The Manufacturing Executive
The Manufacturing Executive

Episode · 2 years ago

Getting Clear About Thought Leadership w/ Bill Sherman


The term thought leadership has gotten tossed around a lot the last few years. But what exactly does thought leadership mean? Does it simply imply that you write a blog or that you spoke at a local Chamber of Commerce event? Or is thought leadership something more than that? How did you become a thought leader anyway?

On this episode of the podcast, I invited Bill Sherman, COO and thought leadership practice lead at Thought Leadership Leverage. Bill helps clients who want to use thought leadership whether it's to fill a sales pipeline or influence how people think and act.

Bill and I talked about:

  1. The four elements of thought leadership
  2. How thought leadership can impact your organizational and personal brands
  3. Why people struggle with content insecurity 

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An idea is short, it's simple, but it allows you to take the skill and then that idea is supported through content, data, examples, stories, customer success stories. Those bring the idea to life and they help people understand. What does it matter to me? How will it help me the problems I'm trying to solve? Welcome to the manufacturing executive podcast, where we explore the strategies and experiences that are driving midsize manufacturers forward. Here you'll discover new insights from passionate manufacturing leaders who have compelling stories to share about their successes and struggles, and you'll learn from be tob sales and marketing experts about how to apply actionable business development strategies inside your business. Let's get into the show. Welcome to another episode of the Manufacturing Executive podcast. The show is being brought to you by our sponsor, codinis part solutions. I'm Joe Sullivan, your host and a cofounder of the Industrial Marketing Agency guerilla seventy six so my wife Julie over here is quite a few of my work conversations these days, seeing that, like many, I've been working plenty from home in two thousand and twenty and as someone who's spent most of her adult life as a classroom teacher, she loved, of s poking fun at all the business lingo that naturally pops up in these conversations. Julie, did we ever, land on a decision about who's taking grace to saccer practice tomorrow? Oh, thanks for inquiring, Joe. Let me check my agenda and then I'll circle back by EOD and shoot you an email regarding my capacity. Okay, so maybe I'm guilty of a little business jargon from time to time, and one of those terms that Julie has actually made fun of me for on more than one occasion because, frankly, I use it often, is the term thought leadership. Thought leadership is a term that's been thrown around more liberally in recent years, but what exactly does thought leadership meet? Does it simply imply that you create content in your industry, that you have a blog on your website, or maybe that you spoke at a local chamber of Commerce event in your town a few years ago? There's thought leadership something more than that. And how do you become a thought leader? Anyway? Well, Julie and everyone else listening, that's our topic. Today thought leadership, and our guest is someone who's built his career around that exact topic. So let me take a moment to introduce Bill Sherman. Will helps people take their ideas to scale through thought leadership. He's spent twenty years in the field, working with world class business thought leaders and fortune five hundred organizations. Thought leadership helps people see around corners. As the COO of Thought Leadership Leverage, Bill helps clients who want to use thought leadership, whether to fill a sales pipeline or influence how people think and act. Bill is considered one of the leading voices in the area of organizational thought leadership, that is, the people who create, curate and deploy thought...

...leadership to help their organization reach its goals. He hosts the weekly podcast titled Leveraging a thought leadership, where he talks shop with people who are doing thought leadership work inside their organizations. Bill, welcome to the show. Hi, thanks, Joe So build. We've done a few episodes around content marketing and mostly we've focused on the idea of pulling insights from your experts brains and turning them into content. But what I've learned from your teachings is that thought leadership is about more than just content. In fact, content is only one of what you call the four elements of thought leadership. So I'm wondering if you could start by defining for this audience what exactly thought leadership is. Absolutely so, when I think about the leadership, I think about it from what you described as the four elements, and they are ideas. You need to have a clear idea. Usually it's only a sentence or two in length. It's something short and simple. I sometimes hear people say hey, I've got an idea and they go on and on for ten or fifteen minutes. That's not an idea, that's a story, possibly a shaggy dog story. Right, and idea is short, it's simple, but it allows you to take the scale. And then that idea is supported through content, data, exact amples, stories, customer success stories. Those bring the idea to life and they help people understand what does it matter to me? How will it help me the problems I'm trying to solve? And then offerings. How are you packaging this idea? How are you making it accessible to others? And that could be a podcast, it could be cat drawings, it could be a Webinar or workshop, paid or unpaid, it doesn't matter. Sometimes money changes hands for an offering and sometimes you're giving an offering, a leadership, away for free. And the last and perhaps the most important in bb marketing is platform, and I'm not talking about software technology, while I'm talking about is imagine two people are sitting down at a coffee shop and one of the knows you or your organization and the other one has a problem that they're trying to selve and your organization would be a perfect it. But they have to first recognize the pain point of the person that they're listening to and then be able to describe in a very short way why your organizations ideas solve their problem. You might think about like the elevator pitch accept it focused on ideas. It's what ideas are you bring to the table, and where I find a lot of organizations trip themselves up is they don't have a platform or they're not clear on what their ideas are. Yeah, I see the same thing for sure. Well, and you wrote a great little ebook titled The four elements of thought...

...leadership. You kind of just touched on some of those, but that's something I would encourage people to take a look at will make sure to link to that in the show notes. What kind of impact can a thought leader position in a manufacturing leaders respect of industry niche help them accomplish, and can you speak to both the potential impact on the company but also on the personal brand of that individual? Yeah, so going back to your wife's question on what's the difference between the leadership, is it just a business jargon and Buzzword? The terms spent around for about a hundred years, and here's one of the ways that I distinguished it between personal branding and thought leadership. Personal brand puts you on stage. You might be known as prompt or creative, a problem solver, easy to work with, etc. Right, but you're standing on stage in the spotlight for personal bringing for thought leadership, you're putting the ideas on stage. They're shining the spotlight on them and attracting attention. So, in terms of what thought leadership can achieve, you mentioned a little bit in the Intro, but let's unpack a little bit more. Thought leadership can help you fill a sales pipe one and so if you're looking over the next quarter and you're saying, how are we generating leads and opportunities. Thought leadership works a little bit differently than content marketing, although there is some overlap. Okay, to help fill a sales pipe one. The second thing you can do is use it to sustain a conversation with someone. Want a sales conversation would be awkward or even inappropriate. Okay, so imagine you've got a buyer with a very long sales cycle, right, and you can't send your sales team there month after month to say hey, are you going to buy? Right? At some point buyer will look and go stop bugging me, right, you've got nothing to new to add the conversation. Thought leadership allows you to stay engaged, getting them to think about issues, because what thought leadership is about is around, seeing around corners into the future, see either a possible risk or an opportunity, right, and then you bring that information back. So if you're doing thought leadership, you're having an opportunity to continue that, say that conversation when it's not a sales conversation. And then finally, influencing how people think and act. You may want to help persuade your employees as to what the future will look like and get them on board for the vision of the future, or you may be trying to persuade your industry, vendors, suppliers, even your customers and prospects, and saying here's what we need... do because this is right, this is the future. Those are three ways thought leadership can be used. It's great night. Look we why do you see when you see somebody doing it really well, like somebody is truly becoming a thought leader and earning that position? What's the impact that you see? You know what changes for the organization? So let me call out something that is important. Thought leader is a title that is generally given rather than one you describe yourself APPS. So that's why you'll hear you know, a conversation about thought leadership is different than if you stand up and say I am a thought leader. You can sound a little obnoxious if you're saying I'm a thought leader right. So, in terms of the impact with that, what you see from individuals is when you're sharing insights, you attract attention and thought leadership today is a two way conversation rather than a one way conversation, and so one of the things that I think is important is when we talk about leaders ship in general. It's often we talked about accountability. We're, as leaders, accountable to the teams that we leave their trusting us to guide them. That same concept transfers over pretty nicely the thought leadership. When you're doing it well, people look to you and they're looking for insights. Because people are busy, they're often focused on day to day tactical they only get a sliver of time to focus on what's next in the future and if you become someone they trust it's bringing good insights. Then you build a deeper relationship, which accelerates anything that you might want to do with the one concept you've talked about in your work that really struck a chord of me, because I've seen this from people that I've consulted on the topic of content and thought leadership, is this idea of content insecurity which, as I've my understanding from what I read from some of your own content was that it's the we're basically talking about imposter syndrome. What what makes me qualified to write this when you know a company that's ten times my size is publishing similar insights? Can you touch on this concept of content insecurity and why so many individuals and also just organizations in general struggle with it. Yeah, so it's something that I see very often, both within individuals and organizations, and it's let's break it down. So Imposter Syndrome is, if is when you feel like you're in the room and you're like, what do I do? Do I deserve to belong here? Right, why is anyone listening to me? And it's sort of like personal brand that it focuses on you as the individual or the person conveying the message.

Why would anyone listen to me? Content in security focuses on the message itself. Is it good enough? And I see a lot of individuals and organizations with a lot of great ideas to share, but what they do is they hang on to them and they're like, okay, yeah, it's a good idea, but it's not ready for prime time. I won't share that with my clients or I won't speak at the industry event because they set this incredibly high bar. And what I would say with content in security is it creates a form of paralysis, not that it's stage fright, but you're worried about the idea. Is it ready to share? So what I actually emphasize is it's better to put ideas out there and invite feedback and criticism and you say, Hey, here's what we're seeing, here's what word thinking. Do you agree, do you disagree? One of the things that thought lairship is really good at is creating opportunities for cotton deep conversations and even market intelligence. And so if you put it out there and it's okay to put a copy off and say here's what I've been thinking about, show me where I'm wrong. Or do you agree or disagree? Let's talk one of my missing right, you create an opportunity that you can engage people at a much deeper level and it can resonate much more powerfully. And so the cure to content in security is just do it. Get out there and accept that, yeah, you don't have an idea a hundred percent, but seventy percent or sixty percent is often just fun. I love that. I mean, you know, this idea that you're welcoming people into the conversation is so important because I think when you think of thought leadership and being an authoritative voice, I think probably a lot of people's heads go to okay, I need this, needs to be perfect. It can't be. There can't be any mistakes in here. They can't be any questions that this is right. This is just the final word, and I think that's probably what causes the paralysis, is because the people know they're going to be judged from the moment they put out an inside so they better. You know, they're thinking of the size. I've had to be really confident that this is exactly right and and you know I can. I can stand behind this. But if you just do the simple thing that you suggested, Bill, you know, tell me where I'm wrong or you know what's what are your thoughts on this? Because this is what I'm seeing now. You're you're positioning yourself that you're still sharing these really important, smart insights, but you're you're inviting people into the conversation, you're creating a dialog. Now you're an approachable person as opposed to somebody who is just positioning themselves as a know at all. Such a better way to do it well, and one of the things that I think about, and I use a metaphor a lot, about ideas is almost metal, and that you wind up...

...forging it right and that you've got to hammer it and beat it into the shape that you want, and so a idea doesn't become that hundred percent polished just by you sitting there thinking great thoughts, or your subject matter experts. They'll take it some distance, but the way the idea really gets forged, and then, if you want to put an edge on it as well and be really, really sharp, is it needs that interaction with other people so that other people from different purpose of fectives look at it and say, here's something that I see. Have you considered? If you don't get those perspectives, you're going to always feel the idea isn't perfect because you're only looking at it through a limited lens. You want to invite other people to help you really beat it in to shake totally. You know, it's interesting to hear you talk about this too, because my head goes right away to linked in or see some of these online platforms where social media platforms that give you the opportunity, you know, with Linkedin, for any given post, you've got one, three hundred characters right to be able to say something which is a pretty. That's a pretty you got to be pretty concise. They're like it's enough to say something, not a Hiku, but it's still pretty yeah, exactly. And what I love about linked in because I've really embraced the platform over the last year so and it's where you and I discovered each other. But you know, it gives you that chance to do exactly what you're talking about. It's just to take an insight, something that's in your brain and put it out there and invite people in the into the conversation and and get their reactions. Like some of the best content that I've written over the last year has been a direct result of something that got a ton of engagement on Linkedin. I'll post things that I think are going to blow up and they call fall completely flat, but I learned from that. And then I'll post something that might have just been sort of, you know, a thought or idea. You know, it's usually it's related to industrial marketing strategy, since that's sort of my expertise. But and you know, it gets fifty, a hundred comments, it gets, you know, a bunch of likes. It's just circulating like crazy, and then I know, okay, now I'm onto something here, like this is something people care about, and then I'll go produce a video about it or or some longer written piece of content on our blog or by email or something. But if I, if I hadn't just, you know, as it's like seth go to always says, shipped it right. Just if I hadn't just put that idea out there, I never would have had the opportunity to see people react to it and learn what's actually engaging to them and what's not. So I don't if you have any thoughts to add to that. Do. There's a couple little at so and I think linkedin is great platform this. There's and I talked about all leadership being to a communication. It used to be in the old days thought leadership...

...was you wrote a book or you did a big white paper, you put it out into the world and people sort of bowed to your brilliance. Right. That's not the case in two thousand and twenty and going forward. It's a two way conversation. So, for example, it is very common that you see a post that you know, you look at you go hey, that's pretty smart. you start writing a comment and that starts something inside of your head. You get this the germ of an idea and then somewhere halfway as you're doing a comment, more than well said, or that's cool or something like that. But you find yourself writing a couple sentences and then maybe a paragraph and you're like, Oh, I've got an idea here. That turns into a Lincoln Post on your own and then that person looks and goes hey, you built on my idea. It becomes this back and forth conversation and then you can test which ones blow up, which ones do people lean into and the they'll show you their perspectives. Sometimes they're using different terms or different person needs and it's great in the Commons to say Oh, I didn't think of that. How do you see it? And people will sure it's a fantastic way to get marketing intelligence. We're going to take a thirty second breather here for a word from our sponsor, cadinis part solutions. Let's talk real quick about getting specified. Are you a component manufacturer? Maybe you sell architectural products to parks or large facilities. Engineers and architects need models of your products to test fit in their designs. That's where cadenis comes in. They help you create a dynamic, shareable cad catalog you put on your website. Designers can preview the product from any angle and download it in the format they prefer. They get the data they need for their design and you get a fresh lead to add to your marketing pipeline. To get one of your products turned into an online d model for free, use the code executive at part Solutionscom slash executive. A lot of the listeners to this show bill are CEOS, presidents or vpiece of sales at midsize manufacturing organizations. So I'm just kind of curious, like, what are some examples you've seen from? It doesn't have to be in manufacturing, but leaders of small or medium size companies, as opposed to big enterprise organizations, who kind of already has so have sort of a platform given to the company's brand name. But with smaller medium size organizations, do you have examples of people who have successfully built thought leader platforms in their respective spaces or niches? Yeah, so I'll start by telling one of my favorite stories, but all leadership and it starts on the big side. But then I'll connect it to the midsize manufacturing firms like their audiences, right. So I was working with the sea level executive some twenty years ago.

Had A very big consulting firm and he said, you know, it's impossible to go through an airport without seeing our advertisements on the wall as you go down and escalator. He said, we advertise airports around the world, and he said we do that. But the same time I know who our top one hundred clients are. I could deliver a string of Polo Pons to each of our top one hundred clients, personally, to the CEO of each company, for a fraction less than one percent of our total marketing budgets. And I think the beauty of that is that there's a difference between broadcasting and narrow casting and thought leadership. Broadcasting you're trying to reach everybody. Narrow casting, you've identified target audience and you say these are the people that matter the most to me. Okay, so with thought leadership, one of the things that I think about for manufacturing is if you know who your top of one hundred are right and not just the people that you're doing business with this quarter or you think you're going to do business next quarter, you think more broadly and you say who are the key relationships that we need to build a nurture? Maybe they're not going to buy from us today, but I want to deepen that relationship. Thought leadership is excellent for doing that and one of the things that I've seen done very well and we often do with clients, is a strategic account plan through thought leadership, and it gives you a way to deepen relationships with fires, with media, with industry leaders. When you sit down and you say, who are these people, where did they consume content, where did they get information already and what are they curious about? Okay, because one of the things in thought leadership that makes it work is you don't talk about things that you find interesting. You need to talk about things your audience will find interesting and otherwise it's sort of narcissistant that way. Right, you're sure it's kind of fun and you enjoyed the topic, but your passion has to overlap with your audience's needs. So thought leadership, when you do it right, I'll give you an example. Manufacturing firm. They're based in Europe. They have long cycled sales right and they use thought leadership to equip their sales team and they've trained their sales team how to use all leadership to nurture conversations so that when the buyer is ready to put out an RP,...

...they're invited to propose. That's a great application. I use it myself. I try to, you know, teach our clients to do the same. You know, I always say, like, think about how many times you've been in on the receiving end APP you know, the sales conversation, and a week after the call, regardless of whether you were interested or not, you get a sales email. That's just the classic. Hey, just checking in to see where you're at in this and that's it right. It's just if there's anything else I can do, you know, let me know. Here's another product manual or blah, blah, blah, right stuff about them. Well, how about if you flip the script there and use and you say or or you with every touch point you deliver something that is insightful, that addresses another common question that people like them have, or something you heard on the last sales call. Hey, you told me this that you're struggling with this, and we published this article or podcast episode or film, this little video or whatever it is that addressed that and and you know ways to get around that issue or ways to solve that problem. Thought this would be helpful to you like well, and I think that's one of the differences between content marketing and thought leadership. The way that I look at content marketing, you, you might agree, is it's excellent when you're trying to fill the sales pipe. One. That is one of its primary things when you're trying to fill the pipeline and move someone through the funnel, right, but it's sort of breaks down when you're trying to do over the horizon and deep in a relationship. Right, content marketing winds up being at its heart, very tactical. How am I moving someone who is curious to deeper in the sales funnel so they become a buyer and we start a relationship? Thought leadership is really connection based and your building and deepening relationships, and it requires two difference. Fill set. Sometimes, for a salesperson they've got to be able to look past the next thirty days, right. And so some organizations have a team that's dedicated to figuring out how did they take their best insights and then push them out into the world. Often that sits in content, in in marketing, and but it's a different function with content marketing, right, and so that person has a curation responsibility. They don't have to be the one person who comes up with great ideas, and in fact that's a mistake. What they're doing is they're looking across the organization, from top of the House to frontline and say, and looking for good ideas, listening to where ideas happen within anywhere in the organization. And they could be an insight on you. So they could be an insight on manufacturing, they could be a...

...trend that someone on a line is seeing, but you're looking saying that's a good idea, it deserves attention from a wider audience. That audience could be internal within your company or it could be with your clients, your vendors, whomever, but they're elevating ideas to get attention. You've made a really important point, I think. And when when people think of content marketing, a lot of times, if it's not something they're well versed in, I think they almost equated with Seo and in bat to lead generation and and that's when content starts to be driven by, you know, how many searchers are there for this thing or that thing, and it's about, you know, just getting in front of as many people as possible, and I'm not saying that's not important. It is. However, I'm a big believer that your content needs to be driven by the insights and expertise that's stored in the brains of your team and you start with these things that in the ones that your customers care about the most, the things that you're always talking your best customers and prospects about in sales conversations, in conversations with customers, and you start to recognize patterns and see what things the people you're actually trying to reach care about. And if you have deep expertise in those things, it's a matter of getting that stuff out of your brains and figuring out how to articulate it, whether it's again through written or video or audio or some way to deliver that to those individuals, and then you can take that stuff and start to figure out how to apply it into SEO and lead generation right exactly exactly. And here's the thing. I've heard people sometimes say content and thought leadership is your best content marketing and I sort of said, stretch my head and go no, if you try to make thought leadership work like content marketing, you list you lose about sixty seven percent of the really good things that you can do without leadership. One of the trends so I've seen, is people sit down in organizations and say how are we aligning this message, the thought leadership that we want to share? So, whether it's the CEO or frontline salesperson or a subject matter experts, whether they're speaking at a trade show or the writing an article, how do we make sure that it all sounds like we're coming from one company? And then also encouraging smart people within the organization, people with insights to share, to get over their imposter syndrome and content insecurity and having someone champion them and say yeah, that's a good idea. It needs to be heard, because I would say with certainty that many of your listeners within your organization now are good ideas that could help you deep in relationships with...

...key individuals, accounts, whatever, or even help you fill the sales pipeline, but they're not reaching the audiences that they need to reach, often because someone's dismissed it or they're saying, oh, yeah, that's good, but it's not my job to get it to someone right, and so the good ideas fall to the tracks. I'm sure it's happening all the time inside of daily companies of everybody listening. Yep, sure, well, so I imagine a lot of listeners right now are thinking, okay, Geez, like this, this is makes a lot of sense. I need to be I need to be doing this. But, as you said, Bill, you know you can't just declare yourself a thought leader right like it's right, it's there's there's a reason that people are are. You know, they have these insights and and they figure out how to, how to, you know, get them out there and figure out how to publish them in the right format and everything. But so for somebody who's listening right now thinking like okay, I want to start moving into this, I'd love to be a thought leader. Maybe I'm capable of being one, but I have no idea how do I get on this path to making that happen? Like where do you recommend somebody starts? So first place that you have to start is from a place of passion, because if you're doing thought leadership as a oh I've got to do it because it's good for my career, good for my business, it's going to fall through those cracks of things that are good to do, but when you're busy you'll push them off. And thought leadership works on repetition. You have to spend time again and again, putting good ideas out there and talking about them. It's not a one and done so find something you're passionate about and ready to talk about. A good friend of mine years ago, when blogging came out, said a rule that has held true. He said, if you're going to start something, whether it's a podcast or writing a blow hug or doing interviews, be prepared to do it at least a hundred times. Right, because if you're looking to see results on the first of the second piece, like posting one post on Linkedin, is not a game changer. Right. You've got to be prepared to show up regularly and do it. Linkedin is a fantastic place. It's relatively row low risk. You can put out an idea and invite comments and start building your network. And with Linkedin, just don't focus on posting. Focus on responding to other people that are talking on the subject that you care about. Right, see who what the conversation is Ivan enjoying. Okay, from an organizational level, what I would be recommending is look for the people who are already eager to do this, find someone who's built an audience, who has passion within the organization, and support the heck out of them right and make them a case study.

I'm thinking of a company that has done this and they had an internal person who was active on Linkedin. They have three thousand followers and they built that person up and then use them as a showcase to the rest of the sales team and said look, here's what this person has done and here's what it means to the sales and then everybody goes, Oh, I get it right. You're not having to pull them. They're looking going Oh, you're showing me a trick that I need to know, and people lean in and they want to learn. That's great. Well Build. This is a topic that's a passion of mine too. Is, as it is for you, this idea of thought the shock hours. Yeah, we could, and I wish we could, but for the sake of keeping it to one episode, which maybe we could do a follow up at some point, which I think would be great. But you know, great discussion today. It's really fun when I get to do an episode on something where you know I feel like it's. It's right in my sweet spot to the things I love, and you're somebody who's literally, you know, built your career on this topic. So thanks for doing this absolutely, Joe, and my encouragement to everyone out there is give it a try and you'll see results. Yeah, I think so, but you got to stick with it right, like you said, just yeah it committing. Yep, it's not going to happen overnight, for sure. So's we're bill. Can listeners find you online and learn more about you, as well as your company, thought leadership leverage or podcast. Tell us a little bit about how to stay in touch and keep learning. So thought leadership leverage is the name of the company and that's also the domain name. I do a weekly podcast with people who are thought leadership practitioners. They're in the weeds doing this for their organization and they've made a commitment and or the organization is tap them and said, hey, you're in charge thought leadership. And for many of them they're accidental into this role. It wasn't what they plan they either started in marketing or strategy, public policy, whatever, and then they got tapped to do thought leadership, and so it's a growing community of thought leadership practitioners and we talked about what they're doing, their successes and we share wins. Right. That's the theme of the PODCAST. It's a great show. Yeah, definitely go check that out. Thank you well, Bill, thanks again, and I also want to say thank you to our sponsor, codenist part solutions, for helping make this episode possible. Go check out what bills doing and for the rest of you, I hope to catch you on the next episode of the Manufacturing Executive. You've been listening to the manufacturing executive podcast. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you'd like to learn more about industrial marketing and sales strategy, you'll find an ever expanding collection of articles,...

...videos, guides and tools specifically for B Tob Manufacturers at Gorilla Seventy sixcom learn thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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