According to Jeff Ernst of Forrester Research, addressing “the B2B buying process isn’t about selling a product or service – it’s about demonstrating your ability to solve a customer’s problems1.” Let’s face it, we are all in the business of problem solving – if your business isn’t providing a solution for your key accounts, chances are you won’t be in business for long. As marketers and sales people, our job is indeed precisely to communicate our ability to solve prospective buyers’ problems.
To this end, content marketing has become vital to creating value. As the volume of available information increases seemingly exponentially, creating content which is relevant and timely is key to attracting and engaging the right audience. And more to the point, remarkable content – content that gets consumed and shared in our online, social world – ensures that our message rises to the top.
But thought leadership, as a marketing strategy, goes above and beyond the creation of remarkable content. In essence, it’s a special form of content marketing that distinguishes itself by its somewhat provocative nature. According to Ernst thought leadership “expresses a point of view or major opinion on the major issues your buyers have2.” He suggests a successful thought-leadership marketing strategy should align content marketing with the buying process, while incorporating concerted educational and promotional efforts to engage prospective buyers in meaningful conversations.
He sees thought leadership as the up and coming opportunity for B2B marketers to really differentiate themselves. Properly done, thought leadership marketing engages its audience early in their problem-solving process. By its very nature, thought leadership content doesn’t push a particular product or service, but rather focuses on connecting with prospects through provocative, insightful thinking and strong stances on the challenges they face. Thought leadership promotes genuine conversations about people, problems, solutions, and unique perspectives, prompting out-of-the-box dialogue.
“That’s great,” you say, “but how do I develop unique, insightful, thought-leadership-worthy content that will engage my key accounts?” Great question! Begin by drilling down to understand the fundamental needs of those accounts. Thought leadership is about creative problem-solving, yet properly understanding your prospect’s context and perspective are prerequisites to developing those creative solutions and communications. It’s important to know:
- How does your product or service help solve your key accounts’ challenges?
- What will using it enable those companies to do differently?
- What does that imply for the future – more sales, more profits, lower costs, a whole new market opportunity…?
How do you find this information? How about asking? Prospect surveys – as differentiated from traditional market-research surveys – are a great tool you can use to help you understand specific pain points for both the firms and the individuals within your key account list , gaining you an invaluable, deeper perspective and allowing you to craft more uniquely insightful thought leadership content. A well-considered prospect survey is a great place to begin developing your new, provocative content.
And because thought leadership is about visionary ideas and not any one product or service, it engenders trust – the starting point of any meaningful, long-term relationship, B2B or otherwise – trust that’s especially needed when addressing the needs of your key accounts. And really, when prospects are initiating their buying journeys, they’re not yet looking at specific features and functions anyway – they’re more interested in insights to solving their problems. Understanding those problems and arming sales about what to say, is a great way to start the sales conversation.
In an online, largely commoditized world, where it’s ever harder to differentiate product on these features and functions, where messaging is often lost in the noise, thought leadership can be a uniquely refreshing – and welcome – voice.
What other ways have you used to develop thought leadership content for your key accounts?
2From Jeff Ernst webinar cited above; view at http://blip.tv/dgr/thought-leadership-marketing-that-attracts-prospects-to-your-thinking-and-your-funnel-6201776