Whilst we might not call it influencer marketing in professional services, it is usually an important component of our marketing, communications and sales strategies. I spend a lot of time helping firms establish and improve their marketing, referrer management and client relationship management strategies and influencer marketing usually features. And not just in social media. So here are some thoughts on influencer marketing in professional services. 

What is influencer marketing?

Influencer marketing is a type of marketing that focuses on using key experts and opinion leaders to drive your brand’s message to the larger market. Rather than marketing directly to clients and consumers, you inspire (or pay) influencers to get out the word for you. You leverage their large networks of followers (reach) or their position as respected experts (authority).
In the consumer world, many influencers are paid to showcase or recommend products – or given free products to review. But this wouldn’t be appropriate or feel comfortable in much of the professional services environment. And referral fees and similar arrangements are prohibited in many professions.
Current definitions suggest that “Influencer marketing is a form of social media marketing involving endorsements and product placement from influencers, people and organizations who have a purported expert level of knowledge or social influence in their field”. Sadly, this means that influencer marketing is often neglected beyond digital marketing and content marketing strategies.
Social media influencers (measured by reach, relevance and resonance) are categorised broadly as:

  • Celebrity influencers (“mega-influencers” with over a million followers)
  • Authority influencers (probably the most relevant for the professions along with macro-influencers such as executives, bloggers and journalists in a particular niche with 10,000 to a million followers with high post engagement)
  • Social media “sensations”
  • Micro-influencers (consumers and employees with up to 10,000 followers)
  • Bloggers 

The 1-9-90 rule in social media – 1% create content, 9% amplify content and 90% view content without contributing – is a consideration for social media influencer marketing programmes.
A Forbes article (“Seven strategic ways you should be collaborating with influencers”) in February 2020 stated that 75% of marketers have already implemented an influencer marketing solution (Forrester).
To judge the strength of an influencer (Lee Odden of TopRank Marketing):

  1. Proficiency – domain expertise
  2. Popularity – active network that pays attention to what they say – creating content
  3. Personality
  4. Persuasion – Passion for their topic
  5. Power – when they talk, others take action

He suggests four ways to engage influencers in a campaign:

  1. Do your homework and compile lists of influencers
  2. Invite influencers to contribute content (provide a platform – speaking, blogging, steering group etc)
  3. Be creative and interactive
  4. Promote the anchor asset

Word-of-mouth (WOM) recommendations have always been important in the professions

Whereas influencer marketing is about engaging key individuals to leverage their influence, word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing is the actual avenue by which this communication takes place. So, almost all influencer marketing includes word-of-mouth marketing activities, but not all word-of-mouth marketing is driven by influencer campaigns.
US figures for B2B and B2C sales indicate that whilst only 19% of sales are driven by WOM, 91% are influenced by WOM.
But word-of-mouth recommendations have always been important in the professions – and long before the advent of social media. Yet this is often left to chance unless there is a proactive influencer marketing programme.
Most research shows that professional services clients will seek the views of their peers, industry experts, directories, professional and trade associations and other experts before deciding to approach a potential provider. It is a key step in many client journeys.
Whilst many firms will interrogate their clients for how they have used their own digital assets (web sites, digital content and social media accounts) during their decision-making and purchase journey, not all firms will explore the other sources that clients use. Thus potentially missing the critical influencers that could be actively managed in the future.

Influencer marketing is different to advocate marketing

Of course, existing clients have always been powerful influencers in the professions.
Professional services marketers invest a lot of time and effort in client relationship management (CRM) and KAM programmes to leverage loyalty.  They often elicit conference speeches, case studies and testimonials from clients to support this process. And recommendations and referrals This is known as Advocate marketing though.

Social media doesn’t have a monopoly on influencer marketing

Influencer marketing became popular as social media erupted. We became used to seeing celebrities and high-profile experts promote brands and products on their Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media platforms. Tik-Tok more recently.
But influencer marketing has always been around in the professions. I can recall days when media coverage of accountants supporting high profile insolvency cases, litigators issuing Court press statements or family solicitors represented wealthy clients during their divorces rocketed those professional service firms into the spotlight. It was a massive boost to their reputation management and influencer marketing.

Influencers remain an important component of the Decision-Making Unit (DMU)

In complex business-to-business (B2B) sales situations, we usually recognise the different needs of those in the decision-making unit (video explainer of DMU). We know that the gatekeepers, buyers, decision-makers and users are within our prospective client organisations and we know that the influencers may be within or beyond the client organisation.
Gartner recently reported that 6 to 10 people are typically involved in a B2B buying decision.
Many professional service firms develop detailed sales strategies – supported by marketing communications programmes that might be centred on core content such as a thought leadership campaign  – to reach the various audiences within the decision-making unit.
But not all firms will develop separate and tailored communications programmes for the core influencer segment operating in their markets and influencing their clients and potential clients. This is, of course, part of the segmentation  that should lie at the heart of any marketing and communications strategy.

Influencers as a segment for PR campaigns

The communications teams in many professional services firms will have campaigns and programmes for various “publics” – for example: the media, existing clients, internal staff, local communities and regulators. However, the programmes tailored to influencers will often depend on the particular location, sector and services being promoted and can be overlooked.
So, do you have a list of the various influencers that are important to your main markets – and details of the programmes to reach them and maintain a dialogue with them?
Influencer programmes in professional services needs to go beyond PR. Professional services is a people business and influencers in the market will need to know and trust those that they are to recommend – and that usually involves some form of personal relationship to build on any PR or digital content strategy.

Influencer marketing is fundamental to referrer management strategies

Many professional services firms – especially those in transactional or litigation services – will have referrer and intermediary management at the heart of their strategy. Their focus is on understanding who generates the most and best quality referrals and designing communication, sales and relationship strategies to develop mutual understanding.
What these referrers do – when their clients ask them for suggestions or recommendations on who to use for legal, accountancy, surveying, actuarial, corporate finance, economic or other professional services – is to think through who they know are established in the area and who might be a good “fit” for their client.
Ongoing influencer marketing programmes are designed to keep your professional services firm at the front of mind of those referrers and best placed to be amongst one of the few firms that the referrer recommends.

Influencer trends

Digital consultants SCI suggested that the influencer marketing trends to watch are:

  • Spotlight on nano-influencers and micro-influencers
  • Storytelling
  • Alternative platforms
  • Video content

Examples of B2B brands using influencer marketing include:

  • SAP inviting influencers to its user conference
  • GE conducting interviews with key influencers and producing video testimonials
  • PWC using #BallotBriefcase campaign for the Oscars
  • TopRank using content advice from an authoritative expert
  • Salesforce using interviews with its high-profile leader and thought leadership content

Collaborating with social influencers

The Forbes article mentioned above suggests, primarily for B2C services, that you can better integrate influencer marketing into your over marketing ecosystem and objectives if you:

  • Collect ratings and reviews of your product or service
  • Execute a digital focus group or research panel (many PSF firms operate client panels)
  • A/B test creative and campaign concepts
  • Repurpose influencer-generated content on your web site
  • Ask clients to apply to your influencer programme
  • Add a ‘filter by influencer’ feature to e-commerce sites
  • Test your brand on emerging channels

 Lessons from the technology industry

Decades ago, I worked in the technology sector. We had tailored programmes to reach particular groups of influencers – whether firms of management consultants, technology experts, business opinion-leaders, specialist media or independent commentators.
As a management and marketing consultant and a long-in-the-tooth professional services marketer, I am often asked by my clients to recommend service providers – whether branding consultancies, PR agencies, designers, researchers, software solutions or other specialists. And, of course, lawyers, accountants and surveyors.
It is interesting that the only people who have “influencer programmes” – where I am invited along to specific influencer events to learn about their services – are a few larger tech companies. It’s rare for people to notice that I am writing about a topic and contact me to offer information in order to provide more comprehensive and accurate advice in the future. I appreciate it when it happens though. It makes me better at my job.
It’s really hard for me to recommend a service provider if I don’t know who they are and what they do and haven’t had a chance to see their services or products first-hand. It is the same for those influencing the purchase of different types of professional service. Naturally, I pick up a lot of information at industry conferences and networking events. But sometimes the over-zealous sales qualification process will prevent me obtaining the information I need in order to talk about or recommend services. That’s a real influencer frustration strategy!

The law and regulation of influencer marketing

Last night, I attended a webinar organised by The Worshipful Company of Marketors  and The Stationers’ Company  on the regulation of influencer marketing – although the focus was on consumer and B2C brands.
Jason Freeman – the Legal Director of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) – talked about issues with fake and negative reviews and paid endorsement. He alerted us to the fact that brands are responsible for statements made on their behalf. He highlighted the regulations in the area enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and trading standards: Influencers’ guide to making clear that ads are ads – ASA | CAP A key point was that any comment must clearly indicate upfront if it is an advertisement or paid partnership (this was illustrated by Jessica Zbinden-Webster who runs the “A Mummy Too” blog/vlog).
Robert Bond – a partner at Bristows Law – described the consumer protection laws. He also highlighted the legal considerations when entering into an influencer contract from both the brand’s and influencer’s perspective. His advice covered: due diligence of the influencer, legal jurisdiction of the contract, exclusivity of the influencer relationship, measurement of success, insurance and compliance (e.g. Privacy and Data Protection).