“My belief is that as a company, your prospects may not perceive you as unique as you think you are,” says Lennart Sloof, Business Development Marketer at Accenture.
This is a bitter pill to swallow in a business landscape that highly covets uniqueness and differentiation; we are undoubtedly in an age where consumers are now drowning in a seemingly infinite supply of things to watch, listen and read.
“Your competition is out there, producing tons of content, causing a flood wave of information. Perhaps there’s too much information – the quality of the information is also not always great, and what about relevance? Does the information answer the questions your company has been struggling with at this moment? Does your content provoke new questions? Do you have content lined up that answers those new questions?”
One thing is clear from Sloof’s analysis: instead of producing content that fits in, stand out by experience design and by being helpful.
With competition high and consumers’ increasing experience of content overwhelm, how can you ensure that your marketing efforts set you apart, establish trust and, ultimately, generate leads? Sloof’s recipe for a robust and effective B2B marketing strategy is based on six pillars:
- People and their personal brand
- Essential collaboration between Sales & Marketing teams
- Content; both online and offline seamlessly integrated
- Tooling: AI-based, automation, CRM, websites
- Truly understanding the Buyer Journey and Customer Journey – the combination of the two creating the Customer Experience
- Buyer enablement
“The problem for many companies is not so much the selling. The difficulty is in the buying. In the B2B world, there’s an abundance of everything. Buyers are experiencing a form of anxiety before they buy, during the research stage. Is your content helpful in making the buying process easier, or are you publishing what you want to be talking about?”
In a world where attention, (not reach or distribution) is the key constraint, the answer is not producing yet more content in a bid for attention. The answer is understanding and harnessing the power of thought leadership.
According to research conducted by Edelman and LinkedIn, out of 3,275 survey respondents, 48% reported that they spend an hour or more every week reading thought leadership content generated by companies. Consuming thought leadership content also has an impact on purchasing decisions with 42% of decision-makers being more willing to pay a premium to work with organisations that produce high-quality thought leadership versus those that do not.
At its core, the aim of thought leadership within a marketing strategy is not to produce sales-focused content, but rather to provide a point of entry to your business by showing innovation, expertise, and superior know-how. A visionary in some of the programs that Tricycle Europe is running, Lennart has enabled the possibility of Tricycle coaching Accenture’s C-Level leadership team to establish quality thought leadership by leveraging social media. He describes the essence of thought leadership as:
“It all starts with the art of listening, and empathy. Forgetting about your sales targets for a while to deeply understand the most urgent business priorities of your prospect. As opposed to projecting your sales priorities onto your prospect.”
While this is easily said, how does this translate into a tangible part of a marketing strategy? There are a number of ways to demonstrate thought leadership, with the most important element circling back to point one of Sloof’s six-pillar strategy: People.
It’s a practice that may be seen as better left to established thought leaders such as Simon Sinek and Irine Gaabeek, but social media offers huge potential in leveraging thought leadership for today’s executives. By its very nature, social media is about people, not companies – a logo won’t build trust for your brand, for that, you need a human face and voice. Being won by only a small percentage of savvy executives, the social space provides tremendous opportunity to show an authentic, empathetic point-of-view that can help facilitate conversations with key business decision-makers.
Executives and other highly visible employees that develop their personal brand and become a recognisable presence can strengthen audience relationships and lift the curtain on brand transparency, leading to greater trust and even profits, with 59% of decision-makers reporting that an organization’s thought leadership is a more trustworthy basis for assessing its capabilities and competencies than its marketing materials and product sheets.
Already in possession of a title that alone can lend clout and credibility, executives and other C-level employees can share valuable ideas, showing intellectual capital and personal perspectives – a distinguishing factor that’s becoming increasingly important to audiences.
While prescription can take many forms, from building a personal brand on LinkedIn to amplify messaging to publishing valuable content on Medium.com, there’s one practice that’s essential in executing good quality thought leadership: identifying and addressing your customer’s challenges in order to develop an unconscious preference.
High-quality thought leadership addresses subjective judgments your prospect experiences. Producing content that aligns with a customers’ emotional needs is a true differentiator in business.
“The brain can’t handle making all the micro-decisions we have to make throughout the day,” says Sloof. “While we would think that a 10 million euro purchase decision would be a 100% rational decision, it might come as a surprise that in B2B buying 90% of all purchase decisions are made on emotion.”
In a survey of more than 250 B2B customers, Gartner found that 77% rated their purchase experience as extremely complex, difficult and even annoying. This statistic can be largely attributed to the abundance of information available to buyers, in turn complicating the purchase decision. With increasing evidence suggesting the ‘more is better’ marketing approach is becoming less effective, it’s true that customers are now searching for pieces of evidence that evoke trust and credibility and that are more directed towards buyer enablement.
“Customers want to buy from the most credible, reliable, and most qualified, and also want to avoid regret after purchase,” says Sloof, “and with thought leadership enabling just that, not utilising it is a missed opportunity”.
With the era of digital transformation radically changing customer behaviour, it’s now crucial that C-level executives reinvent themselves as thought leaders and embrace new perspectives to answer to the customers’ most pressing challenges, instead of looking at them through the lens of sales targets. Creating and incorporating a culture of thought leadership to grow perceived trust, wisdom and transparency can be an enormous catalyst for growth – and a true competitive differentiator.
In today’s volatile business climate, competition is fierce. To be truly adaptive, the world of B2B must maintain a successful, seamless strategy that covers both the physical and digital world. To secure their future success, progressive companies are looking to gain a ‘win’ in the social world. Today’s savvy consumers demand more; they need a higher-touch, personalized online experience. At Tricycle-Europe, we help companies achieve more by combining new technology and tactics. We do so by narrowing the focus towards a strategic, social approach, where authentic communication and relationship building is key.
Join our next webinar Meet the Masters of Social Selling to learn how other c-level professionals are gaining a voice in the social space to ‘win’. In the next edition, we will count on Abhishek Somani – Senior Director of Technical Services at Freshworks. He will be sharing his success story after implementing digital selling and marketing strategies on LinkedIn.