group, it’s OK to go with a influencer with a small following.”
Micro-influencers have a big impact with a smaller loyal group of real friends. Their engagement is better and the trust is deeper.
Influencers with a big following will reach a larger audience, but the engagement is lower and many may not be your ideal customer.
Know your place
Influencers might have a presence in a variety of channels – Twitter, Instagram, blogs, online professional communities, etc. So which is the best channel for influencer marketing?
“There isn’t a better place,” Brown says. “It’s all about audience alliance. Where is your desired customer?”
You’ll want your influencers “hanging out” and dropping impactful content where your customers are. Look at your current marketing and sales efforts: What avenues bring in the most prospects? What channels do current customers use the most to gather information or make inquiries? Follow their lead to determine where your influencer content needs to be the most.
Compensation is a tricky thing with influencer marketing. Influencers should be compensated for the time and energy they put into creating content and sharing insight. But paying anyone to give positive reviews or drop your brand name and include links to their followers just for cash is advertising.
“If an influencer is just taking money and giving BS, customers will see through it,” Brown says.
Likewise, the best influencers are usually protective of their followers and personal brand. They’ll only take compensation from brands with products and services that truly align with their followers. So make sure you’re well aligned before even considering a partnership and compesation.
Some compensation ideas from research done by the experts at MarketingProfs and GroupHigh:
- Per-post compensation. Almost three-quarters of influencers prefer money on a per-post-basis over partnerships, running ads on their blogs or product trades.
- Mutual-relationship compensation. Smaller hyper-local influencers are sometimes interested in deals where they receive discounts or freebies as part of their relationship. In this case, though, the experts remind us to stay in line with FTC guidelines, and disclose your relationship to buyers.
- Commissioned-based system. You might compensate influencers with a weekly, monthly or quarterly commission based on the number of clients they direct your way.
Measure the value
Worried influencer marketing won’t fly at your company because it’ll be difficult to determine the ROI? Brown says that’s not the case.
There are solid ways to determine the value of the investment in an influencer marketing plan, including:
- Tracking and revenue. Influencers will mainly affect top of the funnel. You’ll want to measure how many leads your influencer’s campaign dropped into the top of the funnel, plus how many of those leads converted to sales.
- Content. Influencers can and will create the content around your brand, product and/or service. Can you use their video, tweet, post, etc. beyond the original run? The more you can maximize the content, the higher the ROI.
- Intangible halo effect. Influencer marketing offers the “halo effect,” which is this strange phenom: Buyers think the influencer is exceptional (or just good) at one thing they care about. Then they believe the influencer is particularly good in other areas. This happens regardless of whether the two areas are related or if the influencer is actually good in the related area! So you can and will want to measure how the influencer improves your overall marketing and sales approach.