Channel Influencers: Five Types to Know and Evaluate
In today’s environment, the value of influencers is everywhere. In tech, vendors specifically need to align with the power of channel influencers in customer relationship management – all the way from brand awareness and creation to revenue generation.
But where does this power come from? For one thing, as multi-vendor solutions become more complex, brand/vendor decisions are more nuanced. For instance, the channel that specifies the brand, is not always the channel that closes the sale. Therefore, if you don’t have a good relationship with the specifying channel, you’ll miss out on the sale. From a vendor perspective, the rate of innovation and new market entrants makes it imperative to align with “expert voices” to give new offers additional targeted presence and credibility.
If you are currently using influencers in your channel – or considering using them – it helps to be familiar with the following five main types, defined by function.
5 Influencer Types To Know and Evaluate in your Channel
Reviewer Influencers can be trade publications, associations and industry consultants who are largely impartial but who play an important role in helping end-users and channels understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of offers within a defined category.
2. Credible Users
Sometimes known as “techies” within an organization or geographic market, Credible User influencers often belong to user groups where they share tips, jointly troubleshoot and stay on top of vendor innovation. Because they have depth and breadth of experience on a particular vendor’s product or platform, they can and do serve as internal brand “champions” or ambassadors within a broader market. (I sometimes think of them as “Trojan Horses” because of their ability to drive market penetration.)
Endorsers are very common in consumer markets, dominating social media platforms such as Instagram and YouTube. While very selective about who and what they will endorse, they have a deep connection to the product and/or brand, along with a deep connection to their followers. Consequently, their payment is based on their proven ability to create “buzz” around a product or event.
Recommenders are influencers who, during a selling situation, will indicate a preference for a specific brand or product over other options the end user is considering. Their motives often relate to customer satisfaction. For example, if they believe one brand or solution is clearly a better fit. Or they can be driven by business factors such as experience with the brand or vendor, greater ease of doing business or better margins.
A Specifier goes beyond “recommending” to indicate that a specific brand, product or solution is necessary for optimal performance of the solution proposed. In industrial and commercial markets, think Internet of Things (IoT). This role can be played by an engineer who may write a “soft spec” (Brand x or equivalent) and leave it up to the sales channel to determine the ultimate brand. On the other hand, the specifier can influence by writing a “hard spec” indicating that no substitute will be acceptable.
It’s important to note that, in our industry, Solutions Partners and Systems Integrators regularly recommend or specify brands and vendors to their end-users. Sometimes they’ll close the sale as well. Other times, where the customer is larger and prefers to purchase directly, the partner’s value is captured in the category of “influenced revenue” and a commission paid.
Discover how vendors and distributors including Cisco, Extreme Networks, Zebra Technologies, LG Electronics, D&H and Comstor are using and profiting from channel automation technology.
Measuring the Value of Influencer Channel Partners
The value of influencers varies significantly depending on the type or function and the relative power they have in the markets they touch. This value continuum can help you identify what you need and plan your influencer strategy accordingly.
To Pay or Not to Pay – Capturing the Cost of Working with Channel Influencers
Whether or not there is an outlay of cash, vendors always “pay” to work with influencers. As with value delivered, the cost of working with influencers varies significantly by the type and market power of the partner, as well as by their individual business models.
Typical Categories of Cost Include:
– Free product
– Free training
– Insider news
– Pre-release information inc. new product access prior to launch
– Meet-ups and events
– Marketing support materials
– Commission on sales
– Performance contract
– Management time
Automating the Influencer Relationship
If you are already utilizing a channel management platform, it could be relatively easy to incorporate influencers. But a good place to start is with the partners who both influence and sell. A solution such as Channel Mechanics, for example, can track deal opportunities by influencer. And, because Channel Mechanics feeds into Salesforce, you can capture influenced deal revenue.
Regardless of how – and where in the organization – you choose to manage them, influencers increasingly demand vendor attention as a critical component of the ecosystem. Which relationships do you need to form? What support will you need to provide? What metrics will you use to quantify value? These are just some questions to be answered in 2020 and beyond!