The Marketing Strategist:

Two Ways to Connect Thought Leadership to Revenue

March 10, 2011

There are no simple answers when trying to connect thought leadership with sales, but we’ve been doing a ton of research and interviews with B2B marketers lately to establish cause and effect. Here are two trends we’re seeing (I’ll be talking about a bunch of others, backed up by case studies, at our in-person thought leadership events later this month): Present ideas early in the buying process. Our research shows that marketers need to get ideas to customers and prospects as early as possible. In our recent survey, How Customers Choose Solution Providers, 2010: The New Buyer Paradox (free summary available), nearly 60% of respondents said that thought leadership content plays an important or critical role in determining which providers make it onto their shortlists. But if providers go further and use thought leadership to help companies clarify their business needs and suggest solutions, 30% of respondents said they are more likely to choose those providers. Even better, more than 50% of this group said they would consider sole-sourcing the deal. And this potential windfall isn’t limited to new prospects. Existing customers are also looking for new ideas. There’s no reason you can’t explore the epiphany stage with them more than once. Make thought leaders more visible. Though most respondents in our How Customers Choose research said the quality of their providers’ thought leadership was pretty good, nearly 40% said it could be better. The number one suggestion for improvement? Focus more specifically on buyers’ particular business segment and needs. This longing for personalization isn’t heard just in the context of thought leadership, however. When asked to name the number one factor in choosing a provider, respondents offered variations of the “know me” theme 42% of the time. I know what you’re thinking: personalization is expensive. One way to feed the need without breaking the bank is to bring thought leaders out from behind the white papers. Research shows that in social media, we are more interested in following other people than we are in following brands and that buyers are looking for experts to help them solve their problems rather than just connecting with peers and “people like me.” Increasingly, the model for relationships in social media is that you first seek out people whose knowledge and expertise you value, and then you read their blogs and white papers (see ITSMA’s Marketing Big Ideas 2011 elsewhere in this issue of the Strategist). Traditionally, we have led with the ideas. If we build a more personal connection between thought leaders and buyers, we will also build a more personal connection to the ideas behind the thought leaders. The personal connection helps bridge the gap of specificity that marketers must otherwise fill with ever-more specific content—which can be difficult given marketing’s budget and resource constraints. We’ll be revealing research and case studies that show how to make thought leadership translate into revenue later this month at our series of in-person events Thought Leadership Marketing: Moving from Ideas to Revenue. Please join us!

Want the latest news from ITSMA?

Subscribe to our newsletters and alerts for ITSMA blog posts, research publications, events, and more.

Further reading