When we embarked on this journey of thought leadership coaching, it was to address the need for technical and business consultants to be more effective in attracting self qualified clients. Since then, through our spotlight interviews and prospective client discussions, we have seen a wider set of requirements emerge. The scope of marketing, sales and influencer relations are changing and becoming more dependent on thought leadership. Here are some of the more frequent discussion threads that we think would be of interest to the rainmakers community.
What is driving change in enterprise technology engagement processes?
Many factors contribute to the new style we see emerge in 2014, but the most important in this discussion is the impact of consumerization. For a while, we interpreted consumerization as “bring your own device”. However, the more profound impact is the sense of empowerment people have become used to. We are all now more comfortable researching online before deciding on a supplier,product or service, using the producer’s narrative to buy-in to the philosophy and generally knowing more then ever before before engaging.
This sounds like what we do in our personal lives. How is this relevant in a B2B environment?
Precisely the shift we need to address. Historical demarcation between B2B and B2C engagements have evaporated as the connected generation now takes experiences from their personal life to be more effective in their business worlds. We have seen the term human to human(H2H) emerge to capture this notion. An enterprise technology buyer is now more comfortable understanding the supplier, what they stand for, how their research and manufacturing works and what their customers have to say before inviting them in for an initial discussion.
Surely enterprise technology vendors have marketing engines that can deal with these requirements?
To some extent traditional marketing initiatives are adapting to anticipate the pre-engagement validation that is an increasingly preferred route. However, for many customers, the starting point is not a suppliers name, or even the technology segment. Customers are trying to solve a problem, and are searching for discussions that show them fresh ideas or references of other cases and how similar problems have been solved. Creating a vibrant set of stories that anticipate the research path prospective clients will take is what good thought leaders do naturally.
So thought leaders should be part of the marketing team?
We believe that would be an easy but short term fix. Thought leaders need to constantly replenish their views of how customers engage and what questions they are trying to answer. While marketing, and specially influencer relations, is the route to amplify these messages, the continuous development of ideas requires more high touch with current and prospective clients.
This then sounds like what happens in the sales process. Is this where thought leadership development belongs?
Consultative sales professionals will naturally adopt tactical thought leadership stances to design solutions that resonate. Some of our programme participants have been sales professionals interested in sharpening this aspect of their professional toolkit. However, sustainable and strategic thought leadership requires subject matter or domain expertise. Which is why we believe the office of the CTO, or centres of excellence, is where it belongs.
CTO offices or centres of excellence tend to comprise billable consultants. Are you advocating a different model?
Not at all. Working on active client engagements is the lifeblood of thought leadership. Most consultants are proficient in responding to a client’s issue, once it has been scoped. The additional skill to be developed is how to translate that knowledge to lead the audience towards a scope. This ability to anticipate and lead is what provides material that can be effective in the hands of a proficient influencer relations capability.
Do you mean PR?
Influencer relations is that and more. The media industry has been disrupted and we now have a broad spectrum of journalists, bloggers, multichannel producers, even analysts and advisors who are collectively regarded as influencers. Managing them as a community is a specialist skill, and one that is gaining prominence is the better equipped technology marketing arsenal.
Is this why there has been so much angst about content marketing?
Content marketing is a wide discipline, and deserves a whole discussion on its own. The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” Clearly both thought leadership and influencer relations are important components within content marketing, but so are events, direct campaigns and many more disciplines.
Over to you. These are some of the discussions we have had over the past three months, and represent some of the shifts in go-to-market approaches. How do they compare with your initiatives?