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How Can B2B Marketers Use Thought Leadership to Build Relationships with Client Executives?

Momentum ITSMA Staff

March 24, 2021

ITSMA research shows that senior executives think thought leadership is essential. B2B marketers should take this opportunity to arm their sales counterparts...

How Can B2B Marketers Use Thought Leadership to Build Relationships with Client Executives?

This article was shared before we integrated Momentum ITSMA into one single company, bringing all of our capabilities together. Learn more.

A favorite quote of many of our member companies is attributed to Greek philosopher Heraclitus: “The only constant in life is change.”

I like it. It’s catchy and keeps me in a job. However, I have to say that Momentum ITSMA research constantly—and consistently—highlights the importance of thought leadership in strategic B2B marketing. In a world where so much has changed recently, the importance of thought leadership to executives hasn’t, unless you consider something becoming even more important a “change.”

Senior executives think thought leadership is essential. In 2020, our How Executives Engage research showed that executives are looking to solution providers as a trusted source of information to educate them and help them navigate an uncertain future.

And our 2021 Marketing Trends research reinforced these findings: more than half of the buyers surveyed said that thought leadership is critical and is becoming even more important.

What does this mean for B2B marketers? It means they should step up. They have an opportunity to arm their sales counterparts with relevant and personalized thought leadership that engages C-Suite executives in meaningful conversation and drives strategic business growth. Again, nothing new. Marketers have always needed to seize opportunities to show their company’s value.

So what’s changed? For one thing, the definition of thought leadership has evolved. Momentum ITSMA defines thought leadership as: A set of ideas that educates customers and prospects about important business and technology issues and helps them solve those issues—without selling.

Look again at the first chart in this article. The words “high-quality” and “relevant” should stand out. A decade ago, you might have gotten away with dressing up a few product brochures as thought leadership. No more. If your thought leadership leads with your solution or offering, you’re doing it wrong.

Instead, marketers need to start from the outside in and take a structured approach. Momentum ITSMA’s Thought Leadership Development and Dissemination model outlines the major steps marketers should take to create a thought leadership strategy at the executive level.

Thought Leadership Strategy, Planning, and Governance

As with any major marketing or business initiative, you don’t start with tactics if you want to truly add value. Begin with your strategy for thought leadership: What are you hoping to achieve at a high level? What are your specific objectives? How do they align with the business strategy? Who’s your executive sponsor?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you can begin to plan your thought leadership activities, timing, review, etc., creating a content calendar with enough flexibility to respond to topical subjects when needed (Covid-19, for example!). Then, you determine how the engine will work. Will it be centralized or decentralized? Will you have one program or multiple? Who gets input on topics? How do you ensure your thought leadership stays aligned with business themes?

Only after you set your overall strategy should you move into creating and sharing your thought leadership.

Development

  • Select ideas—begin with your target market or client, research current trends, monitor your competitors, run your ideas through your internal network
  • Develop points of view—talk to SMEs, look at business needs, validate with data, test with social media/blogging
  • Produce assets—multiple formats and channels, segment your audiences and develop content for each stage of the buying process

Dissemination

  • Engage internally and externally—help sales and other executives understand the assets, the market, and the client’s needs so they can engage in meaningful conversation with clients and other influencers
  • Measure results—when measuring marketing’s impact, you have to think about the 3Rs: Reputation, Relationships, and Revenue

Are you taking a structured approach to engaging executives with thought leadership? Let us know. Momentum ITSMA is currently conducting a survey to learn more about how B2B companies are using thought leadership to engage and strengthen relationships with senior executives at client and prospect organizations and we’d love to hear from you.

Note: The study has now concluded; please watch the replay of our webcast, Driving Thought Leadership to Build Differentiation and Win Business, that shares key findings from our research.