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B2B Marketing Innovation: The Truth About Influence in B2B Marketing from Master Strategist Paul Gillin

Posted on Oct 1st, 2012
Written by Lee Odden
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    Paul GillinThe final interview in our series on B2B Marketing Innovation comes from Paul Gillin, a veteran journalist, author and strategist. He’s the author of several books on new media including, Social Marketing to the Business Customer, with Eric Schwartzman.  Paul is giving a sold out workshop and an interactive presentation on influence.

    In this interview, Paul shares the truth about the role influence plays in B2B Marketing, the importance of community building, common mistakes with marketing planning, deciding on the right tactical mix and his favorite B2B Marketing tools.

    Please tell us a little about you and the kind of b2b marketing work you’re most excited about. Solve any tough ones lately?

    I’m not a tactician or an agency, so I work with people at the strategy level. In most cases, this involves speaking to groups or doing one-on-one training with a small group of managers. I don’t really solve problems as much as give them insight that they can use to solve their own problems or grow their businesses.

    I’ve worked with B2B companies since my earliest days as a consultant. The first few years were tough. Audiences were mostly 50-something men who had been in the business for years and who saw no need to change tactics that had worked for a long time. There was a lot of skepticism in the room, and I sometimes left those meetings feeling like I had accomplished little.

    Over the last year to 18 months that has all changed. I find even the older audiences to be very receptive to understanding the new language of online relationships. Many are frustrated by their lack of knowledge, but they know the world is changing and they’re eager to get on board. These veteran executives aren’t stupid. Their early skepticism reflected a “show-me” attitude. Now I think the markets are telling them that the terms of business have changed, customers are more empowered and they need to engage through new channels. The real satisfaction is when you see a company president come on board fully and exhort his (it’s always a ‘he,’ I’m afraid) people to get behind him. That’s when things really happen.

    At the MarketingProfs B2B Marketing Forum you’re participating on the “Social Media Influence – Who’s Got It, How to Find Them, and What to Do Next?” panel. Please share 3 practical takeaways from your presentation about influence and B2B Marketing.

    My co-presenter, Alan Belniak, is a master of the tools of influence measurement and he’s also got practical experience in influencer relations programs. I’m less knowledgeable about the tools, but changing influence patterns were the subject of my first book back in 2007 and have always fascinated me. I’m going to tell stories about people who are influential online and why it’s worth engaging with them. I have several interesting examples. Takeaways will be:

    1. Anyone can become influential in nearly any area today using low-cost publishing tools like blogs, podcasts, Twitter, e-books and others. This can happen very quickly. It used to be that influence was determined by the size of your circulation list or your broadcast reach. Today’s it’s determined by your knowledge, passion and willingness to share.

    2. Influencers can benefit businesses in many ways. They’re a great feedback channel because they’re smart and they care. They can also be an excellent early warning sign of problems.

    3. Influencers are NOT media and shouldn’t be treated like media. While I recommend that they be included in media communications, there are some important differences between reporters and expert bloggers. I’ll outline a few in the session.

    An essential part of building a business online is to attract and engage a community. What are your most practical tips that companies and brands should consider for connecting with and cultivating fans? What role does influence play in developing a community?

    Start with what I call the “give to get” proposition. The more you share your knowledge and expertise, the more you build credibility that builds trust. Trust is what oils the wheels of commerce these days.

    Be patient. Communities can take a long time to build, even years. You need to invest a lot of time at the front end stimulating conversation and answering questions. The reward comes when the community reaches a tipping point and becomes self-sustaining. That’s when you can reap the benefits of insight and word-of-mouth promotion that come from having a great community.

    Celebrate your contributors. The people who are most active in your community are like gold. They help encourage others to participate. Promote them, thank them and shower them with praise. They are your most valuable allies.

    Developing a solid b2b marketing plan takes research, and understanding of the customer goals, pain points and journey. What are some of the most common myths or mistakes you’ve seen with b2b marketing planning? Any tips on how to be more successful?

    I see a lot of B2B companies going into social media without the faintest idea of why they’re doing it. They’re on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and when you ask them why they say it’s because they have to be there. I don’t believe that’s the case. You should choose social channels based upon what your customers are doing, not whether it’s fashionable to be there.

    Your comment about pain points is also important. When you ask B2B companies to describe their customers, you often get back demographic profiles. That may work for direct-mail campaigns, but when building relationships in online channels you need to understand psychographics: What motivates them? What do they fear? AHow can you make them more successful or ease their pain? That’s the key to developing content and a voice that resonates with them

    With all the hype in the business marketing media, it’s tempting for companies to chase trending b2b marketing tactics like visual marketing or social networking. How do you decide what the right b2b marketing tactical mix is for companies that you work with?

    Study your customers’ behavior. Track the most important buying indicators on your website. Call up your customers and interview them. Ask them who influences their decisions. Invite them to step you through their process of researching a hypothetical buying decision. You don’t have to do this 100 times. If you conduct 10 in-depth interviews with customers, you’ll get a lot of useful data that can guide you in deciding where you should be and what you should do.

    Companies that are in search of business growth with limited resources can often close part of the gap with tools. What tools do you recommend for B2B marketers (or marketers in general) to get more out of their online content and social media investments?

    In many targeted B2B communities there aren’t good prospect lists, so you have to make it easy for people to find you. I’m a big fan of blogging for B2B companies. Blogs are great tools for demonstrating expertise in targeted areas. As you know, search engines love them. Writing a blog about a focused topic and updating it regularly is one of the fastest ways to rise to the top of search engine results.

    I also encourage B2B marketers to become familiar with LinkedIn. It’s a great prospecting tool because it can show you new ways to reach the buyers you seek. It opens all kinds of back doors into companies that you didn’t know were available.

    Thank you Paul!

    Be sure to check out Paul and Alan’s session, “Social Media Influence—Who’s Got It, How to Find Them, and What to Do Next?“, at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum this week on Thursday 10/4 from 9am to 10:15 am. Space is limited to 40 to encourage interaction.

    Also be sure to check out the my session on 360 degrees of optimization with search and social media marketing: Integrating Content, Search & Social to Optimize the Funnel” – Friday, October 5th at 8:15am.

    For a great collection of 33 tips on B2B Marketing Innovation, don’t miss the free download: B2B Marketing Innovation eBook.