High-quality thought leadership allows companies to stand out from competitors with differentiated insights that communicate unique value. While its primary purpose is differentiation and adding value, thought leadership also provides an enormous benefit for sales pipelines and client relationship management. The reason why? Thought leadership sustains conversations.
A few scenarios help illustrate this point:
Sales and Thought Leadership
Once a company has collected sales leads, it can, of course, make an immediate pitch to clients: buy our product, make a commitment to our service. Of course, the more complex and costly the sales ask, the less likely such an immediate direct appeal is to work.
For example, it's nearly impossible that a bank would sign up for a five- or six-figure deal for a tool to help automate customer due diligence and verification for account openings on the spot. The same is true for any complex, high-value financial relationship where the stakes are high and the risks of leaping into the unknown are unacceptable.
Most salespeople understand this challenge, generally speaking. What happens, however, is they can quickly run out of sales collateral and follow-up tactics in between connecting with a lead and closing a deal. The process is about building trust, and it takes high-quality interactions to build trust.
Thought leadership can help close that gap. Instead of sending yet another brochure or features list, imagine the power a salesperson can unleash with a robust and steady stream of thought leadership to sustain the conversation. Imagine in-depth whitepapers that help their prospective client improve account opening processes and streamline compliance tasks. More nuance and more trust can come from shorter form articles, infographics, videos, and other content highlighting challenges, solutions, and market trends.
Over time, as client trust grows, that high-stakes deal gets easier and easier to close.
Marketing and Thought Leadership
People typically think of thought leadership as falling into the domain of marketing. Many marketers, however, still struggle to build a sustained conversation around keystone pieces of thought leadership.
One of the more common scenarios is to focus on the development of one single, high-impact effort. Companies expend time and budget to produce that one big report on a market trend, they launch it out into the market, and then they stop there. This is a mistake. Memories are short, and there's always another insight from a competitor right around the corner.
Thought leadership as a marketing strategy has a much higher impact when companies plan a sustained flow of communications beyond the initial launch of a major effort. For example, a significant piece of research on payment infrastructure trends could include client events, public presentations, quarterly updates, segment- or region-specific special reports, or quick-takes on different aspects of the technology, particular use cases, regulatory questions, and more.
As a result, one big burst of investment continues to bring in more awareness and capture more leads instead of tapering off.
Client Relationships and Thought Leadership
In my experience, most fintechs and financial innovators do not achieve the full potential of using thought leadership to sustain the conversation with clients. Very often, after a deal is closed, the conversation changes. Existing clients tend to hear about feature updates, bug fixes, service changes, and other details of doing business, but less often do they get new thinking and insight unless they are targeted by an up-sell or cross-sell campaign.
This knowledge gap squanders an opportunity to add depth to a relationship with a known audience. One tangible benefit of closing the gap with steady thought leadership is making it easier to win more of their business. Another is simply client retention. Beyond that lies the intangible benefit of becoming your clients' most trusted source for information about the domain that your solution addresses.
There's another way to look at this. Client thought leadership also helps hold back the tide of competitors who would love to win your clients' business away from you. If clients only hear from you with operational details and issues, while your competitors capture their attention with compelling insights by marketing to them aggressively, your relationship starts to get hollowed out from the inside. It's a weak position to end up in.
In other words, don't forget that clients are an essential and high-value audience for thought leadership, well worth your time and attention.
Across these three scenarios, a common theme emerges. Thought leadership is a process that builds trust and enriches relationships with stakeholder groups. For that reason, it should a sustained and intentional effort — part of a broader strategy to engage in high-stakes relationships as conversations that take place over time.