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Influencer Marketing Trailblazer Josh Norris Reveals The Untapped Potential For B2B Brands

Influencer marketing is breaking into a new frontier: the enterprise technology world. Traditional sales and marketing methods are losing effectiveness, and businesses are increasingly turning to trusted voices on professional platforms like LinkedIn to raise awareness and drive revenue.

At the forefront of this shift is Josh Norris, CEO of Josh Norris Consulting, a consultancy focused on the creator economy. He has found success by taking a differentiated approach – partnering companies with knowledgeable subject matter experts rather than popularist influencers with massive followings.

Influencer Marketing Trailblazer Josh Norris Reveals The Untapped Potential For B2B Brands

Although he didn’t set out to become an influencer marketing specialist, his winding career path led him there organically. “I’ve been in the tech industry for a while, but getting into revenue tech was a complete accident,” Josh reveals.

After starting a college startup in 2010 and working in leadership roles at a publicly traded SaaS company, Josh went to work at a 40-person IT consulting firm in San Francisco. There, his CEO asked him to take over sales. “It sounded like an interesting challenge, so I said yes. I made a big career transition. I had to learn fast, and I found myself on LinkedIn. I met a bunch of people who were in sales, and I asked them questions. I joined communities, networked a lot, and tried to learn as much as possible.”

He enjoyed sales, becoming an account executive at a large software company selling DevOps software. He was then the first sales hire at a startup, merging his founder and revenue experience. For the past year, Josh has consulted fractionally, building go-to-market functions for startups.

When clients asked about influencer marketing last year, he leveraged his existing LinkedIn network of sales and marketing influencers. “I have watched influencers rise up ever since 2020. Some became highly respected experts in the space, and others, well, let’s just say they chased the money. I started thinking about how influencer marketing should be done and building programs for clients how I think it should be run. For example, working with subject matter experts who actually know their niche really well, as opposed to whoever has the biggest audience.”

His approach of activating knowledgeable creators over popularist influencers has resonated. “It results in really great results from the company, too […] The audience responds well to it. The influencers respond well to it. They enjoy participating in those programs. Followers enjoy interacting with the content because it helps them learn or do better at their jobs. Because it is real. It’s authentic.” Josh has doubled down on this differentiated philosophy over the past 4-5 months. 

The Rise of B2B Influencer Marketing

According to Josh, influencer marketing is becoming crucial in the business-to-business (B2B) sector as traditional sales and marketing tactics become less effective. “Conversion rates for cold outbound emails are less than half what they were a year and a half ago. Connection rates for phone calls are too,” he states.

The entrepreneur cites the proliferation of tools that enable mass outreach as a major driver of this noise. “The result is that buyers tune out. Their inboxes are a complete warzone. Their phones won’t stop ringing, so they turn on ‘Do Not Disturb,’ and no one can call them.”

With buyers overwhelmed by sales outreach, Josh believes they are increasingly turning to trusted voices for guidance. “You know that game-changing new technology is being built right now. You want to be an early adopter and have an early advantage. But there’s so much noise, so you turn to people that you trust in your network. You go to creators who have been creating content for a long time already and who have built a reputation. That’s where influencer marketing is coming from right now.”

Tapping Into the LinkedIn Influencer Economy

Josh sees LinkedIn as uniquely positioned for this B2B influencer marketing trend compared to other social platforms. “It’s a professional network as opposed to an all-purpose or primarily social network,” he notes. More importantly, “It’s not anonymous. You use your real name, your face, and your company. Everyone knows who you are. And that brings some accountability into what you can say and what you can get away with doing.”

This dynamic has created an environment conducive to serious professional discussion. “I call LinkedIn the social network for people who want to improve themselves and the world,” Josh says. “Do you go there to make money? Yes. Of course, that’s the fundamental reason everyone works, but also it’s people who actually want to try at their career and build something that matters.”

He’s witnessed the rise of the LinkedIn influencer economy firsthand. “In the last year or two, that’s when I started seeing smaller influencers with influencer deals, smaller influencers making money…That’s very new.” He’s also observed people quitting corporate jobs to make a full-time living as influencers and creators.

With major analyst firms projecting massive growth for the influencer marketing industry, Josh predicts B2B will capture an increasing share. Established tech companies “are going to use influencer marketing to defend against disruption and remain relevant in the minds of consumers, especially as younger professionals advance into leadership.”

Finding the Right B2B Influencer Partners

Per Josh, identifying the appropriate influencers to partner with is crucial for an effective B2B influencer marketing program. “You have to know them. It helps to follow them for a long time and look at all their content,” he advises.

The key is partnering with true subject matter experts with deep experience and credentials in your sector. “You want experts in your customers’ spaces, their peers, not necessarily yours. If you sell to marketing teams, find top marketers. If you sell to real estate brokerages, find top real estate agents. And finding the best subject matter experts in the space can take time,” Josh says. 

“On LinkedIn, I’ve watched them share stories and share their work online for years, and I’ve seen their results. I’ve seen them hire other people who I also trust. I’ve seen them work for other people that I also trust. It becomes self-evident.”

For companies new to a space looking to launch an influencer program, Josh recommends leveraging existing networks and communities. “Start with your customers. Go ask them, ‘Hey, do you follow anyone on LinkedIn talking about this stuff?” We’d love to learn who are the voices we should be following.’”

He also suggests joining online communities related to one’s industry. “For revenue tech, I always recommend Pavilion—probably the biggest online community for go-to-market leaders to get to know each other, share, and learn. Join those communities and ask the members, and they’ll tell you.”

Josh cautions against partnering with influencers with too many brand deals, which can dilute their authenticity. “I know someone who signed too many influencer contracts. She just got dropped by one of them. It hurt her brand. Definitely ask how many other brands they’re working with.”

Ultimately, understanding the influencer domain in one’s sector is critical. “Definitely talk with people embedded in that space. You don’t have to hire a consultant or anything. It can be other people in your network…But you just need to learn the top voices and who people trust the most.” As Josh states, putting in the research upfront to identify credible, respected subject matter experts can pay major dividends for your B2B influencer marketing success.

Influencer Marketing Trailblazer Josh Norris Reveals The Untapped Potential For B2B Brands

Prioritizing Authenticity and Transparency

For Josh, preserving authenticity and transparency is paramount when working with influencers. He’s witnessed many cases where influencers have damaged their credibility and alienated audiences by promoting products or services incongruent with their established brand.

“I watched many of those folks blow up their followings, get really big, realize that they can make a career out of it. Become marketers…and absolutely taint their credibility because they start taking these influencer deals with companies that are not related to [their core expertise],” he explains.

“Like, what are you doing? You’re basically lying to them in a way – trying to drive [audiences] to sign up for a product you never use. It’s deceitful. That’s why transparency is so important.”

Walking the Walk on Authenticity

Josh cites the influencer programs he’s built and participated in for companies like Saleboat and Sendoso as models of authentic, transparent influencer collaboration.

With Sendoso, a corporate gifting platform, Josh ensured all the influencers were active users before joining the campaign. “Every single influencer working in that program uses Sendoso. So every month, they’re all using it, and they’re sharing stories of how they’re using it today.”

For Saleboat’s MVP launch, he pivoted their planned influencer promotion after identifying a lack of authenticity. “Originally, it was just contracting with two big creators and having them post to ask for sign-ups…I was like, hold on a minute, what are you doing? Your product’s an MVP; no one’s used it before. The audience will be able to tell.”

Josh expanded the program to include respected sales leaders he knew could provide candid feedback after experiencing the product first-hand. “We’re embracing building in public, and we’re making sure that everyone is sharing really honest feedback in their posts. If no one shares negative feedback, then LinkedIn will look at it and wonder, ‘What are you hiding?’ Folks are loving the candid look behind the scenes of building a startup.'”

The Future of B2B Influencer Marketing

When it comes to technological innovations impacting influencer marketing, Josh expresses some skepticism about the utility of influencer marketplaces, which attempt to facilitate connections between brands and creators.

“I’m skeptical of whether influencers and companies will actually make deals on them or use them. We’ll see,” the marketing pro states. “Because there is so much of a foundation of trust that has to be in place before companies and influencers will work together.”

He notes that elite influencers with strong reputations tend to have relationships with major brands already. Meanwhile, relatively unknown influencers may struggle to get attention from any brands on open marketplaces. An intermediary vouching for one side is often required to broker deals between disparate parties.

Josh foresees the rising adoption of influencer marketing programs involving micro-influencers or relatively small, niche audiences. “I think there’s going to be an increase in deals made with up-and-coming names: large companies to small influencers, small companies to mega-influencers, and small companies to small, niche influencers.”

Rather than open marketplaces, he anticipates these relationships being fostered through intermediaries who can make trusted connections based on mutual interests and quality of content. “It’s going to require the companies and the influencers to work with people in their network…Someone in their network is going to vouch for them.”

According to him, this could lead to more scenarios of subject matter experts being approached by new companies, vetting their products, and deciding to promote them. “You’re going to have influencers who are subject matter experts in their space make deals with companies whose product they haven’t used for very long…I think those sorts of deals are going to become more common. I hope both sides vet each other carefully.”

Josh predicts that AI may have limited potential to disrupt the highly relational nature of influencer marketing directly. “There are some applications, and someone will try to make an AI influencer, but I’m not convinced it will last long-term. At its core, influencer marketing is about human relationships, creativity, and trust.” He believes more niche, human-centered influencer marketing campaigns are on the horizon for B2B.

Start Now and Avoid Short-Term Thinking

Josh’s top piece of advice for businesses is to avoid chasing the lure of short-term wins. Instead, take the time to design an effective, long-term influencer program aligned with your goals. “If you decide to start an influencer marketing program, plan to be in it for the long haul.”

Josh cautions against the common mistake of solely prioritizing post views or free trial signups from influencer content. “Don’t get baited. Yes, you can get a ton of signups from one post, and that’s valuable. But churn on those is high when the influencer stops promoting the product.”

The lasting business value of influencer marketing comes from compounding brand affinity and trust over time. “A solid influencer marketing program can turn your company into a household name among tech leaders in 6 months. Signups are great, but lasting revenue and loyal customers are better.”

Josh is confident that influencer marketing will continue to grow in the B2B sector for the foreseeable future. “Influencer marketing has been around for, what, 15 years or more now? […] This is not a new thing in the grand scheme of the world. It is a new thing in B2B, and all the data point to massive growth. It’s not going anywhere, and savvy business leaders are taking advantage.”

His advice to businesses is simple: Start before competitors secure an unfair advantage. “You don’t have to invest a ton of money. I would say just try it […] Ten years from now, it’s going to be as big in B2B as it is in e-commerce and other B2C sectors. So get started.”

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David Adler is an entrepreneur and freelance blog post writer who enjoys writing about business, entrepreneurship, travel and the influencer marketing space.

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