Category: Thought Leadership

4 Types of Thought Leadership That Work Well In the Later Stages of the Purchase Process

I am delighted to have Dan Armstrong, Director Research and Thought Leadership, ITSMA as a guest writer on my blog. Dan is an excellent writer, researcher, and analytical thinker. Enjoy! —Julie,

Dan_photoBy Dan Armstrong, ITSMA, 

Many salespeople use thought leadership like fishermen use chum: They spread it around the boat and hope that a big fish will come near. That’s fine as far as it goes. But there’s more to sales than leads. Thought leadership has the power to engage customers throughout the buying process.

According to ITSMA’s just-completed study on thought leadership selling, only one-fifth of the B2B services marketers who create thought leadership say they excel at using it to empower the sales force (as opposed to other purposes, like reputation-building). This elite group of marketers uses thought leadership not just to create epiphanies, but to continue to engage buyers at every step.

Almost everyone uses thought leadership at the start. But the farther into the buying process you go, the bigger the gap between the leaders – or the “sales enablers,” as we call them – and the  “publishers.” The sales enablers find way to demonstrate their thought leadership again and again, at every stage, and don’t stop even when the sale is made and the process becomes one of nurturing and strengthening the relationship.


Think of the purchase decision as a four-step process, starting with epiphany, moving through awareness, interest, and confidence, and ending with loyalty and an endless loop of new purchases.

In the awareness stage, sales works to clarify the customer’s objectives and identify a short list of potential solutions.  They submit a proposal in the interest stage. They show why it’s the best one in the confidence stage. They proactively reach out and make sure that the customer remains happy in the loyalty stage. In each of these stages, thought leadership can continue to give customers yet another reason to take the next step.

Recall the ITSMA definition of thought leadership: “Ideas that educate customers and prospects about important business and technology issues and help them solve those issues—without pitching.” Here are four types of thought leadership that work well in the later stages of the purchase process. Each is educational. Each helps customers address their business and/or technology issues. Each leads to a conversation.  Each is more targeted than typical early-stage top-of-the-funnel content. And while any of them can be a pitch, none of them needs to be a pitch.

  1. Case studies.  A case study highlights a problem and potential solution using a story about someone in a job and an industry sector similar to the customer. It brings the power of narrative and empathy to bear on the customer’s problem. If it’s a real case study about a customer willing to serve as a reference, the case study may be useful in the confidence stage, when the purchaser is ready to buy.
  2. ROI calculators.  An ROI calculator may not sound like thought leadership. But it is in the sense that it helps customers consider costs and returns that they might otherwise overlook.  A calculator also offers you a chance to define the problem in terms that show your solution off to its best advantage. You can surface hidden costs and highlight those that competing products impose. The breakout of costs and returns may also suggest ways that other departments and functions can benefit, leading to a stronger business case.
  3. Benchmarking or self-assessment tools. These are designed to help the customer compare the company’s current state to some ideal state, highlight the gaps, and think about steps that could be taken to close them. Using a tool like this can be fun, interactive, and bring a surprise at the end. The thought leadership aspect lies in the definition of the reference model – the ideal to which the real is compared.
  4. Your people. When a company buys services, it’s buying people. Specifically, it is buying the time, expertise, and viewpoint of subject matter experts.  Your experts are the human manifestation of your thought leadership. To the extent you can facilitate their interaction with buyers, you’re demonstrating your ability to lead with ideas. Alternately, you can think of your subject matter experts as a product demo.

A rule that writers follow is “Show, don’t tell.” Instead of telling customers about the expertise your company has, use thought leadership to show off the expertise – both at the start of the sales cycle and all the way through.  That’s a key trait that separates the accomplished thought leadership sellers from those that merely publish.

What is Epiphany Marketing? (Part 2)

By Julie Schwartz, ITSMA,

Epiphany2In my previous post, I defined the Epiphany Stage of the buying process and epiphany marketing. In this post I dig deeper into the strategies and tactics marketers can use to spark epiphanies.

Epiphany is the point at which a potential client comes to the realization that they have an important business need—it can be either a problem, or an opportunity. Some call this the pain point. It is the “Aha!” moment. Through epiphany marketing, marketing and sales professionals help potential clients uncover their needs and explore the possibilities, before they even know they have a problem to solve. In the Epiphany Stage of the buying process, the potential client is not in purchase mode and consequently is not yet a lead. Therefore, epiphany marketing is demand creation, not lead generation.

Why do we care about marketing and selling during the Epiphany Stage? Because those that get in front of the potential buyer at this stage have the opportunity to develop deeper more enduring, trusted advisor relationships. And they have access to and win more business.

Create Epiphanies by Aligning Marketing, Sales, and the Client’s Buying Process

What can marketers do to create epiphanies? The most important thing to do is to align your sales/business development and marketing processes with the client’s buying process.

Epiphany Marketing_1

During the Epiphany Stage your client is constantly doing research and exploring possibilities.  Your client is on the lookout for new ideas to improve the business. Your job is to help your clients find those ideas and connect the dots for them.

There are four things that marketing should be doing during the epiphany stage:

  • Build eminence. Create idea- and trend-based thought leadership
  • Illuminate. Help clients discover and respond to the most important business issues they face
  • Collaborate. You don’t have to have all the answers. Take clients out of the day-to-day to collaborate and spark new ideas
  • Enable thought leadership selling. Arm market-facing professionals with thought-provoking content

Clients are not usually aware of what is possible. They need someone to help them paint the picture. Here are some tried and true epiphany marketing methods:

  • Think Tanks. Education works better than a sales pitch. A niche approach allows you to establish clear leadership in your chosen area of expertise. Being the first-to-market and the smartest have huge advantages over having the largest marketing budget.
  • Client Councils. Epiphanies come from taking existing knowledge from different sources, combining it, and applying it in new ways. Taking clients out of the day-to-day grind sparks new ideas, and peer collaboration increases the probability of producing differentiated, relevant thought leadership. Furthermore, having clients contribute to the firm’s strategy keeps them actively engaged and loyal.
  • Benchmarking and Best Practice Assessments. Until they benchmark their performance, companies may not be aware that they have a problem. Assessments, whether tool- or consulting-based are a great way to spark epiphanies.
  • Workshops. Engaging a team of experts to meet with the client for a half-day workshop is an ideal way to understand their business objectives and challenges and explore opportunities to drive value. Case studies and brainstorming accelerate epiphanies. Creating environments free of account executives fosters free thinking and creativity.
  • Thought Leadership Selling. Sales sometimes needs a relevant “reason to call.” It doesn’t take a multimillion dollar budget to develop content that opens doors and builds relationships to spark epiphanies. Great ideas, some research, and a close partnership between marketing and sales will yield results. The biggest hurdle? Helping sales become comfortable discussing ideas rather than products and offerings. They need extensive training and role playing. Marketing’s role is to enable sales with tools, knowledge and skills that provide a smooth transition from strategic thought leadership to practical help.

With epiphany marketing, the goal is to illuminate and educate, not to sell. Therefore thought leadership is very important. And while you want to be the smartest in your category, don’t forget—neither you nor your clients separately have all the answers. Reach out and create a thought leadership network. Harness the power of the team to collaborate with clients and help them discover and respond to the most important business issues they face. Cast a wide net. Epiphanies are going to come from the application of existing ideas in completely new and different ways.

Helping clients realize that they have a business need, way before they have officially begun a pursuit gives you a tremendous advantage. So arm your sales team with content that helps them show clients the art of the possible. With epiphany marketing, you have the opportunity to create a deeper relationship with clients, and influence the direction of the project before competitors have even entered the process. However, success in the Epiphany Stage is more than winning individual deals. It is establishing your company as a market leader and trusted advisor that is always “one step ahead.”

What epiphany marketing techniques do you use?