B2B executives know that thought leadership matters.

When done well, thought leadership can get your message out to the masses — an invaluable benefit that sparks conversations, helps establish your professional reputation, and builds trusting relationships that can have a huge impact on the trajectory of your career and your business.

But what about the measurable value of thought leadership? In other words, how does effective thought leadership translate into real ROI for your business? While this has long been a difficult question for executives, new research from Edelman helps provide a more definitive answer.

For this research, Edelman conducted a survey of 1,200 business decision makers, content creators, and salespeople to better understand how people perceive thought leadership as well as its effect on the customer journey. What they found: The value of thought leadership is indisputable, but it continues to be underestimated. In fact, RFPs, revenue wins, and extra premiums are all impacted by the effectiveness of a company’s thought leadership.

Impact of Thought Leadership on B2B Demand

The amount of thought leadership senior-level decision makers consume and rely on to help make important B2B decisions is constantly growing. From 2017 to 2018 alone, the percentage of decision makers who spent an hour or more per week reading thought leadership climbed from 50% to 58%, with more than 20% of executives spending four hours or more per week consuming thought leadership. Plus, 55% of the people surveyed say they evaluate a company’s thought leadership when deciding whether or not to work with a business, and 69% agree it’s one of the best ways to get a sense of the caliber of thinking an organization can deliver.

The research goes on to highlight the power of thought leadership as it moves down the sales funnel:

  • 47% of C-suite executives shared their contact information with a business after reading a compelling piece of thought leadership
  • 45% invited an organization to bid on a project after not previously considering them
  • 58% of decision makers reported that thought leadership directly led them to award business to an organization
  • 61% of C-suite executives are more willing to pay a premium to work with an organization that has articulated a clear vision versus one that doesn’t invest in thought leadership

The Opportunity and Risk of Thought Leadership

The main takeaway from the Edelman research: Executive thought leadership has more influence than marketers or executives realize — and the numbers are constantly climbing. But why does thought leadership have such a big impact on B2B opportunities? The answer comes down to trust.

Thought leadership provides increased transparency, which makes it valuable as it removes risk and feelings of uncertainty from the decision-making process. By gaining insight into what a company is really about and what its executives have to say about their particular industry, potential partners feel more informed — and that gives them the confidence they need to make important business decisions.

With that said, thought leadership that’s done poorly can increase risk and harm your business. For successful thought leadership, Edelman suggests executives should:

  • Capitalize on Open Spaces
    Look at the market to find opportunities where your brand can own and lead timely conversations.
  • Be Relevant
    According to 66% of decision makers, a thought leadership topic that’s relevant to their current business goals is one of the most critical factors in getting them to engage. Listen to what your customers are talking about, and use data to inform insights on relevant topics and trends.
  • Set a Vision
    Decision makers want to know where their industry is going, and 88% believe it’s important for companies to lay out a clear vision for the future.
  • Be Concise
    For 57% of decision makers, their preferred format for thought leadership is “snackable” media that can be digested in a few minutes. (Social media is perfect for this, and we’ll share more on that below.)
  • Measure Progress
    Only 21% of sellers have a way to link business wins back to specific pieces of thought leadership. To fix this problem, plan for an analytics and measurement approach that will help you better understand content performance at every step of the sales process.

Using Social Media to Create Visible Experts

Social media offers the most direct, consumable way to share your thought leadership with the masses. And, if you’re creating smart, effective thought leadership content, the more visibility the better.

A recent study by the Hinge Research Institute dives deeper into the idea of increased visibility by looking closely at what they’ve dubbed “visible experts.” These are professionals who have attained high visibility in the marketplace and a reputation for their expertise through optimized thought leadership.

Despite varying levels of visibility (some are bona-fide industry superstars, while others have reputations that are just starting to catch fire), these industry experts have a proven impact on their business. Hinge refers to this as the “Halo Effect,” meaning that a potential customer or partner who sees an expert in a positive light is likely to believe that the company the expert works for is also exceptional.

According to the research:

  • 62% of visible experts reported they substantially contribute to building their firm’s brand by establishing market leadership and credibility, boosting their firm’s reputation, and heightening overall brand recognition in the marketplace
  • 66% of visible experts reported playing a major role in their firm’s growth and business development, with the greatest effects seen in firm growth, lead generation, and audience reach

Visible experts also command premium billing rates. Buyers are willing to pay 13 times more for the highest level of visible expert than for a “regular” professional. As an individual’s level of visibility increases (something that is directly influenced by their thought leadership), their rates rise dramatically — and the company they work for reaps the benefits.

To find these visible thought leaders, it’s no surprise that buyers take to the internet — with Google, webinars, and direct LinkedIn searches accounting for 70% of all online search methods. Before they move forward working with a visible expert, most companies do their due diligence, with 80% looking directly at the expert’s website and 59.9% checking them out on social media (specifically on LinkedIn).

This proves that, to be an impactful expert, it’s not enough to just be present on social media platforms; you have to consistently share authentic, interesting ideas for people to engage with. Thought leadership is the best way to create that kind of impression.

Taking the time to create high-quality thought leadership helps you gain respect and exposure with your target audience, break through with senior-level decision makers, and, ultimately, win business and deliver ROI to your brand.

Check out previous ProResource blog posts to learn about more benefits thought leadership can bring to your business.

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