There has been an interesting discussion running on the Focus site (http://www.focus.com/questions/marketing/are-thought-leadership-efforts-seperate-buying-cycle-driven/) about developing thought leadership and whether it can be used throughout the buying process. This is something many of our clients struggle with. Let’s face it – developing strong content that can be used for thought leadership takes thought, time, and subject matter expertise. Over and over again, I see our clients purchase thought leadership content from the analysts instead of writing their own. Now I’m not dissing the analysts here – the folks at Aite Group, Tabb Group, Financial Insights, Tower, etc. etc. are excellent and are always very helpful to your audiences. But they’re also expensive. So here are some thoughts on how you can leverage the subject matter experts in your organization to develop content that will support your prospects throughout their buying cycle.
The first stage leads go through is AWARENESS. This is where most companies start and end in their thought leadership strategy. In this stage, prospects need content that helps them understand and articulate their business pain, recognize the root causes, and realize that there are ways to address those causes and solve the problems. A great example of this is all the content we see on the importance of low latency and high throughput connectivity and collocation capabilities in the capital markets.
But then the client needs help as they RESEARCH the solution – now your content should guide them into functionality that they should consider. This should not be product focused. For example, if you’re selling low latency market data feeds, you could discuss the key messaging components and how the feeds are consumed by downstream systems. You can also talk in general about underlying technology choices and what’s important to look for as they research the way to solve their latency issues. This is also an opportunity to let your founders and business visionaries talk about why they came up with the key capabilities your company offers.
The next stage is EVALUATION. Now it’s time to provide guidance on the type of functionality that should be a minimum expectation in any product. This is your opportunity to contribute to their RFP. Great sales people do this on every deal, there is no reason why marketers can’t facilitate. Again – the content should focus on needs and capabilities from your prospect’s point of view – NOT your product features.
Next stage is VENDOR SELECTION. Think about content you could offer like case studies or videos done by your clients about how they approached the selection process. You can also get your technology visionaries to talk about why they took a certain approach that is critical to product functionality and a key differentiator (e.g., the underlying architecture or data structure).
Next stage is RISK MANAGEMENT. Here you might educate the prospect on implementation strategies, what preparation steps they need to take, problems other clients have encountered and how they overcame the issues. Provide implementation guides. Reassure the prospect that if they choose your company, they’ll get the kind of knowledgeable support that will help them succeed in addressing the business goals that took them along this buying path in the beginning.
As you plan your budgets for 2011, I strongly urge you to do a content audit – figure out what you have that supports each stage of the buyer process, and budget for new content to fill out the stages. Look at this post on buyer personas to make sure the content is also relevant to the individual member of the decision committee: http://www.propelgrowth.com/2010/08/19/buyer-personas-in-the-capital-markets/
For further thoughts on this subject, there’s a full article available for download: http://landing.propelgrowth.com/thought-leadership-to-support-the-entire-buying-cycle.html