Thought leadership is critical to brand differentiation and business growth – and core to effective communications strategies, particularly in today’s complex, crowded and commoditized world. But it’s also increasingly important to lead generation and sales. Yet, the sales community generally views thought leadership as a fancy name for marketing – and not particularly relevant to their work courting customers and closing deals.

The name isn’t important, but the idea behind it is: thought leadership communications goes beyond business as usual; it defines organizations as knowledgeable experts and trusted advisors. And customers want to buy from people who are smart and trusted. Sales professionals who effectively participate in and leverage their company’s thought leadership are regarded for what they know, and recognized as go-to individuals with useful insights into their industry and understanding of their customers’ issues and needs.

As marketers and communicators, it’s up to us to get our sales teams to buy-in – and spread the word.

How to Position Your Sales Team as Thought Leadership Rainmakers

Less than a quarter (21% percent) of companies believe they’re very or extremely effective at using thought leadership in the sales processClick To Tweet

Less than a quarter (21% percent) of companies believe they’re very or extremely effective at using thought leadership in the sales process, according to the Information Technology Services Marketing Association. Buyer behavior is driven by relentless need for knowledge, and buyers can’t learn everything digitally. They need to interact with people who know what they’re talking about. One way to overcome this challenge is to find ways to make sales reps subject matter experts – thought leaders in their own right – by arming them with the right tools.

In many industries, the sales cycle is long and investment is high. It’s a series of conversations over time that leads to decisions to make changes. It’s education. It’s consultation. As part of an effective communications strategy, thought leadership provides the content and forums that bring an organization’s ideas, insights and epiphanies to life, creating the fodder and fuel for individuals at all levels of the organization – including sales – to start and sustain dialogue with prospective customers, earn their trust, and ultimately, win their business.

Creating compelling and convincing content – from articles and interviews, blogs and videos, presentations and events, white papers and newsletters – is the first step. The next, and arguably more important, step is ensuring it reaches the right people, in the right ways at the right time.

Here are a few ideas for communications and marketing teams to help educate and empower salespeople to leverage thought leadership content to enable conversations:

  • Create associated talking points, scripts and checklists
  • Debrief on research studies and results to ensure understanding of the implications, and confidence in talking about them
  • Customize certain assets with statistics or other knowledge points specific to a particular market or industry subset
  • Develop a supporting video or other multimedia tool, such as a chart or infographic, that helps further explain the ideas and/or provides extra, valued-added information
  • Support an online chat (Google or Twitter, for example) where sales and other executive leadership collaborate to discuss findings or ideas, and answer buyers’ questions

Sales professionals must evangelize a company’s thought leadership, and should not only be aware that such content exists, but be committed to sharing it consistently and in personalized ways, such as following up after a meeting or conversation with an email that includes a link(s) to relevant articles or videos, connecting with prospects on social media, or inviting an important customer to attend an industry event where a company executive is speaking.

Relevant and valuable thought leadership is a significant investment – in time and money – but if done right and well, it can be the difference in truly setting an organization apart from its competitors. And as buyers continue to move away from features and benefits as reasons for purchasing, thought leadership has become sales professionals’ best bet for not only getting in the door, but helping close the deal.

New Call-to-action

With more than a decade at Stern, Ned has had the opportunity to counsel – and learn from – some of the brightest minds in business. A lifelong student, he is always searching for new ways to hone his craft by applying insights and ideas from outside sources. He says inspiration can come from anywhere in the world – from his young children to emerging start-ups to more established brands – which he constantly draws on to infuse creativity into client programming. As vice president, his pragmatic leadership style combines with strategic thinking to effectively connect clients with top-tier media, conferences and industry influencers. If he hadn’t answered the call to become a communications pro, you might have found him as a carpenter crafting wood furnishings and cabinetry.