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August 16, 2012

How to listen, and show thought leadership in your industry?

by Tom De Baere

After 2 weeks of publishing a thought leadership presentation on Slideshare, I was blown away with the effect it had.

In only 2 weeks, it had 1000 views. Today, it has close to 4500 views after 3 months. Although for some companies these numbers might not be impressive, for the company I work for and the market we are in, this is great.

Why is this presentation more successful than others?

I believe the real reason to this success is that it is valuable content for buyers because it fulfills a need. B2B companies want to see opinions, and companies that think about the future for them.

Why do you need thought leadership?

Providing thought leadership to your customers doesn’t make sense if they don’t consider it relevant to their business. Customers are faced with lots of questions during the complete buying cycle that need to be answered.

As I wrote before, first customers find answers “in the cloud”, before they turn to you as a vendor for the remaining answers: they visit reviewing sites, read whitepapers of several vendors, and go to conferences or tradeshow to find answers. Based on that they create their shortlist. If you are not giving the answers ‘in the cloud’, you are not going to be on their shortlist!

It is my strong believe that in order to create thought leadership, you first need to incorporate a process within your organisation that listens to the issues and information needs of your customers.

The process should not only allow listening during the buying cycle, but also during the customer life cycle.


How do you create such a “listening” organisation?

If we want to understand what the needs are of your customers, and eventually to get them listening to you, you need a process that continuously listens to them. You can find more about the value of a “listening process” in this previous post.

And surprisingly, it is something that is easy to do, but unfortunately something many of us have not been doing in marketing: you need to talk to your customers!

You could say as a marketer: are we not doing that already? 


True, but the input you get from your customers might not be fueling the creation of the valuable content that helps their business to go forward, and does not create thought leadership

Please, give me some practical advice on how to do this!

Risking that I now become too boring or theoretical, the way to do that in my eyes is as follows:

INTERVIEW your customers with the following questions:

  • How do they feel about our product or service?
  • What was their buying process?
  • Are our prices fair?
  • What is their biggest problem / challenge?
  • What trends do they see in your / our market?
  • If they were the CEO of <<your company>> tomorrow, what would they fix ?
  • What did they type into Google when they first started searching for a solution/information? How would they refine?
  • Anything <<your company>> should have asked, but which we didn’t?

What will you learn?

  • Why they bought?
  • How they bought, including who was involved
  • What their concerns and questions were?
  • How we satisfied those concerns/answered their questions?
  • What they now tell others?
  • What they typed into Google – FIRST (and not what is in your weblogs, because that’s what they typed in 2nd or 3rd).
  • Trends and challenges (our opportunities)?
  • Weaknesses of competitors
  • What we should be saying and where we should be saying it
  • What is broken, what should be fixed

By having such a ‘listening’ process, you will better understand what content to give to your customers, and even what products or services to build.

Credit to those who deserve credit: lot’s of these questions come from a great lady called Kristin Zhivago, who wrote a book in which this subject is covered : Roadmap to Revenue:How to Sell the Way Your Customers Want to Buy. You can follow her on Twitter @KristinZhivago or on her blog.

Now comes the most interesting part

By not only having such a process to fuel sales, but also having such a process along the complete customer life-cycle, you start creating and ventilating “The promise of your company”.

You will have answers to their questions during the complete customer life-cycle (through all the touch-points they have with your company during the complete customer life cycle).

Companies that are not yet a customer will know what to expect from your company once they become a customers, because you have answers on the internet and social media networks about how it is to be a customer of your company.


That’s it. I hope you can use this. Let me know if it was useful. If you have more helpful tips on how to do this, please comment on this post.

Warm regards,

Tom De Baere