We are way past the stage of asking if thought leadership works. Having been proven to be the single strategy behind 60% of business executives allocating their projects to certain organizations, it is sure that thought leadership can lead to sales directly.
However, not many businesses and brands know how to make that happen.
Ensuring your thought leadership leads to sales goes beyond just putting out well-thought-out, in-depth content. That is why we are going to discuss the various steps of the buyer journey which you should be aware of – and how to approach them with proper thought leadership too.
Why you Need A Strategy
Let’s take a business that sells hoverboards, for example.
You have to understand that there will be some people – even those supposed to be a part of your target market – who would not even know what a hoverboard is. Some of them might have heard about it or seen a couple of them in passing, but not have given it much thought.
At this stage, no matter how many testimonials you put in front of them, they won’t see the need to make a buying decision.
These are people that would have been better started out with an awareness campaign to sensitize them on not only what a hoverboard is, but why they need one too.
Does that mean the thought leadership content created around social proof and testimonials is a dead end? No – not at all. However, it shows that you were trying to force a square peg into a round hole.
Now that you know why a step by step strategy is needed to advance your buyers from prospects to actual customers, let’s get into how you can also make it happen for yourself.
The Thought Leadership Journey
At iResearch Services, we have found out that most companies and businesses see three stages to the buyer journey. These three stages have been informed by the use of funnels, and these brands are not entirely wrong.
Afterall, every buyer will have gone through both of the
- Awareness stage (lead generation) and’
- Decision-making stage, before they get to the final
- Buying stage
Over time, we have created enough marketing campaigns and strategies to note that there is an extra stage to this journey which most of these businesses leave out. The sad part is that they are also losing out on a lot of future sales just by ignoring what is one of their strongest stages:
- The after-sales stage.
If you think this is just one of those sentiments, the numbers are there to back it up. Afterall, a stunning 55% of business decision-makers admitted to having increased the business they do with another brand/ organization just because of the kind of thought leadership content which they were putting out.
Thus, these businesses could have leveraged the existing customers to keep their revenue profile going while also making them into brand ambassadors in a way.
Since we have all that out of the way, how about we delve into how we can make each one of these stages interesting with thought leadership content?
Stage #1 – Awareness Stage
If the name does not already say it all, one of the biggest drivers of anything we do at iResearch Services is research itself.
Without research, we seldom start anything. This might be seen to some as slowing down the creative process, but we go faster than those who have begun before us without research at their helm of operations.
So, what’s the significance of that?
Before launching a thought leadership campaign for your products/ services/ offering at all, make sure you know who you are addressing.
Having an idea of who your potential buyer is allows you to meet them at the very point of their needs. Thus, you can create the kind of content that resonates with them as much as possible.
When creating awareness pieces, things you must have found out about your target market are:
- Their gender (which allows you to choose what terms you use in communicating your awareness terms)
- Their ages (dictating the kind of tone and lingo to make use of)
- Pain point (which informs how you will present the offering to them. Otherwise, they won’t be interested), among others.
The beautiful thing about the awareness stage is that you get to let the audience know what problems they have – which they might not even have thought about. When you can get this done, you are on your way to making them join the conversation willingly.
The awareness stage is also sensitive in what kinds of content you can put out. For the life of marketing, never ever ever ever (okay, you get the idea already) get salesy.
This is not the stage to put out some promotional content, discount, or anything of such. The audience would almost always smell through the BS to see that you are just trying to play a fast one on them.
But, isn’t the aim of this all to make a sale? Yes, it is – but you might end up losing a larger percentage of your market if you don’t let things run their course.
At this stage of the thought leadership, blogs are a great place to start.
Buying decision-makers have already shown strong interest in that as up to 37% of them will seek out blogs on said products before committing to the buying journey. In comparison, just 27% of these decision-makers seek out infographics only and a further 26% look for videos.
We are not trying to force your campaign into one form of media. Like we said earlier, though, research is everything to us. Let the numbers speak to you too.
Stage #2 – Decision-making Stage
If you can get the prospective buyers to this stage, congratulations.
You have successfully communicated their problems to them without sounding like a supreme overlord, and they have agreed with you too. They are now at the stage where they could also be working/ interacting with you to find a solution to the said problem. The only problem here is that you are not safe yet.
See, the decision stage is a very tricky place to be. Not for the buyers, but you.
At this stage, we believe you already know that you have rivals in the same market which you are based in. Thus, without the proper follow-ups and deployment of thought leadership content, you might have prepared the audience for another brand.
Why is that so?
Human nature is one that seeks solutions when a problem has been identified. By showing them a problem statement and hitting at their pain points, you have shown your prospective clients that they are inadequate in a form. They will, thus, seek adequacy.
Yet another natural human behavior is shopping around for the best solution. Thus, it doesn’t matter that you brought the knowledge of the problem to them when they are seeing the solution to said problems elsewhere. Unless you make it matter!
To make this happen is to start creating solutions to the problems. Again, note that the choice of words here is to ‘create’ (or proffer) solutions, not sell them. Your prospects might have agreed with you on the problem, but they are yet to agree with you on the solution.
That is what we want to make them do this time around.
Following the channel statistics from above, the buying decision-makers start to consult blogs, whitepapers, videos and case studies almost equally this time around. This shows that you have to be highly invested in all these modes of communication, and know how to share them with your audience too.
The good thing about this current age of research is that you don’t have to start anything from scratch. There are huge bodies of research on almost any topic which you can either build on or model your research around.
If you have not been doing this before, contract the job to a research firm with thought leadership at the heart of its operations too so that they come out with the best concepts for you.
When you have these research results back, start spreading the results to your audience in bits. From webinars to podcasts and blogs, keep sharing your results and push them onto the audience slightly too.
We do not need to tell you that your research should tie-up with your product so that it can all make sense at the end. Afterall, you are strategically feeding them the kind of information that would make these decision-makers see the light in your solution when it does present itself.
At the decision stage, engagement is highly key. Your audience wants to be able to reach out to you for discussions, inquires, chats and more. If you haven’t thought about this yet, your behavior to this engagement phase speaks volumes about you – and your buyers will mostly use that to judge how you’ll treat them when the buying is done and dusted.
Stage #3 – Buying Stage
Finally, we get to the point where you can just put your well-thought solution out there in front of them, right? Right, and wrong!
Right, because this is the stage where we want the prospects to convert fully into buyers. Wrong, because we don’t just put the solution in front of them. It is much better to let the customer discover the solution for themselves.
Following the success of the stage above, you can easily identify the prospects who are more willing to purchase the others. Tracking your metrics religiously, you should have had a solid database on something along the lines of:
- Prospects who have downloaded multiple pieces of content during the above processes.
- Prospects who have reached out to you with their unique problems
- Prospects who have visited the product page often
- Prospects who have checked out your how-to guides plentiful times, etc.
That is not all you should look out for, but depending on your offering, the above should guide you to the signs you should anticipate.
Another important thing to do in the buying stage is to leverage social proof and influencers.
For the former, 97% of buyers have made a purchase based on online reviews only. Yet another 63% of consumers believe that they need to hear the claims of a company multiple times (about 3-5 times) before they commit to the purchasing decision.
On the latter, it has been generally established that followers of popular influencers will believe what these influencers say. Influencers help you reach an even wider market than you might normally have access to.
With all these in motion, you should watch the sales coming in.
Stage #4 – After-Sales Stage
Very close to 75% of buyers in large firms maintain that they find it important to keep receiving thought leadership content even after they must have made a purchase. The mistake many (selling) brands make here is to throw something like a long warranty period on the product and forget about the former buyers while focusing on converting new users.
That could not be more wrong.
A popular English proverb goes ‘A bird at hand is worth more than thousands in the bush,’ and that applies here. The words of a single buyer who is enjoying your offering could convince thousands more. That is more valuable than grasping at these thousands of people by yourself without third-party support.
Thus, make sure to keep crafting relevant content for those who have made a purchase.
By relevant content, we mean any/ all of:
- Technology guides
- Case studies
- Troubleshooting guides
- How-to videos
- Updates on modifications and improvements
- FAQ guides, and more.
Accelerate your Sales Today
Before you let anyone convince you that thought leadership is just another fad in marketing, know that up to 60% of business executives have purchased a product they were not even considering before – all thanks to the power of thought leadership content.
Wouldn’t you rather want to be a part of the winning percentage that has started using thought leadership to unlock higher levels of marketing and sales?Back to Blogs