B2B sales cycles are often long—a couple of months to more than a year—and it’s marketing’s job to develop a strategy that will introduce your company and its solutions to your audience and potential customers, and then nurture them along the way. Yes, B2B marketing is a long game of hurry up and wait—create a campaign, measure it and make small updates to get results.
But building these relationships with prospects is the foundational first step to your marketing program. No one’s going to find you on LinkedIn, see an ad or uncover your solution on Google and buy the first time they visit your site. You need to show your company’s smarts by developing useful thought leadership content that creates demand and builds trust over time. This is demand generation—providing information to your prospects so they can make an informed decision when they’re ready to buy.
Demand generation comes in many different forms—deciding which one is right for your company hinges on a bunch of different things. Two key determining factors are what you sell and who you sell it to.
Product or Solution: What Do You Sell?
Do you sell products or solutions? What you sell—and how you think about what you sell—can change the kind of content you produce.
If you sell products, your content will focus more on the product itself, its features and how your target customers can use your product to solve a problem (though we’d argue the content should still lead with a focus on your audience). This type of content doesn’t lend itself to thought leadership because it’s more focused on your company than solving your customers’ problems and offering your point of view.
Solution companies are more customer-focused than product companies. In a solution-oriented company, you’re creating a custom solution for every problem, either in one industry or across many. In this case, it’s your job to show your prospective customers that you understand the nuance of their industry or what their problems are and how your solution can solve them. Don’t make your prospective customers do extra work trying to figure out whether or not you can help them; create content specific enough so that they make the connection. This process opens the floodgates to a lot of content you can develop to create demand.
How Thought Leadership Helps You Sell
Your demand generation content should not focus on your organization’s specific solution; it should demonstrate:
- Your industry knowledge: Every industry has its own unique vocabulary and you-had-to-be-there insights. Build credibility by showcasing you walk the walk.
- Your customers’ pain points: You’ve worked in the industry long enough and talked to enough customers and leaders to know what problems they’ll face now and in the future.
- Your smarts and point of view: Thought leadership is a great way to illustrate that you’ve thought deeply about your audience’s pain points and the solutions you can provide.
This becomes especially important during a down economy, whether it’s actually down or whether people just think it’s down. More than half of decision-makers believe that during an economic downturn, it’s more important than ever for organizations to produce high-quality thought leadership content. But just 33% of folks who create thought leadership think their content is good or excellent. And when you ask the C-suite, that number dips to 29%.
One employee benefits broker we’ve worked with for over a decade valued thought leadership from the start, so we’ve focused our efforts on interviewing their smart leaders, writing content for their bylines, and then placing these articles in trade publications. We’ve helped them get hundreds of articles in popular HR-related publications over the years, raising their profile and making their organization a household name. They’ve also used their thought leadership articles in RFPs and proposals and throughout the sales conversation to help prove that they understand the complex world of employee benefits and how to solve problems.
Importantly, this client (and many others) understood the need for thought leadership to drive demand generation, believed in marketing, and knew they had some smart people who could share their expertise with a wider audience, just as they do during sales conversations.
When done well, thought leadership demonstrates your expertise and your personality. It is a vehicle that draws people in, creates demand and begins building relationships. And that’s marketing’s job.