How to Execute A Thought Leadership Selling Program

How to Execute A Thought Leadership Selling Program 

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The notion of establishing thought leadership has emerged as a top priority as growth-starved organizations look to differentiate themselves with new ideas, education, and relevant solutions that address buyer pain and influence their perceptions of value.

Thought Leadership Selling Programs take a systematic approach hto delivering new ideas, relevant advice, and compelling solutions to prospects and customers through sales, marketing and media channels.  A Thought Leadership Program provides your sales and marketing team with a sustained stream of education and advisory content that helps them open doors, make more effective sales calls, differentiate your organization and deliver trusted advice.

A Thought Leadership Program is:

  • Based on a strategy that integrates sales process, communications, branding and product sales goals
  • Built upon a well thought out set of thought leadership assets including advisory content, tools and resources
  • Delivered to customers using disciplined multi-channel programs and coordinated customer touches

Based on our experience executing Thought Leadership Selling Programs for over a fifty market leaders such as Adobe, CBS, Digitas, DuPont, Ernst & Young, Intuit, Oracle, PwC and SunTrust Bank, 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, andThought Leadership Selling Report 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 our report entitled: Thought Leadership Selling: How To Systematically Drive Top Line Growth with Education, Ideas and Insights.  will explain why Thought Leadership is so important to sales success and practical steps your marketing team can take to drive measurable sales outcomes deep in the sales funnel with ideas, insights and education.

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 

The 3 P’s of Content Targeting: Persona, Process and Pain Point

The 3 P’s of Content Targeting: Persona, Process and Pain Point

One of the simplest things marketers can do to improve the effectiveness, utilization, relevance and reuse of their marketing content is to set up a system for tagging all of their content by persona, process step, and pain points of the audience.   These “3P’s” of content targeting make up the core building blocks of a marketing content taxonomy that supports modern marketing programs and systems.  Content tagged by the “3P is much easier to find, target, recommend, assemble, and distribute the right content at the right place in time in every marketing, sales and media  touch point.


Persona based targeting. Most organizations are starting to plan, create and target content that address the needs of more specific customer segments.  74% of high performing marketer’s report they are place more emphasis at targeting their content by person (or persona).  At the highest level, persona-based targeting involves breaking the core audience for front of the funnel social media, content marketing and web marketing programs into several personas.  As marketers become more advanced, they start to narrow the definition of the persona, to reflect more and more granular target customer profiles to improve engagement in marketing automation programs, or buying functions within an account level targeting model to support sales enablement.  For example, the Hartford plans to move from five to one hundred different customer and channel partner personas in the future.  And B2B marketers serving key accounts like Cisco, D&B and Tata Consulting Services were using Account Level Targeting (ALT) as their primary targeting scheme relative to person(a) or individual based targeting.

 Process based targeting targets content based on what stage of the customer journey it supports.  Aligning and targeting content by stage of the customer journey ensures content directly supports the go-to-market strategy and drives measurable business outcomes.  Process based targeting makes it easier to recommend the right content to support the different value conversations that happen at the front, middle and back of the sales.  For example, Mike Marcellin the CMO of Juniper Networks focuses their content marketing efforts on supporting back of the funnel sales and service.  “It’s our job to support product launches and provide sales air cover with a value messaging, but we need to write more to the far end of the customer journey, beyond pre sales to include post sales and service, because we found that 70% of the content consumed on our web site is post sales technical support and documentation.”  Less than half of marketing executives surveyed report they are currently targeting their marketing content based on what stage of the customer journey it supports.

 Targeting based on customer pain points. Modern marketing analytics give marketers have a much better idea of the topics, issues and pain points that drive media response, engagement, generate meetings and change minds. Leading marketing teams are analyzing audience intelligence, social listening data, customer feedback, semantic data, and sales feedback to understand the issues, topics and questions that need to be addressed during sales conversations and post-sales support conversations. To take advantage of these insights, most (57%) of the marketing executives surveyed by the Brand Publishing Institute report they are targeting their marketing content by customer pain points, needs, and topics of interest as a way apply that knowledge in day-to-day selling situations. Targeting content based on customer needs improves marketing performance because more relevant and important content will generating more engagement, better response, more sales meetings, and better value conversations.

You can learn more about how to target your content in our content experience optimization services or in our online curriculum, The Brand Publishing CMO Boot Camp.

Content Supply Chain Webinar Summary

Content Supply Chain eBook

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Content Supply Chain: A free eBook that tells brands how to treat your content like an asset, grow its equity and
maximize content ROI.

Content Supply Chain introduces the concepts of content equity and content supply chain, provides a content strategy playbook and outlines the supply chain execution plan.

Brands today are de facto publishers. Building content equity requires discipline and rigorous process, which can be daunting. Content Supply Chain parses the process into doable actions and describes a system for connecting the dots. Its impact can be enormous:

  • Drive revenue
  • Expand the social graph of content along the decision journey
  • Optimize staffing and maximize resources
  • Build strong content partnerships
  • Amplify content exponentially
  • Create high value, high-performing content
  • Ensure relevance and timeliness
  • Track content performance against business KPIs