Some of you reading this blog are businessmen/women who owns a company. Others may be workers who are in charge of specific deliverables which are presented to a manager.
Either way, on some level, you are thought leaders in what you do. You offer a specific product or service which is superior to others in the industry; this ensures that clients are continuously coming to your door to access the product or service.
What makes a thought leader? I am an avid fan of Formula 1 racing, does that make me a thought leader on the topic? In my mind, there are far too many people out there who claim to be thought leaders, yet they do not know what it means to be one.
I stumbled across a 2010 article on the Harvard Business Review website – written by Dorie Clark – that labels some useful steps on how to possibly become a thought leader.
– Create a Robust Online Presence: Not everyone can immediately jump to international prominence; but everyone can start here, with an online presence. Blogs are particularly good because they showcase your knowledge; and search engines prize the frequent stream of fresh content.
– Flaunt High-Quality Affiliations: If you’ve got well-known connections, flaunt them and leverage them. It’s credibility by proxy.
– Give Public Speeches: Given the terror that public speaking instils in most people, your street cred will automatically skyrocket when you take the stage. Double-dip the benefit by promoting your engagements relentlessly (showcasing your desirability to others), and recording everything so you can cross-post like a maniac on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. Your goal is ubiquity.
To me, using social media is probably the best way to build up a reputation as a thought leader. People access and interact with information differently today than they did twenty years ago. While newspapers and television were seen as trusted forms of information, modern forums such as Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin are now the forums whereby people access information.
Build up your social media presence, create a page on Facebook purely for your business and post onto it regularly and often. However, one must be aware about what you post. Don’t post something for the sake of posting, if you wouldn’t appreciate it, neither will your clients.
Cause a disruption
While the above information is useful, it is not the perfect blueprint on how to become a thought leader. More information is needed.
Forbes.com contributor Shel Israel added his own unique take to the debate in an article.
He said that a thought leader is someone who looks at the future and sets a course for it that others will follow. Thought leaders look at existing best practices then come up with better practices. They foment change, often causing great disruption.
Thought leaders are people, not companies. But very often an enterprise employs, encourages and embraces individual thought leaders, and thus earn recognition as a thought leadership company.
The above sentiment is true of one looks at Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jack Ma and Warren Buffet. What would Microsoft be without Bill Gates? What would Alibaba be without Jack Ma? Apple tried to exist without Steve Jobs when the board fired him, but they quickly found the truth in the sentiment that thought leaders are people and not companies.
Giving the time of day
We can discuss this in more detail. If thought leaders are people and not companies, than ideas are currency and not action.
Israel points out that Joel Kurtzman, now with the Milken Institute invented the term thought leader in 1994. He defined a thought leader as someone who had ideas that merited attention.
There are many people with ideas that merit consideration, but some of those ideas are great to some but useless to others. On a balance of probabilities, if more people like the idea than dislike it, then it is a winner.
A different beast
The above information is a great way to kick-start thought leadership adoption in the general business sense. But as we know, the technology industry is a different beast altogether. With business technology purchasing decisions now made by a cross-functional buying committee representing the majority of the organization, thought leadership strategies must be sound enough to address the needs, priorities, and preferences of diverse modern customers.
Writing for Business Linkedin.com Meghan Brockmeyer says that thought leadership should also utilize all three types of thought leadership: product details, industry insights and organizational culture.
To add fuel to the fire, a thought leadership program that isn’t mapped out against today’s various buyer personas pre, during, and post-purchase will surely fizzle against the test of time.
In order to be a thought leader in your business, you need to start by identifying what you offer to clients and what makes your business tick.
Brockmeyer points out that this also encompasses some important points.
– What is my business’ pain point and mind-set during each stage: Needs, Specs/Funding, Vendor Choice, Implementation, Management and Renewal?
– What questions are the people within my business struggling to answer?
– What product and service features are most important when?
– What types of content are being consumed at each stage?
– Who does my company need to educate internally and when?
The important bit
Laura Ramos of Forrester Research once said, “Business buyers don’t buy your product; they buy into your approach to solving their problems.” I mention this because it can also be applicable to clients.
So before you review and align your lead gen and nurturing efforts to the content you’re delivering, do ensure it is unique to the specific challenges your buyers are facing.
Look at your business and ask yourself: what parts of my business are ambiguous to my clients? Is this an industry wide problem or is it specific to my company?
Technology confuses people on a regular basis; we need to come to terms with that. we must not see it as a criticism, but rather as an opportunity to improve our business. Some business leaders say that doing a SWOT analysis (strength, weaknesses opportunities and threats) is a waste of time. I find this funny because if there is an aspect of your company that you need to clarify to your clients…why would you let the opportunity pass you by.
Thought leadership is a continuous SWOT analysis. It’s looking at yourself in the mirror every day and asking yourself hard questions about why your doors open every day. Shared value is also another concept that speaks towards thought leadership. One of the aspects that drive Millennials is that they exist for a purpose, when they leave the world one day they want to feel as if they contributed towards it; they want to give back. This is called trust. If your clients see that you are giving of yourself, your times and your thoughts, they will automatically begin to trust your product or service more.
This is the season of giving, perhaps we should embrace this thought throughout the year. A thought leader knows their value and that this value is not confined to a product or a service. If you speak openly about a topic, it will not detract away from the value it holds.