Thought Leadership: Let’s Talk Less and Practice More!

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We have been discussing thought leadership on my blog recently and I have received a number of emails and questions from B2B marketers about this subject. Some of the common questions I have been asked are along these lines:
  • “I have been trying hard to become the authority on this subject, but it’s not working well—what am I missing?”
  • “How can my small company budget allow me to build thought leadership?”
  • “Why is my sales team not able to sell more even though I am a recognized thought leader?”

Today I am going to answer these questions and offer my perspective on what thought leadership is and isn’t, what works and what doesn’t.

Debunking the Top 10 Myths About B2B Thought Leadership

  1. As a thought leader, I need to be THE authority on the subject. No, you don’t. But you do need to be an expert that your audience will respect so that your opinion and perspective matters to them.
  2. I need to run a thought leadership campaign. No, you don’t. Thought leadership can rarely, if ever, be bottled into one, limited time, limited budget, limited goals ‘campaign’ in the traditional sense of the term. However, you do need to plan how you will build, maintain and improve your position as a thought leader—in that respect, you may consider it an ‘ongoing campaign’. This Infographic can help you assess your business goals for 2014 and plan your B2B content marketing campaigns with the vision to become an established thought leader.
  3. I need to have the backing of a big company with a big budget. No, you don’t. If you are a subject matter expert and can present your views in a manner that your audiences not only find valuable but also feel inclined to share with others, you can be your own, individual brand of a thought leader. Think about social, political and religious leaders. Not all of them have an organization, an institution, a political party or a religious order to back them. They can be thought leaders because they have the power of communication to relay their thoughts on matters of importance. Use this checklist of the 24 tools you need to become a B2B thought leader.
  4. If I spend time and effort becoming a B2B thought leader, I must be able to use my position to sell my company’s products and services. No, you don’t. Lead generation and sales are a desirable fallout of thought leadership. They are not the end goals. Your company’s products and services will register a boost in lead generation and ultimately sales, because you gradually become the recognizable face and voice of the company—the voice of a thought leader that is highly regarded. That should not, however, drive your efforts to establish thought leadership.
  5. To be a thought leader, I need to offer insights on topics that are most discussed in the industry. No, you don’t. On the contrary, you must attempt to offer valuable advice and insights on issues your prospects and customers most care about. Even if some of those issues are controversial or have extremely opinionated and opposing arguments. Fact is, when an issue stirs up a controversy it is usually because people care about it. And because they care, they don’t want to be left confused or pondering. They want clarity and they want it from someone they consider trustworthy and credible. If you make their priorities your priorities and speak to those issues, you will have a following. You can comment on the popular topics being discussed as well, but only if you have something new and valuable to offer. Don’t beat a dead horse!
  6. My value as a thought leader is determined by my organization’s boost in demand generation. No, it is not. ‘Value’ is in the eye of the buyer, that’s true, but that buyer is not looking to you for a sales pitch or to get more information on your company’s offerings. Your value as a thought leader is determined by how your company gets seen as an industry leader because of your position as a thought leader. It can be measured by the number and quality of prospects, industry analysts, editors and investors who become aware of your thought leadership and look to you for insights. Who and how many people follow you on social media, how often and with whom they share your content, how involved and engaged they are judging by their questions and comments—all of these are good indicators of the value you hold as a thought leader.
  7. I must be seen and heard everywhere, all the time and LOUD. Absolutely not! You don’t. A true thought leader must in fact, talk less and demonstrate or practice more of thought leadership. Tweeting 5 times a day, posting to Facebook daily, commenting on LinkedIn on just about every issue, pinning and re-pinning on Pinterest for anything and everything related to your field of expertise… none of this is required or recommended. The best thought leaders are the ones who speak so powerfully, even if infrequently, that folks listen. And not only do they listen, but they also feel encouraged or compelled to take action. That must be the goal of a good thought leader—to catch the attention of people that matter and make them take the actions that matter. Read my tips on how to establish thought leadership with your B2B blog.
  8. As a thought leader, I will often find myself shooting in the dark. Never! On the contrary, you can be a thought leader if and only if, you really are knowledgeable on the subject, you have the depth of experience in the field that not many others have, and you are completely clear and confident in the perspective you are setting out to offer to your audience. That confidence in your thoughts is the basis of your position as a leader. On the other hand, if your confidence is shaky and you are not 100% sure of what you are communicating, the hard-nosed, sharp-clawed, highly attention-deficient audience will see through it right away.
  9. Once I am an established thought leader, people will just trust me and take my word. Easier dreamed of than achieved! This does not happen. Even the most proficient and well-respected thought leaders need to support their arguments and insights with evidence and data. You cannot argue and win an argument based on trust and credibility, you need to prove the verity of your statements.
  10. I must speak alone to remain a thought leader. Why? You don’t have to. In fact, from time to time, bring in your customers, associates, peers and other subject matter experts into the conversation. LEAD the conversation so that you still continue to be the thought leader who drives the audience’s attention. By garnering more voices to pitch in, you may succeed in making your argument stronger, more thought-provoking and thereby, more impactful.

Are there any other questions that come to your mind about B2B thought leadership? I look forward to hearing from you—please leave me a comment. Or you can send me an email.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Louis Foong
Louis Foong is the founder and CEO of The ALEA Group Inc., one of North America's most innovative B2B demand generation specialists. With more than three decades of experience in the field, Louis is a thought leader on trends, best practices and issues concerning marketing and lead generation. Louis' astute sense of marketing and sales along with a clear vision of the evolving lead generation landscape has proved beneficial to numerous organizations, both small and large.

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