Thought leadership—also known as marketing with ideas—is no longer optional. ITSMA research with buyers shows that thought leadership has become an integral part of the buying decision. Thought leadership is particularly critical to win the minds and hearts of the new B2B social buyer. Therefore, it is no surprise that nearly 60% of B2B services marketers are increasing their budget for content development.
But not everyone is on board. Some marketers I speak to are singularly focused on demand generation, lead generation, and enabling the sales force. I understand: the economy is uncertain, budgets are tight, competition is stronger than ever, and marketing has to produce measurable results. But what these marketers are missing is the link between thought leadership and enabling sales .
Companies that sell primarily services get it. They know that thought leadership is the key ingredient to spark epiphanies, capture attention, create dialog, and the build trust that over time will lead to a sale. Developing thought leadership content is a top priority for more than half the services firms we surveyed. However, at the product companies, the priority is enabling sales. While developing thought leadership content is still on the priority list, it’s not high enough. In my mind it should be #1.
ITSMA and RainToday surveyed 859 services marketers and based on the results we identified the seven lead generation best practices. Three of these seven best practices depend on thought leadership:
- Segment based on deep knowledge of their target markets
- Conduct formal research, in addition to other tactics, to gain a deep understanding of their
target markets’ needs
- Proactively tap their network and current clients to create referrals
- Use content that is relevant, provide proof points, and build credibility
- Use offers and “live” experiences to generate leads
- Use two of the most effective tactics—presenting at events and making “warm” phone calls
- Measure their progress at each stage of the pipeline, in addition to the number of leads generated, closed deals, and revenue
Given the changes in buying behavior and the rise of the B2B social buyer, you can’t enable sales and generate demand and leads without thought leadership content.