In this article, you’ll learn how to properly align the leadership, sales and marketing functions to be in-sync on expectations and perceived value from your thought leadership initiatives, as well as be in alignment on how ROI will effectively be measured.
If you find yourself questioning whether thought leadership marketing is the right investment for your business, then you may have an internal alignment issue. Mis-alignment often occurs when the strategic purpose of thought leadership marketing for the business is unclear to the people involved. Often leaders, with their eyes on the horizon, see thought leadership about shaping the future state of the practice. Marketers, on the other hand, are focused on generating leads for the year ahead. And sales find themselves questioning how thought leadership will help them close a deal today. This, of course, is the root cause of all alignment issues: different people expecting different results. So how do you ensure all organizational functions are aligned from the beginning? From my experience working with clients struggling through this issue, I’d suggest focusing on four key areas.
1: Focus on Engaging the Leadership Team First
Any thought leadership initiative worth its salt needs to be driven from the top down. The purpose of thought leadership is to give the organization something new and compelling to say. To not just illustrate the firm’s perspective, but also offer proof behind its claim of being the expert of its domain. If this type of initiative is not sponsored and made a strategic priority by leadership, then nobody else in the organization will see it as important either. When you have buy-in from the top, leadership is able to remove the boulders that could hold the thought leadership initiative back, whether those include individual participation, financial constraints, or organizational priority.
For more on how to engage your leadership team in the process, subscribe to our newsletter. In early 2019 we’ll be releasing the results of our research with Bloom Group on the best practices of leading thought leadership marketers. In that research release, we’ll shed new light on this issue.
2: Establish Clear Definitions Around Lead and Opportunity Classification
If sales and marketing are not aligned on what is considered a qualified lead, then the success of one department is not the success of the other. It’s imperative that sales and marketing be in-sync with the type of individual (and company) we’re trying to attract with thought leadership and the journey that lead should be brought through. This process begins with thinking about every stage an individual could be in. How does an unknown lead become a suspect, a marketing qualified lead, a sales ready lead, and eventually a prospect with an opportunity? How does our thought leadership affect this journey? Your process may be simpler than this. Or it may be more complex. Regardless, you need to be clear on the journey you’d expect someone to take on their path to becoming your client. Then agree on a common definition for what it means to be in each stage. If your definitions are not aligned, then it’s easy to find yourself in a scenario where marketing sees a program as successful and sales does not. In this instance, your thought leadership initiative will be considered a failure. If that happens, good luck getting the involvement of your sales team the next time around.
3: Define and Implement an Integrated Lead Management Process
The next step to any successful thought leadership initiative is to have an iron tight process for how marketing and sales will work together to manage the leads generated. As marketing uses its automation tools to track and score the behavior of leads, it needs to be clear on how, and at what point, a lead will be handed over to sales. To be successful, these discussions should clarify what the sales team needs to successfully navigate a sales dialogue. For example, what information is your sales force most interested in regarding a lead? What is there expectation of marketing to help them enable the sales dialogue as it relates to the specific thought leadership used to bring that lead in the door? Finally, as the sales force works the lead, what is the process for handling that lead if it does not move into an opportunity stage? How should the lead be recycled back into marketing’s hands in an attempt to re-engage the lead for future opportunity? There is a lot to think about and when the answers to these questions do not exist, the relationship between your marketing and sales function will be dysfunctional and not aligned.
4: Align and Be Able to Track Appropriate Metrics
Unless you’re in the SaaS industry where marketing heavily influences the volume of new leads being generated and thus has direct impact on revenue, it’s likely that your metrics will skew toward showing the sales or client service functions as driving the most leads and opportunities for the organization. When you see this type of data in the metrics, it is easy to get into a mindset that thought leadership campaigns aren’t pulling their weight. If you’re seeing this, it’s important to also think about marketing’s influence on the other side of the equation. How is thought leadership influencing the sale? Is it impacting the behavior of leads and opportunities being sourced by the sales team? Thought leadership can often play a critical role in helping a client mitigate perceived risk associated with hiring a new firm. Often, existing clients look to a firm’s thought leadership to educate themselves on new issues and to reaffirm they’re working with a forward-thinking partner.
So, when we think about ROI, we shouldn’t be only focused on lead generation. We also have to think about how thought leadership influences the sale. In the marketing automation world, this is often called revenue attribution. Revenue attribution helps you look at how thought leadership, and other marketing and sales activity, contributed to the eventual success of winning an opportunity. Here at Rattleback we’ve studied the revenue attribution reports in our marketing automation system and discovered that prospects who’ve attended our webinars have a higher likelihood of hiring us. So, we prioritize that as part of our marketing process. And, we look for ways to encourage people who engage with our thinking to interact with our webinars – through email, onsite CTAs, and social media.
Achieving Proper Alignment Sets Expectations and Enables Success
Misalignment can threaten the perceived value of thought leadership for any organization. Leadership, sales, and marketing begin to question whether these efforts are worth including in the overall strategic plan to create the next layer of growth for the business. If you’re going to pursue thought leadership marketing, engaging the senior leadership team will be most critical to your success. From there, ensure you have effective internal communication between your sales and marketing functions on both needs, expectations and process. Effective communication will also align leadership with marketing so it’s clear how ROI will be perceived through the use of effective metrics as well as clarify leadership’s role in the overall process. This role includes being champions for marketing by opening the required capacity to access required subject matter experts, working to maintain the organization’s attention span for the content initiative, and making available appropriate levels of funding to ensure the end result is of high quality and provides the organization with something new and compelling to say.