Thought Leadership or Subject Matter Expert (SME) has been around for a long time, though people have different ideas about what it is. It’s not just a C-suite type talking on about a topic they’re passionate about on LinkedIn. It could be that, but it could also be something entirely different. Thought leadership can take many forms – from op-ed pieces to white papers to TV appearances or guest hosting a podcast. No matter the format, the one thing thought leadership content must be is authoritative: it should clearly demonstrate the expertise of the person and/or the company they represent. In other words, a thought leader isn’t just sharing knowledge about something, they have tested out their theories, and they’ve worked. They can articulate how they arrived at the place they’re in and can teach others how to do it.
In terms of generating B2B sales leads, thought leadership is a way of educating potential customers, building trust with them, and ultimately building an audience for your ideas. The best way to do this is by creating helpful, relevant and targeted information in the most succinct and entertaining way possible. Sales reps who can challenge a buyer’s mindset, help shape their understanding and guide their decision making will be the ones who triumph in the end.
Why do it?
Marketers struggle to determine the effectiveness of thought leadership in the buying process but if it’s done well, it has a positive impact. Thought leadership can create a positive impression of your company such that decision makers might be more inclined to invite you to bid on their projects. It also creates preference with buyers and directly influences a buyer’s willingness to pay a premium for products or services.
Decision makers that we speak to, find thought leadership to be an important way to decide whether you want to engage with an organization on a regular basis. They regard it as a great way to get a sense of the type and the calibre of thinking that an organization is likely to deliver.
What drives engagement with thought leadership content?
In our experience, timeliness, relevance to the target audience (it must speak to them) and quoted material from a trusted source are essential for decision makers who spend time engaging with thought leadership content. A different twist on a new topic, useful data, key trends or relatable issues that are just surfacing – all of these constitute great angles/reads. Brevity is important too. Snackable media that can be digested quickly, and short form video formats rank highly on the list of content that executives make time to consume.
Know the channels where your prospects (and those they respect) spend time and optimize formats accordingly. Encourage employees and colleagues to share thought leadership pieces across their networks, to amplify the message and stand a better chance of reaching the target audience.
A double-edged sword
While respect and admiration for a company increases with engagement with high quality thought leadership, it can be a double-edged sword. If a company creates poor quality thought leadership content it can be a detriment to business development. Aspire to journalistic quality content that goes beyond products and services to educate customers. Help customers understand how to be better at their own jobs day to day and customers will look forward to seeing your content and will seek it out. Explore how content can be a franchise rather than a one-off so you can develop an audience over time.
Thought leadership, done well, can drive tangible business demand by influencing outcomes. Decision makers are looking for this content; be the one to provide it and reap the rewards.