Tagged: content

Why Thought Leadership, Not Sales Enablement, Should be Your Top Marketing Priority

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.

2012 Marketing Priorities

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:

  1. Segment based on deep knowledge of their target markets
  2. Conduct formal research, in addition to other tactics, to gain a deep understanding of their
    target markets’ needs
  3. Proactively tap their network and current clients to create referrals
  4. Use content that is relevant, provide proof points, and build credibility
  5. Use offers and “live” experiences to generate leads
  6. Use two of the most effective tactics—presenting at events and making “warm” phone calls
  7. 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.

Why You Don’t Need to Map Your Content to the Buyer’s Journey

Every year, one of my ITSMA colleagues asks me “Why don’t we have a chart like this?” The chart he is talking about shows which marketing delivery vehicles to use at each stage of the buying process.

Every year, I tell him, “Because when I do the research with buyers of services and solutions, I don’t see any difference in the data for marketing vehicles by buying process stage.” (Note: Since 1999 I have done an annual major research project on how customers choose services and solutions providers.)

My colleague is persistent. He really wants one of these cool buyer stage charts! So I‘ve asked the question a number of different ways. Still, no change.

Then I thought, if there’s no difference by marketing vehicle (e.g., white papers, podcasts, videos, cases studies), maybe I need to ask about sources of information (e.g., peers, vendor websites, sales meetings, analyst events) to get more interesting results. I asked, but still nothing.

Not wanting to disappoint my colleague yet again, I had an epiphany. If the delivery vehicle and source of information don’t vary by buying stage, maybe the kind of content, or the type of information marketers should use is different across buying process stages.

ITSMA did a global study in the fall of 2011 with 465 buyers of technology-based solutions (purchasing solutions that cost $500,000 or more).

So much for my divine insight:  We saw very little difference in buyer preference for delivery formats, sources of information, or types of content as they moved through the buying process.

HOWEVER, when we analyzed the data by Traditional Buyers (those who do not use social media during the purchase process) and B2B Social Buyers we found that the traditional buyers’ needs for type of information did, in fact, change as they progressed through the buying process. On the other hand, the B2B social buyers’ needs for different types of information remained virtually constant from one stage of the buying process to the next. (click on chart to make larger)

Information Needs During the Buying Process

In summary, we found:

  • Traditional Buyers have different needs for types of information as they progress through the buying process. As they get closer to making a purchase decision they focus more on product/offering feature comparisons, pricing, SLAs, and contract terms and conditions.
  • B2B Social Buyers needs for information do not change as they progress through the buying process. They want nearly the same stuff in all stages of the buying process, notably industry/technology research, data, and analysis and online discussions.

Our conclusion: The buying process is becoming less linear. Just as there is no silver bullet delivery vehicle, there is no right or wrong content at different stages of the buying process.

Eric Wittlake said it best  in a comment on his recent post: “The path a buyer takes will not match the marketer’s vision, but hopefully the idea of the buyer’s journey helps marketers to develop an understanding of the range of information they need to provide.”

The important thing for marketers is to make sure there are no gaps in the content strategy. There has to be content to support buyers at every stage of the buying process, and that content must help “propel” them to the next stage. And of course, the content needs to be packaged in a myriad of formats since every person has their own preferred delivery vehicles to consume content.

I think I finally made my colleague happy!