Is influencer marketing effective for industrial buyers?

Ed Marsh | Dec 3, 2015

What's real vs. what's marketing babble

Take a minute (actually 2:01) to watch this video....see if it resonates.



For sure you've had marketing "experts" carry on about key metrics, knowing full well that you know that they know that they're a bit silly (OK, that's generous - in many cases they're completely absurd!)

It's easy to follow those experts down rabbit holes of irrelevancy for industrial sales.  And it's understandable - in most cases the marketing experts have careers in....that's right, marketing.  They haven't been on factory floors, they haven't actually practiced industrial sales and they haven't carried industrial P&Ls.

In the Dec Inc magazine there is research cited from McKinsey's Center for Talent Innovation.  One of the statistics is that companies are 158% more likely to understand a customer's needs when that have a shared background.  The research appears to reference cultural/ethnic diversity, but it's applicable here as well.  And it's precisely why so many efforts fall flat.  If marketers haven't run industrial manufacturing businesses they simply can't speak the language as intuitively or empathetically as others that have.

And yet we know from IHS Global Spec research that upcoming generations of engineers and industrial buyers turn to the internet and social media for information to help them do their jobs.

And as I wrote recently, these rising engineers very likely trust the collective wisdom of reviews and referrals more than they do individual experts.

Is influencer marketing effective for B2B sales?

Onalytica recently listed me (@EdBMarsh) as one of the 100 most influential Twitter thought leaders on the subject of B2B Marketing.  (I was #21 on the list.  You can download the report here.)

It's great to be found empirically to belong in a group including folks like Michael Brenner (@BrennerMichael - former VP of Content Marketing at SAP) and Joe Pulizzi (@JoePullizzi.)  That's company among which I'm excited to find myself.  But it got me thinking about the applicability to my work with manufacturers.  Top line growth through B2B marketing and industrial sales is different than kicking ideas around the ether with others who think about such topics.

The answer is yes, influencer marketing is critically important in many industrial sales situations - especially as new buyers expect to include product & service reviews and feedback as part of their buying journey research and comparison.

But clearly there's a right way and a wrong way.

Conversation and engagement....not just promotion

Think of this in the context of real world referrals for complex B2B sales.  How much business are you likely to win by posting a generic business card on the bulletin board at your local coffee shop.  Zilch.

But develop a great relationship and credibility with some prominent and influential business leaders, and their referrals will carry substantial influence in many cases.  And the medium of referrals for upcoming engineers is online research.

Andy Preisler (@AndyPreisler) offered 5 tips to engage this Gen C cohort in a recent article via Content Marketing Institute.  He says Gen C:

  1. thrives within online communities
  2. loves to share content....if it's worthwhile
  3. depends on people to gauge product trustworthiness
  4. wants to work with companies that help them solve problems
  5. is interested in personal development and in companies with principles

If you think of influencer marketing as just blasting lots of messages out on social media, you'll be grievously disappointed.  If, however, you set out to engage with others who advocate and vouch for you, you'll find much more value to influencer marketing in your industrial sales.

Exception to every rule

Of course as soon as you think it's figured realize otherwise.  I had a really interesting conversation this week with a client (traditional, conservative, Midwestern industrial manufacturing company) who said that there's no applicability for Twitter in our work because neither they nor their prospects/customers use it.  You can imagine the surprise when we opened up the analytics to discover that they had found us through.....that's right....a tweet on B2B marketing.  

Back to influence

Create opportunities for users to post testimonials, reviews, ratings and evaluations.  If you're hesitant because there may be some that are uncomplimentary, then get a thicker skin, recognize that they're going to be shared somewhere anyway, and get to work on fixing any legitimate issues that they raise.

And you've got to be consistent and focused.  Success isn't the product of a quarter long initiative.  Rather it's only achieved with a long-term, strategically envisioned and relentlessly executed effort.

Finally, contrary to today's current wisdom that everything must be ridiculously simple, this will actually be a complex project.  Wondering whether you might be oversimplifying your growth strategy?  Download our free eBook to decipher how simple is simple enough.

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