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Thought leadership and the top line: How to use B2B content to increase revenues

Rob Mitchell

Thought leadership is all about ideas, but your work is wasted if there isn’t a clear line of sight between those ideas and a commercial outcome. At FT Longitude, we are strong believers in measuring thought leadership against its contribution to three core objectives:

  1. Increasing revenues
  2. Enhancing reputation
  3. Strengthening client relationships.

For us, every project starts with a discussion with the client about which of those three goals is most important to them. Usually, they want to achieve all three, but the emphasis can differ.

When revenues rule

If a client tells us that revenue generation is their most important goal, we can design research and content to help. Here are some of the revenue-maximising steps we take, which are based on our experience of working with more than 40 global clients on large-scale thought leadership programmes.

1. Map out your buyers

Most B2B purchasing decisions are complex, and typically involve multiple stakeholders. To stand a chance of influencing the buying decision, your thought leadership needs to resonate with each of the different buyer personas.

For example, selling M&A advice will typically need buy-in from the CFO, CDO, CEO and legal. So your thought leadership must resonate equally with those different stakeholders. Alternatively, you’ll need to create different versions of your content, from a common research foundation, that are more role-specific.

2. Create a burning platform

Thought leadership is a powerful way to create a rationale for change. For example, if your research shows that 70% of organisations are investing in artificial intelligence, then you have a great opportunity to talk to the other 30% and explain that they risk falling behind their competitors. This is the ‘burning platform’ concept: there is a sense of urgency that requires action, and it’s time to invest in a solution.

3.  Sell your expertise, not your products

B2B buyers don’t want to hear about your products – they want to know how you can help them solve their business problem. The best way to do that is by demonstrating your company’s expertise and experience of addressing other clients’ issues. Good thought leadership will show them that you understand the market and have the knowledge and expertise to solve even the thorniest business issues.

4. Include calls to action

Thought leadership should influence and inspire action – not just describe a situation. You can make this easy for your audience by including clear calls to action, and ensuring that you can handle these effectively as a business.

5. Engage your internal audience

It’s impossible to use thought leadership to increase your revenues if you don’t involve the people who sell to your clients. This means it’s essential to get your business development team on side.

We recommend that this is done as early as possible in the process: secure their buy-in at the start of a thought leadership project, and they will feel engaged and more likely to support it. If you hand them a completed report without having asked for their input, then they are much less likely to get behind it.

6. Make it easy for your sales teams

B2B sales executives are typically hungry for content that can help them initiate and maintain conversations. But that content has to be readily available and presented in a format that suits their needs.

Remember that while thought leadership is a conversation starter, it won’t close the sale on its own. A ‘sales enablement toolkit’ that brings together the thought leadership report, introductory emails, bite-sized articles, presentations, call scripts and other assets will help to arm your sales team with the ammunition they need to hold conversations – and will ultimately lead to higher revenues.

7. Keep the conversation going

The B2B sales cycle can be protracted. It’s unusual for a business development executive to get a call from a prospect and then close a sale in a matter of weeks. Instead, there needs to be a long, ongoing conversation, often over several months, during which trust is established and relationships developed.

Good thought leadership is a powerful hook for starting and maintaining that conversation – at every stage of the sales cycle. And it gets results: in our Power of Thought Leadership research from last year, 78% of respondents said that reading intelligent thought leadership makes them more likely to trust that company in future.

Now that thought leadership has become a core part of the marketing toolkit, it is essential to demonstrate how it can deliver ROI. Evidence of meetings and conversations where thought leadership has been the “door opener” is a crucial part of showing that value.

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About the author: Rob Mitchell

Rob leads FT Longitude’s strategic planning and sets the overall vision and priorities for the business. He manages the board-level relationship with FT Longitude’s parent company, the Financial Times group, and also oversees FT Longitude’s finances, people management and administration.

Prior to co-founding FT Longitude in 2011, Rob was an independent writer and editor. Between 2007 and 2010, he was a managing editor at the Economist Intelligence Unit and prior to that he was an editor at the Financial Times, where he was responsible for the newspaper’s sponsored reports, including the Mastering Management series.

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