Creating Thought Leadership

Every company, to some degree, wants to be considered a thought leader in their industry. Vendors want to drive new sales and reassure their install base. Consultants/analysts want to have potential clients knocking on their doors for answers. The final side of the triangle, Buyers, they want their competitors to follow them and attract talent to work for them.

(Note that roles shift from market to market. Nuxeo is a vendor in the Content Management market but a Buyer in the ERP market.)

The importance varies, but it is a goal that any company wanting to be a leader in their industry wants to achieve. It isn’t easy. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. So the question is, how do you do it?

Taking the software market as my example, given my experience there, I am going to explore the process.

Know Your Market

This first step seems obvious, but people like to rush through it. To be a thought leader, you need to actually know the market. You need experts. You can’t lead in an area you don’t know.

This is more than one person, assuming that you aren’t able to clone people (if so let me know). It has to be multiple people because each expert can only visit one client at a time and if they decide to leave, where does that leave you?

What is really needed is a set of internal process to build, support, and reward experts. If you haven’t solved that issue, then you have work to do before establishing leadership.

Hiring is not an Answer

There can be a strong temptation to hire people to provide the leadership. This is expensive and tricky. A single thought leader can be expensive. They also don’t automatically bestow thought leadership upon a company. They also can’t create domain experts out of nothing either.

Hiring a though leader can be useful if done correctly. If you have expertise and want to take it to the next level, hiring a thought leader can help the company gain exposure and nurture existing experts into being thought leaders of their own.

Of course, when you hire a thought leader in an area where your organization doesn’t possess perceived leadership, there is another challenge. How do you take the leadership of the individual and infuse it with the company.

Company versus Individual

Which Consultant would a Buyer rather hire?

  • Dave Johnson, a Director at ABC Consulting
  • ABC Consulting’s Dave Johnson

All else being equal, they likely rather use the latter because Dave is characteristic of ABC’s expertise and leadership. The Buyer is establishing a relationship with a set of experts and not just one expert. If Dave leaves ABC, they will be okay. If Dave IS the expertise, then his departure could put the buyer into a bind.

Making the Leap

So given all of the above, how do you achieve thought leadership once you have the base expertise? For one, you plan on it taking some time. There are several things you can do to help out:

  • Talk at Industry Events: Start with case studies and evolve. Make sure that multiple people represent the company. You want people looking for your company at the event, not just a single speaker.
  • Get into Social Media: The mediums vary based upon your target area, but multiple participants on multiple platforms will draw attention. Company blogs, individual blogs, twitter, community networks, and the like. Each expert don’t have to be on all of them, but they should be aware of each other’s efforts so they can cross-promote.
  • Success: Be ready to have an ever changing list of success stories. If you can’t do that you may as well hang it up.

Of course, if your company isn’t putting forth quality in these endeavors, it will not work. If you truly have the expertise, this shouldn’t be an issue.

It is difficult and takes a solid set of experts to achieve. Not everyone is cut-out to be engaged publicly, so it takes a critical mass to cross the thought leadership threshold for an organization.

2 thoughts on “Creating Thought Leadership

  1. Important subject, but one has to follow your thoughts through.

    First: A company per se doesn’t think. Tt is the people who do. So a company needs someone with a visionary mindset to lead it. Yes, it iwll be important for that company to hire experts to execute but your typical expert is not a thought leader.

    Second: Talking at industry events, social media – and , not to forget, writing books – might be necessary to gain traction for a new idea, but then that person must not only be a visionary but also a speaker. Now you need a visionary who writes and speaks. Most certainly a rare talent. Forget Monster to find him/her. And if that person is just a hired gun and not an executive then if the ideas don’t bring in higher shareprices next quarter, he ideas might never make it to the light of day.

    Finally: After you have had your visionary ideas, you also need to find someone to be willing to throw a lot of money at them, because you need to have a certain marketshare for anyone to believe that this vision is as grand as the visionary believes. It has nothing to do with the quality or benefits of the offered solution. The main problem is that analysts will only consider a leading thought a valid one, once it has been proven in the market by a lot of sales. They multiply the size of the business who sells the leading thought with the sales and now you have a leading thought. Obviously at that time analysts will have picked up the idea, given it a nice acronym and present it as the grand new thing they discovered.

    So in the end, leading thoughts are fun to have but hardly any make it into the market. Maybe if the business is being bought by one lf the large monopolists. Steve Jobs was ousted by a board that didn’t think that they needed a visionary. They wanted a lot of money NOW. It nealry killed Apple.

    So forget the idea of companies being thought leaders. It always was and will be people!


    • Max, I agree with what you wrote. It expands upon the post nicely. I think the point I was trying to make is that you can make it broader than the one person. If you have experts that aren’t natural speakers, they can write. If they can’t write or speak well, their lack of communication really limits their ability to be an expert. Luckily those skills can be trained through mentoring.

      You will always have a 1st one that hits the scene. When they speak, their colleagues can be there for the follow-on discussions. That gives credibility. On communities, colleagues can write supporting articles. On twitter, those colleagues can participate in discussions with or without the “leader”.

      I agree that it is all about the people, but if you can grow a few, the association will be made with the company as well as the individuals. To be honest, Vision is easy once you are an expert. The guts to throw the vision out there and clearly communicate/defend/evolve it is the hard part.


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