If you're a B2B (business-to-business) firm, having a strong Centers of Influence (COI or just Influencer, aka Referral) program is a proven long-term strategy to help you succeed.
What we're not talking about here is hiring Instagram celebrities to promote your brand. 1) that's ridiculously expensive, and 2) probably not appropriate for most B2B firms.
What we are referring to is other professionals and trusted advisors that also work with your customers. By tapping into your Center of Influence (COI's, also just Influencers) you can build a strong, supportive network of synergistic businesses that will send each other referrals.
You may be doing this already. Many successful businesses, salespeople, and entrepreneurs do so naturally. If you're not, get started, and if you are, think about formalizing your approach and watch your results accelerate.
How to Build a B2B Influencer Marketing Strategy
Putting together a B2B influencer marketing strategy is a multi-step process. It's similar to creating other customer marketing or lead generation programs, but the objectives are different.
1. Set Your Goals
The first step to creating a strategy is to define your goals. What do you want to achieve through your Center of Influence? Some common goals:
- Create Awareness for your Firm
- Build knowledge of the services you provide, and what your point of differentiation, competitive advantage, or your unique value proposition is
- Position yourself and your firm as trusted advisors for the types of customers you focus on
- Generate new business referrals
MORE INFORMATION: Your Center of Influence strategy can also be a strong contributor to becoming a recognized expert. Read more about it here: 7-Steps to Becoming a Recognized Expert
2. Define Value
It's also important to think about how you can provide value back to your influencer. What information can you provide them that will be helpful to them when they are dealing with the customer? Think beyond just generating leads. The more value you can add to the relatioship with the influencer, the more likely they are to see you as a trusted contact that they will want to come back to over and over.
3. Find Influencers
Next, think about who your customers' influencers might be. If you are dealing with business owners and entrepreneurs consider other professionals they deal with.
- The "Holy Trinity" Center of Influence - Banker, Lawyer, Accountant. Most business owners and entrepreneurs deal regularly with these three types of organizations, and view them as critical to the success of their business.
- Depending on the types of customers you deal with, perhaps also consider Financial Advisors, Estate Planners, Commercial Insurance Brokers, Benefits Advisors, Commercial Realtors
- Look for influencers that deal with the same type and size of customers that you do. Finding a legal counsel for a Fortune 500 firm is great, but if you deal with start-ups, neither of you will get much value out of the relationship.
4. Build a List/Database of Influencers You Want to Connect With
Use local search listings, LinkedIn, Chambers of Commerce, BNI networking groups, Business Improvement Associations, and other similar sources to find out who your target influencers are.
Within mid-size or larger firms, look for different entry points. Often a Managing Partner or President is not the individual that's dealing with customers. Find the ones that are.
Enter this list into your CRM tool so that you can begin to track and measure results. A CRM is also a good tool to remind you that you need to reach out or follow-up with individuals on your list.
5. Connect with Influencers
You’ll then want to contact the influencers and connect with them individually, one at a time. It's important that they see you as an equal, and not as someone that is trying to sell something to them. This is very important.
What might this process look like?
- Send them a LinkedIn connection request. If they are not active on LinkedIn give them a call, send them an email, or if you know who they are, approach them at a business or chamber event. The point is to make an introduction and connection.
- Follow-up shortly thereafter with a follow-up message thanking them for connecting and suggesting that it would be beneficial to connect in the future
- Send them an email suggesting you meet for a coffee or lunch
- When you do meet, introduce yourself but spend as much time as possible getting to know the other individual. Find out about them, their firm, and their own interests
- At a later date, reconnect with them and repeat the coffee/lunch
- After 2-3 face-to-face meetings (and 3-5 messages/emails before and in-between), or until you feel comfortable that you have built rapport and comfort, suggest that you meet at your offices or business to discuss getting to know each other's businesses better and how you can work together
- At your office set up an informal meet and greet with your firm's key customer facing staff. Invite your influencer contact to bring their team. You can have refreshments and make it more of an informal mingler. Keep introductions and your firm presentation brief, and have a clear start and finish time. This could also be done at a restaurant over lunch, or a nearby watering hole. Any place that both firms will want to bring their teams, and where there could be an opportunity for your folks to mingle.
- Follow-up with information about your firm, and list off 2-3 ways that you would like to work together. This could be in looking for joint presentations or speaking engagements, joint customer/prospect hostings (lunch, golf, game, symphony, etc. - whatever is of mutual interest)
6. Reward and Measure Results
Once you've begun to deepen the relatioship and have started to work together, you're not done. Now’s the time to measure and track results. That way you can see what’s working and what’s not with your Center of Influence network and marketing strategy. And, you can make changes for next time. If you get results, if you start to see referrals being sent your way, and if you are successful in generating additional business, be sure to show recognition to your Influencer and be sure to look for ways to reciprocate.
7. Repeat the Process with other Influencers
Repeat the above steps with other influencers that you've identified. As you can see, this process will take an investment in time on your part in order to make it work. But it will work, and it will provide you with a strong foundation. Your Center of Influence / COI / Sphere of Influence / Influencer Network / Referral Sources will contribute to building a strong awareness of your firm, and help your business to grow and thrive.
Are you looking for more information on how you can build your Centers of Influence strategy? Here are some helpful resources that we've curated for you: