According to our research in the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, 74% of marketers surveyed believe that influencer marketing improves prospect and customer experience for B2B brands. If there’s one industry expert to tap on the topic of customer experience, I can think of few more qualified than the author of X: The Experience When Business Meets Design, Brian Solis.
As an 8 time best selling author, keynote speaker, analyst, futurist, digital anthropologist and Global Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce, Brian is a longtime friend that I’ve been able to collaborate with numerous times on marketing topics.
In a time of darkness, chaos, or confusion, B2B brands have an opportunity to be the light. @briansolis
Brian has a lot of inspiring insights when it comes to the intersection of experience and influence. Not only did he author the Influence 2.0 report that we partnered with Traackr on to research, but he contributed to the introduction of the first research report dedicated to B2B influencer marketing: The 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing. Here’s an excerpt:
“In a time of darkness, chaos, or confusion, B2B brands have an opportunity to be the light for their customers and customer’s customers. Meaningful customer engagement starts with discovery. When someone begins their discovery process, what do they find? How do they react? Does your content resonate in a relevant and empathetic way or does it push customers elsewhere?
B2B marketers now have an opportunity to reimagine engagement to ignite a new type of connection with customers. Beyond designing for and measuring the potent for engagement, design for humans and their intentions, needs, and desired outcomes. Engagement becomes a function of intent and purpose.
This is where influence and thought leadership transcend marketing to become partners to drive business growth.”
I recently had the opportunity to connect with Brian to record this latest episode of Inside Influence to talk about a range of topics based on Brian’s experience as an analyst and as one of the most sought after and respected influencers in the business world.
In our discussion, we covered:
- Brian’s role at Salesforce as a Global Innovation Evangelist
- The importance of Always-On Influence and creating value for customers
- What B2B brands should expect from influencer marketing
- The closing gap between B2B and B2C influencer marketing
- What B2B executives should consider when incorporating influence into the marketing mix
- What B2B marketers should expect from influencer marketing agencies
- Most rewarding experience with a B2B brand as an influencer
- The role influencer can play for B2B brands during times of uncertainty
- Tips for B2B executives on becoming more influential (and why)
Below are some of the highlights of our discussion with the full video interview embedded below.
You’ll be coming up on a year into your role as Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce in a few months. Tell us about the work you’ve been doing and what you’re looking forward to in 2021.
Brian: A lot of what my role is what we’re going to be talking about. The word evangelist at Salesforce means something deeper than simple evangelism. It really gets to the core of what you and I have been talking about over the years, which is true influence.
We think about [influence] as adding value to people who need to make decisions about the future of their business. @briansolis
Influence is something that we don’t think about in terms of marketing. We think about it as adding value to people who need to make decisions about the future of their business. Therefore, taking the insights, thought leadership, and ideas to help them do something in a new, different, or better way. So it’s essentially bringing influence down to cause and effect. What is the effect or what is the outcome that you want to see and how you share content, ideas, or whatever package that is, to help that individual or help that organization move forward in ways that they couldn’t have otherwise, without hopefully seeing your work.
When we talk about B2B influence, let’s take out the, “How many followers do you have?” or “How many impressions are you going to drive?” and let’s look at it for what it is, right? A business or an executive needs help in these times of great transformation and disruption. And where do they turn for that when there is not a playbook about building the future? That doesn’t exist, right? What do you do? Where do you turn? Who do you listen to? Right? That’s the role of someone who adds value to the conversation.
You’re essentially building a community around people who are helping one another invent forward, right? To break convention or break mediocrity.
I want to thank you for writing an introduction to our 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report – the first dedicated study of B2B influencer marketing. You mentioned that the need for influence is Always-On. Can you drill down into that?
Brian: Influence never sleeps because people are always in need of information. There’s always something new. There’s always a new opportunity. There’s always a new way to do something differently moving forward. And so this is an opportunity to build an infrastructure within your organization that is constantly adding value to business customers as they seek it in a variety of contexts in their journey.
Influence never sleeps because people are always in need of information. @briansolis
If we think about customer experience in the B to C world, one of the biggest transformations that I hope we’ll see is we’ll see organizations be always on and always connected from within so that the back office and the front office then facilitates a much more intuitive, always on and personalized customer journey.
The same is true for business to business. Business customers are going through that journey. There’s different stages all the time, and they’re always in need of insights, information and engagement. That means the opportunity to engage, the opportunity to provide content, the opportunity to guide their journey is always on. That takes influencer marketing.
We can help that business customer at every stage because of the influencer program that we’ve put in place is designed to add value. @briansolis
Maybe this isn’t so much about influencer marketing as it is about influencer experience. We can help that business customer at every stage because of the influencer program that we’ve put in place is designed to add value. That takes the concepts of influencer marketing, content, and product marketing and essentially creates this much more powerful alliance of ways in which we can think beyond, “Hey, how many views did we get?”, “How many impressions did we get?”, “What was the reach on that last piece of content we created?”
Then we can start measuring things by how many questions we answered, how many people we drove towards the stage to want to know more. And how did we change the thinking among executives and really start to get to a much more meaningful place where influence is essentially a code word for helping people?
A few years ago we both worked (much more you than me) with Traackr on the Influence 2.0: The Future of Influencer Marketing research report where there was quite a gap between B2C and B2B influencer marketing adoption. Has that gap closed much in the past 3 years?
Brian: You know, I don’t have the data around me, but I have to imagine that you had a big deal to do with closing that gap because you’ve been a champion for B2B influence for a really long time. You’ve been a pioneer in actually making this a formal construct within companies. That report that we worked on was our way of not only showing the discrepancy between the two, but actually showing the need for them to be actually more similar than dissimilar.
Influence 2.0 is a concept that was introduced to help marketers think about influence differently than the way that it’s still largely thought about, which is a broadcast mentality or what I call a drafting someone’s social capital. That’s when a person has street cred within an industry and brands want to partner with them so that they can draft their credibility and attach it to our brand.
That’s all fine, but if you’re consistently adding value through strategic partnerships, building trust, and also becoming an influencer yourself, I always believed brands needed to become influencers as well, then we actually can forge an ecosystem, essentially a community of belonging together to make that community stronger for one another and for the market.
I always joked when I spoke to B2B audiences, I specifically loved to use the best B2C examples. I mean anything besides the traditional stuff where we see influencers getting free products and they put it on Instagram. That’s to me, the same as celebrity endorsements, I’m talking about influences outcomes. Like, “I trust you. I value what you’re thinking. You’re guiding me in my decision-making.”
I want to push business to business forward to remind them that there are human beings on the other side of that screen. @briansolis
Whether I’m a consumer or whether I’m a business customer, that’s what I talk about with influence. I want to push business to business forward to remind them that there are human beings on the other side of that screen, right? If you could humanize something, then people will find it more relatable. It’s not like as a business customer, they’re not consumers. It’s not like they say, okay, I’m done shopping for headphones and now I have to look at B2B enterprise systems here, so I’m going to forget what it was like to be treated as a human being. I actually think that humanization is what can make B2B even stronger.
Our research found that 77% of marketers say that their prospective customers rely on advice from industry influencers and yet 60% say they do not have the skills or expertise in-house to execute influencer programs. Of course many of those marketers trust outside experts like agencies to help. What do you think B2B marketers should expect from agencies or consultants when it comes to influencer marketing programs?
Brian: I hope that agencies think of themselves as partners in trust-building. Because it changes the conversation from marketing. Part of the challenge is, what’s the brief or what’s the remit? And how does someone respond to that?
I think for thoughtful organizations on the outside, you should probably consider influencing the decision makers as well. Meaning, that you should become an influencer in helping your customers understand that what they’re buying from you is not just the ability to connect them with people who have a lot of followers or audiences or networks or proven track record of content. But you’re actually partnering with them to build a market of trust, to build a community, an Always-On community. When I research the decisions I need to make it happens at midnight, you know? Influence never sleeps, right?
You have to find the things and the trusted voices when you can and you want them to be recent. You want them to be contextually relevant, which means I can’t just find an article. Maybe I want data visualization. Maybe I need a video, whatever it is, right. I need to find it my way. So, I actually think that this is an opportunity for agencies, partners, or consultants to influence their buyers so that the briefs now start to ask for bigger, better things.
This is an opportunity for agencies, partners, or consultants to influence their buyers so that the briefs now start to ask for bigger, better things. @briansolis
I wrote, I think, the first industry report on digital influence back in the day about 2011 and in that, I talked about authority and popularity and what I see, especially in B2B, we see it in B2C too, the authority part of this was always under appreciated. Authority essentially says, I not only know what I’m talking about, I know what you’re going through. So therefore, that’s what’s inspiring a lot of my work and hopefully I can earn your trust because that’s the consideration set I’m bringing to the table.
That’s the work that external partners need to do to help internal partners who are caught up in everything that they have to deal with beyond influence – everything that they have to constantly substantiate and try to justify all of the work in the investments that they’re making. Those things will become much more valuable within the organization if they can tie it to business outcomes or to customer lifetime value or to things that actually have an impact on the business.
I can tell you after doing this for so many years, tying my work to those things, that’s all a customer is looking for: real help. And a business is looking for outcomes and the two are mutually beneficial. So let’s help those decision makers think beyond influencer marketing and more about influence.
The pandemic and many other forces driving a feeling of uncertainty and change have created an environment where there are new challenges, yet also opportunities. What role do you think influence can play in helping brands during these “uncertain times” better connect with customers?
Brian: I think ultimately, yes. It’s not that it’s never not been important. There’s just a lot of uncertainty right now. There’s also a lot of fear, anxiety, stress, and anger. These are just human, natural human feelings that exist. These are things we’re dealing with. We’re coping. We’re not just working from home or trying to work from home during a pandemic with a whole bunch of other stuff like remote learning or whatever it is in our households. Right?
So that importance of light that we talked about in the ignite moment, that’s more important than ever. Add to that the digital distractions that everybody’s dealing with that’s now compounded more because we have to be digital first. Those opportunities to deliver value and build trust are more important and actually more valuable than ever before.
Those opportunities to deliver value and build trust are more important and actually more valuable than ever before. @briansolis
That’s what I think we want people to think about here leaving this conversation. If I had to reinvent my definition of influence and my approach to it because of 2020, what would I do differently? If I could set aside 20 years of work in March and start all over again, you can do it, because it only makes you more relevant and better. That’s ultimately all we want to do and that’s ultimately what people are looking for.
Any tips you can share with senior B2B brand executives on becoming more influential themselves?
Brian: There are individuals that I think do a really amazing job within brands, whether they know it or not, that make that brand trusted and much more influential within the customer community.
Talk to Paul Greenberg for example. Paul’s a dear friend and an incredible, Godfather of CRM, an incredible analyst and also an incredible human being. He empowers individuals who feel like they want to change within organizations to go and change within these organizations because they know it’s what’s right for the community.
So, I think the first part is caring. You’re not just trying to be an influencer and run an influencer marketing program, because you care about the fact that customers are struggling to find information. They’re frustrated because they couldn’t previously do the things to make the impact that they really wanted to make. Influencer marketing or influence in that regard just becomes a means, a mechanism of which to activate a community.
What does it take to be a thought leader? Well, you have to be a thought leader. @briansolis
So that part is about caring, which is actually a rare, rare gift out there. The other piece is, what does it take to be a thought leader? Well, you have to be a thought leader. And that means you have to actually know what is happening out there, what people are struggling with. And you have to care so much about solving that, that is the heart of everything that you do. Then, hopefully it inspires you to see a different path forward of which becomes your unique voice.
Ultimately, what influence means is, “What impact did you have?” @briansolis
Of course, the mechanics of making that voice heard is not just about how loud you are or how you put fear into people or how popular you get. Ultimately, what influence means is, “What impact did you have?” I think those things are where businesses need to focus and where business leaders need to rethink what it takes to build that brand, that trusted brand out there.
To see the full Inside Influence Episode 9 interview with Brian Solis, check out the video below:
Be sure to check out our previous Inside Influence B2B Influencer Marketing interviews: