• B2B sales makeover – thought leadership the new way of selling

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    26 Sep 2012

    Content and preferably thought leading content is the new Trojan Horse of B2B sales and is rapidly being taken up as the best way to equip sales teams with the game-changing insights to have the conversations with their clients that differentiate them from their competition, set them up as trusted advisors and underpin the sale.

    The concept of using content as digital sales bait first 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.

    Ogilvy researched over 1,000 selling professionals in the UK, US, Brazil and China.  A key finding was that 73% of those surveyed said that selling will be radically different in the next five years and the key to this is information asymmetry – in other words the number of online and information channels brands own in order to gain a head start on their competition.

    The paper said: “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.”

    From consumer to ‘contsumer’

    The game of selling game has changed irreversibly because the sheer weight of information available to buyers these days means they are 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’.   ‘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.

    Importantly the content you supply fulfills, to a large extent, the four stages of buying – awareness, research, evaluation and commitment before you even get to speak about your product.

    The result is that salespeople are no longer in control, their role has changed.  They need to identify where their customer is on their own journey of discovery about finding a product to help solve their issue or problem or to satisfy a need.

    It is the brands that best understand their customer, the issues and challenges they face and then provides them with useful, insightful content where and how they consume it, who will rapidly becoming the brands of choice.

    Content vs thought leading content

    By delivering relevant content to your audience you start taking on an important role in their lives but there is a clear distinction though between useful content and thought leading content.  Useful content includes things like hints and tips about health and wellbeing, insurance, savings, retirement, you name it, opinion pieces, curated content, and the like.

    Thought leading content on the other hand provides new perspectives, preferably based on empirical evidence, that delivers value well beyond the product or service you sell.  It is this type of content that every B2B company should aspire to deliver to its clients and prospects.

    For some examples take a look at the Motorola  virtual city page which is aimed at government and public safety decision makers about how people can best leverage technology to get their jobs done, or Bendtec with its wonderfully whacky Will it Blend You Tube videos – thought leadership no but entertaining content yes.  Other great examples include Mintec.com, hubspot.com, American Express and I know of a great local Sydney example in the form of a specialised recruitment company, Firebrand.  But undoubtedly DuPont has to be one of the bravest yet.  Last year they took their entire advertising budget and put it into content marketing. Time will tell how that works for them but to date the signs are good.

    Thought leadership and sales working together

    For brands to lift their content from useful to thought leading content, the sales, marketing and communication departments need to work together.

    The better the marketing team understands the day-to-day challenges facing the sales team, the questions their customers are asking them and what their key issues and challenges are, the more customised the thought leadership piece will be.

    As the Future of Selling whitepaper states:  “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 through providing useful, insightful content.  This is all done with a minimal focus on the product or service offering.

    It is those brands who are not driving new content or exploring thought leadership as an option to own a position and generate insightful content that will come second.

    This piece was first drafted for campaignasia where it appeared in their opinions column

    Craig Badings is a director at Sydney-based, Cannings Corporate Communications.  He has consulted to companies small and large, listed and unlisted across Australia and South Africa about their communication strategies, corporate reputation and thought leadership.  He is the author of Brand Stand: seven steps to thought leadership and the forthcoming co-authored book#THOUGHT LEADERSHIP Tweet: 140 Prompts for Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign.

    Join him on twitter @thoughtstrategy and on LinkedIn.


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