The Engagers: Chris Herbert on B2B Influencer Marketing

The Engagers: Chris Herbert

In this edition of The Engagers, we hear from Chris Herbert, CMO of Mi6 Agency and Cofounder of Silicon Halton, a community of hi-tech professionals in Halton Region, Ontario, Canada. He has built the successful IXN influencer Thought Leadership program and network from the ground up, sponsored by SAP, and was recently engaged to start Silicon Peel.

I’m thrilled to welcome Chris to The Engagers because he is truly a master in B2B marketing and has proven that influencer marketing, network and community building can have tremendous impact on the bottom line.

Chris, over the last few years, you’ve built successful influencer network programs and communities for the technology industry, including SAP. Your success leaves us begging the question how, but since Rome wasn’t built in a day, why don’t you tell us how you started?

Before I answer that question I think it’s important to define an influencer and why they are important.

An influencer is someone that through their experience, expertise, ideas and track record in a specific domain has earned the respect of a specific market (industry for example) and/or market segment (e.g. office of the CFO).

They are important because their knowledge, research and content help professionals become more informed on key problems being faced by the industry/segment and how to potentially solve them. The good ones short circuit the learning and decision making process for consumers and business professionals. They are often considered trusted advisors and a valued resource.

When the influencer has something to say, present or offer they are considered credible, objective and authentic. They tend to be highly focused on a domain area (relevant to the market segment), have a following of readers, listeners, viewers (reach into the market segment) and finally have supporters that share their thought leadership content and make reference to them via word of mouth (resonance where their voice is amplified by others, without coercion or payment, across the market segment).

Finding external influencers (as opposed to internal influencers you find in sales situations) is not difficult but the key is knowing what and who you are looking for and why. It’s also important to understand and include in your influencer program potential, current and past influencers because they all have important perspectives and important roles to play in your program.

In order to get off to the right start you have to have an end goal in mind for your business and the segment you want your program to cater to. While some may think this is semantics my preference is to refer to these programs as thought leader programs or exchange networks as opposed to influencer programs.

Using tools like Traackr help you discover prospective influencers based on their reach, resonance and relevance. These three lenses are important because they help you narrow down potential candidates for your program.

While Justin Bieber, has a perfect Klout score, he is unlikely going to help a CFO understand how to automate business processes that close the books faster and generate business intelligence dashboards for key lines of business stakeholders. That’s where using a tool like Traackr helps you get started on the right foot.

Perhaps one of the greatest things (other than kryptonite) holding people back from launching into an influencer outreach program is fear of rejection. What type of response do you normally receive? Has an influencer ever rejected your proposal?

An influencer program must be balanced in terms of the value it delivers to the influencer, the company running the program and most importantly the market segment it’s catered to serve. If the market segment benefits from the “product” of the influencer program then you’ve got a better chance of being successful.

When we’re approaching candidates the ones that choose not to participate are more often those who are authors, for hire journalists and paid speakers. We’ve had others decline because they had their own consultant networks.

The key is to understand what each influencer is trying to accomplish with their business, their areas of study and their overall thought leadership agenda. Your influencer program must benefit not only the target market segment(s) but the influencers as well. Mi6 Agency programs do not pay influencers to produce content. Instead we provide other ways for members to create and generate value.

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How do you find ways to engage an influencer without relying on perks? In other words, what can brands meaningfully offer to their influencers?

You really need to understand from the influencer what their priorities are for their business and as a thought leader. That means I need to know the market they are in, understand the segment(s) they cater to and what they want to accomplish.

We work with program members closely and recommend they use the program as a platform for their thought leadership, network and customer development activities. Typically they are looking for subject matter experts to help them fill in knowledge gaps, connections with key people, awareness and engagement in their target market segments and new customers.

Some tactical value add examples we offer members of our thought leadership programs includes providing exclusive access to research materials, subject matter experts and clients for member only interviews and turn-key content packages like our CFO IXN Thought Leadership Podcast Series. This series is professionally produced and brings IXN members together with SAP subject matter experts to discuss topics relevant to the office of the CFO.

What you can never do is put words in their mouth, control what they will/won’t say and put them in a position where their objectivity and impartiality are at risk.

What you have to do is continually innovate by introducing new features to the program, new ways to strengthen the influencer network and create incremental value to the influencer, the market segment(s) and the client.

What do you think a B2C marketer who wants to create an influencer program can learn from a B2B Specialist who’s already done it?

B2C is not my area of expertise so this is an educated guess! An influencer program is probably more applicable for things like automobiles, artists and game publishers vs. chocolate bars and cereals. With that context in mind I have to think that taking a similar approach I outlined in my first answer would be a potential starting point.

Once you have an influencer marketing program up and running, what is the key to maintaining it?

You need to keep the program highly relevant to all stakeholders of the program. The member, the client and the target segment. This means getting feedback, measuring and reporting on success, focused on delivering value and innovating through new ideas and enhancements to the program.

Your influencer network programs have lead to measurable revenue generation. Given all the commotion about social ROI and seemingly inability for many organizations to connect the dots, walk us through the basics of how you go about mapping your influencer initiatives to real dollars (Canadian or otherwise 😉 )

I’m not at liberty to disclose what the ROI has been on specific programs in monetary terms. But, there are key components that you must have in place in order to measure success. First, you need to clearly define what your objectives are for the influencer program.

B2B marketers, especially demand generation specialists, need to generate sales accepted leads. Solution engineers may be looking for unbiased and actionable information about specific problems a market segment is experiencing.

A good influencer should be more than a lead generation program… it should be a network and customer development platform that first focuses on educating all stakeholders (influencers, market segments and the client), generates high value content and interactive exchanges that will lead to the development of buying opportunities and commercial relationships. The key is to always think about generating mutual value.

If there really was was a team of superheros named the Engagers and you were on it, what name would you give yourself?

Superman of course… but I’m a big fan of Ironman too!