The importance of building relationships with key influencers is well recognised by today’s marketing pros, with around 84% preparing to launch influencer campaigns within the next 12 months – but who exactly are they in B2B? We’re not just talking YouTube and Instagram superstars.

One thing B2B influencers share is an authoritative voice that resonates with their audience. Whether industry analysts, consultancy heads, opinion-leading journalists or industry veterans who have the knack of grabbing attention, these people are trusted industry sources. So what steps do you take to find them and set up a successful influencer marketing campaign in the first place?

1. The Who – Search And Identify

Whatever role the influencers have, whether analysts, conference speakers, web-based peer groups or even bloggers, ask yourself – what influence do they hold? Is it with my target audience? And are they going to be receptive to my messaging? The answers will differ depending on industry role and existing affiliations, but as with most projects the first phase begins with the groundwork – search and identify.

2. The Four R’s

Finding vocal industry figures won’t necessarily be a challenge, but this list needs to be vetted down to include just relevant top-tier influencers. This is where you will need judge how to prioritise your targets. This can be achieved by implementing your own method of influencer weightings that consider the four R’s: regularity, reach, relevance and resonance.

Consider the appropriate platforms when planning campaigns. They will vary – blogs, LinkedIn groups and other social media channels all contain influential figures with dedicated audiences – but quantity doesn’t always translate into quality. Investigate an influencer’s following to see if it contains the type of B2B buyer you’re looking to target and how they are engaging.

3. Hot Trends And Recurring Themes

Take a top-down approach when identifying what ties your business and the influencer together. What trends and themes are they reporting on or discussing? Do they align with your key sales messages? Take the time to research the specifics because it’s great that they regularly talk about the right topic, but not if they take a wildly different stance on it. Determining these allows you to engage with influencers on mutual topics of interest.

4. First Contact

If an influencer campaign is going to fail, this is where it will most likely happen. A poor first contact can kill a campaign before it ever gets off the ground and leave a lasting poor reputation among key influencers. Therefore, a tailored outreach strategy is needed to begin engaging with each influencer – a catchall approach might mean catching none. A personalised campaign allows you to share and shape appropriate content which demonstrates the benefit of a content relationship to the influencer. It shows you mean business and are willing to engage on a one-to-one basis rather than ‘trawling’ for interest.

5. A Relationship Is Built On Trust

Once you have the influencer’s attention, you need to grow and maintain the fledgling relationship by creating conversation and sharing content. At IBA, the team builds an asset library as part of a centralised ‘hub’ to help us effectively curate and re-purpose existing material for our clients – providing the right copy to drive engagement on the topics that matter. By consistently providing relevant, quality content and valuable industry commentary, you can nurture your relationship with the influencer who can then share with their audience.

6. A Lasting Impression

This is more than a simple lead generation program – it is a two-way relationship, and it is important to maintain the content relationship rather than letting it fall off when the benefits begin to arrive. Becoming a valued and lasting contact is key to securing tangible ROI.

It is clear that sales teams are becoming involved later in the purchasing process. Much of the buying journey has already been conducted either through internal research, consulting opinion leaders and ‘word of mouth’ before reaching out to a vendor.

By building relationships with key influencers alongside other marketing campaigns, a level of authenticity can be achieved which makes key messages easily digestible. As a result, a greater number of potential customers can be reached in a more meaningful way.