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New Research from Edelman and LinkedIn Shows Thought Leadership Influences B2B Sales, But Majority of Executives Are Disappointed in Quality of Insights Produced by Companies

Findings Reveal that Poorly Executed Thought Leadership Content Can Negatively Impact Reputation and Hinder Sales Efforts

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According to a new research study conducted by Edelman and LinkedIn, thought leadership content plays a driving role in driving business-to-business (B2B) sales, including attracting RFP opportunities, creating preference with buyers, directly contributing to sales wins and even commanding a premium for products and services.

Despite its impact on sales, however, decision-makers said that most of the time (56 percent) they do not gain valuable insights from the thought leadership they consume, signaling a missed opportunity for B2B companies to improve their content-producing efforts. When poorly executed, a company’s thought leadership can decrease the respect and admiration of potential customers, and even remove that company from a buyer’s consideration set altogether.

The study also shows that creators of thought leadership – often marketers and communicators – underestimate the influence of thought leadership on decision-makers’ purchase behaviors at every stage of the B2B buying process. The new findings are based on a survey of 1,300 business decision-makers and C-suite executives from across a wide range of industries, conducted via the LinkedIn platform from October through November 2016.

“Earning the trust of customers is vital in the B2B buying process, where investments are large and the professional reputations of decision-makers may be at stake,” said Joe Kingsbury, U.S. managing director, B2B, at Edelman. “The study points to a reality many marketers have struggled to quantify: the ability to demonstrate valuable insights about trends and customer challenges is critical for engaging with senior executives and can lead to tangible, positive business outcomes.”

Beyond Driving Awareness: Thought Leadership Earns RFP Opportunities

Beyond driving awareness, the Edelman-LinkedIn study showed that effective thought leadership tended to outperform companies’ expectations when pursuing new business opportunities. The findings show that while only 17 percent of thought-leadership-producing companies believed their content helped them get more invitations to submit proposals, more than twice as many decision-makers (37 percent) and C-level executives (41 percent) said that a company’s thought leadership directly contributed to inviting a previously unconsidered company to pitch against incumbents and established firms.

Strategic Thought Leadership Drives Revenue More than Anticipated

Among the study’s key findings, 45 percent of decision-makers and 48 percent of C-suite executives said that a company’s thought leadership directly led them to award business to that firm. In terms of helping a company command a premium for its products and services, only 10 percent of companies believed their thought leadership accomplished this, while nearly five times as many recipients (49 percent of decision-makers and 47 percent of C-suite executives) claimed it did. These findings suggest that strategic thought leadership leads to business wins and revenue growth more than anticipated and may be an under leveraged business-development resource.

Thought Leadership as “Double-Edged Sword”

However, companies also reported that thought leadership, when it was not high quality, insightful or relevant, sometimes led to them losing respect and admiration for their organization (45 percent of decision-makers and 53 percent of C-level executives). It could also impact the amount of business they were awarded (30 percent of decision-makers and 35 percent of C-level executives). This indicates that thought leadership must be handled carefully when crafted and distributed.

Implications for Corporations

The most successful thought leadership, according to the survey, exhibits the following characteristics:

  • Relevant and Applicable: It is timely and relevant to a specific project the recipient is currently working on (63 percent of both decision-makers and C-level executives).
  • Industry Insights: It provides insights on specific trends and challenges within the target customer’s industry (78 percent of decision-makers; 79 percent of C-level executives) including underlying analyses of the causes and drivers of current events (63 percent; 64 percent).
  • Digestible: It is easily consumable, including short-form content (71 percent; 67 percent) or facts, data points, charts, infographics and figures (66 percent; 63 percent).
  • Trusted Source: It is forwarded by someone the recipient knows and respects (84 percent; 86 percent).
  • Staying Current: It is focused on current industry topics, supplementing long-term strategic intellectual property with opportunities to have meaningful touch points with customers and prospects.

Additional detail about this study — including a presentation, executive summary, infographics, and additional Edelman analysis — can be found here. You can also subscribe to a series of exclusive guides, published throughout the summer, that will provide actionable insights for leveraging the study’s findings to your company’s best advantage.

About Edelman

Edelman is a leading global communications marketing firm that partners with many of the world’s largest and emerging businesses and organizations, helping them evolve, promote and protect their brands and reputations. Edelman was awarded the Grand Prix Cannes Lion for PR in 2014; six Cannes Lions in 2015; and the Grand Prix in the Titanium category in 2016. The firm was named “2016 Global Agency of the Year” by the Holmes Report, and one of Advertising Age’s “Agencies to Watch” in 2014. In 2015, Edelman was among Glassdoor’s “Best Places to Work” for the fifth time. Edelman owns specialty firms Edelman Intelligence (research) and United Entertainment Group (entertainment, sports, experiential), a joint venture with United Talent Agency.

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