The Emergence of Thought Leadership as a Sales and Marketing Discipline

TLP LIght BulbThe notion of establishing thought leadership has emerged as a top priority with sales and marketing executives. Growth-starved organizations are looking for ways to differentiate themselves with new ideas, education, and relevant solutions that address buyer pain and influence their perceptions of value. 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 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, and cross-sell solutions.

A chorus of consultants and marketing leaders are writing about the importance of thought leadership in all aspects of sales and marketing. Senior executives surveyed by Forbes regard finding ways to differentiate the customer experience in social, mobile, and digital channels as vital to achieving growth goals as media fragmentation and changing buyer behavior diminish the value and effectiveness of ad impressions.

While the messengers may vary, one message is becoming clear – investing in creating thought leadership makes good business sense. 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 program.

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 the 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.  My book Think Write Grow documents how early adopters – such as IBM, PwC, and McKinsey & Co – have generated measurable sales outcomes by systematically institutionalizing, packaging, and delivering thought leadership through sales, marketing, and media channels. 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 to consume content in media, marketing, and sales channels.

Despite the growing importance of thought leadership to top-line growth, most organizations fail to put marketing “muscle” behind their ideas by executing disciplined Thought Leadership Programs in sales, marketing, and media channels. It turns out an effective thought leadership program is hard to describe and even harder to execute – no matter how much money you throw at it. There are several good reasons for this:

  • Thought leadership marketing is a relatively new discipline that is poorly understood. Originally pioneered by professional services leaders such as McKinsey, IBM, and the Gartner Group, it has now become an executive priority for most business-to-business (B2B) marketers.
  • Most B2B marketers do not have a content strategy, an institutional point of view, or a person in charge of content, despite spending up to a quarter of their budget on content.
  • Most CMOs lack the time, resources, processes, and organizational structure needed to create original content that opens doors, breaks through clutter, and changes buyer perceptions of value. The top content marketing challenges facing CMOs are lack of time to focus on creating quality content, and the difficulty of establishing thought leadership.
  • Finally, the traditional ad agencies that sales and marketing executives look to for support cannot generate the depth of insight, quality of content, or level of sales process integration necessary for these programs to succeed. As a result, salespeople in client selling situations use very little of the content marketing departments and their agencies create, and so it fails to motivate customers to buy, doesn’t drive cross-sell, or challenge the customer mindset.

The keys to executing a successful thought leadership program

Based on our experience executing Thought Leadership Programs for over a hundred market leaders such as Ernst & Young, Adobe, DuPont, CBS and SunTrust Bank, Forbes Insights defines a thought leadership 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 give your salespeople a disciplined and coordinated stream of advisory content that will help them open doors, make more effective sales calls, differentiate your offerings, and deliver relevant advice. There are three steps to designing and executing a thought leadership program that will help your salesforce generate measurable sales growth in the next sales quarter:3 Steps to a TLP

The three secrets to identifying, packaging and creating effective thought leadership assets that drive sales results are:

  • Quality – When it comes to establishing thought leadership, quality matters more than quantity. Content marketing should not be confused with thought leadership. One original, compelling, and well-supported insight can outperform an avalanche of content marketing. In fact, compelling insights and ideas are essential to engaging customers as marketers flood social and digital media channels with content and a clutter of messages.
  • Channel readiness – Salespeople don’t use most of the content the marketing department creates because the marketing assets are often hard to find, difficult to access on mobile devices, or not formatted to be useful in face-to-face selling situations. Your content assets need to be packaged into “bite-sized” and easy-to-consume pieces that are ready for a variety of sales, marketing, and media channels. Forbes has published guidelines for marketers wanting to create channel-ready content that is actionable, targetable, useful, trackable, and reusable.
  • Alignment – Most marketing content fails to generate enough leads, meetings, and cross-sell opportunities. This is largely a design problem. Brand communications, ad impressions, and product collateral are not always designed to open doors or start conversations. To effectively support top-line growth, your content needs to be structured and packaged to target demand generation, solution selling, social selling, and predictive targeting programs.

Thinkwritegrow book coverYou can learn more about how you can become a thought leader by creating exceptional articles, blogs and books by reading my book Think Write Grow 

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