Why Thought Leadership Has Become Essential to The Complex Sale

A chorus of consultants and business leaders are emphasizing the importance of thought leadership to creating sales success. 

Thought leadership is now critical to differentiating the brand and driving engagement in earned media, owned marketing and direct sales channels. Selling stories, ROI models, and customer case studies are essential to supporting “value conversations” that accelerate sales, drive margin and change minds.

The quality of marketing content impacts the ability of marketers to drive top line growth with digital, social, native advertising and mobile channels. For example, 61% marketing executive’s view earned media – driven by thought leadership marketing, influencer marketing, and content marketing – as a primary driver of top line growth in their company according to research by Forbes.

Marketing executives are learning that subject matter expertise and a strong point of view are now essential to success in the digital, social, and mobile channels that buyers use to during the majority of the buying process. Sales executives realize original research and compelling insights make it easier to open doors, start quality customer conversations, generate referrals, cross sell, and influence buyer perceptions of value. An ounce of thought leadership is worth ten pounds of “me too” content when it comes to improving marketing effectiveness, differentiating your brand, and giving customers the relevant insights they are seeking.

Senior executives regard finding ways to differentiate the customer experience in social, mobile and digital channels as being vital to achieving growth goals as media fragmentation and changing buyer behavior diminish the value and effectiveness of ad impressions.

Regardless of the medium, one message is becoming clear – investing in creating thought leadership has become essential to driving growth in sales, marketing and media channels.  If you want to improve sales effectiveness, differentiate your brand, and give customers the engagement and insights they are seeking – invest in a Thought Leadership Selling. 

Every successful business has unique intellectual property and subject matter expertise.  The problem is most of this institutional knowledge lies “between the ears” of your employees – product managers, top salespeople, solutions specialists and executive leadership. The new marketing challenge is to devise a scalable thought leadership strategy to productize this knowledge, and monetize it with customers, prospects and influencers. “Any successful organization, from a tire business to a research lab, has experts who can help customers solve problems and teach them useful lessons”, according to Grant Butler, author of the book Think, Write, Grow.

Marketing executives are slowly learning that white papers are more than a tactic for social and earned media channels. The most sophisticated marketers in the consulting, technology, and financial services industry have realized that the publishing process has become the backbone of their go to market strategy. These marketing leaders are distinguishing themselves with channel strategies that amplify the impact of their thought leadership content in their sales, marketing, and media channels and support every step of the go-to-market process. These market leaders wrote the playbook for using thought leadership assets to:

•  Cut through the advertising clutter and more effectively take advantage of high growth media such as social networks, online video, mobile applications and search engine optimization;

•  Drive sales with compelling ideas that open new doors and provide relevant reasons to continue to call on high potential customers;

•  Differentiate their offerings and value proposition from the competition by educating customers, delivering good ideas, and providing a unique perspective;

•  Demonstrate that they understand the needs, preferences and behaviors of their top customers;

•  Increase ROI by better leveraging their marketing content in the go-to-market process;

•  Make it easier for content to be consumed in media, marketing and sales channels.

Practical Steps to Executing a Thought Leadership Program

An effective thought leadership program is hard to describe and even harder to execute because it is a new management practice that requires a unique blend of art and science. Marketing executives often confuse thought leadership marketing with “content marketing” or “storytelling.” Sales executives call it “value selling,” “trusted advice” or “challenger selling” but are hard pressed to define a program to make it happen.

Based on our experience executing Thought Leadership Selling Programs for over a one hundred market leaders such as Adobe, CBS, DuPont, EY, Intuit, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle, PwC, SunTrust Bank, and Tableau, we define a Thought Leadership Selling Program as taking a programmatic approach to delivering new ideas, relevant advice and compelling solutions to prospects and customers using sales, marketing and media channels.  A successful Thought Leadership Program will provide your salespeople with a disciplined and coordinated stream of advisory content that helps open doors, make more effective sales calls, differentiate your offerings and deliver relevant advice. 

Specifically, there are three steps to designing and executing a Thought Leadership program that will help your sales force generate measurable sales growth in the next sales quarter:

1.  Define a thought leadership strategy that aligns with your growth strategy

2.  Publish thought leadership assets that enable the go-to-market process

3.  Engage customers using a mix of marketing, media and sales channels

These three steps are outlined in greater detail in our report “Using Thought Leadership to Grow” report, with examples and illustrations to make them more tangible.  To move faster you might consider asking for help in outsourcing aspects of the process by reaching out to me directly.

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