Sales People Build Your Personal Brand And Thought Leadership!


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Thousands of blogs and articles on social selling, media, marketing focus on building Personal Brands and Thought Leadership.  The experts proclaim sales people must become thought leaders and focus on building their personal brands.  These same experts say sales people must engage socially, whether through blogging, social engagement, or whatever mechanisms, developing and demonstrating their thought leadership to prospects, customers and markets.

In truth I struggled with these concepts.  From a corporate management point of view, I’ve always thought it more important to build and reinforce a company’s brand and thought leadership.  I’ve wondered why a sales person with a Small and Medium Business Territory in St. Louis, Missouri should focus on building their global brand presence and thought leadership in Mumbai, Shenzhen, Paris, Capetown, and Sao Paulo.  I’ve tended to think of that as a distraction.

Thankfully, I’ve come around.  I think it’s critical for sales people to build their personal brands and thought leadership!  It’s actually something the best sales people have done long before the concept of social selling was ever conceived.  Even long before Vice President Al Gore invented the web.

In the old days, sales people thought of this as building their personal relationships, credibility, and trust with their customers.  We think of this as building our reputation in our company, with our customers, and in our communities.  Ultimately, these reputations were enhanced by living up to our commitments, assuring customers got the results we committed, assuring they were satisfied and promoters of both our companies and us.   Today, this is loosely called personal brand building — though I’ve never heard a social selling expert talk about it this way.

They always brought new ideas to their customers.  They got the customer to think differently about their businesses, helped them find ways to improve results, reduce costs, improve quality, profitability, and grow.  Today, we call this providing insight and building thought leadership.

In engaging their customers–in every interaction, it’s critical for sales people to build their “brands.”  It’s important to provide thought leadership.  But where these efforts are most meaningful, relevant and impactful is when they are hyper local.  We are successful when our customers treat us as trusted advisors and look for our help as they seek to achieve their goals.

We reap the benefits of this brand building and thought leadership in growing the results we and our customers achieve, growing our “following” through strong referrals made by our customers to others in the community or industries.

I’m less convinced, however, on the importance of building a personal brand and our thought leadership broadly.  The objection is really based on having sales people focus their time and efforts on their own customers, markets and territories.  Prospecting, expanding your relationships, visibility, engagement  in your own territory is the highest priority and most effective ways sales people can use their time.

It is critical that we continue to build our value, credibility, trust and confidence with our customers.  It is critical that we continue to challenge customers to think differently.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


  1. Dave, this rings such a bell with me. Our sales people had what I called brand equity, and the customer always wanted to talk to him (and the customer meant, purchasing, CEO, Plant manager, third shift supervisor etc.)
    This old world charm has died (of course we are talking of multimilion dollar contracts here). Unfortunately, the likes of Nestle, Coke and Pepsi have been taken over by purchasing types, who supposedly are price buyers, and avoid the relationship. As Sean Meehan of IMD in an article, said the relationship is a win win situation, win win for one side and that is the purchaser who has turned the relationship into relationsh.t
    That of course does not take the salesmen off the hook. Good branded salesmen can go beyond

  2. I’m paraphrasing W. Edwards Deming here, but he famously said that everyone in an organization has one of two jobs: to provide customer value, or support someone who does. Following that line of thinking, brand-building (trust and perceived value) and thought leadership (innovation) are the responsibility of every individual and every group within an enterprise, not just sales or other customer-facing employees.

  3. Dave, I’m glad to see you coming around on this.

    As you know, I’ve argued that sales reps should strive to create more of a personal brand. Blogging (on their own time if necessary) is one way to do so.

    Not every rep in every situation. We can easily find examples where it makes no sense at all. Like the sales reps at Office Depot or Staples. Or highly transactional sales where thought leadership is not really in play. Whether these jobs will continue to exist in the future is a discussion for another day.

    But if a rep is being trained to be more consultative, challenging or (dare I say it) customer-centric, building a personal brand can help the company and the rep. The company can benefit as the content helps educate the market and potentially create leads. True, these leads will likely not directly benefit the rep doing the blogging.

    I also think it may help establish credibility with the rep’s prospects. As a buyer, I would like to know the reps knows something about my industry or my problems, and reading blog posts is one way to “vet” a rep.

    For the rep, it’s another way of building a resume. A way to stand out when looking for another job, at the current company or elsewhere. Yes, a personal brand.

    I think you’re looking at the issue too narrowly as a question of time management. Every employee, including sales reps, should have some freedom to develop their skills and not feel like every single minute is “on the clock.” Reps currently have to decide whether they can afford to take time out to attend a training seminar, attend a conference or go golfing with a customer. I think they can also decide whether spend XX minutes per week writing a blog post.

    One final point: blogging is a form of social media and reps need to be trained on what to do and what not to do. That’s an investment companies should take into consideration before heading down this path.

  4. Great comments guys.

    Bob, I may not have expressed myself clearly. I’m not sure I’m coming around. I think brand building/thought leadership in sales is most effectively and impactfully focused within the territory, not globally. No one else in the organization has the responsibility of engaging deeply and very specifically, so it’s critical that sales people focus on this.

    Building the brand outside the territory is where marketing and others focus.

    From a time management point of view, what I see with sales people every day is they don’t have the time to do the things they have to be doing. It’s not an issue of every minute on the clock, it’s pure pragmatism of prioritization and focusing on A priorities.

    I agree, if anyone is going to be a brand representative, they need to be trained. It’s interesting that most of the companies I know that have put people in place to do this, (e..g. social evangelists) are making it part of their job descriptions and performance metrics.

    Since I haven’t clearly communicates, I’ll be writing further posts on this. Regards, Dave

  5. Seems that you are covering a very broad spectrum of Outside sales situations here. There are certainly many variables depending on the situation. If one is traveling around the country and abroad then possibly a brand image of the sales representative would certainly be important, and very worth marketing.

    Now if a sales representative is confined to a specific local area or territory it’s not what I
    would call a self brand but rather the development of trust, integrity, knowledge, and simply someone who can be counted on, In a more local situation “Reputation” is almost everything (aside from the Brand you are representing). A reputation of course is built piece by piece, step by step over a period of relative time. In a more local situation customers certainly talk, although the first thing they mention in discussion is not the Brand, but the sales representative. So it seems to me that Reputation proceeds brand in the local situation.


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