Traditionally, we think of thought leadership marketing (TLM) as having two primary objectives:
- To raise a company’s reputation in the marketplace
- To generate leads for sales people.
If TLM makes the phones ring, it’s helping sales, right? It’s doing its job. The rest is reputation building; that is, marketing, yes?
Actually, no. Here are four ways our clients are using thought leadership content today to support selling beyond simple lead generation. (Not that that’s a bad thing.)
1. Lending credibility during the sales process
One of the biggest benefits of having your own thought leadership content always has been that it gives credibility to the author, the expert, and to the firm that publishes it, in the eyes of prospective clients. And that’s good. But one of our clients who has a regular blog in a respected IT journal tells us that it also helps at two stages of the sales cycle, the beginning and the end. In the beginning, having a column which validates his expertise in his space makes it easier for him to get first meetings with prospects who, he says, are often quite keen to talk with him. And when the deal is closing, the column reassures people that, in fact, they are hiring someone who knows what he is talking about.
2. Opening doors to new markets
One consulting client of ours wanted to break into the recently deregulated Chinese healthcare market, assisting multi-national companies (MNCs) planning to invest there. The company had healthcare expertise in the U.S., and offices in China, but no actual Chinese healthcare experience. With our help, they wrote and published an article about the opportunities, risks, and some of the things it was important to get right in that market. Once published, they used the article to open doors and meet potential clients. Within a month, they had met with senior executives at a U.S. MNC in Asia, sent them the article, and closed a contract to provide risk-management services to the MNC’s wholly-owned Chinese healthcare subsidiary.
3. Generating targeted leads for specific professionals
Most companies publish thought leadership content in their own journal, on their website, or externally, in a business or trade journal. Oftentimes both. These channels may make the phone ring for the bylined author, but the process is passive, and no one except the author monitors the leads generated by any one piece. One client of ours does it differently. For instance, they will publish a 1,000-word article on a problem that, say, Chief Regulatory Officers are grappling with. They will then send an email from a senior regulatory expert to perhaps 1,000 target CROs, attach the article, and offer a follow-up call with the expert if the CRO would like to discuss the issue further. For each campaign they measure leads, RFPs, and sales. This is active, not passive, and it works.
4. Educating sales people in the field
A division of a global life sciences company has a sophisticated range of testing devices. Although they are the world leader in the space, the uptake of their products has not been as high as the science says it should be. In part, that’s because doctors and payers don’t always understand when it would be advantageous to test instead of treat. Field sales people can’t always explain the relevant factors because the subject is complicated, and most of the pertinent literature is in peer-reviewed, scientific journals. These are not the bedtime reading of sales people, even in life-sciences. So the company has developed a series of articles that explain the challenges, solutions, and benefits of different applications of the technology. These papers are primarily for internal use, and a salesperson may hand them to a client. They sales people like them; they take an enormous weight off their shoulders, and they help them make sales, which is the point, isn’t it?
We often think of TL content as something we publish for people to find, which will inspire some of them to call us. That’s marketing. But it has an even more important role in supporting sales – a role that can generate more immediate, and more easily measurable results.