For B2B companies who are still on the up, the online playing field is far from level. The big guys are often top of mind because they have the most marketing dollars to spend. But even with a comparatively small marketing budget, determined underdogs can still catch up by establishing themselves as thought leaders. Just because your competitors are the current market leaders, that doesn’t make them thought leaders.
Thought leadership is a different beast from the realm of product-pushing press releases, and company-sponsored magazine editorials. The aim of thought leadership is to enter your prospect’s buying journey right at the beginning, when they haven’t clearly identified what they need yet. Your prospect comes to trust you, because what you say about the problems they face is straightforward, educational and it adds genuine value.
Here’s how you can become a thought leader in your industry:
1. Give Away Knowledge
You can only be a thought leader if you have something worthwhile to say. Share your knowledge and do so freely. Give it to your buyers in the format they want. Attempt to demonstrate your understanding of the problems your buyers have. Show them you understand the the broader industry trends and the direction it’s heading.
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Reciprocity builds trust and authority.
Of course, you have to be mindful of exactly how much you share. Don’t go giving away your company’s intellectual property. Strike that balance. It’s like telling someone the ingredients of a meal, without giving them the detailed recipe.
2. Be Human
Remember that people want to hear from other people!
Stuffy corporate speak = snore, so adopt a conversational tone. Your content might be written by a person, but if your tone is too stiff, reading it will be much like talking to one of those voice-automated customer support representatives – highly annoying. Instead, write to pique interest and entertain.
Say who you are and what you do.
If you have a corporate blog, assign an author to it. If you have a corporate Twitter account, say who’s posting the tweets. When you’re sending out emails, make sure it comes from a person instead of a noreply address. Be accessible online for those who want to find out more.
4. Don’t Be Pushy!
People are more aware of how they’re being marketed to now more than ever, and they can see right through your sales jargon, so don’t even try. Instead of trying to push yourself onto them, try to pull them towards you. Let them approach you when they’re ready to speak to you.
This is not only true at the top of the funnel, but so important to remember as they progress towards being ready to buy. As the B2B sales cycle is extremely long and complex, there’s a tendency for B2B marketers to become impatient with their leads. However, just because someone has downloaded an informational ebook does not mean they’re ready to speak to a salesperson. Your forward approach is likely scare them off!
Lead nurturing is in place to keep them warm until they’re ready to speak to you, NOT when you’re ready to speak to them. So you should be looking at their digital behaviour to figure out where they are in their journey. If what they downloaded was a product brochure or a pricing document, then that’s a different story altogether.
3. Have Opinions
To be a thought leader, you have to share your thoughts. How can people agree with you when you refuse to comment on anything?
Don’t be wishy washy.
Be transparent and openly discuss both sides of the coin, but have a strong opinion or you won’t be authoritative. For example, at g2m we don’t believe in relying on traditional marketing’s batch and blast approach for lead generation. Not only is it ineffective, but it’s extremely inconsiderate.
Add a pinch of controversy.
It’s good at encouraging engagement, as long as it’s not controversy for controversy’s sake. You should still be making a valuable point. Check out this example from Hubspot on how direct mail is dying – A Message for the Post Office: Direct Mail is Dying.
Admit when you’re wrong.
So you made a mistake – who cares? You’re only human. Admitting to it is much better than trying to sweep it under the rug. If you’ve put an idea out there and your opinion has changed on it, then say so, and explain why. Buyers appreciate open and honest dialogue.
5. Keep It Up
Share your industry insights often. If you aren’t committed, you lose trust, and give your competitors an opportunity to overtake you. So be consistent and keep giving people a reason to come back. Engage with them when they bother to share your content, or comment on it. Say thank you, and reply.
Consistency doesn’t only help you climb in organic rankings, it also helps you build momentum. Soon enough, people will expect you to post frequently. They’ll be familiar with your brand and look forward to what you have to say (as long as you keep adding value).
It sure isn’t easy, but it’s definitely worth it.