As more and more B2B buyers rely on digitally-discovered information well along their shopping journeys, marketers have struggled to make sure their brands are among those to be considered. As Jay McBain, Forrester’s Principal Analyst – Channels, Partnerships & Ecosystems, has commented, unless vendors develop vast ecosystems of industry experts, consultants, influencers, and other thought leaders that buyers turn to for information or recommendations, it’s likely many of them will lose a deal without even knowing there was a deal.
One of the companies that has been an innovator in technology that enables marketers to optimize relationships with the people who influence B2B buyers is impact.com, a partnership management platform provider. Last year, the company recorded a 51% increase in its client portfolio. It closed a $150 million round of funding at a $1.5 billion evaluation in preparation for an IPO. In 2021, impact.com joined Shopify as a certified app for influencer and affiliate marketing. It announced a tech integration with BigCommerce and Google Pay. Additionally, impact.com acquired Trackonomics, an SSP for publishers’ partnership programs that provides page-level attribution and ROI, and Affluent, an analytics and automations platform designed to help agencies manage partnership programs for brands.
In November, the company announced that HubSpot veteran Kim Walsh had joined the company as Chief Growth Officer. In her new role, Walsh role will support long-term commercial success by maintaining alignment and customer centricity among all of the company’s go-to-market initiatives, working alongside the leaders of sales, marketing, channel partnerships, revenue operations and the APAC and EMEA regions.
Through a partnership with HubSpot, impact.com offers functionality for B2B influencer partnerships.
As 2021 was coming to an end, CMR had a conversation with David A. Yovanno, impact.com CEO, and Cristy Garcia, VP of Marketing, about the adoption of influencer go-to-market strategies by B2B brands.
CMR — As Forrester’s Jay McBain says, “With over 75% of world trade flowing indirectly, Forrester believes the third stage of enterprise growth will revolve around paving the last mile to the customer through partners and alliances.” He believes the role that non-transactional partners will play in B2B sales will rise dramatically.
Can you share how much of your business is currently attributed to B2B customers? Do you have a forecast of what percentage of your revenue will be attributed to B2B clients in the next two years?
David A. Yovanno — Historically, most of impact.com’s customers have sold products and services directly to end consumers, including large retailers such as Target and DTC brands such as Harry’s. But over the last few years, our B2B segment has grown significantly as these businesses adapt to changing B2B buying behavior.
We believe that part of the reason for this is that the B2B customer journey has begun to mirror the B2C customer journey — where a large part of the decision-making process happens before the buyer walks into the store (or requests a demo). We know that B2B customers have a total of 6-8 touch points on average, and are now doing more research than ever before to make a purchase decision. Partnerships are a great way for businesses to be part of the information their customers are searching for – product or service reviews or other content for example.
Another trend in B2B has been the evolution of open architecture design and companies embracing interoperability. Many companies are now finding innovative ways to integrate their software with other companies in order to enhance the overall customer experience.
CMR — Is there a specific B2B segment where the impact that influencers have on sales is driving faster adoption of your solution?
David A. Yovanno — We’ve seen especially fast growth among product-led SaaS businesses, such as Hubspot, Shopify, and Canva. A prospective buyer of this sort of software can read a review, watch a tutorial on YouTube, check user reviews, and then immediately start a free trial or purchase a license.
That said, we’ve also seen growing interest from more traditional, sales-led organizations who want to drive leads from consultants and other experts in the B2B ecosystem.
CMR — McBain gets pretty granular when talking about the different people B2B marketers need to engage to influence customers – for example, he often refers to finding partners who “cover midsize clinics in upstate New York between Buffalo and Rochester and Syracuse and Albany.”
Are the ranks of B2B influencers in the impact.com marketplace growing? And are B2B brands using impact.com to support and monitor their relationships with partners at that level of granularity?
David A. Yovanno — Yes, we’re seeing significant growth in new B2B influencers and productive partnerships on the impact.com platform. At impact.com’s scale of over 2,000 brands and one million productive partnerships, the platform is generating a tremendous network effect, where the more brands you onboard, the more influencers and other partners join as well — and vice-versa.
This approach to partnerships is still fairly immature in the B2B space, compared to B2C brands who have been doing this for a long time and they have definitely reached the level of granularity Jay describes. An example I saw recently on our platform is “American expats currently living in Northern Ireland.” We expect that B2B partnership teams will soon catch up to their B2C counterparts in this area.
CMR — As you engage B2B companies, who or which departments seem to have a better understanding of the need/value to drive relationships with influencers, industry experts, consultants etc?
Cristy Garcia — Affiliate marketing professionals are often one of the first to grasp the value of driving leads from those sorts of referral partners, but we’re also seeing adoption by channel teams and even business development teams. A lot of the interest from those teams stems from a need for technology to automate their manual processes — for instance, contract management, payouts, and communication about lead status.
CMR — As B2B prospects begin their journey on developing an influencer program, what’s a significant first step that will help them understand the opportunity and realize they can take advantage of it?
Cristy Garcia — The first step is to set specific goals in order to measure the success of the campaign or relationship. For example, influencers can be a channel that reaches new audiences that can lead to new revenue but only as long as the influencer partners are the right fit for your business and understand the goals. Sounds obvious, but it’s one of the most common missteps we see for both B2B and B2C businesses.
The ideal influencer should be relevant to your audience, be authentic in the content they create and be able to influence their audience (and your potential customers) to try something new. And it must ‘fit’ within their content – it has to make sense for them to be delivering the message or they risk losing klout with their follower base. This is why finding the right influencers and other partners are so important
This strategic investment is a beneficial opportunity for all involved when the value of the program is measured throughout the entire customer journey – from discovery through sales. When correctly implemented, influencers can become a new acquisition channel and unlock revenue streams.