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Inside B2B Influence: Brian Solis of Salesforce on the Future of Influence in B2B Marketing

Posted on Sep 19th, 2021
Written by Lee Odden
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  • Inside B2B Influence: Brian Solis of Salesforce on the Future of Influence in B2B Marketing
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    Brian Solis

    If this is your first time, Inside B2B Influence is a podcast series that goes behind the scenes of B2B marketing and highlights insights with top business executives on influencer marketing for B2B companies. At TopRank Marketing we’re doing our best to connect readers and listeners with B2B marketing insiders on strategies, trends, tactics and the future to elevate the practice of growing influence within and outside of B2B brands.

    In Episode 17 of Inside B2B Influence we have a returning guest who needs little introduction given his accomplishments and yet, we’d all be missing out if I did not mention that Brian Solis is Global Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce, an 8X best selling author, global keynote speaker, digital pioneer and has been a good friend for over 10 years.

    Lee Odden Valerie Combs Brian Solis

    Lee, Valerie, Brian – 2008 (Photo: Brian Solis)

    As someone who has been at the forefront of studying, innovating and practicing influence in the B2B business and technology world, I reached out to Brian for his thoughts on what the future holds for influence at B2B organizations inside and out, what to look for with business influencers and thoughts on how to scale influence.

    Highlights of episode 17 include:

    • Advantages influencer marketing creates for B2B brands in 2022
    • The most important qualities B2B brands should look for in influencers
    • The importance for B2B brands to grow influence from within
    • The next evolution of influence for B2B companies
    • What B2B companies should consider in order to scale influence

    Take a listen to The Future of Influence in B2B Marketing with Brian Solis:

    Transcript – Inside B2B Influence Episode 17: The Future of Influence for B2B Marketing

    In the first ever research report on B2B influencer marketing, you shared that “in a time of darkness, chaos or confusion, B2B brands have an opportunity to be the light for their customers.” As we finish off 2021 and head into another year of the pandemic, what kind of advantage does influencer marketing bring for B2B brands?

    I think (B2B influencer marketing) is more important than it’s ever been. @briansolis

    Brian: I think it’s more important than it’s ever been and kudos to you for launching that first report. I understand that it was incredibly successful, so thanks for letting me be part of that.

    I’ll try to connect the dots this way for those who are listening. At Salesforce, our mission is to help businesses, not just transform, but to be relevant and to thrive in what’s going to be what I call, a novel economy. It’s the word novel, like in novel coronavirus means new and unusual, and that means that we’re heading into new years, a new genre of business without a playbook.

    When we take that stance, that means that we have to have a very solid position on how we’re going to help you. What does business look like on the other side? What does every function look like on the other side? Marketing, sales and service? How do they all come together to essentially create the enterprise of the future right now?

    And so that’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of thought leadership, a lot of content, a lot of video, a lot of articles, a lot of social media to reach those looking for insights – to connect the dots between valuable information and actions to those who need them.

    We have all become marketers now. @briansolis

    In that regard, you can’t just have the ideas. You can’t just have the solutions. You also have to have the ability to connect the dots between those ideas and people who need them. So, in a sense, we have all become marketers now. And I think that’s a good thing. I think marketing itself becomes a much more value added, it rises in the ranks of helping to serve, I guess, is the best way to put it, Not just to market or promote or to gain eyeballs, but to serve people.

    I think it’s like a call to arms or this enlightenment that gives us a greater sense of purpose, a more noble sense of purpose. So with that said, I have a lot to read, a lot to learn and relearn in these times because there’s certainly a lot of really smart people out there. I’m just hoping to continue to, not just think about ways to help companies, but to also think about ways to reach people their way. And that has me “control alt deleting” a lot of assumptions, that’s for sure.

    B2B marketers have learned many lessons from our B2C counterparts including what makes an influencer. B2B influencers are more than experts with industry credentials. They are increasingly creators as well. What are the qualities most important in an influencer that brands should look for?

    Brian: Oh, man, let’s start with the question of what makes an influencer. You know, I think back to some of the conversations, how many years have we been having these really these awesome conversations? I really appreciate how long we’ve known each other. We’ve done a lot of really cool things together. I think this is a time where it’s almost as exciting as when we first met. You remember? Social media was just coming together. It was just chaos. It was the wild west. And I think this is that time. I don’t know that people are going to pick up that it’s that time, but it really is. I want to call it out for this reason. What is an influencer?

    Because coming into 2022 I think we could all have these visions of some beautiful human being on a beach in Thailand. Somebody walking and seeing their back with their hand extended holding their hand. You know, that’s what I think a lot of traditional marketers think about in terms of influencer marketing. I’m not going to knock it. It has been, for B2C, some of the most innovative, creative stuff that I’ve seen in a long time. There’s nothing to say though, that when it comes to B2B that you can’t be human being either. I think that’s really where we should start thinking about this.

    Every single day I get emails, “We need you to be part of this.” Very rarely does someone take the time to read my work and then reach out and talk about ways that we might be able to collaborate. @briansolis

    I too, have been the recipient of these types of requests. Every single day I get emails, “we need you to be part of this. We want to give you some content to publish. Can you make a video? Can you do this?” And it’s simply because of the number of people who follow my work. Very rarely does someone take the time to read my work and then reach out and talk about ways that we might be able to collaborate, because there was some idea that they felt could help them connect the dots of markets they’re trying to cultivate.

    That’s where it starts: who are you trying to reach and why? And then building bridges between those people who have earned the trust of those that you’re trying to reach, whether it’s a macro influencer, certainly in the B2B world, there are people with a lot of followers, more followers than I’ll probably ever have. And at the same time they have reached the micro influence that is so critical right now. The people that you trust because they will tell you something specific that you need to do and you believe that their insights are going to help you succeed in how you’re measured for success.

    I’m a big believer in experimenting. So I’ll experiment with the wide swaths and the big audiences. But I also want to experiment with direct outcomes. If we can together, do some work that helps people make better decisions or move markets or launch products that help other companies, then that’s what I’m talking about.

    For example, I remember some of my greatest work in the past, aside from what I’m doing right now. So I don’t know that I’ve ever had so much fun while having such an impact, was back in the day with Google when we launched, we introduced the concept of micro-moments. Micro-moments was our way of helping marketers understand that a mobile first customer does not go through the web journey like a traditional customer sitting in front of a big screen or a laptop journey.

    You have to think about TikToK or Snapchat versus, right, in terms of how you go through that. The work that we did cast a wide net because Google is very good at that. My responsibility was the micro stuff. Can we beat the drum of micro influence by talking about micro-moments in every single aspect of how a customer goes through the journey and what they’re missing and what they need from marketers, from digital marketers, from web marketers to create that ideal journey.

    If I didn’t have that audience, I would go build that audience. @briansolis

    So, we talked about micro-moments, we talked about mobile first things. We talked about stats, we ran all kinds of research. We did micro-moments for travel, micro-moments for insurance and micro-moments for auto sales. I was a mad man during that first year to 18 months, every single day developing new content, putting it in the places that were going to reach those people. If I didn’t have that audience, I would go build that audience.

    That was my life for a year and a half. And I think the result of that is that everybody knows about micro moments and it’s still important after all of these years today. But that was the hard work, dedicated work of cultivating those communities, not just relying on somebody because they had the numbers.

    I think that in this post pandemic economy that’s going to start taking shape, as soon as we can get people vaccinated, that the new world, that next normal needs more work like that. Not just intention to promote stuff, but to build stuff, to help those who are looking for insights, understand that we can build that playbook together.

    What is your problem? How has the world changed and how can I help you? Go create (content) around that. @briansolis

    I think there’s a lot of people asking questions. There’s a lot of people looking for help. For those influencers who are going to take the time to think about it, not just promote or say something, or try to get a lot of views or clicks or what have you. But to think about like honestly think about, what is your problem? How has the world changed and how can I help you? And then go create around that. That’s the answer to your question. That’s what makes an influencer and it’s not even an influencer at that point. That’s a business partner who’s helping you and helping others solve problems and create opportunities.

    One of the significant trends we’ve seen with many enterprise B2B brands is growth of investment in building influence from within. This comes in the form of employee advocacy programs as well as building thought leadership and influence for key executives by collaborating on content with industry experts. How important is it for B2B brands to grow influence from within?

    Brian: Such a great question. I joined this company because I wanted to be part of this culture. The Ohana, it is a very special culture, They, we, I should say, believe in that employee advocacy and empowerment. Because the frontline for us are those individuals who are having to help our customers solve some pretty big problems and transform overnight like most companies that got hit in March, 2020 with remote work and e-commerce, and chat bots and automation, and all of the things that had accelerated roadmaps, digital transformation roadmaps by 10 years.

    So Mark Benioff, at our big corporate kickoff get together, he talked about how we all need to as individuals, as employees of the organization, not just sell technology, which is a really big thing for a CEO of a hyper-growth company to say. He was basically saying, he wants all of us to think about the outcomes that our customers are trying to solve for and the things that they don’t know, that they need to solve for and go be that go be that person, go be that resource so that they can trust you beyond just being a sales person or a service person.

    Employee advocacy is the belief in your people that they can provide solutions and help. @briansolis

    That’s a big call to all of us, right? Not just me and my colleagues who do this every single day, but for everybody. That’s employee advocacy. It’s the belief in your people that they can provide solutions and help, not just the things that are going to hit the bottom line. To build relationships, as my colleague Henry King, and I have written about it in a serious this last year, we talk about relationship transformation. What do you want the employee to do, or employees do in aggregate and as individuals? Well, essentially it’s to build relationships.

    You know this better than anybody. You build relationships by adding value and consistently adding value.

    Business outcomes are natural byproducts of investing in relationships. @briansolis

    To do that, it means you have to understand what value looks like. Value is in the eye of the beholder. Then you train, you empower, you re-skill or skill to help people get there. And then you measure that because we’re all in the relationship business. You measure the relationships that you want to see come to life. Then business outcomes are natural byproducts of investing in those relationships.

    So then it’s not just a conversation. How can we empower employees to create, to share, to answer questions that maybe haven’t been asked and to answer those questions en masse so that a lot of people find those answers. Essentially you build an infrastructure that can help create that type of advocacy.

    I think that’s a pretty big deal, going beyond all of the apps to see, hey, what is it like to work there? You really start to invest in the culture where part of that culture is, you have smart people who are sharing smart things. I think that’s part leadership, but also you need a program that isn’t just about ghost writing for executives. It’s really about giving a voice to the executive who actually believes in those things and scaling them.

    Many B2B brands have evolved their influencer marketing practices from experimentation, to well informed campaigns to always on influencer engagement and even building communities of influencers. What’s next in the evolution of influence for B2B brands and customers?

    Brian: I think we’re only limited by our imagination. I say that from the bottom of my heart. I want to see more creativity out there. We have been incredibly iterative in the world of influencer marketing.

    Do we call them influencers anymore or are they creators now? People are inventing new forms of content creation, which creates new types of consumers for that content. @briansolis

    If you think about the B2C world, we’re, gosh, I don’t even know, do we call them influencers anymore or are they creators now? The hyper evolution in the sophistication of some of these creators is incredible. Just look at TikTok and what some of these talented individuals are able to do. And I don’t mean those who are following every challenge. I mean those who are almost like they can work for Industrial Light and Magic. You know, these are people who are taking and inventing new forms of content creation, which creates new types of consumers for that content.

    So, I think there’s a lot to learn there. I would also say that there’s also a lot to learn in terms of hyper-focusing on the content that you create and then making it consumable in all of the ways that people want. I’ll give you an example, and it’s also a challenging example.

    I just experimented with an idea that I had around what I call Digital Introverts. During the last year there are a large group of people who don’t ever want to talk to another human being when they’re making a purchase. They just got used to being with themselves. And the idea of having to talk to someone creates a lot of anxiety. So, there’s technology, there’s there’s platforms, there’s things that you could use to solve for that if you have to sell something to somebody that traditionally required a human being.

    You realize that you can’t rely on one thing to reach everybody anymore. @briansolis

    So I thought, here’s an experiment: let’s create, let’s give it a package so that we can find a way to present a new type of engagement, a new type of touch point. It was an article, an infographic, a video, it’s a podcast, it’s micro content. It’s all of these different things, because you realize that you can’t rely on one thing to reach everybody anymore. But then each one of those things, tell me if I’m geeking out too much, but each one of those things, not just the idea, but the packaging needs its own marketing. And that way you’re essentially not just putting this little boat in the water and hope it reaches its destination, every single one has a propulsion strategy, so that it finds the right place to go.

    Discovery is also the next big frontier. Who do you want to reach? How do they find information? Where are they going?  @briansolis

    And with that said, discovery is also the next big frontier. Who do you want to reach? How do they find information? Where are they going? It’s this idea of a deep crawl of how people look for information and we become the solution. This goes back to roots that you and I have talked about over a decade ago around search. When someone searches, whatever that is, whether it’s Google, whether it’s YouTube, whether it’s social media, whether it’s, Hey Lee, where should I go for X, Y, and Z? We have to be the mentally and emotionally available brand or solution in those instances.

    So, in many ways it’s reverse engineering what that process looks like, what that journey looks like, what the content journey looks like. So that those things that we’re creating, those products, and those ideas are making their way around.

    Now last but not least, make them thoughtful. My goodness. There are so many smart marketers pushing things that are useless out there. So I think as marketers, we should take pride. Have a bar of not putting our name or our stamp on anything that isn’t going to be absolutely useful and helpful to our portfolio. That shows how we’ve been an evaluated resource to the industry.

    So that’s a lot there, but I’ll also put a bow on it by saying I was blown away and I think the industry is looking at this with a sort of this curiosity, but also hope and aspiration that this is a success because it would be a game changer. It is already a game changer with Salesforce Plus, right? We introduced essentially what some are calling a Netflix for business.

    We look at Dreamforce, we look at all of the content we create, we look at all of the shows we create with our customers, our trailblazers, and we’re going to create a network now of all of that content and new shows and programming that essentially shine the light on the importance of B2B and business transformation. It’s not just a content play now. It’s seriously as important as lifestyle programming, because we spend more time at work than we do at home. I think this is the mainstream time for all our all business professionals. We have a lot to do.

    We have a huge, not just a checklist of things to do, we have a huge opportunity, it’s unprecedented. I say that word, I know it’s an overused word, but it is literally not anything that we’ve trained for. And I want to take this moment to let you know, those people who are watching or listening, this is a bigger moment than we may realize. And it’s a bigger moment than maybe those who we work with or whom we report to may realize this.

    The future of business is not what it used to be. It is in need of insight. It is in need of empathy. It is in need of solutions. @briansolis

    The future of business is not what it used to be. It is in need of insight. It is in need of empathy. It is in need of solutions. It is in need of partners willing to not just push one thing, but help people along the way. And look, I don’t have all the answers, but I’m committed to and I encourage you to be committed to also trying to find them because people do need help.

    Those who take the time to invest in finding solutions and experimenting with those solutions so that they work, not just some random idea, are going to be those who help those transformations be their best. We could probably go into a whole show about that, but I think this really is our time. It’s unwritten.

    If something works in business and especially marketing, companies naturally want to scale it up. What should B2B  companies be thinking about as they work to scale the activities and outcomes from their influencer marketing efforts?

    Brian:  Well, what are you scaling towards and why? This kind of comes back to the part of the conversation where we were talking about some sort of measurement. How do we define success? You’ve seen this more than most I’m sure. We tend to put the numbers on the things that don’t really carry the weight around that best answer strategy. And also connecting the dots to the discovery. I think that too, is a big measure of success. Are we connecting to the right people? Not just, are we reaching the broadest audience as possible? I don’t care how many retweets or views something gets, I need to know, did it reach the right people and did it make an impact and is there a before and after state?

    I don’t care how many retweets or views something gets, I need to know, did it reach the right people and did it make an impact and is there a before and after state? @briansolis

    Because that before state is what we’re working to change. That’s the definition of influence. So that after state is what we should measure. And it’s not just one state, it’s a continual progression of having an impact. That’s what I think we should start to really think about scaling.

    So go have fun with all of the traditional marketing and continue that. I’m not saying that it’s not useful. This is just very specific. This is a very interesting time. A once in a lifetime, maybe, but there’s a real need to help. And I guess we have to define for ourselves, what kind of help do we want to be known for.

    When someone says your name, what will it be attached to in terms of not just reputation, but that expertise? @briansolis

    When someone says your name, what will it be attached to in terms of not just reputation, but that expertise? When I wrote X, I became the experience guy and I wanted it to become a the experience guy. When I wrote Lifescale, I intentionally decided I wanted to be the digital wellness guy. These are things that I put everything into and measured and scaled around that while also understanding, what does experience guy mean? Or what does digital wellness guy mean?

    Well, on the other side, it means I’m providing help to someone who is trying to figure out how to deliver the next best customer experience by understanding their customer and the digital experiences that they need to create that best experience and what those experiences look like. I put all these measures in place to understand what I was trying to scale towards. I think that’s where we have to think about outcomes for those who read and share our work.

    That’s where we reverse engineer, I say that a lot, where we back into the outcome, what success ultimately looks like, and then scale toward that. That’s how I got the name Lifescale of my last book – where do you want your life to be so that you understand how all of the investments you’re making and all of the things you’re doing to scale it in that direction.


    Thank you Brian!

    You can find Brian on Twitter, LinkedIn, his website and you can watch Brian along with his co-host John Kao and special guests on their Intersections show every Thursday morning at 10:30am PT.

    Be sure to stay tuned to TopRank Marketing’s B2B Marketing Blog for our next episode of Inside B2B Influence where we’ll be answering the B2B marketing industry’s most pressing questions about the role of influence in business to business marketing. If you missed one of our previous episodes of Season 2, follow the links below:

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    2021 B2B Influencer Marketing Survey
    Help elevate the practice of influence in B2B marketing by sharing your experience and opinions about B2B marketing and working with influencers in our latest research project. The survey takes just 10 minutes and you’ll not only get an advanced copy of our research report featuring insights from Brian Solis and an incredible mix of B2B industry experts, but we’re also giving away some sweet incentives. Take the survey today though, because we’ll be closing it down soon.