Love it or hate it, influencer marketing is here to stay.
Co-creating content with influencers can give companies the kind of organic reach they may not otherwise attain through digital campaigns alone. Influencers are also uniquely positioned to enhance your brand’s narrative powers and trustworthiness.
For the B2B sphere, influencer marketing is primarily based on creating and fostering connections with individuals with the right subject expertise in your niche, appropriate audience reach, and—perhaps most importantly—the tone of voice and brand reputation that match those of your company.
Online vs. Offline Influencer Marketing
You may have noticed that a lot of influencer marketing guides talk about identifying online influencers. While it’s true that many B2B brands are efficiently focusing on reaching their target audiences online, offline approaches can be just as effective as online initiatives.
Because B2B sales cycles usually are longer than B2C ones, a B2B brand has to put in more effort to get potential customers to commit to their product or service. This means actively fostering relationships and trust, providing adequate guidance on using the product/service, and eventually persuading customers to commit (often substantial) corporate funds to make a purchase.
When it comes to building those relationships and trust, the impact of influencers can definitely come in handy.
Generally speaking, B2B influencers are well-known and regarded in extremely narrow circles. Often, they might not even have a large online presence but are instead revered for their expertise and know-how offline.
B2B influencers can be researchers, businesspeople, professors, or industry analysts… That is why you should keep in mind that their popularity online is frequently a poor indicator of their actual impact.
Finding and Approaching Offline B2B Influencers
If you’ve never worked with influencers before, you may feel a little lost as to where to find them or how to approach them. You might not have an influencer marketing manager on board, or your full service marketing agency does not offer this kind of guidance.
Luckily, there are some easy online and offline ways of identifying and approaching offline influencers in the B2B sphere. Read on below.
Attend Industry Events
Industry gatherings are ideal for meeting influencers who may be the perfect fit for your company’s strategy. Influencers, influential professionals, and industry experts get invited to important events and conferences all the time.
Therefore, by making sure to attend as many of these events as possible, you will be able to collect insights about influencers that may have otherwise slipped under your radar.
Approaching people you haven’t already established a connection with may be difficult, especially if your only goal is to talk to them about creating successful influencer marketing campaigns together. So, if you want to connect with specific influencers to see whether their work could contribute to your marketing vision, being open about your offer is essential.
To make this process a little easier, always come prepared. This means being able to give a clear and appealing introduction of your company’s values and audience-related goals.
Approaching Influencers in Person
First, if you’re not sure how to best gauge which influencers you should approach, notice how many people are hanging around each of them. This is a good indication that the person is respected in the industry and that their community impact may be beneficial to your business.
Second, remember that the point of these events is to establish fruitful business relationships, and influencers are there to do the same. If you have a product or service that’s worth vouching for, the influencers you have your eye on might be interested in your company, too.
Third, and most importantly, pay attention to how much time an influencer spends talking with other attendees. The more time they spend chatting with others and not with you—or worse yet, ignoring you completely—the less likely it is that they’ve given any thought to working with your brand.
If you have your heart set on a particular person to help you promote your B2B business, try striking up a conversation with them at least once. If you give them a strong pitch, e.g. by mentioning your referral program and other benefits your company is willing to provide for its customers, they may realize they’ve been missing out on a potentially great collaboration.
However, if they seem reluctant or outright disinterested, don’t waste your time trying to persuade them—there are plenty of other influencers in the B2B sea!
Start an Affiliate Program
A great way to identify and connect with influencers you want to work with is to start an affiliate program. This program will allow you to build a stronger relationship and help influencers promote your products and services in exchange for getting a paid commission for each purchase made through their affiliate link, as opposed to a one-off sponsored post.
Affiliate programs are often well-suited for micro influencers, i.e. those who do not have a large social media following but do have incredibly organic reach both online and offline established through their subject expertise.
If you’re looking to learn how to start an affiliate program that appeals to B2B influencers, here are some tips:
- Have an easy pitch point. Make sure your product or service has a short and sweet pitch that people can easily remember and share. This is especially important if the influencer is going to be pitching your service or product in a real-world setting.
- Be flexible. Some influencers are fine with getting the exact lines they should reel off in front of a camera or during a networking event, however, most people want to preserve a level of authenticity when addressing their audience. Give them the flexibility they need to stay true to their personality, but with enough instructions on what must be emphasized when they’re promoting your company.
- Establish a monetization range. Determine how much money you are willing to invest in your affiliate program, i.e. the percentage that the influencer will receive as a commission. Calculate how much money you will need for the best possible case scenario of receiving tons of traffic and orders the same day that your selected influencer starts promoting your brand.
Research Online Databases
There are many online platforms that solely focus on building comprehensive databases for companies or brands looking to find influencers to collaborate with.
For example, just by doing a cursory online search for B2B Healthcare Influencer Database, you would be faced with dozens of results from websites or LinkedIn catering to this particular niche.
Depending on how obscure your niche is, however, you may have more or less luck in finding as many possible offline options as you’d like. Still, if you’re starting out with your hunt for the right kind of B2B influencers for you, online influencer databases may just point you in the right direction.
Have a Great Referral Program
Sometimes, the best kind of offline influencer is a happy customer. This is the client company, or a specific employee at a client company, that can’t stop raving about how good your product or service is and how much it helps them streamline their day-to-day tasks.
Therefore, having a strong referral program in place is a fantastic way of incentivizing satisfied clients to talk about your company with their partners, coworkers, and industry peers.
Sound too far-fetched? According to the Finances Online website, 84% of B2B decision-makers deem that the referral process is where the buying cycle starts for B2B companies.
Although not influencers per se, industry experts or experienced users of services/products like yours can often become offline brand ambassadors. Think about it: these people hold presentations, attend countless work meetings, and connect and network with similar businesses daily offline.
Those offline instances are perfect to motivate your existing clients to act as brand ambassadors by offering to refer other potential clients to your company in exchange for a commission, discount, or any other suitable benefit.
Think about starting a newsletter referral program for companies that would be happy to refer others in their network. By doing this, you get more email contacts of people working at companies who fit your ideal customer profile while also strengthening the existing loyalty and trust you have with the referee company.
Remember, influencers do not have to be established social media personalities with millions of followers as a prerequisite to you seeking collaboration with them. Brand ambassadors can be just as effective when it comes to promoting your company to other interested prospects as any “real” influencer—sometimes, they may even be better at it.
We hope the tips outlined above will give you a good head start on identifying and handling offline B2B influencer marketing!