What is the impact of thought leadership on sales?

The pandemic put a hold on many of the most popular business marketing and sales activities, from trade shows to meet and greets with the CEO as well as business brands sponsoring events and hospitality. Nearly three-quarters of B2B executives reported that prospects were slower to evaluate and decide on key purchasing decisions according to the Edelman and LinkedIn survey How B2B Companies are Adapting Customer Engagement Strategies During Covid.

Sales and marketing teams scrambled to find ways to sustain conversations with prospects and as a result, the latest Edelman and LinkedIn Thought Leadership Impact Study reveals that a tsunami of new content has been created. Over a third (38%) of business decision makers feel the market is oversaturated, with only 15% rating the quality of the content they see as being good or excellent.

Decisions happen digitally

We’ve seen a permanent shift in how businesses interact with customers. Self-education among B2B buyers, a trend well underway pre-pandemic, continues to gain traction. Research from Gartner shows 83% of a typical B2B purchasing decision - researching solutions, ranking options and benchmarking pricing - happens before a buyer engages directly with a provider.

The in-person, one-to-one sales model is also fading away: B2B sales reps have access to just 5% of a customer’s time during their entire B2B buying journey. More decisions are being made digitally, and according to McKinsey, 70-80% of B2B decision-makers prefer it this way.

Invest in quality

In this environment, it is more important than ever to invest in quality content. When done well, thought leadership influences brand perceptions, and buying behaviours throughout the entire process. As a result of thought leadership content, 42% of business decision makers will invite an organisation to bid on a project when that firm was not on their original shortlist; 53% increased the amount of business they did with an organisation and 54% purchased a new product or service from a company, which they hadn’t previously considered buying.

The study also explores what quality content looks like. Over half (51%) of C-suite executives are spending more time reading and watching thought leadership than before the pandemic began, and the data reveals the following preferences when it comes to creating valuable content:

  • 81% of decision makers want provocative insights that challenge their assumptions rather than validation on their current thinking.
  • 80% want thought leadership that includes third party data from trusted sources rather than just proprietary insights from the publishing company.
  • 77% are interested in hearing from deep subject matter experts delving into specialised topics over senior executives speaking to high-level business issues.
  • 87% of buyers say that thought leadership can be both intellectually rigorous and fun to consume at the same time.

The study is now in its fourth year and proves the value of investing in quality thought leadership content. The data shows the short term-benefits are better engagement and performance, more effective media spend, with a higher quality of leads and customer interactions. Longer term, it results in companies being considered for more tenders, closing deals faster and earning the trust needed to charge a premium for their services.

About the study

The Edelman and LinkedIn study examines how thought leadership influences perception and buying behaviours amongst B2B decision makers. The analysis is based on insights from nearly 3,600 business decision makers across a range of industries in the UK, USA, Canada, Singapore, Australia, and India.

Written by Andrew Mildren, head of business marketing at Edelman