Why thought leadership is essential for consultants and their firms:
"Thought leadership" is the term for activity that positions you and your business as a leading expert on an important area.It is all about producing insights into trends and opportunities that will grab the attention of your clients and prospects. It is not about telling people how wonderful you and your services are... it is about demonstrating your expertise, not asserting it.
It sounds commonsense, and many consultancies big and small do it very successfully.
But many don't. They instead desperately try to sell to any prospect that walks into sight through shouting about their capabilities and expertise. It's a great way to get prospects, especially decision-makers, to react defensively.
Other consultancies "create" a thought leadership programme by simply renaming their brochures and technical material as "thought leadership"... fooling themselves, but nobody else.
Thought leadership is successfully used by big consultancies (such as McKinsey and Accenture) as well as mid-sized and small consultancies too. If you are interested in finding out more about how to successfully implement such initiatives at your firm, please sign up for our forthcoming webinar.
But if you and your firm are sceptical, here are five reasons why thought leadership is vital for you and your consultancy....
1 - The need to differentiate
Here is the bad news.... To the outside world your firm probably appears pretty similar to your competitors.
Having great people, great processes, a great looking brand, a snazzy website and competent marketing aren't going to set you apart at all. These are par for the course.
So how do you stand out and be memorable? One of the strongest ways of standing out and being chosen is by being known for having strong expertise in particular markets and/or having expert know-how at solving specific important business challenges.
Thought leadership is all about achieving this by highlighting areas of knowledge where you are strong (and ensuring you stand out in the mind of buyers).In fact, if your firm is known as a leading expert, you will find yourself automatically being recommended and approached for work, and also invited onto the tenders.
2 - Your clients, especially the big ones, expect itExecutives at larger businesses simply expect that their advisers will provide value-added services and thought leadership.
They know you are great at whatever your firm does at a technical level. What they want to know is "do you have the vision and knowledge to help them at a strategic level".
As a for instance, I was recently at a client's sales conference where their sales team was receiving a presentation from the CIO of a major international travel company on what he wants from his suppliers. He told my client's sales force that their huge and leading-edge cloud and data network infrastructure counted for little as there were numerous competitors now in the market with similar capabilities.
He wanted to know how the customers of his company, who each year across Europe buy millions of holidays, will be selecting and purchasing their holidays in five or ten years time, so he is investing now in order to have the right infrastructure in place.
He was very clear. He wants IT suppliers with vision who will help him, and his board, understand and prepare for this (and, of course, then deliver it).
In short, he wants suppliers that are thought leaders... and he is not the only one.
3 - Thought leadership unlocks high-level salesReaching senior executives in large organisations is tough.
They rarely answer external phone calls, and you have to get through at least one PA to reach them (and often several).
That does not mean they are impossible to reach, nor does it mean that they are not interested in thought-provoking ideas from suppliers and would-be suppliers. Quite the opposite - they are very interested, but their time is precious and they do not want it wasted.
Undertaking thought leadership is one of the best ways to reach them and get the meeting... and then use it to impress them so you get the all-important result: a second meeting (by grabbing their attention by telling them something important that they didn't know)!
After all, if you are coming with useful insights that helps the CEO deal with some of his biggest challenges, who wouldn't want a second meeting?
4 - The rise of the self-directed buyer
Once upon a time selling professional and other high value services was quite straightforward. There was plenty of demand, not too many suppliers and few sources of information. Your network's recommendations, your firm's reputation, and some well-worded ads and brochures would bring enough work.
The power of Google means they have immediate access to the latest news, trends, prices and reviews. In fact, they can quickly track down other users and get their experiences.
So, we have more and more people searching the internet for advice from experts and suppliers at a very early stage of the buying process (or, more accurately, the pre-buying process). How do you market to these independent and self-directed buyers?
It is quite a task, unless you are brilliant at thinking up blogs and commentary (some people are...but most of us aren't). Otherwise you need a programme to help create ideas and great insights.... This is, of course, where thought leadership fits in!
In fact, many organisations work their marketing "back to front". They decide they need to have a Twitter feed or a monthly newsletter (after all, their competitors do) and they spend their time scratching their heads over what to Tweet and write about.
Better to start with a programme that generates ideas and insights, and then use your marketing channels with the confidence that you have something interesting to shout about.
5 - Be positioned for the future, not the past
Don't just look on thought leadership initiatives as short-term sales projects (as many firms mistakenly do). Look on them as R&D into where your clients markets are moving.
After all, if your customers are going to be demanding more help and solutions in a particular area, you can position yourself for this, creating the necessary services and alliances. Similarly, if a particular market is emerging or going to struggle, you need to be able to identify this early and seize the opportunities.
Markets move and change. Your firm can either be at the leading edge or playing catch up. A good thought leadership programme ensures you are at the forefront - not playing catch-up.
Thought leadership is successfully used by big consultancies (such as McKinsey and Accenture) as well as mid-sized and small consultancies too. To find out more about how to successfully implement such initiatives at your firm, sign up for our forthcoming webinar.