B2B Decision-Makers: Thought Leadership Can Make or Break the Sale

Thought leadership can have an impact throughout the purchase funnel, but poor quality content may ultimately drive decision-makers away, according to an Edelman and LinkedIn survey of more than 1,300 US business decision-makers who are LinkedIn members. Almost half (45%) said that thought leadership has directly led them to decide to do business with a company, while 30% said it had led them to remove a company from consideration.

In terms of the benefits arising from thought leadership, the report identified a range of positive responses from business decision-makers:

  • Increasing admiration: 88% agree that respect and admiration for an organization has increased after engaging with thought leadership;
  • Building trust: 82% report that thought leadership has increased their trust in an organization;
  • Providing clues: 63% feel that thought leadership is one of the best ways to get a sense of the type and caliber of thinking an organization is likely to deliver;
  • Vetting vendors: 52% report that sifting through its leadership is one important way they vet an organization.
  • Paying a premium: Roughly half (49%) are more willing to pay a premium to work with an organization that has publicly articulated a clear vision for the future;
  • Awarding business: 45% report that thought leadership has directly led them to decide to do business with a company;
  • Sharing info: 44% have given an organization their contact information due to its thought leadership;
  • Inviting to opportunity: 37% have invited an organization to propose on a project after seeing its thought leadership; and
  • Following up: 31% have reached out to an organization to follow up on its thought leadership.

These findings are supported by earlier research from the Economist Group, in which more than 7 in 10 executives reported being more inclined to do business with organizations that are thought leaders. About three-quarters of respondents to that survey likewise said that thought leadership influences purchasing decisions with the individual or brand.

Thought Leadership Can Have A Negative Impact, Too

There’s room for improvement in the quality of thought leadership, however. Just 14% of the business decision-makers surveyed said that the overall quality of most of the thought leadership they read is “very good” or “excellent”, with twice as many (26%) feeling that it’s “poor” or “mediocre.” The largest portion – 6 in 10 – find it just “good.”

In fact, respondents estimated gaining valuable insight from thought leadership just 44% of the time, with half disappointed by that.

Poor thought leadership can have a detrimental impact on an organization: 45% report that their respect and admiration for an organization has decreased on that basis, while poor quality content has directly led 30% to decide to not award a piece of business to a company.

Key Areas for Engagement

The report highlights 4 areas of thought leadership content, highlighting within them the 3 triggers most important to decision-makers.

  • Sources

The most important trigger on this end is the thought leadership being forwarded by someone the executive knows and respects, with 84% identifying this as important (top-2 box on a 5-point scale). Roughly two-thirds (68%) of business decision-makers, though only 48% of CXOs say that thought leadership forwarded by their boss is important in getting them to engage. Likewise, two-thirds (67%) feel it important to engage with content that comes from a source they have opted in to.

  • Content

The most important aspect of content is that the topic relates to something the executive is working on (63%). The next-most important (53%) is that it is short and easily absorbed, while fewer believe it necessary that the ideas be completely new and original (34%).

  • Length

B2B decision-makers are more likely to find short-form 3-4 page documents (71%) important in getting them to engage with thought leadership than snackable media that can be digested in 1-2 minutes (53%) or short-form 3-4 minute videos (45%).

  • Facts and Insight

The most important facets dealing with facts and insight are:

1. The identification of new trends or issues that they should know about (78%);
2. The data – such as charts, infographics, key factors or figures (66%); and
3. The analysis of the causes and drivers underlying important current events and issues.

The use of research and data in content has come up a few times of late: a survey from Demand Gen Report found strong enthusiasm among B2B buyers for the use of more data and research to support content, which more than three-quarters (76%) of the survey’s respondents strongly agreed would improve the quality of the content created and provided by B2B vendors.

Meanwhile, a study released earlier this year indicated that research and original data are perceived to be the most effective content types by marketers, and a similar survey last year also found research reports considered the most effective content format.

The full study from Edelman and LinkedIn can be found here.

About the Data: The results are based on a survey of 1,329 US business decision-makers. The survey was fielded online, using the LinkedIn platform to survey LinkedIn members.

Half identified their vetting role as “giving input” while 27% “manage the process” and 23% are the “final decision-maker.” Respondents hail from a variety of seniority levels and company sizes.