In-Ear Insights: What Is B2B Influencer Marketing?

In this week’s In-Ear Insights, Christopher Penn and Katie Robbert discuss B2B influencer marketing, which is becoming more prominent in the B2B marketing space. B2B influencer marketing is an endorsement where a B2B marketer uses their influence to endorse a product or service because of the reputation they have. Unlike B2C, B2B influencer marketing is less transactional and more about building trust. To use influencer marketing in B2B, it’s essential to start with purpose and find the right influencer who orbits around the ecosystem close enough that the work they do is complementary. When identifying influencers, laterals with a similar audience but not doing the same thing can be useful. It’s also essential to look for influencers whose audience is the decision-makers, which is who you are trying to reach. Tune in to learn more!


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In-Ear Insights: What is b2b influencer marketing?

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Christopher Penn 0:00

In this week’s In-Ear Insights, let’s talk about B2B influencer marketing.

So influencer marketing has been a hot thing since social media really came about.

Although the idea of people being influential and influencing decisions is as old as time itself.

B2B marketing has typically been a little further behind in B2C marketing on influences obviously, you’d have people like you know, Kardashian talking whatever random, you know, consumer goods that they they’ve been asked to do.

But B2B marketing is also seeing this become more prominent once just the domain of analysts like Gartner and Forrester and the Forrester Wave and stuff in G to crowd.

Now, individuals are participating as strong influences in a B2B influencer marketing.

So Katie, as the CEO of a B2B company, and as someone who is involved in the influencer marketing space in the social media space and things what what is B2B influencer marketing to you?

Katie Robbert 1:03

To me, it’s an endorsement.

It’s so you know, let’s say Chris, you and I didn’t work together.

But if you said, You know what this company that Katie has, they know what they’re doing, I would work with them.

That is you as a B2B marketer, using your influence to endorse my thing, because of the reputation that you felt because of the following that you have, you would be considered a B2B influencer in the analytics and data science and digital marketing space.

And so people hearing the things that you can get behind make you an influencer and therefore people trust your judgment.

And so it’s, I think, B2B influencer marketing is a little different from B2C in the sense that like, sometimes the products, the services are not as immediately tangible.

And so if you think about companies like IBM that sell big enterprise software, then an influencer for a company like IBM is going to look very different than someone who’s endorsing a pair of earrings that you can immediately just buy off the shelf.

Christopher Penn 2:25

One of the things that we used to say back in our public relations day is that was that influencers are do the same thing as PR and a lot of ways, right, they derive two fundamental factors, awareness and trust.

And in B2C, you see influencers really doing a lot of the awareness side of things, right, like, Hey, here’s this new product when you watch Google foods on YouTube, and he’s like, hey, check out, you know, RAID shadow legends or whatever, you know, video game was being toxic.

It’s building that awareness.

And it seems like, based on what you you’ve said, with B2B Marketing, it’s less about it, there’s still an awareness play to some degree, but there’s, there’s much more of that trust factor of, hey, this company is reputable, or, Hey, this company is not.

Katie Robbert 3:08

I think it’s because of the nature of how B2B sales works.

And so B2C business to consumer.

It’s very, it can be very transactional, whereas B2B business to business.

It can be transactional, but the, the thing you’re selling might not be completely tangible.

And so you need to think about how you’re using an influencer and what they’re actually doing.

So they could be driving awareness for your brand.

And that’s still a really good use of an influencer.

But what are they driving awareness for? What are they actually talking about? What are they doing? Are they partnering with you in the sense of like, you know, Chris, you partner with IBM and talk about IBM services, and people, you know, know you, and they know the type of work that you do.

So therefore, they’re like, oh, maybe I should go look at IBM, maybe I should go see what they’re up to.

And so you’re driving awareness, but you’re also driving that trust.

But it’s not immediately transactional,

Christopher Penn 4:12

as a B2B buyer, because you are you make decisions about who Trust Insights does business with how do influencers play a role in your decision making process?

Katie Robbert 4:25

I find, working with influencers to be less of a formal thing.

It’s I honestly I treat it almost like a trusted network and word of mouth.

And so if, you know my good friend, Gini Dietrich says, Hey, I tried out this piece of software and I really liked it.

I think you should try it.

I trust her judgment because I know the type of due diligence she does with these things.

And so I am more likely to also try this piece of software.

Or if someone like, you know, Ann Handley partners with the marketing AI Institute people know that Uh oh, well, she’s not an AI person.

But she’s partnering with that maybe I should set up and pay attention to what Paul wrote sir is doing with his Institute because and, you know, decided to work with them.

And so I see B2B influencers is more of like, friends sharing recommendations, versus these celebrities in the B2C space that you’ve maybe never met.

Christopher Penn 5:26

So if I’m a marketer, and I want to, I want to use influencer marketing and B2B Somehow, where do I start? What should I be thinking about? Do I just go and find who’s popular?

Katie Robbert 5:40

I mean, you can, it’s probably the worst way to approach it.

Um, you know, I think I would be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to bring up the five P’s to start with purpose.

What is the reason that you’re bringing on an influencer? What question are you answering? What problem are you solving by bringing on an influencer to your marketing campaign? And so for us, you know, if we were to say, You know what, maybe influencers are the way to go, they’re really going to drive awareness, they’re really going to drive trust, we need to first figure out like, what is that person doing? And then we can start to figure out are, is there anyone who makes sense? Who would fit that role?

Christopher Penn 6:26

Okay, and then what about the rest of the piece when it comes to influencer marketing? So yeah, we know, for example, for our company, awareness is, is a big part of our strategic plan for this year.

How do we how do we do the people the process in the platform for that?

Katie Robbert 6:45

So with the people, I sort of see there’s two roles there.

So one is the person who is managing the influencer.

And that’s either myself or you, Chris.

And then the other is the actual influencer, once we get to the point of selecting who that person is.

And so that’s managing that relationship.

The process is what is that influencer actually doing? How are they sharing information about Trust Insights? Where does that information go? And then the platform is, how is that information being disseminated? And then also, what platforms are we using to measure that they’re doing what they need to do? And then performance is that they help us? Did they hurt us? Is our reputation better? Did we drive awareness? Do we did we increase our digital footprint and, you know, referral, traffic awareness, people trusting our brand?

Christopher Penn 7:40

Okay, so let’s I know we’re on the live stream this week, we’re going to be talking about the performance section, the measurement of it.

When you think about identifying influencers, let’s say that awareness is our purpose, which it is, what are we looking for? Who are we looking for, I guess, would be the way to look at that?

Katie Robbert 8:02

Well, and I think, unlike B2C, and I don’t want to knock people who work in B2C influence and marketing, because there’s a lot of work that goes into there.

But with B2B, I personally feel like you need to be a little bit more selective, because not everyone is going to be a right fit.

And so, you know, IBM wouldn’t necessarily come to me and say, Hey, we want you to help drive awareness, especially since I personally have never talked about IBM, I don’t do the kind of work that IBM does.

And so I’m the wrong fit to help be an influencer for IBM, whereas you, Chris, you do data science, you work within the same kind of methodologies that IBM does.

So it’s a good fit.

So we would need to look for someone who orbits around our ecosystem close enough that the work that they do, we can draw somewhat of a straight line to the work that they do.

And so again, sort of using that example of Ann Handley, she’s a writer, she’s a content marketer.

And so we wouldn’t necessarily ask her to be promoting our, you know, attribution analysis or predictive forecasting, unless we could draw that line from what it is that we do, to how it benefits the kind of work that she does, so that she could credibly talk about it in a way that her audience be like, Oh, now I get it.

How do you navigate

Christopher Penn 9:31

the conflicts of interest? Right? That’s something that use at least I see a lot in B2B influencer marketing, where if we’re looking for, say, people who are influential in analytics, right, there’s a good chance that they do exactly what we do.

Right, because it’s not a huge space.

And so is it just that you’re looking for laterals like people who have a a similar audience but not doing the same thing? And if so, then how do you deal with the fact that that part and might not be able to talk credibly about what it is we do.

Like, for example, I love and I think she’s one of the best people we know, would I ask and to talk about, for example, softmax layers in a neural network? Probably not no offense, and

Katie Robbert 10:16

she would take offense to that, because that proves the point that I was making to

Christopher Penn 10:20




So is it? Is it those laterals that, like this audience is close enough? Or is it perhaps maybe that the decision makers, which is really who you’re trying to reach, also don’t have that technical knowledge, so the people who would have the technical knowledge, maybe you don’t need to get in front of them?

Katie Robbert 10:40

I look at it as complimentary.

And so maybe that’s what you’re saying when you say lateral.

And so we look at, you know, an agency like the marketing AI Institute, Paul wrote, sir Kathy, MC Phillips might put they, on paper, they’re talking about artificial intelligence, we’re talking about artificial intelligence.

But as we’ve gotten to know them, as a company, we know that the things they do are complimentary and not, you know, competitive to us.

And so there’s enough space in the room for both you and Paul, to be talking about artificial intelligence without it being competitive, because you’re offering different point of views and different approaches to the same topic.

And so that’s the kind of thing that I look for when I’m thinking about partners and influencers, who have a similar, but slightly different audience so that there’s some overlap.

But then there’s the approach to the topic is slightly different.

And so you know, I’m, I know, we’re kind of picking on and, but and a really good example, she has a very loyal, very dedicated, non technical audience.

So if someone like Ann is wrapping her head around the type of work that we’re doing and saying, and this is why you the non technical person need to pay attention, her audience is going to pay attention.

But she first, like, our education starts with her first, we can’t just approach her and say, Hey, can you talk about neural networks? And she’d say, Absolutely not.

Absolutely not.


Christopher Penn 12:16

As someone looking for influences, then how do you? How do you know who’s the real deal? And who’s not? We know plenty of people who talk a whole lot.

They talk a good game, but they don’t have any actual expertise.

Does that matter with influencer marketing? Or, you know, for example, with it, especially with an awareness goal? Doesn’t matter, that they’re kind of talking out of both sides of their mouth? Or do we just care like, okay, they’re, they’ve got the audience, we need the audience, let’s work with them, even though they’re a dummy.

Katie Robbert 12:51

I think it depends on your comfort level, with risk.

And so if you bring on someone who, you know, you’re admittedly saying, you know, talks out of both sides of their mouth, but they have a great audience, you are taking the risk, that the credibility that you’ve built for your business could be damaged by their lack of credibility.

But if you’re okay with that, and you just want the numbers, that’s your decision.

So it comes down to what you’re comfortable with for us, I would never do that.

Because you know, me, I’m very risk averse.

And so I would be looking for someone who knows what they’re talking about.

And so you were actually telling me, You gave me this example, a few weeks back that there’s a new marketing and AI type conference, and they were looking for speakers who’ve been talking about artificial intelligence longer than just the past 12 months.

And I was that, to me was like, a light bulb, because Yeah, everybody’s talking about artificial intelligence.

And so if they’re not doing their due diligence, they could get a lot of disingenuous con artists up on their stage, who can say a bunch of, you know, big, fancy words that don’t really mean anything.

But this conference is going out of their way to do that research to say, but who actually knows what they’re talking about? who’s actually been talking about this for the past 567 1015 years, however long it’s been available, who’s been out there doing it the longest, and who actually does it in practice day to day, and that’s the approach that I would take, it’s going to take longer to find those influencers.

But once you find those people, then you can build those long standing relationships with them, because then you know, they know what they’re talking about, and they know that you’ve done your homework to find them.

I recall, Chris, that you used to have a slide somewhere that was like three different types of influencers.

And so there was the people who were not as well known, who are going to be less expensive, but You know, when they had something to say people like would sit up and pay attention, then there’s sort of that middle of the road.

You know, they might do the speaking circuit, maybe they know a little bit about a lot of things.

So they’re not truly the expert, but people know them.

They know the reputation.

And then you have the people who are like the big broadcasters who have been just they have the network, they have the audience, you know, they’ll pretty much sell anything, you know, ice to an Eskimo?

Christopher Penn 15:27

Yeah, exactly.

It was, we used to call broadcasters, mayors.

And I forgot that we had a clever name for the third category.

But yeah, the reclusive sort of true experts, who are the ones that say these are the EF Huttons of the world, though, when they get referenced in the 1980s commercial, when EF Hutton speaks, everyone listens.

The mayor’s are especially important in B2B marketing.

So let’s say, Katie, you wanted to talk to somebody say, at Citrix Systems.

As an example, a mayor is the kind of influence where you would say, hey, I need an intro to Paul Dobson.

At cloud software group, I need I need, how can you get me in touch with him? Even if that person is huge on social media, if they have the relationship they can do that introduction is super valuable in B2B marketing, and it’s something that is very hard to measure.

And then yeah, of course, the bounce.

One of the things that’s challenging, particularly with B2B, because there is a fair amount of expertise required for a lot of areas is the difference between experience and expertise.

Right? There are a lot of people who can very credibly, everyone can very credibly talk about their experience, I have had this experience, this is my experience with the software or this thing.

But fewer people have the expertise to talk about that software.

If you’re talking about accounting software, we all have experience with accounting.

We very few of us are CPAs.

And so when you look at influencers, how much do you weigh expertise versus experience?

Katie Robbert 17:19

It really depends on the question you’re trying to answer.

And so you know, if I’m looking for someone to use that example of accounting software, if I’m looking for someone to speak to their experience with accounting software, as a real end user, then I’m just looking for experience not expertise.

Versus if I’m looking to, you know, get on the big keynote stage at the QuickBooks conference.

And obviously, I want someone who’s an expert, and knows the system in and out.

So it really depends on the question I’m trying to answer by using an influencer.

You know, you said something, as you were talking about the three different kinds that I wanted to hit upon.

And that was, you know, the social media reach.

And so I think that that is a big misconception with how you should go about deciding if this person has an influence or not.

And so, you know, for example, Chris, you and I have a very different number of followers, and connections on social media, just because we have been doing it for different amounts of time, we use social media different.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that I would not be well suited to be an influencer for certain things.

Because of my social media presence.

A smaller network might mean it’s a more focused, more targeted network.

Whereas a larger network, and I don’t mean to pick on you might just be a more broad speaking into the ether.

And so those are the types of things that you would also want to pay attention to, when looking for influencers.

And so if you need someone in like a very, you know, niche market who speaks only to a certain type of person, those people are out there, and they don’t have a large following, and that’s generally on purpose.

Christopher Penn 19:08

Oh, totally.

That was something that we talked about.

At the SAP and analytical Summit, not too not too few weeks ago, where it especially in B2B, social media, is probably not a great indicator of influence, right? If you work in medicine,, which is the the Bio Archive the papers, the academic paper repositories, that’s where your influences are, right? These are the people who are writing real academic studies, if you’re in like pharma, for example, that’s, that’s where you’re going to find your influences.

If you’re in law, your influences are in LexisNexis, right? They’re not public.

Even if you’re in software, the people you know, you may look at somebody and say, Okay, well, they have 22 followers on Twitter yet but they’re also gardeners lead analyst on this particular type.

Cloud software.

So those 22 followers don’t matter the fact that this person can make or break your company by putting you in the Gartner magic quadrant is important.

And one of the challenges that we see with the influencer marketing space overall, particularly in B2B is there’s not a lot of software that can dig into all those proprietary systems because they’re proprietary like a you need a LexisNexis subscription to even be able to see the data in there, much less be able to analyze and say, oh, this person knows litigation, let’s get let’s get that person to represent help represent our firm.

Katie Robbert 20:38

makes me wish I still had my credentials from when I got my paralegal degree.

I could probably get them out from somewhere.

Christopher Penn 20:45

That’s good.

I’m sure you can go dig them up or just pay the company an exorbitant amount of money.

Katie Robbert 20:49

You know, there’s always that route.

You know, what strikes me and I feel like this might be a different conversation is there’s a difference between influence between having influence and then being an influencer.

And so someone who has influence you know, they are a decision maker, they’re a trendsetter.

They’re a, you know, to use the term a tastemaker.

So someone who’s making these decisions without necessarily saying and everybody needs to follow what I’m doing.

They’re just sort of doing the thing.

And because of their reputation, because of the decisions they’ve previously made, their historical, you know, you know, good track record, people see them as someone who has influence versus an influencer, who’s trying to get you to pay attention to what they’re doing.

You know, bringing on a Kardashian, for example, is an influencer versus you know, someone who’s not paying attention like an Anna Wintour.

You know, who’s just doing the influencing.

If that makes sense.

It does

Christopher Penn 21:55

make sense.

And so particularly in the context of B2B influencer marketing, then, to your point, a lot of the times the sales process and B2B is, you know, committee based RFPs, all that wonderful, fun stuff.

And you have to make the shortlist that the intern puts together the top 20 companies in space, we got to be in the Magic Quadrant or the Forrester Wave or the Jeetu crowd whatever.

In that context of the B2B Brian buying process, then we where do you see influencers? Or where do you where do you see exertion of influence being most helpful, right, is it? And then who is it that are you influencing one of the things that we have seen a lot in B2B marketing in the last 10 years is Account Based Marketing The idea that you’re not targeting a specific person at a company? You’re trying to target the company as a whole? Because yeah, the junior account coordinator at the bottom, the firm is the one put into the shortlist, and they don’t know who you are.

You don’t make the shortlist, even if the CEO knows who you are, because there’s a very codified RFP process.

So how do you think about the exertion of influence in that B2B marketing context?

Katie Robbert 23:06

Well, I think I mean, that’s exactly it.

And so the person who’s influential isn’t necessarily the person who’s, you know, you’re going out there to get the influencer.

And so there are two different topics.

And so in that example, the person you want to influence the person you want to set up and pay attention is the person who’s making that shortlist.

And so that means that you need to have, you know, a really good brand awareness, a really good digital footprint you need to have, you know, worked with the Gartner Magic Quadrant, you need to make sure that your company is credible and has a good reputation so that you can be found for the thing you want to be found for so that when they’re making the shortlist, you show up on it that may use some assistance from an influencer.

But the influencer isn’t necessarily who’s going to get you on, you know, the Gartner Magic Quadrant.

Because let’s say, you know, you know, again, just to pick on him, like let’s say Anne’s giving us an endorsement, she’s saying Trust Insights is great.

They do amazing work.

That’s not necessarily going to get us on to the Magic Quadrant to then get us onto a shortlist.

Christopher Penn 24:18

Right, and I feel like the the third dimension here is something that you talked about earlier, which is risk, right B2B.

Selling B2B sales is very much a risk mitigation process because especially for stuff when you get into enterprise level software, you’re talking $50 million projects.

You don’t want to have an albatross around your neck as being the guy who chose this vendor said this vendor and you know, and three years and $150 million later, you still have nothing to show for it.

So a big part of that influencer marketing is that helping that mitigation of risk to say like yes, this is a safe purchase, like you will not lose your job if you choose this vendor.

And yet, I don’t know Silly no that people consciously think about that.

Do you think about that when you’re reading the opinions of influential folks about, you know, products and services that we’re gonna buy as a company?

Katie Robbert 25:10

I do? I do.

But that’s because again, I’m very risk averse.

And I don’t trust anybody.

I think everybody’s a scam artist.

No, I’m just kidding.

I’m only like, 90% true.

No, but it’s, at the end of the day, at least for me, and this is my own personal, you know, way of working is, I will take a look at the opinions of other people, I will take them into account.

But, you know, at the end of the day, if we’re spending our hard earned money, I want to be accountable for my own decisions and not say, Well, you know, this guy over here, he told me it was the right decision.

So I just blindly made it.

You know, I feel like that, at least for me, that’s the wrong way to approach business.

But it is helpful to at least see what other people have tried, and what other people have endorsed.

But I have to take into account, they’re not necessarily making the same exact decision that I’m meeting to make.

So I have to take their opinions with a grain of salt.

But again, that’s just one person.

Christopher Penn 26:14

That’s one person.

But I think, you know, again, we’ve we’ve certainly had plenty of discussions on our side of the table as a vendor, trying to overcome resistance to a sale because people are risk averse.

Like, I don’t know if this is a good idea or not.

So in influencing may be helpful there to help overcome that resistance to say like, Yeah, this is something that everybody else except he was doing.

They were all succeeding more than you are.

So you should probably do this thing too.

Okay, so I feel like we have a pretty good understanding of what B2B influencer marketing is.

So again, on the livestream this week, we will be chatting through that if you want to tune into the live streaming, it’s always available at trust we air Thursdays at 1pm Eastern Time, which is to choose your timezone.

If you’ve got stories that you want to share or perspectives on influencer marketing, pop on by our free slack group go to trust for marketers, where you over 3000 other marketers are asking and answering each other’s questions every single day.

And wherever does he watch or listen to the show? That there’s a channel you would rather have it on instead, go to trust podcast we are on most major channels.

Thanks for tuning in.

I will talk to you next time.

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