The Forward Observer

How Thought Leadership Can Help B2B Companies Avoid The RFP Process

With a thought leadership marketing strategy, B2B companies can influence buyers, outflank the competition and expedite the purchase cycle.

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“We are transitioning from a knowledge-based economy to a wisdom-based economy. It’s no longer just about what you know, but what you do with what you know.” -FORBES

Forbes has a two-part definition of a thought leader:

  1. A thought leader is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.
  2. A thought leader is an individual or firm that significantly profits from being recognized as such.

In an Inc. Magazine interview, Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen describes thought leadership this way:

“I would define a thought leader as someone who stands above subject-matter expertise and is an authority in their field. And they have to be able to prove that expertise with a track record. Think of it this way: subject-matter expertise resides within a company. Thought leadership resides within an industry. Thought leaders provide clarity, especially to industries that are in flux. They teach.”

The primary benefit of thought leadership is that when buyers are trying to solve a problem, they seek out a thought leader’s guidance.

In the case of B2B sales, when the end buyer is researching a solution to a problem, they seek out advice long before activating the procurement process. Once in the door, the B2B thought leader can educate the end buyer and suggest solutions that the end buyer might not have considered.

At that point the thought leader has two competitive advantages.

  1. The thought leader can spec out the contract to their competitive advantage.
  2. If the contractor has demonstrated unique capabilities, a competitive bid might be skipped altogether.

While thought leadership can pay rich dividends, it requires time and effort. Fast Company warns:

“Successful thought leadership does not arrive with a published idea linked to a hope that someone will recognize brilliance and sweep your firm from obscurity into industry prominence. Establishing a firm or an individual as a thought leader requires consistent, diligent effort. Thought leadership is cumulative.”

Building a company’s thought leadership strategy is no different from any other company initiative: it starts with a plan.

When developing a thought leadership marketing plan, keep these eight essentials in mind:

  1. Define your target. The more narrow the target that you define for your thought leadership, the greater the impact. In a Fast Company article “The Golden Rules Of Creating Thoughtful Thought Leadership,” the author Daniel W. Rasmus recommends, “I often advise those developing thought leadership ‘go vertical or go home.’ There is very little generic thought leadership that is useful. The best thought leadership helps people in an industry, or more likely, in a role within an industry, do something better or gain insight that helps them better understand their market, or their job.”
  2. Create content. Writing about your area of expertise is the raw material for most everything else in building a thought leadership effort. The body of knowledge from your writing will be distributed in a variety of formats such as blog posts, whitepapers, eBooks, articles, webinars and speeches.
  3. Blog. A blog should be the home base of all your content efforts. A blog enables two-way communication with your target audience, facilitates social media sharing and can boost your lead generation and search engine rankings.
  4. Use social media. Jay Baer has the best explanation for the relationship between content and social media: “Content is fire. Social media is gasoline.” With great content, social media can help it reach a large number of people in your target audience. But even more important, social media enables thought leaders to answer questions. On sites like LinkedIn, Twitter and Quora where people are asking questions or talking about your area of expertise, you can post replies and, when appropriate, drive traffic back to your blog by including a relevant link.
  5. Guest write. Contributing articles and blog posts to authoritative websites and publications can raise your profile quickly with a large audience. In addition, when guest blogging, a link back to your site helps improve your search engine rankings.
  6. Help the media. Until the media seeks you out, use tools like ProfNet and HARO to reach out and assist journalists.  Twitter is also an excellent way to follow and help journalists covering your area of expertise.
  7. Speak at conferences and events. Live events are still one of the best ways to raise awareness and promote your thought leadership. Start out with smaller events in your industry and work your way up. Always keep the information educational and non-promotional and ask for feedback on your talks.
  8. Write a book. This is not as daunting as you might think. Repurposing the content you have developed for your blog, whitepapers, ebooks, speeches etc. can form the basis of a book. And with digital printing, you no longer need to publish a large quantity. Few people do this but more will in the future.

What do you think? Please share your comments below.

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

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