Marketing 2013: Reach the right influencers, avoid the echo chamber

SAP's marketing chief discusses influence, marketing, and the impact on enterprise software vendors. Plus: Five essential tips for successful influencer marketing.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor

During a candid conversation with SAP's Chief Marketing Officer, Jonathan Becher, we discussed the growing importance of digital influence as a significant mechanism to identify and engage potential customers. 

Here is a segment from our longer conversation:

In the past, marketers generally maintained a clear distinction between approaches used when selling business-to-business (B2B) versus business-to-consumer (B2C) products. Although this distinction made sense in a world dominated by highly centralized and monolithic procurement power, modern purchasing influence tends to be distributed more broadly through the customer's organization. For this reason, enterprise software vendors, a classic B2B business, are rethinking how they talk to prospects and potential buyers and embracing marketing techniques once reserved for the consumer world.

Click here to view entire video conversation with SAP's Jonathan Becher

The ability of individuals to broadcast their views, often to large or important audience segments using social media and web-based forums, has redistributed purchasing influence to create a new class of influencers. These influencers include prospects, existing customers, partners, analysts, bloggers, journalists, and others who may affect the outcome of a lengthy and complicated sales process. Because these influencers can shape a potential buyer's decision to purchase expensive enterprise products, business-to-business vendors like SAP have developed large-scale influencer programs to engage those relationships at an individual level. As Jonathan says, "Increasingly, we all know it's not the big glass building buying software, but it's people."

Although influencer marketing has become critical, the quest to amplify marketing messages on social media can generate tremendous activity that masquerades as useful interaction. For example, when employees respond repeatedly to one another's tweets, they may create a "conversation bubble" involving only themselves. This echo chamber provides little value, consumes participants' time, and can crowd out real communication with prospects and customers. As Becher notes in the video, the echo chamber is creates a "vicious cycle that's not amplification, just people talking to each other."

Five tips for successful influencer marketing

Influence is one of the most important — and misunderstood — concepts in marketing today consider these points when planning your strategy:

1. Popularity without influence is a fool's game. We all want page views, attendees, and other numbers that demonstrate people are listening. However, popularity is not a good indicator that someone will make an impact on your particular marketing goals. Meaningful influence is always function of your particular business goals; the definition of influence will be different for every company. 

Because measuring real influence is hard, many companies use tools such as Klout that present a simple influence score. Although these tools are convenient, they do not really measure influence, but instead report popularity on social media; for this reason, they add noise and confusion while providing little value to the serious study of influence. 

2. Relationship is the mother of influence. The best way to magnetize both customers and market influencers is to engage thoughtfully and substantively over time. Genuine relationships require ongoing contact based on shared interests and mutual benefit. It's that simple.

3. Link influencer programs to business goals. When determining which influencers to target, start with your own business goals. Do not even think about reaching out to influencers until you define clear goals with measurable outcomes. As an example, many companies want influencer marketing activities to affect sales-related business goals, such finding leads or accelerating the sales process.  

4. Measure, measure, measure. Measurement is the lifeblood of success with digital influence programs and campaigns. Measurement is the next step after identifying your business goals, selecting the right influencers, and starting a campaign. The right metrics will guide your efforts to meet those business goals and help shape marketing activities to achieve useful 

In SAP's case, for example, Jonathan describes an "influencer score" the company creates for speakers at SapphireNow, its large annual user conference. By correlating conference speakers and sessions against its sales pipeline, SAP can measure the ability of particular speakers and topics to influence that pipeline. These metrics also become an important tool when SAP constructs conference agendas in the future.

5. Tenacity creates results. Influencer marketing is a long-term strategy and not a quick fix for short-term sales problems. Success comes from developing a plan, using metrics and results to learn and adapt, and cultivating relationships over time. As with all relationships, the benefits tend to emerge gradually rather than as a single, apocalyptic flash of light.

Also read:

How to influence the enterprise software chess game
CxO Talk: Trust, engagement, and influence for the CIO
Enterprise software and the curse of vendor sameness
Enterprise software: Beware the loud voices of charlatan thought leaders
Expert panel: Transform business with social enterprise


CxOTalk is a video series that explores the relationship between technology and marketing in the enterprise. Each week, co-host Vala Afshar and I bring together innovative leaders and senior executives to discuss these issues in an informal, yet substantive conversation.

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