Is there a hidden B2B sales opportunity we’re missing?

B2B sales is a brutal game, even if you’re good at it — because you always need to stay good at it. Principals are always looking for better systems, processes, and ways to build relationships with the “champions.” But what if I found you a potential hack based on research from Edelman and LinkedIn? Would you be interested?

Setting up this research

From October to November 2016, Edelman (global communications marketing firm) contacted 1,300 B2B decision-makers and C-Suiters with the help of LinkedIn. They had discussions about all stages of a B2B buying process, trust, and what resources help at every stage in the eyes of the decision-makers. This isn’t necessarily new research — people have been assigning assets to B2B buying stages for generations now — but it’s recent and has a good sample size involving two vetted brands, so let’s see what we can learn.

The takeaways

The big takeaway in terms of crafting a summary headline would be this: 56% of the decision-makers said that thought leadership from potential vendors did not provide valuable insights. This is probably not surprising: we have argued before that “thought leadership” usually misses the mark as a sales tool.

But if you look deeper at the numbers in this research, you can find the missed opportunity. Let’s set this up:

  • 45% of decision-makers said that effective thought leadership did cause them to award business to the provider of that thought leadership
  • 48% of C-Suiters said the same
  • Only 10% of the content providers believed thought leadership could lead to getting a premium on their product/service
  • But 49% of decision-makers and 47% of C-Suiters said effective thought leadership is tied to premium deals

You see the same numbers in whether thought leadership is tied to getting a RFP. Only 17% of vendors believe this, but 41% of C-Suiters say good thought leadership will cause them to request a proposal.

Hmmm.

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What can we learn here?

Well, it would seem that vendors/marketing teams are underestimating the potential of thought leadership, potentially phoning in the deliverable, and not seeing results. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. (“Thought leadership doesn’t work but I guess we need to do it, so let’s half-ass it, OH LOOK IT DIDN’T WORK!”)

But if your thought leadership isn’t drivel — if it speaks to industry trends, pain points, and concepts that these decision-makers care about — it can be a much more effective tool at getting in the door or even getting a premium on business than maybe we assume it can be.

So how do we maximize our thought leadership?

This is a multi-step process that many miss, so let’s try to keep it simple:

  • Talk to your sales reps about their discussions with decision-makers
  • Figure out what pain points keep coming up
  • Have some internal discussions
  • Try to brainstorm some creative looks at those pain points
  • Bring in a good writer or someone internal on marketing
  • Start from the pain points that keep coming up and work towards the creative solutions that were brainstormed
  • Along the way, bring in research and trend lines from the last three years
  • Put it all together
  • Edit it
  • Package it
  • Design it
  • Show it to the sales reps and educate them on its potential usage
  • EMail it out to the decision-makers you have on hand with a snazzy headline
  • Take a break and go to happy hour
  • Rinse and repeat

If you put thought leadership together this way, you might get into those 40-50% numbers around being awarded business, getting premium business, etc. It’s not actually as hard as we think, and it might be the missed opportunity of B2B sales. Imagine: actually educating a prospect on something he’s truly worried about! Unicorns may exist!

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