It’s Time to Reverse Engineer Our Concept of “Thought Leadership”

By Bob Apollo

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Let’s face it, most so-called “thought leadership” is actually nothing of the sort. Much of it turns out to be a crude rehashing of already widely quoted statistics and crudely disguised product promotion.

All-too-often, it does little or nothing to actually stimulate the reader to think differently or to reconsider their existing beliefs.

Nor – typically – does it cause the reader to want to learn more, or to be prepared to talk to someone who can continue their education.

There are, of course, some notable exceptions. But because every marketing department is seemingly being chartered to throw more and more resources at creating “thought leadership”, its quality and impact – its capacity to shock and surprise – is frequently compromised.

And in complex B2B sales the above problems are merely scratching the surface – because I believe that even if the marketing message is expertly crafted, there’s still a critical missing ingredient…

That ingredient is the subsequent sales conversation. If the concept is complicated enough, or if the ideas are challenging enough, your audience will want to discuss them and test the relevance to their own environment.

I’ve referred to this looming disconnect between the marketing message and the sales conversation in previous articles, but I’ve got no evidence that the problem has gone away.

If anything, the ever-growing volume of miscategorised “thought leadership” has made the problem worse, and even more urgent. That’s why in complex B2B sales environments I believe we need to rethink how we establish thought leadership.

Surely a better approach is to define the sort of conversation we want to have and work backwards to create the messages and materials that are going to stimulate the reader to want to have that discussion.

Elmer Wheeler coined the phrase “sell the sizzle not the steak” in the 1920s, and if you think about it, this is a principle that can be appropriately applied here as well.

We don’t want our “thought leadership” pieces to give our prospects all the answers: we need them to intrigue the reader to want to learn more, and to believe that they can best achieve this by engaging us in a proper conversation.

Of course, this also means that we need to keep our side of the bargain: we need to ensure that we resist the temptation to descend immediately into a tedious product pitch or a series of dull qualifying questions.

We need to be conscious that we earn the …read more

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