Do you need to be a thought leader to sell your professional services? Not necessarily, but you can use a thought leadership strategy to build your visible expertise.
From this Forbes article “What Is A Thought Leader?“, a thought leader can be defined as:
“A thought leader is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.”
You can absolutely strive to become “one of the foremost authorities”, but while you are doing that you can use marketing techniques to help you to become a ‘visible expert’.
What is visible expertise?
In a professional services firm, you and your leadership team are all experts. Ultimately, expertise is what drives the business. It is why people seek you out and are willing to pay for your advice and services. As the infographic in this blog post from Beaton Consulting’s annual beatonbenchmarks study shows, the Number One Driver of Consideration (i.e. why a client considers purchasing your services) is “Expertise in area of need”.
Visible expertise is about being known for your knowledge, skills and experience. In today’s highly competitive environment, where clients have a great deal of choice available to them, you need to differentiate yourself and your firm. Prospective clients are making purchasing decisions based on their perceptions of your expertise. You need to establish trust and credibility more quickly than ever before and it doesn’t happen as organically as it used to. Multiple online channels mean that clients are now savvier and better informed. A potential client can now learn so much about you before they meet you in person.
So, in this highly competitive marketplace, how do you make sure that your expertise is visible?
According to Lee Frederiksen from Hinge Marketing in his article “Brand Strength and the Halo Effect in Marketing“:
“Your firm doesn’t need to be the best at everything. You just need to be the best at something, and the Halo Effect will help pull the rest of your services forward. Similarly, you don’t need to be highly visible to everyone. But you do need to have a strong presence somewhere. From that starting point, your brand strength can grow.”
You don’t need to be known to everyone; you just need to be known as an expert in your chosen target market. Hinge calls it becoming a Visible Expert®.
The correlation between knowledge and visibility is illustrated below. If you have an adequate level of knowledge, and are only known within your immediate professional circle, you are probably a ‘good operator’. And, if you have adequate knowledge, but a high level of visibility, you might actually be ‘overrated’! You don’t want to be a ‘best kept secret’. Ideally, you want to have a high level of knowledge and be known for it. By becoming a visible expert, you can start to attract higher-yielding client work.
Becoming a visible expert
Becoming a visible expert involves specialising in a sector of the market or providing a niche service. One of the other Top 3 Drivers of Consideration, identified by Beaton, is “Understanding our business/industry”. Clients want the comfort of knowing that you have a solid track record in their industry or in providing a particular service. By specialising, you can develop clear criteria to identify clients who want you for what you do best.
- Segment your market
These days, with all the available data, it’s easy to segment your market. A good marketer can help you identify your target audience. You can segment your target market by industry, business structure (e.g. private company, listed company, not-for-profit), size (e.g. mid-sized), or business lifecycle (e.g. start-ups, growth, transition, succession).
- Develop a thought leadership content strategy
Once you have identified your target market, marketing can help you increase your visibility by using well-positioned content, including thought leadership, in your area of expertise. You need to develop relevant content that will resonate with that audience. It can help you ‘cut through’ and become recognised as an expert people will seek advice from. Content includes commentary, articles, infographics, videos etc. It can be planned and unplanned (i.e. reactive to topical issues) and it builds brand awareness. Thought leadership content includes presentations, articles, white papers, research reports, books, videos etc. It is more in-depth, and it is designed to demonstrate your expertise in this area.
The key is to develop a targeted, structured, and informed visible expertise strategy, including a detailed content calendar. A carefully planned strategy will allow you to actively build and achieve visibility (be known as the expert, not just one of many practitioners clients have to choose from) by focusing your efforts and removing the uncertainty from your marketing efforts.