B2B KOL and influencer programs are a topic of nearly every conversation these days.
Our friend Lee Oden at TopRank Marketing conducted a survey in early 2021 about the use of B2B influencer marketing and found these incredible stats, along with many others.
- 74% of marketers agree that influencer marketing improves customer and prospect experience with the brand
- 63% of marketers agree that marketing would have better results if it included a B2B influencer marketing program
From our view, we don’t see that trend slowing down anytime soon.
Influencer vs. KOL
Some may say it’s merely semantics but the word “influencer” infers a YouTube or TikTok celebrity smiling big to schill their use of the latest teeth whitener and the term, “key opinion leader” (KOL) is emerging as the preferred term for B2B partnerships.
Key Opinion Leaders are what the B2B community is looking for, right? These partnerships are MUCH less about “buy now!” and more about learning something new from a trusted source or having a brand experience where sales is the last metric to be measured as success of a partnership.
At Convince & Convert, we’ve concepted, recruited, created and managed dozens of KOL programs for clients over the years. Almost every project revolves around helping the audience gain insights or perspectives from KOLs in their area of expertise and not about direct sales.
This is the case in our most recent work with Cisco to source and create short length video series and blog posts for their partner marketing platform. Over the course of the program we’ve built relationships with our KOL’s and the partner audience at Cisco has also built affinity and trust in the knowledge they bring each month.
Not a week goes by that our own Jay Baer isn’t approached to be a KOL for various brands and contribute his thought leadership, marketing prowess, and digital personality to a campaign or brand platform. Other C&C team members including Zontee Hou, Mary Nice, Daniel Lemin and Jenny Magic also get asked to contribute content as a KOL around digital marketing strategy and customer experience.
Working on both sides of the KOL programming has given us unique insights about how to make a program successful and what matters when negotiating a rate.
How to Approach KOL Selection
TopRank’s survey found that “39% of marketers say their top challenge with influencer marketing is that the process is too manual” and we couldn’t agree more! Our clients look to us to take out that manual work for them and deliver KOL results with as minimal extra work as possible.
Having perspective on what content creation and campaigns needs from both a brand and a KOL perspective has given us a unique angle when working with KOL engagements.
Sourcing B2B KOLs for Your Brand:
We use our network of contacts as well as subscribe to several software platforms which support our discovery and vetting of potential KOLs.
Software platforms we currently use include:
Rival IQ – Social media marketing analytics with advanced competitive analysis, SEO, social reporting and content marketing tools
Meltwater – Helps PR and marketing teams monitor media coverage across both news and social media and enhance brand management
Sparktoro – Crawls tens of millions of social and web profiles to find what (and who) your audience reads, listens to, watches, follows, shares, and talks
Onalytica – Specialises in providing influencer marketing software and supporting professional services to help brands scale their influencer programs
Once we have our starting list we make KOL dossiers which outline each potential KOL, the reach, content types, audience profile and other interesting information about the individual. The dossiers bring the KOLs to life, similar to how personas would in a marketing plan as well. It allows our clients to see and relate to potential KOLs much more so than a spreadsheet of text.
This takes the work the software provides for surfacing potential KOLs and overlays actual manual review and research from one of our team members. (We visit each KOLs pages, watch multiple pieces of content on all channels, review other brands they may work with, assess quality and style of content produced and confirm audience reach numbers from the software).
We like to research 2-3x the number of final KOLs our client is targeting so that we have provided a solid look at the opportunities and competition (or not) in a category. From the set of dossiers, we narrow in on our top individuals to pursue.
Selecting B2B KOLs:
Now comes the educated guesstimate part of this work.
Each of the KOLs will have different levels of compensation, preferred channels to activate and affiliation with our client. Before we pick up the email or phone to approach a KOL we hyper study the following parts of our dossier:
- What type of content (webinar, blog post, social post etc) would be a fit not only for our client campaign but also fits with the KOLs style and audience set?
We have repeatedly found that when we approach a partner KOL with a specific ask or deliverable they are increasingly able to agree or negotiate the contract more quickly. Giving them something thoughtful to react to goes a long way in the negotiation process.
- How large does this KOLs audience reach? (followers, average engagement etc) How key is their audience to establishing our objectives?
An exercise in quantity vs. quality if you will: Depending on the goal for the campaign, one or the other could sway the amount of negotiation you are willing to engage in. Although leaning B2C, this recent Intellifluence survey has some starting points on price per post expectations and by channel direct from influencers which is a must-read.
- Which other brands does this KOL work with or represent? How do those brands affect or overlap our client’s brand?
Usually, we work with 6-10 KOL’s at a time and are creating an episodic type show for our client. Explaining the overall campaign and creative direction the KOL is part of also provides context and company, increasing the knowledge of the outcome for the KOL helps to gain trust, especially for new relationships.
From there we work on a payment range we believe to be equitable based on the work request and experience.
KOL Payment: The Wild West
Some of you may know I worked with Jay in the early 2000’s at an ad agency in Phoenix. In those early days, I would place the online media for our clients. One such campaign was for a client who created and sold koozies. Their koozies had suction cups on them, so that the gel coat on your boat wouldn’t get ruined as you enjoyed an ice cold beverage whale cruising around the lake.
As media kits and banner ads overall were few and far between, we would literally search the web for sites we thought would be a good fit and call (on a desk phone!) the owner or main contact of the site. (see: title of Webmaster) We’d start with an offer of a hundred dollars and see how it landed to know if we completely offended them or had just made a great deal, working our way down the list of potential banner placements.
And even in 2021, B2B KOL negotiations feel a lot similar but certainly more than a few hundred dollars.
We took this question to our friends at Onalytica, the biggest B2B influencer database. With a platform like theirs, it is easier to negotiate and process payment for a KOL, but it still requires conversation and a fair bit of guesstimation. Each individual person and set of content pieces come with their own negotiations. Valuing the relationship and offering a fair and equitable rate will go much farther in B2B KOL partnerships than budget savings.
The Good News For Finding B2B KOLs
Lucky for all of us, rate cards and reports in the area are increasing, giving at least a clue or a starting point to custom negotiations with KOL’s of interest.
Even for Convince & Convert, we’ve worked on a general rate card in the form of our media kit for the types of content we regularly create for clients. It takes into consideration the expertise our collective team brings to any KOL engagement. As we work on behalf of clients to strategize and plan their KOL engagements, we use our rate card as the barometer for gauging the starting offers and rate negotiations with the KOLs selected.
A recent report by Intellifluence included more than 1200 influencers asking them about compensation expectations for mainstream pieces of content. And while the influencers included were likely working with more B2C than B2B brands, we found these areas to universally apply:
- Cash is preferred. “Nearly 70% of those surveyed said they liked to get paid in cash and in product.” For B2B marketers – particularly MarTech brands, think about how you can sweeten your offer or enhance the relationship with a KOL by offering a license, upgrade or similar in addition to direct payment.
- Particularly for C&C clients, video is a common content type in our KOL programs. In the Intellifluence survey, influencers wanted brands to realize how much pre-work goes into creating a quality video.
For B2B marketers, when you are working with KOLs acknowledge that the hard work is in the prep and polish of a video. While the output may be only a few minutes of finished content, a worthwhile KOL will spend time to plan, script, and use quality equipment to shoot the video.
One area we tend to do for our clients is we do the post-production work – asking a KOL to send us clean video and we add any captions, logos and bumpers to the final cut. This works well because most of our KOL interactions are part of multi-episode shows.
Working with B2B KOLs is a Work in Progress
Someday we’ll have the “ultimate pricing guide to B2B KOL engagements” but until that is created, we’d break it down to building a relationship with your KOLs is key and fair compensation and clear deliverables go a long way in a long term partnership.