Give the People What They Want: Thought Leadership and Lead Gen

Let me get something on record: Buyers want unbiased, smart, educational content.  My sales guy asked me the other day for statistics so he could “prove this to clients.”  I told him, “If you’re trying to learn about something, would you rather watch a documentary or an infomercial?”

So think about it: Do you really need data? Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. When researching a purchase, do you prefer the advice of a neutral expert or the vendor?
  2. Who are you more likely to believe, the neutral expert or the vendor?

I mean come on.  Thought leadership works. Here are some examples:

  1. Brian Carroll: I’ve talked about this guy before and, by the way, he wrote about this very topic on his blog.  Everyone in the business trusts Brian, and there’s a lot to learn from him. Here’s what I’ve noticed about his approach:
    • He basically talks about every form of lead gen.  Even areas in which his company does not specialize.
    • He rarely mentions his corporate affiliations.
    • He gets “butts in the seats.”  His Webinars, seminars, etc. are highly attended and people know that when they go to listen to him, they’re going to something out of it.

    2. Bruce Schneir: I was a consultant for a long time at Counterpane, a security-outsourcing company Bruce founded.  He is a highly requested speaker, writer, and interview.  People used to call the main line just hoping to speak with him. That is one of my first experiences  seeing thought leadership work.  Bruce is the embodiment of this quote from Brian’s post, credited to Dana VanDen Heuvel from MarketingProfs:

Become a thought leader in your field and it won’t matter as much how big you are. Companies and people will look to you for insight and vision. Journalists will quote you, analysts will call you, and websites will link to you.

You have to do thought leadership right, end of story.  You can’t pretend to provide educational content or thought leadership.  If you look salesy, you’re selling. People DO NOT FALL FOR THAT. For instance, at the 2009 Sales 2.0 Knowledge Share Conferencee last week, the first set of presentations were all supposed to be about Sales 2.0 techniques. Instead, they were not-so-well-disguised sales pitches for companies like Hoovers and Inside View.  The feedback in the halls was not so good.  The program probably got better, but what I saw and the reactions I heard scream my point loud and clear: Buyers pay (in time or even money) if they can learn something that will help them do better in their jobs.  B2B buyers can smell a rat, so do it right.

This quote from Brian’s post says it all:

People have a natural “BS” meter. We can sense when someone is just trying to sound smart rather than be authentic. Most of us can recognize a charlatan, one who pontificates about their expertise only to pitch us. These so-called thought leaders are only just trying to edify themselves.

Craig Rosenberg is the Funnelholic. He loves sales, marketing, and things that drive revenue. Follow him on Google+ or Twitter

  • Excellent post. It’s clear there is a greater attraction to thought leadership now than ever before. The challenge lies in making the commitment to it. Few companies are willing to actually go that far. They may need assistance.

    As your example from the Sales 2.0 event suggests, companies often struggle to get outside their own heads and truly engage their audiences/prospective clients on their own ground. They don’t mean to make “thinly disguised sales pitches.” It’s just that they only feel confident — and credible — when they are talking about their own solutions.

    To be a thought leader, you have to truly grasp market trends and customer problems. You need evidence, insight and a compelling perspective. You need to articulate your ideas in a consistent and compelling fashion. You can’t just wing it. Thought leadership is an emerging discipline — and needs to be treated as such. The good news is that the evidence that it is paying off is getting undeniably clear. The game is changing.

  • MarketingSherpa recently posted a case study that touched on this topic and supports the above blog post. The focus was on a company that wanted to establish a lead gen campaign to reach a list of cold leads. The company needed a way to communicate the benefits of its products to this prospect list without being off putting. The company ended up emailing the prospect list, including a link to download third-party analyst reports that talked about the company’s product space. This was done in order to provide relevant, educational content the company knew the prospects would find interesting. The company tested its campaign splitting the lists it emailed, and found that the emails that received the greater response were those that promoted the reports and benefits to prospects over the company’s branding.