By Sarah Tourville, Founder & CEO
I love to speak at events. In fact, speaker platforms are my favorite form of communication. I get to share my marketing knowledge with a captive audience while portraying my brand personality. In my opinion, there’s nothing more satisfying than a sea of nodding heads while I’m presenting. It is a sign that what I am saying is hopefully resonating, and the umpteen questions mean I sustained people’s interest and addressed their pain points. Compared to other forms of marketing communications, speaker platforms provide immediate feedback and reaction. That’s hard to beat!
Choosing the speaker topic is critical to a successful speaker opportunity, and this was the conundrum I recently faced when asked to speak at the TAG (Technology Association of Georgia) event. What would I talk about?
· I needed a topic that would appeal to the target audience of tech professionals in the room
· It had to be relevant and timely to capture and keep people’s interest
· The content had to address needs and pain points
· I wanted the topic to reflect my personal brand
· It also needed to be entertaining – at least to keep people interested
While working through this decision, it became clear that this was ‘Thought Leadership 101.’ I was tackling the items that we all try to overcome when wanting to be regarded as a thought leader. I, however, wanted to go beyond the topic of thought leadership and actually apply it to the people in the room – tech professionals. So, the topic became ‘How to be a thought leader in tech?’
Rather than dive straight in, I chose to start with the basic principles of thought leadership.
Step 1. Subject Matter Expertise
You first need to decide on your subject matter expertise. What are you extremely passionate about, that you have knowledge on, and that other people will find interesting? What does the future look like in this market sector in two years, five years, and so on? For example, if you are aiming to be a subject matter expert on the Internet of Things (IoT), then voice your opinion on the impact IoT will have on the industry. Even better, try proving it with proprietary research. If you want to be a thought leader in tech, then you need to become a subject matter expert which is no easy undertaking.
Step 2. Credibility
If you are just out of college with little to no experience in your chosen subject, then it will be difficult to establish credibility straight away. But if you have conducted a thesis on the topic throughout school and gained recognition from industry influencers and other thought leaders, then you are well on your way to thought leadership. It doesn’t even need to be as significant as this. Get behind your cause, talk with colleagues about it, write regular blogs, and publish a white paper. If you own the subject, thought leadership will start to take shape.
Step 3. Personal Brand
Thought leadership can’t be made up. You can’t just pluck the subject out of thin air. I believe it has to be something you are passionate about, because it’s your passion and commitment that will inspire others. Remember, people buy from people, not companies. Whichever topic you choose, people are buying your advice and so you need to be true to the cause.
You also need to be comfortable at being a thought leader and do what feels right to you. Do you like speaking on a stage or attending podcast interviews? Or, how about writing blogs and possibly publishing a white paper? Not all thought leaders are good at presenting, but you need to find the right communication platform for you and then display yourself in an authentic manner. If you are a light-hearted, jovial person day-to-day, then let your writing or speaking style reflect it. Don’t try and be something that you are not.
Step 4. Whose Agenda?
Remember to look outside-in not inside-out and consider what your followers and prospects need from you. What questions do they have now? Is there something seasonable you need to address or a forthcoming event that is trending and people need answers to? If you can respond to people’s questions at the time that they need help, then it’s another way to be recognized and begin to be regarded as a thought leader.
The reason why so many people aspire to be thought leaders is because it can have huge benefits to your brand, your business, or to the company you work for. Thought leadership is what can differentiate your company from its competitors. Look at tech giant Cisco who created an effort around the Internet of Everything. This is an impressive initiative to claim a thought leadership position because of the area of innovation and how the concept of interconnectivity drives economic growth and freedom. Cisco used the individual strength of each media channel to tell a cohesive and compelling story to help drive market share.
When thought leadership is done well, it can create trust and assurance to help establish loyal followers and soon-to-be customers. Your brand starts to become the go-to resource, the main place to gather advice, therefore helping to shorten the sales cycle, open doors and grow the business.
How is Thought Leadership Different in Tech?
B2B technology purchasing decisions are in general far more complex than any other purchase, making thought leadership a greater feat. Consider the prospect of trying to influence the sale of an IoT solution at Whole Foods stores across America. Who in Whole Foods is responsible for making the purchasing decision? Unfortunately, it’s not just IT or Purchasing anymore. Your thought leadership needs to reach and appeal to 77% of the organization who are now all responsible for tech purchasing. These multiple audiences include IT, Engineering, Business Development, Operations, Finance, Sales, and Marketing.
Now, consider what information each tech buyer at Whole Foods is interested in? IT is looking for analytical and technical information. Engineering wants to see technical product information demonstrating advanced knowledge. Finance wants models, tools, and calculators that prove ROI, and Operations is seeking valuable consultations, educational content, and helpful tools.
There’s also various stages of the buyer’s journey where people want different information at the pre-purchase, during, and post-purchase.
The best way to tackle this is to understand the decision-making happening during each stage of the buying process and develop a content plan that addresses each stage to each decision maker. Asking your prospects and customers what information they want is a great place to start and build a plan for this.
If you are a small company and this approach sounds overwhelming, then it’s best to simply consider which role in the company has the most influence in the buying decision and invest time in getting to know that type of person. Hold a focus group with these people, ask them questions, listen, and record their reactions and tailor your thought leadership program around them.
To learn more about Thought Leadership in Tech, check out my presentation on SlideShare: