Most marketers know that one of the best ways to attract opportunity is to regularly share expertise through thought leadership. But as you’re creating content and sending your insights into the marketplace, it can be tough to know whether they are making an impact for your business.

That’s why it’s important to never lose sight of thought leadership’s true end goal: generating sales. And the best way to cash in is to create a thought leadership roadmap that’s parallel to your customers’ purchase journey.

Focusing Thought Leadership Strategy Where It Counts: The Customer Journey

Thought leadership more than a set of whitepapers. It’s an elevated strategy where you answer your customers’ most pressing questions in a consistent way, and at a deep level of practical expertise, to become an authority.

For thought leadership to drives sales effectively, it cannot be simply random acts of content. Instead, thought leadership must guide the customer journey. It then becomes a powerful way to meet customer and prospects at their most impactful inflection points and provide them with the most relevant answers – step by step, decision by decision.

Thought leadership that successfully sets the scene, establishes the stakes and guides customers toward a decision has been shown to yield more and faster sales, as well as larger deals.

Plot Your Progression

Following a clear plot progression is vitally important in achieving your end goal of increased sales. To help you develop a journey framework, we’ve separated into categories below the different purposes a thought leadership piece might achieve.

Just like any good sales approach, thought leadership must create a vision of better future, contrast that with the present state – and map the journey in between. These categories aren’t necessarily siloed, of course, and one initiative might aim to achieve any or all of these purposes.

Picture of the future.

People are thirsty for innovation: the next big thing, the newest upgrade, the upcoming disruptor. At its most strategic level, thought leadership (and sales) is about being visionary. So give them what they want. Create a future end point for your customers — a clear vision of a tangible payoff that will make their lives better.

This future shouldn’t be too distant or esoteric; we want it to address consumers’ current and near-future pains and opportunities. And it should provide a compelling answer to the question of why: Why should customers want to reach this future? Why is it worth changing current habits?

Map the journey from now to next.

Another goal of thought leadership (and sales again) is to show your audience the chasm that exists between today’s experiences and tomorrow’s potential. Chart the process for moving from present to future, drawing on your deep expertise to act as the trusted mentor who can provide structured guidance and help steer clear of pitfalls.

Roadmap and strategy recommendations show your consumers that you recognize and understand the difficulties they may encounter along the way. And by showing them what it takes to get from present reality to envisioned future, you’re earning their respect and their interest in your solutions.

Force a decision.

Breaking the spell of inertia and forcing a decision can be a sales executive’s and marketer’s biggest challenge — especially when dealing with customers’ often byzantine decision-making apparatuses. So make the matter urgent by identifying the factors that may be delaying action and addressing them head-on.

As you’re working to force a decision, metrics can be your best friend: an ROI report, a revenue projection, a cost-benefit analysis. These data points can help convince even the most reticent of decision-makers to sit up and take notice. And when viewed as a whole, with the potential upcoming difficulties you’ve projected, the future you’ve drawn and the road map you’ve charted, your thought leadership should spur your audience to action.

When you unite thought leadership to a purchase journey strategy, you establish your company as a trustworthy leader, and sales prospects will be more inclined to use your strategic thinking to guide their decision-making process.

Looking Inward for Thought Leaders

Once you’ve mapped out your thought leadership framework, your task is to produce the distinct insights and develop compelling content.

Luckily, your most valuable research and discovery resources are already under your company’s own (metaphorical) roof. A vital part of successful thought leadership is the ability to draw forth and illuminate the knowledge and expertise that your business taps into every day — that of your internal team members.

These individuals have already embarked on and completed your customers’ journey, simply by dint of having created your solutions. Up and down your product development chain, your teams performed the painstaking work of:

  • Identifying an unmet need
  • Researching current market conditions
  • Explaining the product’s potential
  • Selling it internally
  • Building the solution itself

Along the way, there were countless hours of intense arguments, several confusion-clearing meetings and who-knows-how-many “Have you considered …” emails. There were detailed discussions about a solution’s logic and positioning, its payoff to consumers and its path (and potential barriers) to success.

Because these are your genuine, original thought leaders, and they’re the most valuable source of research and knowledge that you could possibly ask for. This internal journey created knowledge and experience that would be impossible to replicate, and it can and should be tapped as you recreate the journey for your external consumers.

Retracing your solution’s steps through the organization is both rigorous and rewarding. You’ll need to get technical with your inventors and delve into the weeds with your engineers. From this deep work, though, will spring forth a truly effective, and truly sales-enabling, thought leadership strategy and message.

Establishing Expertise, Creating Opportunity

By focusing on your customers’ growth journey, you ensure that you’re making yourself visible to consumers at the moments when they most need your expertise.

By tapping into your teams’ deep experiential knowledge, you’ll create a foundation of true proficiency, and you’ll be able to position your thought leadership as the external authority to which consumers and potential partners look when they need guidance they can trust.

And by following this process, you will set up your thought leadership to drive real, measurable change for your organization.