21 Sep 2010
The article on thought leadership which appeared in the Economist fascinates me – read it here http://tinyurl.com/2acq8gk I first heard about it as a result of a reader’s comments on this blog – thanks Tom.
The journalist who penned the article questions why consulting firms provide what they ‘annoyingly call thought leadership’ and also whether it is worth it.
Nothing wrong with questioning its worth but what the author neglected to do is ask even one client what they think of the thought leadership material provided to them by their consulting firm.
The first irony in the article is that the author inadvertently stumbles upon the very essence of thought leadership albeit in a negative sense: “Their reports (and increasingly their webinars and podcast) are an excuse to contact potential clients and a way of boasting about the brainpower they can apply to problems.”
While it is stated in kind of a negative way that is precisely it – absolutely your thought leadership material should be getting you in front of your clients and prospects. Importantly it also enables you and your team to hold discussions with your prospect on issues of importance to them while sharing your insights about their sector or industry. If this boasts your brainpower fantastic – through these insights, you want your prospects to realise that you have a deep understanding of their challenges and are therefore in a position to help solve them.
If these are the sorts of opportunities and conversations thought leadership delivers isn’t this far less ‘annoying’ than trying to ‘sell’ a product or your service?
The second irony is that The Economist has a number of its own thought leadership platforms i.e. The Economist Intelligence Unit. The Economist Debates and The Economist Conferences and there may be more but I’m not aware of them.
Maybe they don’t overtly call any of these thought leadership and maybe the author has a point because the loose use of the word thought leadership is annoying because a lot of it doesn’t come close. But where I do take the author to task is on measurement.
A true thought leadership campaign should have very firm business metrics in place. Among others these could include:
· The number of prospect meetings
· The number of returning clients
· The number of appointments and incoming, qualified leads and the conversion rate
· The number of attendees at thought leadership seminars and the resultant follow up and conversion
· Delivery of key messages through identified and targeted media
· Effective leverage of content across all client and prospective client touch points
· Research, preferably benchmarked annually of your brand against others in the market place
· Research internally of what the thought leadership material delivers to your sales and marketing team as well as the consultants, engineers, accountants, etc in the business
A fellow writer on marketing and thought leadership, Dana van den Heuvel has also taken issue with The Economist article. You can read his blog on the topic here http://tinyurl.com/25nykgr
I’d be interested in your views. Please share them.
13 Sep 2010
This is the fourth in a series of articles on how thought leadership underpins the new sales approach.
Type ‘sales mistakes’ into Google and it will spit out close to seven million articles. Everyone, it seems, has advice on how to avoid the many and various sales traps that await the unwary sales person.
There is a way to avoid these, have your company develop a strong thought leadership point of view. Below I touch on some of the more popular sales pitfalls and identify how thought leadership can overcome these:
1. Not understanding your prospect – is the death knell of the sale, however, used properly, thought leadership can take you well beyond a superficial understanding of the challenges and issues your prospects face and provide you with deep, evidence-based insights into these and other aspects of their business/sector they will find very useful.
2. Not offering real value – A thought leadership campaign, one that really does aim to provide your customers and prospects with valuable information, overcomes this very easily. In the process it positions you as the ‘go to’ expert in your field. Ultimately prospects seek you out for your knowledge into their issues. There’s no better way to fill your pipeline with qualified leads.
3. Not providing them with enough information – if your sales team is only relying on product or service information they’re going to face an uphill battle. On the other hand your thought leadership strategy should generate focused, customer-centric content to help you avoid introducing product or service talk too early in your client conversations. Providing them with insights into an area of their business or sector positions you as a trusted advisor in that area. Only once you have chatted about these issues do you need to provide the solutions-based product and sales material.
4. Talking too much about your product or service – we all know that feeling, the more you push your company, your product or your service the more you see your prospect’s eyes glaze over. Why? Because it’s not about them it’s all about you.
Good thought leadership content, on the other hand, will arm you with insights about their sector or an issue/challenge in their business that can become a game changer for them and for you. The conversation is all about them and how you can help solve their issues.
Many experienced sales people do this as a matter of course but there aren’t many that do it as part of a larger company-led thought leadership campaign.
5. Not asking the right questions – we all know good selling is about getting them talking. Here’s the great thing about good thought leadership material – if it has been properly researched and if it touches the lives of your prospects you will have wealth of discussion points and areas around which to ask questions. Not only will this display your deep knowledge of their sector but you will learn a whole lot more about the company which will help further for relationship building as well as identifying potential weak spots to assist you closing the sale.
6. Not building a relationship before trying to ‘sell them’ – you can easily kill the sale by rushing the ‘sell’ before you have built trust. Fortunately, if you have developed great thought leadership content and you shared it readily, you would have established yourself as an expert in your field. This investment in establishing trust through thought leadership will help underpin all sales into the future.
7. Not maintaining the relationship – how many times are customers left to their own devices post the sale? The great thing about good thought leadership content is it is regularly updated therefore enabling you to keep in touch with your current and past customers with stuff they find useful. When they are ready to buy again you are their first port of call and they are psychologically vested in your brand already.
While I know there are many more deadly sins for sales people, I wanted to focus on what I believe are some of the key ones. Ones where a strong, customer-centric thought leadership campaign can make a massive difference to a company’s sales approach and the relationship it has with its customers and its prospects.
Elsewhere in this blog you will find articles offering advice on how to arrive at a thought leadership position as well as how to take your thought leadership proposition to market.
If you have witnessed the power of using thought leadership as your sales driver, please let us know how it worked/is working.
7 Sep 2010
This is the third in a series of articles on how thought leadership underpins the news sales approach.
Over the past few years, there has been an understandable spotlight on the sales pipeline. Companies the world over have sent their employees on refresher and extra training courses while executives have focused intently on the health of the pipeline.
The same questions have been asked over and over: “What is the best way to fill our pipeline?”; “How do we interest our target publics in our product/service during these tough times?”; “How do we get in front of our clients and prospects and have conversations with them?”; and so on.
None of this is new. Filling the new business pipeline is one of a company’s biggest challenges.
Most of us are aware of the 20-4-1 rule – for every 20 prospects you call, four will entertain your proposals and only one will bite. When it comes to pipeline, we all know the drill – keep one step ahead, know your audience, have conversations, know the sector, find solutions, listen to the client, etc, etc.
The problem is that there is a new marketing and sales malaise – people are tired of being marketed and sold to in the traditional manner.
Thought leadership will position you as the expert
What price then to have your prospects already vested in your brand because they recognise your company as the expert or ‘go to’ source for information in their sector? This is probably not going to happen through traditional sales or marketing channels. Rather to achieve this outcome you need thought leadership.
Thought leadership is about arming your team with the relevant insights about your or your prospect’s sector so that you can hold in-depth conversations with them about the most important challenges they face. These conversations should be backed by a feast of interesting and relevant content backed up by supporting collateral as well as presentations, one-on-one meetings, roundtables, forums, etc.
Thought leadership is about valuable insights
What better way to drive your pipeline than by offering your prospects something they really value – information and insights about their sector, their issues, their challenges. How refreshing to them and to your team to be able to drop the ‘hard sell’ and to have conversations that you know really matter to them and that develop even deeper insights of their business.
This is thought leadership in its truest form.
For 10 years or more, management consultancies have filled their pipelines and generated interest from their target publics through clever thought leadership. I’m not talking about putting out a bit of content here and there but rather through targeted thought leadership strategies that receive the right amount of senior management input as well as resources and budget.
Thought leadership delivers six key things
A good thought leadership campaign can deliver the following to your business:
1. An alignment of your interests with your prospects showing your deep understanding of their issues
2. Differentiation from the competition
3. Increased credibility and an enviable position as a trusted advisor
4. Less resistance to pricing and a vindication of their purchasing decision
5. Creates brand evangelists from within your own customer ranks
6. Delivers a longer-term, thought leadership conversation platform beyond the sale
Any business looking to fill its pipeline should think about taking the time and effort to invest properly into a long-term, strategic, thought leadership campaign.
A well-packaged, well-presented thought leadership campaign will deliver a refreshed and more relevant way of engaging with your clients as well as your prospects. More importantly it will deliver a more sustainable and authentic way of filling your pipeline pre and post the sale.
Let me know if you have had any success changing from a traditional sales and marketing approach to one which is thought leadership led. I’d love to hear from you.
1 Sep 2010
This appeared on the RainToday.com site and is an interview with me on my favourite topic – thought leadership. You can click here to listen and this is what they had to say as an intro:
Effective thought leadership—the kind that attracts prospects that eventually become clients—requires a strong platform that your entire company adopts, not “random acts of content,” says Craig Badings, author of Brand Stand: Seven Steps to Thought Leadership.
It’s about delivering new ideas and content to your target audience based on insight into the issues and challenges they face, he says. It’s also about differentiating you from competitors, establishing you as the go-to expert, and positioning you as a trusted advisor. And to make that happen, firms must have an organized and concerted effort that involves everyone in the organization.
“To truly take hold, [thought leadership] has to become part of the culture of the organization. In fact, I’d be as bold as to say that companies that have a sales culture should really be trying very hard to replace it with a thought leadership culture because in my view the sales pitches we know are really dead. It’s no longer good enough for companies to flog their products or services,” Badings says. “If thought leadership is not a part of corporate culture, then that thought leadership campaign is going to limp along and will never really achieve any great height.”
Listen as Badings, who also blogs at Thought Leadership, discusses:
- The four things that make a successful thought leadership campaign
- Firms that are excelling with their thought leadership campaigns
- How sales teams can incorporate a firm’s thought leadership platform to win more deals
- His methodology—START IP—for developing and implementing a thought leadership platform