19 Apr 2012
I was recently invited by Dan Levy, the editor of Sparksheet (an ward-winning media and marketing magazine), to submit an article on thought leadership. This article first appeared on Sparksheet this week.
For some years I have been banging on about how thought leadership is the new sales Trojan Horse i.e the way to equip sales teams with the game-changing insights they need to have the conversations with their clients that differentiate them from their
competition and set them up for the sale. Then a few weeks ago I came across a wonderfully evocative phrase – “Content is digital bait”.
My first reaction was I wish I had come up with that. Of course I did, whenever something or someone validates our point of
view our natural reaction is to love it.
It appeared in WPPs Atticus volume 17 as a summary of The Future of Selling white paper produced by OgilvyOne Worldwide (NY) and Ogilvy & Mather (NY). The paper delivers a telling insight into how the world of selling has changed – brands of choice are now those brands that show, through providing useful, insightful content, they understand their consumers’ issues.
From consumer to ‘contsumer’
The selling game has changed irreversibly. The sheer weight of information available to buyers these days means the buyer is in
control. They are less reliant on sales people and they build trust in the brand long before they come into physical contact with it.
I call them ‘contsumers’ and Sparksheet has called them ‘prosumers’. ‘Contsumers’ are hungry for information, they seek out online as much information as possible to help inform their decision making process. And given the information available on the company website, competitors’s websites, consumer and consumer group reviews, media reviews and the like they have as much control over the flow of information as salespeople. They have conversations with their brands via twitter, the web, FaceBook, LinkedIn and blogs let alone other consumers thus creating their own path to purchase.
Unfortunately this means salespeople are no longer in control. Their role has changed. They need to identify where the customer is on this journey of discovery and help them.
It is the brands that best understand their customer, the issues and challenges they face and then provides them with useful, insightful content where they consume it, who are the ones rapidly becoming the brands of choice.
Content vs thought leading content
There is a distinction though between useful content and thought leading content. Hints and tips for example about health and wellbeing, insurance, savings and retirement, the pitfalls of cross border mergers and acquisitions, etc falls into the useful content bucket.
Thought leading content is not peddling an opinion, putting out a list of hints and tips nor curating other people’s content. Instead it is a new, fresh perspective, preferably based on empirical evidence that delivers value beyond the product or service.
Thought leadership and sales
For brands to lift their content from useful to thought leading content, marketing and communications department needs to be working with their sales teams.
The better understanding the marketing team has of the day-to-day challenges the sales team faces and critically the questions their customers are asking them and their key issues and challenges, the better the thought leadership piece will be in the long run.
As the Ogilvy Paper says: “Selling may have once been an individual event, but now it is a team sport.”
Successful selling has always been about the customer and that should never change but tomorrow’s successful salesperson is the one who anticipates their customers’ changing behavior, analyzes their needs and finds ways to solve their problems.
This goes to very crux of what thought leadership content should provide to a brand’s audiences – information that delivers insights to help them solve a problem or view their challenges in a different light all the while positioning you as the ‘go to’ expert.
Selling has changed irrevocably
“The future of selling” paper saw Ogilvy research over 1,000 selling professionals in the UK, US, Brazil and China. One of the key findings was that 73% of those surveyed said that selling will be radically different in the next five years. What the study found was that the key is information asymmetry – in other words the number of online and information channels a brand owns allowing it to gain a head start on another brand.
The paper says: “The new skillset required by salespeople involves creating content as digital bait, deploying social media and partnering with marketing.
“Your customers and prospects are throwing off billions of digital buying indications every day. They signal their intentions through the search key words they use, the blogs they read, the white papers they download and the shopping baskets they fill.”
Brands not driving new content or exploring thought leadership as an option, will come second.
I am a director at Sydney-based, Cannings Corporate Communications. You should check out my book: “Brand Stand: seven steps to thought leadership” Please follow me on twitter @thoughtstrategy or join me on LinkedIn.
One Response to “The sale has changed forever”
Leave a Reply