In the tough-as-nails corner offices of the B2B world, thought leadership was once dismissed as a soft skill — nice to have, but inconsequential relative to the bottom line. However, a recent report from LinkedIn and Edelman (“Executive Thought Leadership and B2B Demand Generation”) illuminates thought leadership as one of the new necessities, a prerequisite for key business-to-business endeavors from brand-building to new business development.
As we had only been able to lightly touch on this research in a previous CEOWORLD article, we decided to sit down with one of the researchers – , Senior Vice President at Edelman – and dig more deeply into the findings. The results yielded five important reasons B2B CEOs should be champions of thought leadership, for their organizations and themselves.
- Good thought leadership gets you included in RFPs.
This was the most striking conclusion of the study – that a commitment to an effective program of thought leadership is often a determining factor as to whether or not companies get included in the crucial Request for Proposal (RFP) process. According to Gomes, “What we found is that between 37 and 41 percent of decision-makers, depending on whether you’re talking about the master set or the CXOs, said, ‘I received a company’s thought leadership, and I gave that company a shot at the business.” And this is the important part: in situations where a company was not in the consideration set in the first place, [thought leadership delivered] a net new opportunity.”
- Poor thought leadership can cost you business.
Just as surprising was the discovery that, while the absence of helpful, insightful thought leadership might prevent you from getting on to the RFP list, the presence of poorly executed thought leadership content can actually cause you to be eliminated from consideration. “We found that about a third of the audience we polled said that thought leadership was instrumental in having them not decide to award business to a company,” Gomes told us. And the study goes on to say that over half of respondents generally “lost respect” for a company after consuming their less-than-stellar content.
Gomes added that, to meet business decision-makers’ expectations, the articles, reports, videos, etcetera that make up your program need, more than anything, to be “timely and relevant” to your prospects’ particular needs.
- Business decision-makers, including the C-suite, depend on thought leadership.
That “timely and relevant” standard relates to the fact that B2B business people look to thought leadership content for one thing above all else: immediate help. Gomes said, “We asked about what makes effective thought leadership. The number one reason was that ‘It has to be meaningful to what I’m working on right now.’ That was almost twice as important as it being novel, creative or even original.”
That need for real help is why B2B professionals spend a surprising amount of time with good executive-level content. The study shows that some 90% of B2B decisions makers spend anywhere from one to four hours a week reading and viewing such content, and that they consider it “critical” to their decision-making process (which might better be referred to as their “problem-solving” process).
- Thought leadership helps you command a premium price. Brand-savvy B2B CEOs have long realized that one of the benefits to building a strong brand is the creation of customer preference, allowing companies to command a premium price. The Edelman-LinkedIn research shows that thought leadership, itself a form of reputation and brand-building, contributes significantly to that effect. As Gomes put it, “We asked, ‘Do you think your thought leadership inspires customers to pay more for your product or service, versus your competitors?’ Nearly half said yes.”
- CEOs can rebuild lost trust through thought leadership.
Finally, thought leadership provides a particularly significant benefit to CEOs, who, according to the annual Edelman Trust Barometer, suffer some of the lowest trust ratings among institutional figures around the world.
Gomes acknowledged this challenge, saying, “Typically, the CEO tends to round out the bottom of that list year after year after year.” And while the Edelman-LinkedIn thought leadership research didn’t further address trust in the CEO, it did explore the impact on attitudes toward their companies, reporting that 90% of their C-Suite peers felt increased “respect and admiration” for an organization based on excellent thought leadership.
Is it required for you, then, as a B2B CEO, to invest yourself and your organization in a meaningful thought leadership program?
No, it is not absolutely required – but, according to the research, it is extremely helpful, assuming you want to develop the awareness, relationships and respect that, in turn, help you develop new business opportunities.