Meet the top 21 B2B influencers to watch in 2018

B2B Influencers
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The past year might have been full of talk about “influencer marketing” to consumers, but it takes a particular kind of person to influence marketers themselves. 

What follows is a list of B2B influencers based on what our editorial team has observed amid on our coverage of major industry conferences, activity on social media and submissions from our audience. This is not a ranking — they aren’t being listed in order of influence. Instead, this is a collection of the experts with a strong, consistent voice across multiple channels. They said a lot worth hearing in 2017, and we look forward to more in 2018. 

Disclosure: I provide content marketing services to Salesforce Canada and The Tite Group but had no contact with them in the process of selecting and writing this list. 

Vala Afshar, Chief Digital Evangelist, Salesforce

He didn’t speak English when he first moved to Boston from Iran, but since then Vala Afshar has made up for lost time. He enjoys an audience of more than 216,000 followers on Twitter, where he receives an estimated two million mentions per day. He also has a popular HuffPost blog, a weekly web series and a book, The Pursuit of Social Business Excellence. Rather than simply preach the merits of his employer’s CRM products, however, Afshar tends to look for ideas and inspiration that transcend particular technologies.

“There is pressure, but it’s good pressure. There’s accountability, transparency – all these things that motivate you. There’s a sense of responsibility when you’re named someone who influences businesses and business leaders. It motivates me to curate and create quality content, because it’s a privilege to become a trusted adviser.” — from an interview with UMass Lowell


Evan Kirstel, Chief Digital Evangelist, EviraHealth 

When the topics are challenging — the Internet of Things, unified communications in the cloud — companies count on Kirstel to make them accessible. This week, for instance, he has been working closely with Panasonic to highlight some of the most relevant B2B themes at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. His writing on UCStrategies and elsewhere gets significant traction through his nearly 165,000 Twitter and 20,000 LinkedIn Followers. He even has a sizeable Instagram presence. Look for more insight from Kirstel on self-driving cars, AI and more in 2018.

“Being a social influencer places an increased responsibility on being credible and being a leader that people can look to for help and guidance. Like economists, management theorists, weather forecasters, and Wall Street leaders, each has a specific role in their field and each is not just an expert but provides thought leadership to the industry.” — from an interview on UC Strategies

Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer, MarketingProfs 

How’s this for a conference session title: “Writing Secrets From Productive And Prolific Writers (The Jerks!)”? It’s another example of how the chief content officer at MarketingProfs not only brings value to her audience, but in a way that adds in a healthy dose of offbeat humour. In 2017 she was a mainstay at a string of events, all while continuing to write for Entrepreneur, LinkedIn and many other outlets — not that she’s a jerk about it.

“I value three things: quality over quantity, great writing, building an audience over stuffing a pipeline until it bursts at its seams with so-called leads. I value other things, too. But those three things are top of mind.” — from her blog

Ron Tite, CEO, The Tite Group 

While most popular keynote speakers probably sought some much-needed downtime in late December, Ron Tite went back into practice mode. As he shared on LinkedIn, he travelled to New Jersey for a coaching session with Heroic Public Speaking — evidence that success hasn’t made the CEO of the Tite Group complacent. In fact, 2017 saw Tite delve deeply into one of the most popular topics in marketing: how to unleash the kind of thinking that leads to innovation. With Christopher Novais and Scott Kavanagh, he co-wrote Everyone’s An Artist (or At Least They Should Be), which could become the ideal textbook for content marketers (without reading like a textbook).

Before I ever suggest that my clients start customizing content for different stages of the funnel, I make sure they’re already in the habit of producing content on a regular basis. If not, you’re trying to leapfrog the entire process to get to this end state that you read somewhere is the mecca for content marketing.” — from an interview with FunnelCake

Tom Goodwin, Head of Innovation, Zenith

Most of us would be happy to get a few likes and comments on a LinkedIn post. Goodwin’s content generates in-depth conversations, most of them in reaction to his provocative and often contrarian takes on overhyped trends in marketing. In 2017 he began stretching himself beyond the ad industry to look more broadly at technological change, launched a personal web site, a Meetup series for “interesting people” and is at work on a book, Digital Darwinism, to be published this year.

“(Innovation) can’t be shipped in, or outsourced for a sunny Friday. It’s a culture. It’s angry people who care and want to make change and (hopefully) people who will forgive them. It’s not a product and if it was it would look horrible.” — From IncentiveAndMotivation

Ray Wang, CEO, Constellation Research

His tweets usually begin with “MyPOV” but the truth is, the principal analyst at Constellation Research’s point of view often becomes accepted wisdom in IT and marketing circles. While he’s always consulted by journalists and other experts on the latest trends in enterprise applications, Wang was also sought-after voice on issues like the U.S. net neutrality ruling and lead a conversation with Vint Cerf about the need for a “human-centered Internet.”

“Digital transformation is not overblown! We talk about the shift of selling products to services, but we’re also seeing companies that sell services go to experiences, and companies that are building experiences going to outcomes. And ultimately, what we are delivering is what we call a brand promise.” — from an interview with TechRevolutionAsia

Erin Bury, Managing Director, Eighty Eight

At its Content Experience event last Fall, Uberflip co-founder Randy Frisch wondered aloud how Erin Bury pulls off running her agency Eighty Eight while also moderating so many panel discussions. He said this, of course, as Bury then proceeded to moderate a panel discussion). Bury’s conversations with startups and small business owners aren’t limited to the stage, however. She regularly contributes a column about entrepreneurialism to the Financial Post , leads Twitter chats for the likes of Dell and was recently featured on The Lucky Few podcast, where she touched on her firm’s innovative Agency “Side Hustle” initiative that encourages off-hours projects. To most of us, however, Bury is just plain hustling.

Having a side hustle is equated with not putting 110% into your day job, and there’s generally a fear that if you launch a side hustle you might leave the company. What entrepreneurs have figured out – and the reason they support side hustles – is that employees can have side projects while still being devoted to their day job – and in many cases, having a creative outlet makes them more committed.” — from the Eighty Eight blog

Jay Baer, President, Convince & Convert 

He has pointed out in his keynote speeches that too few companies have an established “word of mouth” marketing strategy, but Jay Baer may have a way to help with that. Whether through his newsletter, videos, podcasts or live appearances, Baer has been explaining the concept of “Talk Triggers” — a memorable, repeatable kind of experience brands can create to build more loyal customers. Talk Triggers will be the subject of a book he’s in the process of writing this year.

It’s easy to feel attacked when customers complain on social channels. Develop a thick skin and use the opportunity to show haters how quickly you want to resolve their problems. In addition to letting current customers know you care about their concerns, it will give potential clients another reason to consider doing business with your company.” – from an article on AdWeek

Mitch Joel, President, Mirum

His Six Pixels Of Separation podcast has been running since 2006, long before the format reached critical mass, and has featured everyone from Chuck Martin to Robert Rose. He also has reach into the CEO set through his contributions to Harvard Business Review, books like CTRL ALT Delete of course, his social channels.

Here’s my promise to every Chief Marketing Officer in the world: We can stop using the term “digital marketing” when all/most brands actually deliver a decent web and mobile experience to their consumers.  Lots of big brands get up on big industry conference stages with big slides, talking about how great they are with omnichannel or how integrated they are (the consumer is always in the middle of the slide!), and how they can all simply drop the word “digital” from their marketing. Still, it’s sad how bad most brand experiences are online. So… I’ll drop “digital” once theses brands really do digital.” — From a Medium post

Gary Vaynerchuck, CEO, Vayner Media

You can love “Gary Vee” as he’s called online or hate him, but he’s quoted too often on LinkedIn, Twitter and elsewhere to be easily ignored. This year his agency, Vayner Media, expanded into Asia, while he joining the judging panel on Apple’s Planet Of the Apps TV Show. Maybe most unexpected was his collaboration with K-Swiss on his own running shoe. How many other marketers have their own signature sneaker? Whatever else 2018, you can be pretty sure Gary Vee will be continuing to run as fast as he can.

“I don’t want anybody to hire us because of me. It’s OK to be aware of us because of me, but that’s where it ends. Look, marketing and personal branding are important. It’s real. But it doesn’t trump what goes on behind it.” — from an interview with Entrepreneur

Scott Brinker, VP Platform Ecosystem, HubSpot 

He may be known for creating one of the biggest eyecharts in history — the ever-growing list of martech firms — but Scott Brinker’s Chief Marketing Technologist has become an indispensable resource highlighting the impact of IT on everything brands do. Besides chairing  the 2017 MarTech conference, Brinker made a big professional move by joining HubSpot in late September, where he’ll be working more directly with the array of startups and established firms on his marketing technology landscape infographic and move from analyst to facilitator or partnerships.

“Customer experience is not eliminating marketing, but it’s the most valuable incarnation of how a company markets itself and interacts with its customers.” – from an interview with MarTech Today.

Jill Rowley, Chief Growth Advisor, Marketo 

She’s been vocal about moving away from language that describes customers as a group to be preyed upon and encourages her peers in keynote talks to embrace tools like LinkedIn as a way to build deeper relationships. That track record caught the eye of Marketo, which brought Rowley on in late 2017 for a role where she’ll report directly to CEO Steve Lucas and bring together internal teams for a more digital-first approach to the market.

This intermediation between buyer and seller is getting bigger because the seller isn’t delivering what the buyer needs, which is unique insight about their business. Buyers want to know how solution providers can impact their business outcomes. Buyers are going to the web to learn, find inspiration and gain insights. Marketing is in those channels and sales is not; and if they are, they are being salesy and not thinking through the lens of the customer and what they value.” — from an interview with DemandGen Report

Sangram Vajre, CMO and Co-Founder, Terminus 

To some, account-based marketing (ABM) is an increasingly popular practice. According to Drift, however, it’s a movement whose growth can largely be credited to Vajre’s tireless speeches, videos and articles. One co-worker, who nominated him for this list, called working with him the highlight of her career and described him as “the poster child” for ABM. In many of his appearances, Vajre opens with a cheery “Sangram here!” The rest of the marketing community has noticed, which means he’s likely here to stay.

The whole point of the last 15 years, the problem we were solving for was, “How do I optimize for the right person, at the right time, with the right product I want to sell?” So finally, with ABM we just went in a different direction than just generating more of the same… So I think it’s a natural evolution, but the problem is still the same: How do I give my sales team the best opportunity to win?” – from an interview with Drift.

Linda Boff, CMO, GE 

She’s overseen the creation of content that promotes the firms science innovations across almost every channel imaginable. She’s been so effective in B2B she was invited to join the board of directors at a major consumer brand, Dunkin Donuts. In October, she won “Grand Brand Genius” from AdWeek and headlined the 2017 Content Marketing World conference. As brand leaders go, it doesn’t get more visible than this.

“Some platforms will come and go. We know our brand well. Because our brand stands for innovation, the desire to express that in new ways, on new platforms, is one that kind of feels core to us. I think the price of experimentation is to skin your knees sometimes, and that’s okay.” — from an interview with The Drum

Rand Fishkin, Founder, Moz

At this point, his name would almost work as a keyword for a general-purpose article on “SEO.” His blog, whiteboard videos and conference talks are adapted by untold numbers of marketers who want to improve the performance of their content. That’s why there was a shock wave in the industry this past summer, when Moz, the company he founded 16 years ago, announced he would be stepping down from day-to-day duties and taking on an advisory role. Whatever’s next for Fishkin, his impact on the industry is likely to continue ranking high.

“I’m not sure I’d call Moz a ‘success,’ at least not yet. We’ve raised venture capital, and that means returning money to our investors, hopefully at a very high multiple. It’s a very tall task, but I believe one that’s possible – just an incredibly hard thing to do.” – from an interview with Forbes

Joe Pulizzi, Founder, Content Marketing Institute 

He’s made Cleveland a Mecca for content marketers. He’s turned orange into a recognizable aspect of his personal brand. He’s overseen the growth of Chief Content Officer and countless training sessions across North America. In late October, however, Pulizzi announced he would be leaving the Content Marketing Institute to focus on his family, writing and The Orange Foundation, which helps children with speech disorders. The next chapter of this storyteller’s narrative is eagerly awaited.

“Content marketing has become a real, professional practice … maybe the most important practice in marketing, because you had the strength and courage to seek out a better way to communicate. You believed that marketing, as we knew it, was broken and there was (is) a better way. Being witness to this and being able to serve you has been a wonderful and humbling experience.” – from his farewell post

Samantha Stone, Founder and CMO, Marketing Advisory Network 

Most organizations are laser-focused on bottom-line results, but Stone and her team offered a good reminder of how important it is to support and empower the team with the 2017 Employee Advocacy Impact Study. Meanwhile her book, “Unleash Possible” has been listed as a must read marketing book for 2017 by LinkedIn and FlipMyFunnel. She’s a mainstay at Aligned ’17, B2B Forum and a slew of other events that bring the community together. She’s also not afraid to get real: one of her LinkedIn posts last year was titled “Confession Time: My biggest campaign mistakes.”

Half the battle of making progress is believing you can. Far too many meetings are focused around why we can’t do something. By changing our reference from ‘why not,’ to ‘how,’ we have the opportunity to unlock incredible possibilities.”  – from our “In The Mind Of” interview series

Lee Odden, CEO, TopRank Marketing 

His firm’s blog, which is ready by anyone who’s anyone in B2B, celebrated an impressive 14 years in 2017. He uses his Twitter feed to proactively point out female CMOs that event organizers should consider for their next conference keynote. He has written or been interviewed about influencer marketing and its pros and cons at a time when more brands need to figure it out. Few have navigated the worlds of SEO, PR and other areas of marketing so seamlessly.

“In the future I think cognitive systems will use AI to handle all of the data intensive and structured aspects of content marketing. While that will make some content marketing roles redundant, it will also open up many new opportunities that can leverage AI systems to scale the “art and science” of content for marketing.” – from an interview with Onalytica

Christine Duhaime, Founder, Digital Finance Institute

Banks, insurance companies and other organizations are still struggling to figure out what technologies like AI and blockchain might mean for their future. That’s where Duhaime, a lawyer who authors a blog, Artificial Intelligence Insight, and whose work in developing DFI has created a place to gather some of the sector’s brightest minds. She’s also hands-on in helping create things like Chatbo, an anti-money laundering chabot, and is overseeing major white papers on women in fintech, among other projects.

“The more we get interconnected — the more there are systems deciding what’s safe, what’s good, what’s bad — the more it’s going to be vulnerable because we’re counting on our systems to be smarter and better than the hacker in another country who wants to do us harm.” – from an interview with American Banker

Bianca Wylie, Head, Open Data Institute 

When Google’s parent company Alphabet announced the forthcoming Sidewalk Labs, many in the Toronto tech community started doing cartwheels. Not Wylie, who instead created a list of probing questions about the intent of the project that focused on the many unknowns that might have an on civic life. Her work with the Open Data Institute, meanwhile, has her deeply engaged in how the public sector and society can work more meaningfully together using the information resources at their disposal. Far from an academic-style role, she writes for publications like Huffington Post and worked directly with the Province of Ontario on an International Open Data charter.

“Public policy options are never right or wrong, they’re informed by values and are political decisions. As such, the fact that no political party has bothered to make technology policy a core part of its platform continues to astound me because it presents an opportunity to exert values in the technology space. A set of values that is different than the ones that chase disruption and resilience, a set of values that could be used to adjust and iterate on what we have that’s already working well in government.” – from a post on Medium

Vitalik Buterin, Co-Founder, Ethereum

He may not be a household name — yet — but the Co-Founder of Ethereum and Bitcoin Magazine has arguably done more than anyone to make blockchain a focal point of discussion among businesses in every sector imaginable. With more than half a million followers on platforms like Twitter, he has a large platform to help shape what’s going to happen with distributed ledger technology in 2018 and longer after it.

“Where Ethereum comes from is basically you take the idea of crypto economics and the kinds of economic incentives that keeps things like bitcoin going to create decentralized networks with memory for a whole bunch of applications. A good blockchain application is something that needs decentralization and some kind of shared memory.” – from an interview with TechCrunch

That’s our list! Let us know who we missed or overlooked, and submit more nominations for next year.

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Shane Schick

Shane Schick

Shane Schick is the Editor-in-Chief of B2B News Network. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and was the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.