Bond Stories: The age of influencers

March 21, 2021
Posted by
Eva Fayemi

No, this piece will not be about Kim Kardashian. I claim that I am personally not influenced by her at all.  All I want to do is to tell you about a very interesting change we can see happening in Partnerships (something I know a lot more about). Namely that more and more B2B SaaS companies are moving from working with Transactional Partners (resellers) to Influential Partners.

I started to notice the importance of this change back in September 2019, when I visited a workshop about Disruptive Innovation on Click (organised by Booking.com). Before I went in, I saw myself as a lover of innovation, however coming out of this workshop, I was somewhat disillusioned about my ability to embrace innovation and, judging on the many confused faces in the room, I was not the only one. Besides the rather surprising outcome, this workshop was a real eye opener for me:

Startups have to understand the level of their innovation and the readiness of the market to accept that innovation.

I recognised examples in my own network of innovative B2B SaaS Startups and the difficulties they face in conquering a satisfying chunk of the market while they only had a handful of enthusiasts as clients. The speaker mentioned an experiment with AI software in a supermarket, including cameras and sensors. Based on your movements, the software could decide to show you a different price for that product or list an alternative. I was blown away and responded with a firm “NO” to the question if I would accept if my local supermarket would install this tomorrow.

Although the above example might look extreme and clearly too soon for the main market, it made me think of Revenue Management Systems that can fully automate price updates based on algorithms and external data. For many of us working in Hospitality Tech, this is progress and a logical next step in the field of Revenue Management. But just picture an independent hotelier that started taking Revenue Management seriously a year ago. For them this is some serious innovation, not to mention the speed on which this is happening! 

Making this comparison, I thought of how incredibly frustrating it must be to be seen as "too innovative" (or plain scary) and decided to do some research. I found out that all tech companies go through a period like this. It is known as the “Chasm” and it’s perfectly described by Geoffrey Moore in his book “Crossing the Chasm”. Moore takes the Technology Adoption Life Cycle, which describes the different groups of buyers in a typical market and that the buying behaviour of each group is different. This leaves gaps and the biggest gap is between the Early Adopters and Early Majority: the one I referred to earlier. Companies who successfully passed the Chasm understand the buying behaviour of each group and found ways to successfully market their product for that group.

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In addition to what Moore describes, I would like to highlight the importance of influencing the buyer groups with the help of the right Partners. My recent experience in setting up a Marketplace with 350+ Partners, has shown me specifically how a smart Partnerships Strategy containing Affiliates, Ambassadors and Influencers, help Startups get through the Chasm and reach the Early Majority of their market even faster. A proper Partner Strategy helps Startups find Partners with a strategic fit for each stage in the cycle. An endorsement done by the right Partner, will influence their audience and help to remove doubts related to credibility or a lack of references. The strategy should also describe how to keep Partners engaged, motivated, and how these partners will be rewarded. If all of this is done correctly, Partners will make the difference in crossing the gaps and especially the Chasm to the Early Majority of the market.

Jay McBain, Principal Analyst - Ecosystems, Channels, Partnerships & Alliances of Forrester, also shares some interesting numbers in his LinkedIn article “What I See Coming For The Channel In 2020”. These numbers further acknowledge the importance of a solid Partner Strategy including Influential Partners. Jay mentions that in B2B Tech, buyers are spending 68% of their buying journey digitally, before they even speak with a salesperson of the software company.

As a B2B SaaS company, you want to make sure these buyers see your product during this journey. Of course, the right digital marketing strategy plays a key role, however being stuck in the Chasm, Startups could face not having many clients yet or being unable to deliver the right references. So, even if these B2B Tech buyers might see the product, usually they will only talk to vendors they know. Or…. to vendors that are recommended by someone they follow on LinkedIn. Or..... to vendors listed on the “Recommended Software” page of their Industry Association website. Or.... to vendors being mentioned in their weekly newsletter. Or....

I am sure you get my point; buyers are waiting to be influenced by people they follow, read, listen to or see on Social Media. The secret is to influence these influencers and build a close relationship with them. Realise though that they are different than the Transactional Partners, who are mostly motivated by money. Often, Influential Partners are much more motivated by confirming their status as expert, increasing their reach and receiving recognition.

Sounds familiar? Hmmm, looks like Kim Kardashian influences us after all!

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