More and more companies outside of management consulting and IT are undertaking thought leadership marketing. And progressively more of them are building topic microsites. Perhaps Neil Rackham has put his finger on why.
Neil Rackham is the originator of SPIN selling – a technique for training consultative salespeople to be… er well, consultative – to make sure they question and listen to prospects and thoroughly understand their needs before they pitch a solution. Neil has been saying for a couple of years now that sales are increasingly diverging into transactional and consultative, that the happy ground between the two is disappearing. One of the reasons for this is that the internet and IT in general are hastening the automation of anything that can be automated. Increasingly that includes the evaluation and purchase of anything that’s routine. Another reason seems to be that the world of business continues to get more complex, so the remaining decisions require ever more intelligence and effort.
Neil goes on to talk about the role of marketing for each of these. For transactional selling it should be to drive sales directly. For consultative selling it should be to provide the tools to help customers navigate the complicated path from problem identification to purchase, establishing the firm as a trusted adviser in the process. We’d agree – that’s the point of what we call thought leadership marketing.
So what has this to do with emerging topic microsites? Let’s look at three that have recently gone live. Goodwin Proctor, a law firm, has one for hi-tech startups; GE healthcare has one on major issues in healthcare; and GHY, a Canadian trade brokerage, has just launched one on international trade compliance strategies.
All of these are informational sites with lots of articles on their topic, that don’t feature the company’s services. As it says on the GHY site “Our aim is to guide, educate, and help you understand the journey to compliance. Although many of the authors of this site are leaders at GHY International, the intent here is not to sell you on GHY’s products and services, but to engage in a conversation without fear of selling.”
All of these microsites provide articles and information on the topic at hand, and many of them explicitly provide self-help tools. At the Goodwin Proctor site for instance you can print the forms you needs to establish a startup as a Delaware corporation; at the GE site there are several self-help diagnostic tools including one which can project potential savings for hospitals from more efficient asset utilization.
If Neil is right, companies will increasingly offer their products and services as good enough and cheap as possible on the one hand (transactional), and as high value added with lots of help to choose them on the other (consultative). As we started saying earlier this year, we’ll see more and more microsites arise to help with that choosing. And also, to extend the reach and effectiveness of that ever-scarce resource, the skilled consultative salesperson.