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.