The information empowered and socially connected B2B decision-maker is not waiting for your cold call to educate them about their industry, company challenges and/or your product/services.
Recent research has shown that B2B decision-makers want to talk and get their questions answered by trusted thought leaders. Thought leadership and content are directly connected. Look at any content marketing survey graphic below and there you will see; the second most important reason businesses ‘do’ content marketing and deploy a content marketing plan is ‘thought leadership’.
Take a look at the following research graphic:
This data comes from a 2013 B2B content marketing survey. Lead generation…leads, thought leadership and market education rank second. All other content marketing surveys will indicate that thought leadership is an essential goal too. The conclusion is very evident: we want our businesses (and people) to be thought leaders.
What does social selling thought leadership mean in today’s hyperconnected world? Many things to many people. Perception has always mattered. Today perception matters even more in ways we could not have imagined just a few years ago.
And with the arrival of the intangible concept of social influence, social credibility, and open standards of relationship capital, thought leadership has become a white hot topic of conversation across the B2B business world. The “perception game” is played better by some than others. Let me be clear, thought leadership is a strong position.
“Good content management and knowing where you store, update and find the right content to answer people’s questions, whether it’s to be a thought leader, helpful to a customer, or just giving, is essential”
Today we connect content marketing to thought leadership. The fact is we always have. The link between content management, the use of content and this whole thought leadership thing was always strong. It had to do with authentic thought leadership, domain expertise and being top of mind.
The idea as it’s executed in this ‘”Social Selling and Social Marketing” age seems straight forward: put out quality, engaging and customer-focused content with your target audiences which they want and like on the topics/values your brand is associated with, and created by the people within your organization – if you’re a human company – then you can be a thought leader. Well, it doesn’t end there. There’s a lot more to say about influence, thought leadership, subject matter expertise, content, social etc. but let’s look a bit deeper into thought leadership as such and the role of content management.
Social Selling Thought Leadership Concepts
- Social Selling Thought Leadership. It’s being where and when it matters for your B2B customers/clients and your real business goals. Thought leadership is about being contacted and coming to mind when someone wants your advice or help. It’s about earning relationship capital for being helpful and trustworthy. It’s about proactive and creative business thinking turned into value and support. The best thought leaders know their goals and achieve them, even if it means they’re sometimes less visible or popular or influential. Thought leadership is about trust and integrity in the sense that when you have something to say, it’s useful saying it. When you don’t have something to offer, you listen. Thought leadership is earned relationship capital through intelligent observation and perceptive insight into what people will pay attention to.
- Social Selling Thought Leadership requires targeted focus. It’s about becoming a trusted resource and/or advisor. And it requires you as a social selling professional to focus, using content and/or consistently interacting, on a group of people and topics you know inside out. On social there is a lot of noise and you can be perceived as a thought leader, just based on, let’s say, blog posts. But, thought leadership is not only about great content or influence. As a social selling practitioner, you don’t have to be the The Taylor Swift in your area of expertise and industry. Look at it the long term and remember that we all need a social place in an environment where growth goes beyond the heat of spotlights. But if you’re a attracted to the social spotlight, feel free to become more than a highly trusted and respected person. If you want business success: focus. The most sought-after thought leaders in the SaaS industry, for instance, are analysts and other ‘visible’ people that specialize in just a few topics. This does not mean there is no room for generalists. It is more challenging because people like to stick a label and, it takes time to become a subject matter expert in a domain. Social Selling Thought Leaders leverage social media for building social credibility and social influence.
- Social Selling Thought Leadership is about building positive relationship capital perceptions Times have changed. Excellent people-oriented subject matter experts need to be visible and speak out in a more or less public way to be perceived as thought leaders. Like it or not: social credibility makes a large contribution today. It does require proactively elevating your voice by sharing and creating popular content that builds positive relationship capital perceptions.
- Social Selling Thought Leadership is about building long-term results and relationships. Here’s the long term focus again. Its about relationships and results. Just ask yourself this simple question: do you prefer to be a trusted resource to B2B decision makers, even if it’s often invisible or do you prefer a few years or a decade of ‘celebrity’? Because relationships that are mutually valuable and based on relationship capital trust really take a genuine effort and long-term mindset. They need you to be 100% relationship-driven. There’s nothing wrong with feeling good about being popular or famous. It becomes a problem in the long run if you forget focusing on the fact that your business relationships really require you to reciprocate and do not always go well at if it is only about your own needs and goals.
- Social Selling Thought Leadership has to lead. It takes people on a journey. True leadership is about collaborating with others in a social context to get results.
In this digital and social age, information and content simply are among your best ‘tools’ to serve B2B customers, help people and do what you typically do in solid relationships. One of the big misunderstandings propagated is that thought leadership and content/information in this context are about creating content and content marketing in the strict sense. Absolutely yes, you need to create and use content where it matters but that is not enough. Good content management and knowing where you store, update, and find the right content to answer people’s questions, whether it’s to be a social selling thought leader, helpful to a customer or just giving, is essential too.
A Social Selling Thought Leadership Platform
So, what does all this have to do with B2B social selling, content marketing and content management? There is a link that is often overlooked between content/information management and thought leadership.
I am not referring to content curation. It about having speed of access to all organizational knowledge and content, understanding your area of expertise, and business ecosystem. It is the capability to listen and truly comprehend what people are searching for and to get it for them based on a proven information management platform approach to turn proven experience into useful information, distinguishing between popular stuff and the really helpful information and content.
To successfully practice social selling thought leadership, content is important. But it also requires the practitioner to relentlessly pursue continuous learning, understanding what matters to your social prospect or customer. It is about where that knowledge resides and who and when to share it. It’s about opening the right repository and get what social selling thought leaders need out of it fast. Including the repositories in your head, that maybe one day will be merged with say the “IBM Watson expert cloud system.
Authentic social selling thought leadership is not about leading thoughts but in a sense about storing, classifying and retrieving useful information when and where it matters. It is about transforming validated experience, supportive information, and expert knowledge into relationship capital benefits. Consistent, focused, and trusted ideas that elevates your voice to thought leadership that creates opportunities, trust, and incremental opportunities.
As a sales leader or professional, will you take this journey of building greater influence, distinction, and relationship capital trust? Your continuous learning combined with a social selling thought leadership information platform will allow you and your team to engage with your B2B decision-maker earlier in their buying journey allowing you the opportunity to win more. Traditional Selling has died. Social selling thought leadership has just been born. Long live social selling thought leadership.
Originally titled ‘B2B Selling Has Died, Long Live Social Selling Thought Leadership‘ and published on Linkedin. It is republished here, with permission