Craig Badings
Sep 25, 2012

OPINION: Thought-leading content is the Trojan horse for B2B sales

The ability to provide through leadership increasingly sets winning brands apart from their competitors, but, explains Craig Badings, director at Cannings Corporate Communications, there's a difference between thought-leading content and mere content.

OPINION: Thought-leading content is the Trojan horse for B2B sales

Content, and preferably thought-leading content, is the new Trojan Horse of B2B sales. Content is rapidly being taken up as the best way to equip sales teams with the game-changing insights that allow them to have the conversations with their clients that differentiate them from their competition, set them up as trusted advisors and underpin the sale. 

The game of selling has changed irreversibly because the sheer weight of information available to buyers these days means they are in control. They are less reliant on sales people and they build trust in the brand long before they come into physical contact with it. 

I call them ‘contsumers’. ‘Contsumers’ are hungry for information, they seek out online as much information as possible to help inform their decision-making process. And given the information available on the company website, competitors’s websites, consumer and consumer group reviews, media reviews and the like, they have as much control over the flow of information as salespeople.  They have conversations with their brands via twitter, the web, Facebook, LinkedIn and blogs, not to mention other consumers, thus creating their own path to purchase.

Importantly the content you supply fulfills, to a large extent, the four stages of buying: awareness, research, evaluation and commitment—before you even get to speak about your product.  

The result is that salespeople are no longer in control, their role has changed. They need to identify where their customer is on their own journey of discovery about finding a product to help solve their issue or problem or to satisfy a need.

It is the brands that best understand their customer, the issues and challenges they face and then provide them with useful, insightful content where and how they consume it, who will rapidly become the brands of choice.

Content versus thought-leading content

By delivering relevant content to your audience, you start taking on an important role in their lives, but there is a clear distinction between useful content and thought-leading content. Useful content includes things like hints and tips about topics like health and well-being, insurance, savings or retirement. This could take the form of opinion pieces or curated content.

Thought-leading content, on the other hand, provides new perspectives, preferably based on empirical evidence, and delivers value well beyond the product or service you sell. It is this type of content that every B2B company should aspire to deliver to its clients and prospects.

For example, take a look at the Motorola Virtual City, which is aimed at government and public safety decision-makers and provides content about how people can best leverage technology to get their jobs done. Another example is Bendtec with its wonderfully whacky Will It Blend? videos; perhaps this is not thought leadership, but it is entertaining and effective. Other great examples include Mintec.com, hubspot.com and American Express. And I know of a great local Sydney example in the form of a specialised recruitment company, Firebrand. But undoubtedly DuPont has to be one of the bravest yet; last year the brand took its entire advertising budget and put it into content marketing. Time will tell how that works for them but to date the signs are good.

For brands to lift their content from useful to thought-leading, the sales, marketing and communication departments need to work together.   

The better the marketing team understands the day-to-day challenges facing the sales team, the questions their customers are asking them and what their key issues and challenges are, the more customised the thought-leadership piece will be.

As the Future of Selling whitepaper* states: “Selling may have once been an individual event, but now it is a team sport.”

Successful selling has always been about the customer, and that should never change. But tomorrow’s successful salesperson is the one who anticipates their customers’ changing behavior, analyzes their needs and finds ways to solve their problems through providing useful, insightful content. This is all done with a minimal focus on the product or service offering.

It is those brands who are not driving new content or exploring thought leadership as an option to own a position and generate insightful content that will come second.

* The concept of using content as digital sales bait first appeared in WPPs Atticus volume 17 as a summary of The Future of Selling white paper produced by OgilvyOne Worldwide and Ogilvy & Mather. The paper delivers a telling insight into how the world of selling has changed: Brands of choice are now those brands that show, through providing useful, insightful content, they understand their consumers’ issues.

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