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Thought Leader: Tired or True?

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Isn’t thought leader just old biz jargon? After all, the term’s been knocking around for years, like ‘headhunter’ and ‘game changer’ and ‘team player.’

But no, for a B2B company today, being known as a thought leader demands your attention. And fortunately, through social media, becoming a thought leader gets easier for small and midsize companies than ever before.

Here’s how elise.com defined the phrase in 2003: “What differentiates a thought leader from any other knowledgeable company, is the recognition from the outside world that the company deeply understands its business, the needs of its customers, and the broader marketplace in which it operates.

Why does that matter?

We’re in an economy where customers try to know everything before they buy. Customers want to know who you are, what you stand for, whether they like you, whether you are telling the truth, will you deliver, are you trustworthy. And customers want to know what other customers think about working with you and the quality of your products and services. And customers want to know if you really know your industry, and whether you can help them make a wise buying decision (even if it’s not to buy from you). And whether you will help them make the transaction transparent or whether you will want to leave them in the dark.

And you know what? Customers will buy from those companies that are the easiest to know.

How do you become that kind of company?

I presented a webinar to a prospective customer last week, a webinar on what frightens buyers about doing business with small companies. I used abundant examples from their industry. The CEO said at the end, “You took the time to learn about my company. Your competitor didn’t do that.” That’s one way to do it-when you have the opportunity to interact with customers, take the time to understand their business. Train everyone on your team to do that, all of the time.

But aside from when you’re talking to your customers and prospects directly, how can you earn their attention to you by behaving like a thought leader?

One simple way is to offer industry information on your website-make your site a place to which customers and prospects return for up-to-date knowledge. Here’s one B2B company that does it well: Walker Information, offering their online ‘Knowledge Center’ about customer loyalty. They have five blogs, each written by a company expert. Their library of eBooks, videos discussions, case studies, and white papers is constantly growing. The Walker site illustrates the high value of producing content. Walker expects and empowers employees to be thought leaders, and the company continually produces new content of its own based on deep industry expertise.

Another small company doing a good job of thought leadership on their website is Driving Ambition, in the trucking industry. They offer a newsletter subscription and an ‘industry resources’ page. Here’s what they say: “Driving Ambition is committed to helping our customers stay up-to-date on the latest industry trends. Bookmark this page, and you’ll have easy access to the latest transportation news and information,” followed by a list of associations, websites, industry standards, and other information made more valuable because they have posted it in one place. Their blog features timely, relevant posts about events, industry news, speakers, reports, issues, and so forth. Driving Ambition differs from Walker in that most of their informative web material consists of link, announcements and references rather than new content production.

The distinction between these two approaches is important; it illustrates that you can demonstrate thought leadership by creating new industry knowledge but also by aggregating and filtering industry information for your customers and prospects.

How you do it depends on choosing a strategy that you can manage, that you can afford, and that will be meaningful to your audience. Developing a ‘thought leader’ website and embedding a blog that invites interaction with visitors is a sensible place to start.

Ten Tactics to Drive B2B Sales with Social Media

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Hello BlogWorld readers, and welcome to my new blog post series on how social media can drive your B2B sales. I’m pleased to be invited to contribute and look forward to interacting with all of you here.

I work with small and midsize B2B companies learning how to grow their business by making bigger sales to bigger customers. Most of my customers are new to the social media world and especially confused about how it can possibly relate to the B2B sales environment.

So thought I’d start by introducing the topic and giving you my list of the Top Ten tactics that will help you use social media to drive B2B sales. My Top Ten list also forms the topic list that I’ll be blogging about/hope you will add to it!

  1. Position your company as a thought leader/team of experts in your field. Invite several of your subject matter experts to create newsletters, blog posts, white papers, discussion board posts, slide decks and/or videos about their knowledge and expertise in your industry. Provide them with policy guidelines and training for creation and have a system for distribution.
  2. Develop a content strategy to add value to the customer experience. Learn how to leverage your website, blog, and social media sites to present content that your company produces and to share content from others that will be of interest to your customers.
  3. Learn how to use social media to generate high quality leads. For example, use social media tools to invite members of your target audience to attend a teleconference or webinar and give them high quality, relevant information. When they sign up and attend, you have a warm introduction and a reason to call them.
  4. Engage your prospects and customers in conversation about their needs and their desires. Social media platforms make it easy to conduct surveys, to ask simple questions, and to comment on your customers’ observations in real time.
  5. Request and publicize referrals and recommendations through social media. Ask your key employees to request Linked In recommendations from current and past customers, for example, and suddenly you’ll have 10 or 20 or 50 points of view about the quality and capabilities of your team.
  6. Conduct sales research about prospective companies and their key employees. The networking sites give you unprecedented access to information about people at work. Just keep in mind that your company will ‘get’ only as much as you ‘give,’ so encourage your team to be contributors.
  7. Build customer loyalty through multiple social media touch points. Wherever you find your customers on the Internet-and wherever they find you-be prepared to engage in a multi-channel conversation.
  8. Keep up with trends in social media and sales/understand sales 2.0. Lots of small business owners are still hoping it will all go away. But I believe we have hardly begun to tap the potential of the Internet and social media activity for B2B business engagement. The most successful companies will be those that intend to learn and grow with the phenomenon.
  9. Use your social media resource sites to find industry reports, data, and predictions that will interest your customers. Make great resources easy for them to find through you, and you’ll add great value to their experience.
  10. Connect with ravens and mavens. Ravens are guides and protectors of the whale hunters; they want you to win big sales. Mavens are passionate knowledge brokers who know what’s what and can advise you on the trends. Subscribe to their blogs, follow them, ‘friend’ them, ‘like’ them. Most of all, allow them to help guide you through the social media territory.

How are you using social media to support B2B sales? I look forward to your comments!

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