Thought-leadership marketing can yield incredible results: One survey by Orbit Media found that 53% of firms had increased their company’s customer retention, 56% increased their press mentions and 62% boosted their client leads by doing this kind of activity.
Real thought leadership — new ideas that steer a sector’s thinking — involves becoming wedded to a vision that goes against the grain. Those who do it well eventually earn the coveted role of ‘go-to’ person in their industry and will be increasingly sought after for their knowledge and expertise.
Thought leaders can even influence a market so that when clients go looking for new suppliers. Their views actually skew the criteria that customers judge “good” by — and they reap the new business rewards accordingly.
But much has been written about thought leadership and how to get more followers, and far less about the role of the follower in B2B sales. The million-dollar question is not how many followers, it’s how can brands convert followers into paying customers?
Followers are, more often than not, the “not-right-nows” who may buy when the time is right, but for one reason or another are not currently in-market. Until they are, they are interested enough to devour the thought leader’s content, and possibly engage with it too.
But what some don’t realize is that, rather than waiting for followers to become buyers, there are things marketers can be doing to affect behavioral change.
For a start, focus your thought leadership content on raising consciousness. The idea is to make your followers aware they have a problem that is both urgent and important. This provides them with the incentive they need to start making a change.
Many people are unaware of the need for change, so they may take some persuading (inertia is powerful, the biggest competitor most brands have is “do nothing”). Drawing on easily digestible survey data, relevant statistics, and offering up real-world case studies, as well as anecdotes and stories, can help make the issue real at this stage.
With your followers now aware they have an issue, problem or challenge, they will begin exploring how they can solve it. Here thought-leadership activity should add some emotional catalysts to provoke action. Emotion drives action. But this is actually a rare and underutilized tactic in B2B marketing.
Research by CEB’s Marketing Leadership Council and Google of 3,000 purchasers of 36 B2B brands across multiple industries found that B2B buyers are significantly more emotionally connected to their vendors and service providers than consumers.
The survey found that almost half are more likely to buy a product or service when they see personal value, such as the opportunity for career advancement or confidence and pride in their choice, and they are eight times more likely to pay a premium for comparable products and services when personal value is present.
So, rather than focusing on their business requirements, you might want to ask: What’s in it for them personally?
Next, your followers will begin to prepare for change. Here, you’ll need content that offers concrete guidance on what to do next. Either think about publishing simple next steps or potentially a 90-day roadmap to solving the problem. Beware: This step comes just before making a buying decision and it’s where many sales can stall.
If you can get followers over this hurdle, they will have committed to action (buying). Marketers need to reinforce that this action was a good decision to counteract any sense of buyer’s remorse.
This is also the time to encourage your new customers to tell others about their decision — and studies show this is the most likely time for them to do this — potentially increasing your followership. And so, the cycle starts again.
Bold, daring thought leadership can only take a company so far. It’s an ability to turning followers into leads into clients that will add true value.
Jason Ball is the Founder of B2B marketing agency Considered Content, whose clients include Google, Oracle, AT&T, EY and Microsoft. Jason is also behind Prolific, a first-of-its-kind managed content service created for the B2B sector. He helps ambitious marketers differentiate their brands, generate demand and reduce friction from the buyer journey.
This story premiered on our sister site, DemandGen Report.