In the past, buyers might have relied on third-party sources such as the press, analysts and independent consultants for insights that would facilitate their decision-making efforts. They still do. However, there’s a growing gap between the types of research and advice that decision teams require to evaluate today’s complex solutions and the resources that are readily available.

That creates an opportunity for thought leaders — future-focused companies that provide valuable insight and guidance to support decisions.

So what’s changed? While B2B marketplaces become ever more varied and nuanced, there’s seemingly a dearth of experts available to explain current trends and issues. One significant factor is the continual downsizing of today’s business media. As advertisers pull away from print-based publications and move their dollars into more measurable online campaigns, many media organizations have been forced to cut back.

Whether it’s layoffs at the New York Times or InformationWeek Magazine, it’s clear that traditional media have taken a serious hit. Daily newspaper readership fell 50% or more among individuals aged 18-34 between 1970 and 2006, according to the Newspaper Association of America. It’s symptomatic of the shift from traditional media to more targeted media.

As ad spending on publications stagnates, there are fewer and fewer resources devoted to studying and reporting on trends in today’s business marketplaces.

Even research firms in many markets have consolidated or slimmed down. Take information technology research. Recognized firms such as Gartner, Forrester and IDC certainly play an invaluable role as advisors and trend watchers. But it’s an inadequate one. There are many market segments that receive little or no coverage – and much of the coverage that is available is not specific enough to address the particular concerns of buyers in various stages of a decision. Yet another problem is the sky-high cost of research licenses and prohibitions on sharing the research with non-subscribers. Decision teams often don’t have access to the research content or the analysts that produced it.

The absence of relevant content is driving sellers and suppliers to step into this vision vacuum. Their customers need insight to build business cases and make successful decisions. They need evidence and perspective to help make sound judgments. If third-party sources are unable to meet all these needs, then the sellers must step into the role of thought leader –- acting as consultants, researchers and publishers on their own.

Even as marketers draw back from advertising in traditional publications, they continue to aggressively invest in custom media. This enables them to create relevant content that speaks directly to their intended audiences, helping them develop new business and strengthening existing client relationships.

One study from the Custom Publishing Council (CPC) and Publications Management said the average U.S. business spends $912,532 on custom publishing or content marketing activities. In 2008, there were more than 143,000 unique custom publications, an increase of 14.5% from 2007, according to CPC.

Of course, this is not an either-or question. Third-parties such as media and analysts will always play a necessary function. However, sellers are now learning that they must seize the mantle of thought leadership on their own if they are to be recognized as credible solution providers in the years to come.