Using Thought Leadership To Generate Revenue With Bill Sherman

Stephen: Hey Bill, nice to have you on the show today.

Bill: Great to be here, Stephen. 

Stephen: Yeah, I think, it’s great to have run across you on LinkedIn. I’ve met a lot of great people on LinkedIn recently and, when I came across your profile, you immediately stood out to me because, I mean amongst all the people on LinkedIn, there’s so many people that are offering the same types of things.

You really stood out as someone that has a really niche service. You focus on thought leadership and you have deep expertise in helping those with deep expertise. 

Bill: Yeah. And so it’s a little bit more to be doing thought leadership work on thought leadership, but the way I think about thought leadership is how do you take an idea to scale whether you’re an expert in your field working within an organization, you’re a CEO of an organization, or you’re an external expert, and you’re trying to do consulting into organizations.

Ideas are often what power opportunities that drive business. They deepen relationships. They help us see around into the future to either see an opportunity or risk, but we need to know how to communicate them. And that’s thought leadership. 

Stephen: So is that how you help people, you help them articulate the idea?

Bill: So it’s part of what we do. We work with clients that have either been in the field of thought leadership. And sometimes they’re saying, Hey, I’ve fallen into this accidentally, because one of the things that’s true is no one went to college and said, I’m going to get a major in thought leadership. And that’s going to be my career track after I graduate. And so for a lot of people, whether they’re working inside a big organization or they’re doing it on their own, it’s often the second or third act. Sometimes they’re using it and using thought leadership to fill the sales pipeline, or to, get their name out there or get their reputation out there.

Other times they’re trying to do it almost in an evangelistic way. They’ve been working in the field for a long time. And they’re saying, guys, there’s a better way. Let’s look at it this way, because nobody’s talking about it. 

And sometimes it’s influencing how people think and act, and sometimes it’s work by public policy, working with governments and NGOs, media influencers. There’s a whole lot of different people, but it’s getting an idea to a target audience rather than trying to be relevant to everyone. You accept 99.99% of the world Isn’t going to care about what you say and do. How do you become really deeply relevant to that 0.1% that does care. Right?

Stephen: Yeah. And yeah, definitely. And what I thought was interesting about, when I first ran into you and we even had a conversation on Friday before this call, and I’ve watched a couple of your posts and a couple of your videos already. 

What I thought was cool about just running into you and having just a little exposure is I’ve already been able to articulate better what I’m doing for my clients and for my service. Number one, just because I’ve always thought of myself as a thought leader, myself just from my background, but I just never took the leap to plant the flag and just say that. 

But also, in terms of the way you were explaining, how you actually even crafted ideas or how you come up with the idea, you almost have a framework of explaining how to think about the idea that you’re building.

So you’ve got those four pillars. Explain a little bit about those so we can… 

Bill: Yeah. So when you and I had a conversation on this last week, the framework that I use is, a lot of people get hung up with, where do ideas come from? What do I say? How do I get started communicating ideas, right? And there’s this sort of myth that it happens, in this strange, esoteric way, nobody knows quite where ideas come from, but there are ways that you can harness to build ideas out.

And take them out into the world and the four thingsthat you alluded to. I call forge, sharpen, weld, and transport. There’s a bit of a metal working metaphor there. And you want me to dive through them?

Stephen: Please. 

Bill: Okay. Yeah. So let’s start with the first one, forge. It’s probably the one that most people think about when they think about creating an idea, you go off, you mine out the raw material, or have an idea, you put it in the fire and then you put it on the anvil and you’re hammering away at it, refining it and beating it like a blacksmith at a forge until that idea is turned into something. And you’ve created a thing out of raw ore.

Stephen: Like an original.

Bill: Yeah, truly original that no one has ever thought of before. 

Stephen: That’s the one we all want. We all want. 

Bill: Yeah, exactly. That’s the one that we all want. But I described that as a little bit of the myth of the smith, because it’s one of the hardest to do. Because there are really few, truly new ideas out there.

And one of the things that happens is, if you asked someone who runs into an idea for the first time, they’re like, wow, I don’t know where that came from. But if you ask the person who originated it, they can often point to the things that inspired them, the things that they read, the other experts that they know, etcetera.

So the closer you get to the idea, the more you’re aware that you went out mining and extracted the ore from the ground, right? 

Stephen: Yeah. Yeah. And I’ve had those experiences too, where I thought I had something original and I was explaining it to somebody and they were like, Oh, I heard that from, and I was like, I can almost connect the dots sometimes myself.

Like I think sometimes, we even forget where we come up with some of them. 

Bill: Yeah. We’re in this constant sea of ideas. We’re scrolling through LinkedIn feeds, we’re reading things online and offline. There’s a constant flow of ideas. So that first forge, it’s possible. But it’s rare and it’s okay to accept.

It’s rare because the other three are very useful. Let’s talk about the second one. Sharpen is when you take an existing idea in your field, something that others have been talking about and you put a new edge on it, maybe it’s a new way to use the idea or a little bit of a different perspective. And so it’s like taking the knife out of the drawer, running against the sharpening edge and suddenly you’ve got a little bit better tool.

Most ideation happens on that refinement and sharpening where you take and you look at what are the existing tools. Let’s use them in a new way. Let’s use it for a different application and that’s “sharpen.” And that’s where I would say 60 to 70% of ideation really lives. 

Stephen: Cool. and then… 

Bill:W. Weld. Yeah. Yeah. So weld is cool because weld works well. If you’re someone who’s curious and you explore different fields and you read things that are outside of your profession, or you talk to people that have different points of view, weld happens when you take ideas from two worlds. And you bring them together.

So it might be your profession and another profession. So let’s say you’re in marketing and you’re having a great conversation with someone who’s in agile, the agile software movement. And you’re having a great conversation with an agile list. And all of a sudden you realize there’s something cool, a tool, a process that you could put together with a concept from marketing.

And when you put the two next to each other side by side, It’s like welding them together, running that weld bead along the seam. And the insight happens at the seam where ideas come from two worlds, but against each other. 

Stephen: Yeah. And I think this is probably for me, like probably with a little bit of sharpen as well.

Just sharpening things, but I think when I look, when I seriously look at my past, I think this is where a lot of my ideas have come from. It’s because I’m not a generalist, but I do have a lot of interest in different things. So like my background is in building technology, but I’ve been studying marketing quite a bit, and sales and all that stuff, and I’ve built a business.

So I have all these different things in my tool chest. And then, I started to realize that you could start to put all these things together and then with all the new internet marketing and like doing video and all of a sudden, there’s just all these different ideas. That you can weld together to put something together for somebody else to take advantage of 

Bill: Exactly. And with thought leadership, you can use that time where you’re going into your exploring different fields to see, okay, how am I going to connect these? What am I, you’re not just reading for the sake of luxury. You’re really looking for new information to make those connections, right? So you can justify your intellectual curiosity if you want.

Stephen: Cool. And then yeah, transport. 

Bill: Yeah, transport. That one is similar to weld, but you’re taking an idea that’s in another field and is commonplace and you’re bringing it into a new world. Someplace where that idea hasn’t touched before and you say, okay, this is a cool idea. That’s used very commonly.

Maybe it’s a professional theater technique and you’re bringing it into marketing for example, and you’re bringing something from one world into a world that it wouldn’t have necessarily encountered. You’re not doing much adaptation. You’re not doing the welding of A plus B. You’re just saying, Hey, I found this cool idea over here.

Let’s incorporate it into what we do. Yeah. And that creates a lot of freedom as well, because then you can look in unexpected places. 

Stephen: Yeah. And I think that’s another thing that I’m seeing. After I watched this or after I saw that video, then I started thinking that’s another thing that I’ve been doing as well, because what I feel like is, just to prove your point, it’s like agile, and in startups they adopt a lot of these newer ideas.

So like agile and content marketing and a lot of these things and they deploy it. A little bit more commonplace. But it’s where some of the old traditional businesses where they really haven’t gone into that world. So that’s another thing that I think I’ve been trying to do is just show some of these other people that are in these more traditional businesses, what’s going on.

And, even that is exciting because they’re appreciative just to hear about those other things that are happening 

Bill: Well, with transport, there’s another way that you can play it. You may know something that’s commonplace in your profession, but if you step out of your usual world and you go to another audience, someone that doesn’t talk about what you usually talk about, all of a sudden you become a deep expert.

Just by talking about what you know, and what is standard state-of-the-art within your field. 

Stephen: Although, one challenge that I would say that I uncovered in that thing is that in that process, if I look a year back when I first started talking about some of these ideas with people that hadn’t been exposed to these ideas, I would say the original excitement was just sharing the idea. And so we would have lunch and we would get very excited or they would get very excited and I would be too, cause I was interested in it. 

But it was more just excitement. There has to be some sort of mechanism that allows them to… it’s one thing to turn the light bulb on, but then the next thing is okay, how do you actually start to walk them through this process and allow them to actually utilize it?

So that’s what I was going to get to next. What I noticed from you is you developed a framework for thinking about how to develop the idea. So, once you help someone develop the idea, how do you help someone actually create a framework to then help somebody build this new thing?

Do you have a framework for helping people create frameworks? 

Bill: Yes. And let’s start with the concept that thought leadership is one that a lot of people struggle to define. I’ve heard definitions from people who aren’t practitioners, oh, thought leadership and content marketing, they’re basically the same thing, right? One’s a fancy word for the other. 

Or thought leadership is your smartest content marketing. Or probably the worst definition I’ve heard is, thought leadership is what thought leaders do. And I’m like, yeah, how do I become better effective at that, with that definition?

So let’s start with the definition of what thought leadership is and then I’ll share the framework. So the way that I think about thought leadership is it’s a process of peering around corners into the future to look for risks or opportunities that you can then bring back to an audience. As you share those insights with them, they understand what’s either at risk or what the potential for growth is, and they understand what steps they need to take today.

So thought leadership isn’t just sitting off in a cabin in the woods, thinking great thoughts, writing your memoirs. It’s really the process of not only looking forward, but engaging in conversations with a specific community today. And so when I think about the leadership, I break it down into four elements.

The first is the idea. You need to have an idea, an insight, that you peer around the corner into the future, and that you’ve got something that’s worth coming back to bring to other people that’s worth their time. Typically ideas are pretty simple. It’s a sentence or two at most. If you’re going more than a paragraph or a quick sketch on a napkin, your ideas are still too complex.

Good ideas at their heart are really simple. 

Okay. Then the second element in thought leadership is content. I use content differently for different audiences. Creating content. Here are the stories, the examples, the data that bring the idea to life. So you and I could be talking from a marketing perspective and we could be using those examples.

But if we were talking to an engineering audience, we would use different examples than we would use for our marketing audience, right? The idea might be true. Both cases. We just used different stories and data points and examples to bring it to life. 

The third element in thought leadership. Is your offerings.

How are you going to take these ideas out into the world? And so an offering could be something that you’re selling specifically and directly monetizing. It could be that e-learning course or tutorial or a workshop or keynote speech. It could be, think of an offering as a post on LinkedIn or short form video or that blog or a podcast episode.

All of those are offerings, as you’re creating something, putting it out into the world, and you’re asking your audience to invest in it, whether their time or dollars. Yeah. 

Stephen: So when you think of content, that’s a step before that, the content marketing, the content is, so let me understand it.

So the idea is what, just to grab their interest? And then the content turns the light bulb on and really brings it to life, cements it in somebody’s life so they can really grasp it? And it’s what they envisioned for themselves in taking advantage of this or avoiding that risk. 

Bill: Let me give an example of that.

Let’s use one that’s fairly common that people might know. So Stephen Covey, Sr., who wrote Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Okay. An idea. It’s as simple as articulated, as there are seven habits that highly effective people share. Okay. That’s interesting. Tell me more. When you go from there to “tell me more,” you’re going into content.

What are those seven habits? Can you give me examples? Are there stories of how those manifest? And those are all the things that you use to bring the idea to life. Cause you could list the seven habits, but that doesn’t get you very far. 

The offering could be a book. It could be an article. It could be a podcast. The offering is the container the content lives in, and you can take the content and put it in different containers, different offerings. And that’s why I think the offering is broader than content and content marketing, because there’s so many different modalities you can put content out in.

Stephen: Yeah. And that’s probably the challenge that a lot of people have, once they have this idea, and I want to get to that, but so then, we also talked about the steps, right? So it’s the idea, then the story and stories, and then how do you help people think through the framework?

Like how do you help them develop the framework that they’re going to use to teach this? 

Bill: So we have organizations and clients who come to us and sometimes they’ve got a clear platform and that’s the fourth of the elements. 

They know what topic they want to talk about. They have their stage that they want to put the ideas on. 

So a platform is the stage. You put your ideas, and it’s different from personal branding or corporate branding, you put the company on stage in the spotlight. A platform puts the idea on stage. Some of our clients come to us and say, this is my lane.

Talk about, let’s see. An aspect of leadership. So emerging leaders, that’s a focus for me. Or I’m working with people that are setting policy for the aging community. And focusing on doing better for people as they’re living, earning and learning longer. And so they know who they are and what they’re trying to communicate.

Then the next question is, okay, do you have this documented? Have you sharpened your ideas well enough that you can sit down and share them with someone? And they go, “Oh, I get it.” Versus, you have a nice long conversation with them, but they don’t know what to do. 

So it’s a process of sparring and refining until you have those ideas documented. Then it’s taking them out into the world often through narrowcasting. 

Stephen: Wait, what’s that? What’s narrowcasting? 

Bill: Yeah. So we’re used to broadcasting, right? Which is, you throw it out there and you hope someone pays attention and notices. Narrowcasting is recognizing, like I said, that less than 1% of the world’s going to care about what you do, whatever you do.

And you put content out to them with the intent that it sounds like you’re talking to them personally as if they’re the ones in the room and you’re speaking to them. So narrow casting on LinkedIn, you’ve run into my stuff. 

I talk about thought leadership on LinkedIn, and I know that the vast majority of people going on LinkedIn aren’t interested in what I have to say. I’m speaking mostly to folks who are heads of thought leadership or executives who are responsible for a thought leadership function in an organization. 

Stephen: And just to challenge that though, not that this is the main point, but I don’t know.

I’ve talked to a lot of people that want to be thought leaders, or maybe it’s a different definition of the way you think about it. But a lot of them see themselves as thought leaders. They’ve been in business a long time and they see themselves as entrepreneurs, thought leaders, all that kind of stuff.

Bill: And that’s a fair point. There’s different levels of thought leadership. So you could be an attorney practicing in town. You could be a plastic surgeon, etc., and you use thought leadership in your community to drive business and engage that market. So people know about you, right?

It’s a different marketing technique than just putting up a billboard. 

Stephen: Alright, let’s talk about that a little bit. Okay, cool. How do you help someone think that through? They may have, ultimately they’re there, they may be providing some sort of service, like we could use a lawyer for this example.

And they’re producing a specific service for people that many other lawyers may actually provide the same stuff. Maybe they have some sort of niche, but yeah. How do you then start to help them think through, okay. Let’s develop some sort of idea and then use that to drive business.

Bill: Yeah. So there’s two pieces of that. One is figuring out the idea of, what are you going to say? And why would anyone listen to you? 

And that’s true, whether you’re the local architect, lawyer, or dentist all the way up to you’re a fortune 50 company going into a new market, that holds true.

You’ve got to answer the question. Why is this worth your audience’s time? And you need to know who your audience is. You need to be able to drill down and say, yeah, these people look for information in the following places. Here are the questions that keep them up at night. Here are the conversations that are already happening. 

Because thought leadership used to be that she could write a book, you could do a keynote, you could go on the speaking circuit, that sort of thing. And there was a well defined path, New York times bestseller, etc., 

Right now in the age of social media, it’s very different. And even in the age of COVID, it’s even more different, right? So you have to find where your audience is and then engage in a conversation. It’s not one-way communication anymore.

It’s two way communication, because if you’re only talking about the things you want to talk about, you’re monologuing. You need to find where people are talking about topics that you care about. And be willing to respond to them or say, Hey, that’s a good idea. Let’s elevate that. 

Stephen: So it’s kinda like building a community in a way.

Bill: Absolutely. Thought leadership and community building have increasingly come together and it’s a format you could argue that thought leadership is a tool in a community strategy. 

Stephen: Yeah. And that’s talking about going back to the weld and all that stuff. That’s what I’ve been trying to pull together.

I’ve been trying to think about how to use thought leadership to help somebody that has a more traditional business grow their business in some way. And essentially what I’ve been trying to weld together is, being able to be an engaging content creator, like you can go on video, you can tell a story, you can articulate an idea and then you’re also a community builder. 

So you learn how to bring people together and engage with them. Then also, you learn how to do some media production and you learn how to do some post production, to make, like in your video, you have the little logo in the right and you had the header and you had the captions.

So you were mixing in a little bit of marketing skills. 

Bill: Absolutely. And you don’t have to make it so that it’s studio quality for audio-video anymore. At this point, a little bit of post-work, for cleaning up the audio, putting a logo on, or having an outro graphic, those little things that make it feel finished.

But one of the wonderful things that I love about LinkedIn for example, is, as you’re developing the idea and you ask this question, you can use LinkedIn. As a place where you can test ideas, put them out to different groups and see where to go, which ones get attraction, in different ways. And some people will light up, like you said, “Hey, that article on the four ways ideas come up, that resonated with me.” That happens to be an article that did get a lot of traction.

And so I’m constantly putting out different things that I’ve scribbled in moleskin notes over the years, or frameworks that I’ve used with clients, I’m now putting that content out. And I’m seeing what resonates, right? Because sometimes people think, Oh, I write the book. And that’s my first step in thought leadership.

I’d flip that. And I’d say the book or the keynote speech, that’s almost the capstone. You want to do your minimum viable thought leadership. And you talked about borrowing from the entrepreneur, right? Instead of MPP, I use MVTL, right? Minimal Viable Thought Leadership. And so what’s the smallest nugget of an idea you can put out there?

Get people to respond to it or not respond to it because that alone is useful information. Don’t waste a year developing an idea if everybody sort of shrugs and says, Hey, I don’t care. 

Stephen: Yeah. And that’s probably, and you tell me if this is true, but that’s probably one of the hardest things that you always have to push back on people because I come from technology. And I’m also an engineer. So I’ve made the mistake of building some big thing that took me a long time and nobody wanted it. 

Bill: Oh, it’s brutal. It’s a blower. It sits there and it’s on the shelf and nobody uses it and you’re like, but it’s brilliant! 

Stephen: Yeah. And that, I guess that’s the important thing, and tell me if I’m right on this, but if you’re using thought leadership to help drive sales at your business, you might not necessarily be pushing around an idea that is specifically tied to your service, right?

It might be something a little bit broader that just draws attention to your expertise. And now people are in your circle. You’re interacting with them. You’re building that community.

You’re providing some value to them. And so by proxy, or I don’t know if that’s the right word, then they see that you have these services and then they buy. 

Bill: So let me give you an example from a large scale enterprise client, because it’s a really relevant example here. Sometimes you can use thought leadership when you’re trying to fill the sales pipeline.

This month, this quarter, content marketing is also really good for filling that pipeline in short form, but thought leadership allows you to look out further on the horizon and you can engage in conversations when it would be awkward or inappropriate to have in a sales conversation. 

Stephen: Oh, I see. Yeah. So it’s a way to have a conversation.

Bill: Yeah, exactly. So imagine you’re doing, and I’ve got an organization in mind, they do PR, they do B2B sales for the mining and manufacturing industry. So they’re doing big ticket items that have a long sales cycle and that go by RFP. Okay. And then they know they have 150-200 people in the world who sign off on that decision because it’s millions or hundreds of millions of dollars of investment.

And those people aren’t saying, Hey, let’s make this buying decision this month, next month and the month following. Those are big decisions that happen on a stretched out basis of time. You can’t send your sales people in and to ask them each month, are you sending out proposed RFP? Are you sending out an RFP? Eventually they’ll ignore your emails or stop taking your calls, right?

If you have thought leadership, something that’s interesting to them that you can talk about and say, Hey, yeah, I’ve been looking into the future. I’ve looked and seen around the corner. Here’s a risk or an opportunity. You might be interested. They’re going to take your call and you build rapport and relationship, so that when the time comes for a proposal, you get invited to the dance.

And if that’s true for big ticket items, It’s also true in smaller B2B and B to C as well. 

Stephen: Yeah. And I had this aha moment yesterday. I was really just reaching out to somebody to get feedback. And every once in a while you run into these conversations where the person just gives you really cool feedback.

Anyway, I was talking to him about my service and getting some feedback from him. And he gave me this insight that most of the people, at least from his point of view, most of the people that would be interested in the service that I was talking about, they’re going to be entrepreneurs themselves.

They’re not going to just be typical practitioners, that they’re just an accountant, and they like doing accounting and they are pretty okay with that. 

They’re going to be entrepreneurs that have a growth mindset. And then he does all these types of webinars as well. And so it dawned on me.

I was like, Oh, that’s interesting. I could have a whole entrepreneurial angle on my service as the thought leadership, in terms of growth mindset and just supporting entrepreneurs in general. And that could be broader than what I’m actually trying to sell.

Bill: And who you’re trying to reach. And this is where I make a little bit of distinction. We’re used to thinking from a marketing perspective that there are target marketing avatars groups that you’re trying to reach to sell your thought leadership avatars. 

Those who you’re trying to reach are a broader population than your buyers.

Okay. So you might be trying to use thought leadership to influence media. So for example, if you have a good idea, it makes it much easier to pitch a story or be cited as a source. If you’ve demonstrated thought leadership, you could be working with influencers, public policymakers. You often have a broader collection than people you’re trying to sell to for thought leadership.

And so if you’re clear about those avatars and if you know who you’re trying to serve, it’s interesting, people start contacting you and say, It’s very common in thought leadership for this to happen. Someone reaches out to an individual or an organization says, “I’ve been following your work for quite a while now, and I know what you do.”

And I think this is the right time for me to engage you right now, that takes a long tail. You can’t do three podcasts or one blog and think that’s going to happen. But if you do it consistently over a period of time, you get those folks who follow. And they reach out to you, and it’s fantastic because that deal is 90% closed before you even pick up the phone. And you don’t know who they are when you’re answering the email.

You’re like, Oh, you’ve been following me. That’s fantastic. 

Stephen: Yeah. And that’s also the cool thing about video too, is like they’ve been following you. And then they also think they feel like they already know you. 

Bill: And they’ll often quote back things that you’ve said, and it’s not uncommon.

They go, Oh, I’ve consumed and devoured your podcast recently. And you said this and this really resonated with me and they’re telling you why. And so instead of you pitching them, they’re telling you why they’re excited. That’s such a different sale. 

Stephen: Yeah, that is interesting. And so on that note, like you said in another one of your videos, you talked about how thought leadership can be a long tail effort.

What are some ways to accelerate it? Because marketing has that potential, especially if you get good at distribution. So what are some of the ways that you help people market these ideas? 

Bill: Yes. So one of the things that you want to think about is when you’re creating content, create content that’s, most of it, has to be evergreen.

Okay. So you don’t want to be too topical responding to the news or an issue. You want to create as much content as you can that will have a long tail and life cycle. Yeah. Three to five years later, it might feel dated, especially if you’re talking about technology or something, but have that evergreen mindset when you’re creating content.

And then second, and I’ll use an example of a book, but a lot of people write the book and then the publisher says, okay, we’re going to go out on a book tour. And there’s a big splash in the market for 60, 90 days after book launch. The publisher then looks at the book and says, okay, that’s like last week’s fish.

They want to know what book number two is going to be. You have to think about your content and be willing to repurpose it into many different formats. So you break that book down, you turn it into tweets and articles and short form video. And repurpose. And don’t assume that just because you posted something once on LinkedIn, everyone that you want to reach with that idea has seen it.

Not only because of the algorithm, but we’re all busy and we’re not sitting eyes glued to LinkedIn. 

Stephen: Yeah. That’s one thing in terms of specifically the people that write books, where I feel like they don’t really take advantage of all of that content that they made. This is the thing that I get excited about. There’s so many different creative ways of repurposing content. 

But you’ll see somebody post on their LinkedIn and it’ll just be a picture of their book. And it’s Hey, I’ve launched a book. And then you actually sometimes get a really good reaction because people are supportive, yeah, great.

But then when they keep posting that same kind of thing, the attention dies down. They could be like taking a picture of a page and doing a highlight on it, or just taking a couple sentences here and there, or, yeah, like you said, making a video. It seems like there’s so many creative ways of actually doing it.

Bill: Exactly. And with that, the book is one example. You might have a white paper, or, I know in manufacturing, there are firms that treat their CAD models as their thought leadership and they use it that way to deepen the relationship with clients and partners. And they use their design documents basically as thought leadership, which is fantastic.

So with a book. You don’t want to just put it out there. It’s again the difference between a one way conversation, where you’re talking at people, and communicating. There are ways to respond and engage with people, what people are talking about, and make a relevant point from what your perspective is now.

You don’t want to be the person who’s always citing yourself in every comment. But there are ways to bring in insights that you have that are relevant. Don’t just do a “me too” comment on a post on LinkedIn or wherever you’re communicating. Bring the value that you have, the insights that you have into the conversation. 

Recognize that the things that may seem older or passe to you are actually quite fresh to other people because you’ve been thinking about something for years. Guess what? This may be the first time someone’s hearing it. 

Stephen: Yeah, I would say that’s probably one of my biggest challenges because it’s hard for me to stay interested in something for a long period of time. So I’ll devour something, learn it and move onto the next thing.

And I’ll even notice that with the group I put together I’ll say something that I think is so cool, but they’re really just focused on some of these other things that take a while to master. It took me a while to master two sides. I don’t know why I forget that, but I think that’s a general problem in marketing in itself.

I think it’s that you’re always caught up in your own head and you’re not really cognizant of what people are actually thinking about or care about. 

Bill: Internship and marketing are actually pretty similar that way, because we’re often living in the future and trying to bring people into that future.

But we have to remember where people stand today and make those first steps from today into the future seem reasonable, because if we’re telling them about a grand future down the line that may not seem obtainable or realistic to them. It’s, how do you get there? It’s one foot in front of the other, right?

And so what I often coach people is when you’re doing thought leadership, we’ll talk about the big six, the baby steps, the first things over and over again. That’s why for finding thought leadership, you have to find that idea that you’re passionate about, because if you’re talking about the 101 stuff all the time and you don’t love it, you’re going to be flat.

You’re not going to have any energy and people are going to go, really? He doesn’t care about this. Why should I. 

Stephen: Yeah. It’s interesting. Sometimes for me, I think the trick that I have around that is that I enjoy helping people. I enjoy explaining things. 

So even though I might get a little tired of talking about something, if I’m actually engaged with somebody and I’m helping them think it through, then it’s exciting again for me. So that’s how I personally get around that. The trick for me, though, is to make sure that I’m always finding those people to talk to about it.

Otherwise I could find myself in a kind of an odd situation.

Bill: Let’s use the example a little bit further. If you have a child and you’re teaching your child addition, you go through that period where you’re teaching them two plus two equals four, but they eventually get it right. It takes a different sort of mindset to be a teacher that is teaching that skill to students year after year. 

Be willing to embrace that you’re teaching the fundamentals while you may have degrees in mathematics, etc., and wish that you could be teaching much more advanced stuff. You spend a lot of time teaching the basics. And that’s the same as when you think of college.

Most professors spend a lot of time teaching the 101 courses when you know their research is very fine and detailed, right? So you have to be comfortable teaching the basics. 

Stephen: Yeah. That’s interesting. I didn’t really think about it that way. it’s funny. You keep telling me stuff that crystallizes thoughts that I’ve had, but I’ve never articulated and that’s okay.

Bill: That’s fun. 

Stephen: Yeah. Because I’ve had that thought a bunch of times. I’ve had friends that were super smart, but they were teaching a course and I would always be curious as in, Are they fulfilled? I know they seem very happy, but I was always like, man, are they happy doing the same things over and over again?

But it just goes to your point, you have to find something that’s interesting about that. Whether it’s you just love teaching or…

Bill: You’re an evangelist. You want to change the world. You’re using it to fill the sales pipeline. There’s many different ways you can do that, but you’ve got to connect that back to the why you’re doing it because yeah, exactly.

Stephen: Yeah. And that’s something I have to think about a lot. too. I’ve been a service provider my whole life. In growing my previous business, it was always getting a referral, a networking kind of thing. I was doing thought leadership in terms of blogs and that would bring in business as well.

But that’s ultimately why I started going into what I’m doing now. I was like, man, there’s all these professionals out there that want to grow their business. But their understanding of some of these new things that are available to them, It’s just almost nonexistent. 

And so just with some basic knowledge, you can change that. There’s a lot of work to be done on some of the things that I talk about, especially because like you said, thought leadership is a long tail sometimes. So you can’t just expect this to just change overnight.

Bill: Yeah, I have to be prepared to do it hundreds of times for it to stick. And it’s not on iteration number one, or number 10 of something that you do, but it pays off the 50th, the hundredth, the 500 of the time you do something. 

Stephen: And that’s why I think what I’m trying to do is better suited for the entrepreneur. I think some people wouldn’t have the vision and the  commitment to do some of that stuff, because some of their existing behavior to get businesses already, the pathways are already there. They know they can, they know they’ve had some success doing so, and there’s nothing wrong with the way they get business, obviously.

But, so you have to fight a lot of different things unless they have a growth mindset in a way.

Bill: Yeah, that is something that’s essential and is almost a prerequisite to it. With the thought leadership perspective, you’ve got to be curious, whether it’s finding new ways to relate your ideas to other people or understanding how to reach your audience more effectively or trying new technology and new platforms as they come out in terms of, Hey, there’s this new tool out there, let’s try this. Can we reach people in a new way?

Stephen: Beause you’re bound to fail, right? 

Bill: Oh yeah. You have to embrace failure. And going back to technology and agile, you also have to learn how to love your critic.

So when you put an idea out there, a lot of people have this content insecurity, where they’re afraid to put an idea out until it’s perfect. And they say, yeah, I got an idea, but not yet. My perspective is, “fail fast.” Put it out there, put it out in draft form and see how people respond.

And they’ll tell you what they love. Or what they hate. Apathy is its own signal. If nobody responds to it, then it’s either the idea itself or your framing, or you’re reaching the wrong audience. But critics who tell you where you’re wrong or something you missed, criticism is a gift and you have to…

Stephen: It is, yeah.

It’s one of those things that is hard, but at the same time, I’ve even sent a few emails, cold emails, to people to ask them about stuff and sometimes people don’t like that. But I had a really interesting conversation with somebody that didn’t like it. I didn’t have any kind of defense. I didn’t get defensive at all.

I just said, give me a little bit of feedback on why you didn’t like that. He gave me a half page of information. So it was like, the critics, they do provide a lot of helpful information.

Bill: It’s one of the best ways for gaining market intelligence. So if you’re saying here’s what I think the future is, or here’s an insight that I see, and people come back and they say, yeah, but that won’t work because of xyz, that’s great. That’s you getting a sharper vision of the field, right?

Stephen: Yeah. And you can roll that back into your product. 

Bill: Exactly. 

Stephen: The marketing and all the feedback, a lot of what you’re talking about, really is designing.

The idea is also a product in a way. 

Bill: Absolutely. And you can either monetize it directly or indirectly. But deals are done through relationships and because, often and increasingly, unless you’re selling a commodity, which is a race to the bottom, lowest price possible, they’re doing deals with you because they like how you think or the way that you approach something.

That’s a way to deepen a relationship with a client or customer that is hard to replicate. You can match a widget, but you can’t match forethought in the same way. 

Stephen: That’s interesting, man. Cool. We’ve talked a lot about what you do, but specifically, who is it that you help the most?

And what’s the process you go through with them? 

Bill: Yeah. As I mentioned before, we help individuals and organizations take ideas to scale. And so you might be someone who’s working on your own in thought leadership, right? And you’re trying to sell your idea into organizations. You may be a midsized business where you say, okay, we’ve got ideas, but we need to find ways for our salespeople to engage beyond just selling a product, Or we need to open doors that our salespeople can’t open just by coming with a pitch sheet. So thought leadership works for individuals, organizations all the way to fortune 500. And the process we work with typically starts with a strategy. What is your idea? What are you trying to communicate?

Who are you trying to reach and why should they care? You clarify that strategy and you get a sense of what we talked about. The four elements, what your ideas are, what’s your platform, how you will be known and your thought leadership will be known. What content do you have? What stories, examples, and data can you provide as well?

And then, what offerings you’re going to use, paid or unpaid. And how are you going to go out into the world? We set that strategy. And then for some cases, we work with clients on implementing that strategy on a campaign basis or agency basis or building product around that. But it’s really about helping folks, whether they’re the head of all leadership at a big organization or an individual, take their idea to scale.

Stephen: Yeah, that’s awesome, man. I can only imagine how well it works. Cause just even, like I said, chatting with you, I’ve had a lot more clarity in terms of just how to describe and think through what I’m doing. So that’s awesome. So how do people get a hold of you? 

Bill: You can reach me at my company, Thought Leadership Leverage ( thoughtleadershipleverage.com ). On LinkedIn, I use a personal hashtag, which is #OrgTL.

I do short form video and podcasts interviews of people who are doing thought leadership practitioner work. So check it out, reach out to me either on LinkedIn or shoot me an email. I’d be happy to chat. 

Stephen: Cool, man. I truly appreciate you being on and I look forward to chatting with you in the future and getting to know you better.

Bill: Awesome. Thank you, Stephen. 

Stephen: All right, man. I’ll see ya. 

Bill: Bye.

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