In today’s digital-driven world, buyers are turning to each other and industry influencers to ensure the product/service they intend to purchase is the right one for them and are doing so across multiple digital channels including: social media, product review sites and online forums.

Because of this shift in buyer-influenced purchasing behavior, identifying and engaging with the key influencers in your industry is quickly becoming a critical component of a B2B organization’s marketing strategy. If done correctly, influencer marketing can lead to rapid growth in sales, raise brand awareness and establish a strong brand equity.

What Is Influencer Marketing?

In simple terms, influencer marketing can be defined as “the action of promoting and selling products or services through people (influencers) who have the capacity to have an effect on the character or brand.” Take Amazon, for example, how many times have you searched for a product and immediately looked at the customer reviews first before purchasing? To take it one step further, how many times have you gone to the “Top Customer Reviews” which are ranked according to the number of users that found that review useful (i.e. influential)?

While influencer marketing has been around for several years, it has recently picked up traction over the last few months, and is becoming an important piece of companies’ marketing strategies.

Why Is It Important?

With the power of social media and the ability for anyone with a smart phone and internet connection to create viral content, those that are producing the most interesting content are rising to the top as influencers in their field and amassing large followings across their social media networks. Because of this, B2B marketers must research their buyers, identify the influencers in their respective industry and develop ways to engage them without asking too much from them up front (Ask yourself – what’s in it for them?).

Getting Started in Influencer Marketing

Getting started with influencer marketing for B2B organizations will take a little bit of research and patience. However, here are a few steps you can start taking to get the ball rolling:

  1. Before you do anything, develop the goals you want to achieve from your influencer marketing campaign such as raising brand awareness, generating leads or creating a customer advocacy program to build your own army of influencers.
  2. Research your buyers and determine what marketing channels your audience spends most of their time on.
  3. Identify the influencers in your space and where they engage the most with their audience.
  4. Build a relationship with targeted influencers by providing thoughtful, relevant content (or curate 3rd party content) that resonates with your influencers and participate in conversations they are also engaged in (Twitter Chats, LinkedIn Groups, Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything”, etc.)
  5. Develop a process of reaching out to your targeted influencers (introductory email, social media outreach, phone call, etc.)
  6. Don’t ask for too much up front when engaging with influencers. Think about the incentives you want to provide if an influencer agrees to give a shout out to your product/service through their social media channel or feature a piece of your content on their website.
  7. Measure results against goals and continue identifying influencers to expand your audience reach.

By understanding the impact that influencers can have on your business and by following the steps listed above, your organization can begin taking the necessary next step to incorporate influencer marketing into your marketing strategy.

This post originally appeared in Launch Marketing’s B2B Marketing Blog.