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How thought leadership can boost your existing client relationships

It’s well known that acquiring a new customer is much more expensive than holding on to an existing one. Your current customers are vital, and thought leadership is a great way to keep them happy.

I’ve written in previous posts about how thought leadership can enhance reputation and revenues. But what about the third of the three Rs?

In our conversations with clients about the objectives of their thought leadership projects, it is relationship-building that receives the least attention. All too often, the focus is on building reputation through media coverage and brand enhancement, along with the more direct commercial outcome – increased revenues.

But growing relationships with existing clients is critical, and mustn’t be overlooked when planning thought leadership. As the adage goes, it’s many times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to retain an existing one. So it’s vital that you keep your customers happy – and thought leadership is one invaluable way to do this.

Based on our experience of working with dozens of clients around the globe, here are a few tactics we’ve seen work well when using thought leadership to strengthen client relationships.

1. Use the opportunity to give to clients, not just sell to them

    Your existing clients don’t want constant calls and emails telling them about your latest product or service. They’ll quickly start avoiding your business development team if they think they’re going to be on the receiving end of a sales pitch. But the tone of the conversation changes completely if your BD team is providing content that has value. Sharing thought leadership content – ‘gifts’ of knowledge – with your existing clients strengthens your relationship, sustains the conversation, and reminds them of your expertise.

2. Show that you understand their challenges

    Good thought leadership demonstrates your understanding of the wider context of your clients’ businesses. By enabling your senior executives to have a conversation about these issues that goes beyond products and services, you become their trusted advisor. At a time when many businesses are struggling to differentiate themselves from their competitors, the insight you can offer can be extremely valuable.

3. Stay on their radar throughout the buying cycle

    Many client relationships are episodic. You might sell a product or service to a client, then spend the next 12 months or longer having little or no contact with them. Distributing thought leadership to these clients is a great way to stay in touch – however loosely – and position yourself front of mind throughout the buying cycle. And when the time comes for them to purchase again, they’re more likely to think of you first.

4. Educate them about your changing business

    No business stands still, and today that is truer than ever. B2B companies are evolving rapidly and, if you’re not careful, your clients may have an outdated view of your strengths and capabilities. This can lead to missed opportunities. Thought leadership can be a powerful way to show your clients what you can do and let them know when you’re ahead of the curve – perhaps you’re transforming your business to put digital front and centre, for example. It’s vital that you tell your clients about this sort of change – and do so in a way that demonstrates your real expertise in any new area. By helping to reposition your brand and update clients’ perceptions, thought leadership can do exactly that.

5. The power of co-creation

    Involving existing clients in the creation of thought leadership is a great way to deepen your relationship. Asking senior executives to participate in interviews, take part in surveys or join editorial advisory boards is flattering and provides more opportunities to engage with them. Instead of just sharing completed thought leadership content, engage your clients during the creation process as well, increasing the number of touchpoints for your business development team.

6. Provide exclusive content to make clients feel special

    A growing number of our clients are using thought leadership as an exclusive offer to their clients. Rather than making all their content available to everyone, they hold some of it back and reserve this exclusive content for existing clients only. Done well, this can be a powerful client-retention tactic because it makes customers feel special. It’s important to remember, however, that making all content ‘free to air’ maximises its reach, so there’s a careful balance to be struck in using this exclusive, client-only model of thought leadership.

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PODCAST: Peter Richards on managing and establishing a successful thought leadership programme