Who are B2B Influencers and What are Their Motivations?

by Dustin Luther, Brand and Influencer Engagement at Dun & Bradstreet

While launching our influencer engagement campaign, I’ve been surprised by how many ways there are to look at influencers. When we first started, I had a vague idea that an influencer was someone a marketer would encourage to engage with their content because they knew that person would help drive more interest and conversations.

However, in reading this fascinating interview by Mark Schaefer with Andrew GrillUnraveling the secrets of B2B influencer marketing, it hit me like a ton of bricks that not everyone defines “influencer” the same way and that influencer is probably a dangerous word to use as a marketer because it can mean so many different things to different people. There are employee influencers, celebrity influencers, paid influencers, affiliate influencers, and the list goes on!

And here’s where it gets interesting.

The strategies you use within influencer marketing should really depend on your understanding as to what motivates the influencers you’re trying to engage.

Here’s an example to drive home the importance of why you can’t mix-and-match influencers and strategies: I was at an event recently where a sales rep was trying to sell me on the idea of building a corporate community. It took at least 10 minutes for me to understand what the rep was proposing, but the long and short of this project involved using paid bloggers to post articles, decision makers at key companies to ask questions, and our sales team to answer those questions after they’d been trained. Except the pitch was phrased more like: “we’ll be leveraging influencers to post articles, influencer to ask questions and influencers to answer those questions.”

By lumping all three groups together as “influencers,” it sounded like an almost plausible influencer love-fest. But when I think of the work of trying to ramp up a campaign that required active involvement from paid bloggers, key customers and Dun & Bradstreet employees, my head hurts. There’s just so much that could go wrong.

With this experience in mind, I’ve put together a list of B2B influencers types and tried to hone in on what motivates each group. However, I’m far from thinking I’ve nailed this, and would love to make it better, so please suggest improvements!

Types of B2B Influencers

Decision Makers

The Decision Makers are influencers within a company you want to target. As Scott Sambucci highlighted when I talked with him about B2B enterprise sales, the reality is that getting a contract signed often involves buy off from a variety of people on different levels (users, Directors, VPs, C-level), as well as people from different parts of the organization (marketing, technology, legal, and so on). My experience is that this group remains the “holy grail” target audience of most B2B social campaigns and capturing their attention is where most campaigns struggle. When people talk about “social selling” they’re almost always talking about reaching Decision Makers.

  • Key motivations: To be more efficient, save time, save money, make more money, and be seen as a leader

Thought Leaders

Thought Leaders are influencers with deep expertise in a subject and cannot be easily bought off. In fact, they likely to be offended if you try to offer them money for positive coverage. In the B2B space, these people tend to be successful business executives who spend time interacting with other successful executives, and do speaking engagements, are authors, or/and conduct research. The opinions of this group carry a ton of weight with Decision Makers. Yet, getting them on board will often require a lot of attention and care, and probably an intro from another Thought Leader. Reaching this group is tough — like super tough — because most Thought Leaders surround themselves with expert staff that filters who gets into that person’s world.

  • Key Motivation: To increase their influence.

Business Celebrities

In the B2B world, Business Celebrities don’t tend to have a lot of influence. With that said, if you’re trying to market something to growth-oriented small business owners, why wouldn’t you want to have Mark Cuban or Gary Veynerchuk make a plug for your product or solution? While I’m intimately familiar with working with small business influencers, I’ve never tried to run a paid campaign with celebrities, but I’m pretty sure other companies are doing this every day.

  • Key Motivation: To make money in ways that increase their influence.


These are influencers who should largely be treated like press, and this includes both journalists and bloggers. As an early business blogger, I got to see first-hand the companies that did this right (and many examples of companies who didn’t!). For example, when I first started blogging about real estate technology issues, I thought the Amy Bohutinsky-led Zillow team did a phenomenal job of making real estate bloggers feel important. The team would give us exclusives, invite us to special sit-downs at conferences and much more. I remember staying up late just to be the first blogger to publish a story about a new Zillow feature at midnight when their embargo ended.

  • Key Motivation: To publish interesting, preferably exclusive, stories super relevant to their audience.

Paid Influencers

Simply put, these are influencers you can pay to write about your brand/products. They might get paid for one-off activities (mentioning your product or solution on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or another platform), a campaign (joining you at an event and writing about it on your blog) or for conversions (where they get a cut every time someone buys your product through an affiliate link). I’ve dabbled in all three of these activities in the past, but I’ve found it hard to scale these kinds of campaigns in the B2B space. Smart people like Andrew Grill are more convinced this is where B2B influencer marketing is heading, so, even if I’m not a convert, it’s definitely a space to watch.

  • Key Motivation: To make money off of stories that, ideally, will increase their influence.

Employee Influencers

These are employees who are well connected in their communities and have the potential to drive conversations with Thought Leaders and/or Decision Makers. My experience at Dun & Bradstreet has been that there are a ton of employees with deep knowledge and a strong interest in sharing that knowledge with others. They are often thought leaders in their space, but aren’t necessarily recognized as such online. One reason that my team has recently started leveraging the LinkedIn Elevate platform is that I’m really looking forward to helping to empower our employees to engage with others online so we can improve how people engage with the D&B brand through social channels.

  • Key Motivation: To be recognized as a thought leader in their space.

How can we improve this list?

  • Is there a better way to segment the influencers? New influencer types I didn’t consider?
  • Are there other influencers with different motivations that I skipped over?

These are questions I’d love your thoughts on and should provide interesting fodder for upcoming articles around developing social campaigns that leverage the motivations of the various type so influencers.



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