3 Steps to Becoming a Thought Leader

When your customer is in the market for your product or service, they narrow the field by searching for relevant content to inform their decision. They do that long before you have an opportunity to make an overt sale: In the business-to-business space, studies show that 57% of buyers have already made up their mind about which company they will buy from before they even pick up the phone to call a salesperson.

This means you–and your company–can get a lot of advantage out of positioning as a thought leader in your industry.That’s easier said than done. With the evolution of media, social media, conferences, webinars, and my new favorite, the “un” conference (yes, that’s a thing), the “thought leadership” space has become messier and more crowded than ever. So how can you and your company stand above the crowd?

I saw the reliance on thought leadership emerge to make final decisions emerge in my buyer research as early as 2008.  About the same time, I was lucky enough to meet an expert in this area, Lisa Calhoun. She taught me how to navigate this new world.  (Her communications firm, Write2Market, has a trademarked methodology called  “Triple A Industry Leadership” and delivers it in a software available free as of last month for qualifying companies through Dell’s Center for Entrepreneurs.)

Whether you use the software or not, the method is simple. It breaks down “ruling the world” in an industry leadership sense into three areas to track:

Access. Your customers attend conferences, where they look to the presenters as trendsetters who point the way forward.  Conference attendees want to know what’s coming next and how others are succeeding  An industry conference may be one of the last remaining places you can easily have a face-to-face conversation with a prospect, set the agenda in an industry, connect with many of your existing customers, and talk with members of trade media.

For your company, how many relevant conferences are there, representing how many attendees? Now, how many of those people are you in front of? Tracking how much you capture can help you set a mark on your “access authority.”

Can’t find a conference that fits your industry or company?  You can do what PossibleNOW did and create your own.  As the space of preference management became a burgeoning new topic, they created the CEM Summit and focused the entire conference around educating current and potential customers on best practices.

Awareness. If your prospects are making the decision about who to buy from before they reach out to your company, then how do you make sure they see you? Which trade journals or blogs do your customers read?  Are there key influencer Twitter feeds, or newsletters for insiders?

Knowing the media available to your prospects allows you to set similar “awareness penetration” goals for how much of this audience you’re capturing. No surprise–industry leaders capture more “mind share” and that leads to more “market share.”

Awards. I agreed with Write2Market’s industry leadership methodology until it came to awards. Lisa and I didn’t see eye to eye. I will be honest–I wasn’t sure my company would be likely to win, and isn’t winning the point? Surprise memo: no, it’s not. The award event itself allows you to spend the evening with the right people (think potential partners and prospects). Plus, just being “in the running” is social proof to validate your claim to being the best. Winning, if you do, is a cherry on top.

Take the Inc. 5000 list. My company made the list three years in a row, and of the many conferences I attend each year, I can attest that Inc. 5000 conference is one of the best both in quality of attendees and presenters.

So you want to rule your world?  It’s easier than you might think. Focus on getting the access, awareness and awards that will showcase your thought leadership and expertise.