Being a “Thought Leader” is a curious moniker many marketing agencies have awarded themselves. It is an interesting positioning statement and one that makes me wonder how many who have knighted themselves this stature actually spend the time and thought to deserve it. The dictionary definition suggests that the world at large designates this term to certain firms and individuals perceived as experts in their field but many marketing firms are self-dubbing themselves as such. Just read their web sites… it’s now listed under the services they provide.
In a broad sense, deep thinkers such as the philosopher’s of old, Aristotle, Socrates and Plato were influential thought leaders when it came to conventional wisdom. Saint Augustine in the 400’s was unafraid to tackle any subject. Our founding fathers of the United States were chock full of quotable quotes. The industrial revolution spawned Henry Ford and Dale Carnegie and previous to that railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt who had his own way of thinking. Some of the authors on the Mount Rushmore of sales fundamentals such as Dale Carnegie and Zig Ziglar have given us some very sound and inspirational bites. More influential thinkers include Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin, C.S. Lewis, Richard Dawkins and Billy Graham… obviously, on the opposite side of the debate in which they engaged.
Since every action begins with first thinking of it, and the attitude applied to the “thinking process” sets the course that decisions follow, it stands to reason that the thinkers you align with are most likely more important to your destination than you give them credit for. I know that after my father passed away I began to have a sense of how much influence he had on the way I thought. I had never really considered it until then.
And just “what if” (a game to be played carefully) you spend very little, or no time at all thinking about who has influenced your sales thinking? That means you just sail off without a rudder… play it by ear… shoot from the hip. Does that sound like a course being set? Does it sound well thought out, deliberate and intentional? Rhetorical obviously. Have you ever observed how many totally stressed out people are in a situation where they don’t run their business but their business runs them? Isn’t that the old proverbial tail wagging the dog?
In modern times, in this information age we now exist in, literature and how it’s made available or disseminated has changed so dramatically from the simplicity in which we used to exist. Identifying the thought leaders of today, those worth listening to, has become a very convoluted proposition. Allow me to throw out a life line, a safe direction to head in. Always do a thorough discovery on the credibility and accomplishments of whomever you are reading. The time you spend figuring out who you are listening to is never time wasted, always time well-spent. The glut of opinions and resources that crowd the Internet can be navigated pretty well if you read the bio’s before you buy into the B.S.
We would be happy at Prospects International to be referred to as thought leaders but would never be so presumptuous as to dub ourselves as such. We are however, very pragmatic in our thinking and would like to encourage everyone to practice critical thinking, whether the world considers them a thought leader or not. There are great advantages to being an internal, inside your own firm, or personal thought leader. You will spend more time analyzing the things most important to your business success if you dedicate some time and energy to organizing your opinions about yourself and what you do. We have done this a lot as we built PI and have learned some valuable lessons about how to be exactly who we are. The first lesson is to NOT try to be all things to all people. It is impossible to execute and control a situation where you essentially divide and conquer your own ass.* Being all things to all people is not an attainable goal. Being the best version of yourself is attainable most effectively if you define, communicate and reinforce the specific pillars on which your success must rest.
Here is a simple method of managing your most crucial thought areas, therefore setting yourself up for success. Think backward from what your goal is and work to simplify the path on which to arrive at it. As Steve Jobs said, “That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” (He is definitely a proven thought leader.) Simplicity being the destiny we seek, I will break this down into three defined, simple steps. These are the goals you need to define so that you can structure a culture that allows you to be the very best version of your company that it can be. Embedded in Step#1 are examples of honorable and motivational goals.
Step #1 Identify and Clearly State the Benefit or Benefits you are Selling. Let’s use a builder as an example. This person wants to build spaces to help people enjoy their outdoor living areas more. So is building more spaces the goal? No. He wants to help people enjoy stay-cations and really have relaxing and fulfilling times at their own home. Understand that the real goal is a benefit. The number one rule of being a contributing member of society is to do something that improves the lives of others.
If you are an HVAC person you are selling comfort, if you are a security alarm person you are selling safety, if you are a builder of phenomenal outdoor areas on a person’s property you are selling relaxation and contentment. If you focus on units instead of the honorable benefit of the service or product you are selling, you are not thinking deeply enough about impact and possibilities. Linear thinking is NOT effective sales thinking.
Step #2 Identify Your Audience. After you have identified your goal, you must decide who it matters to, which speaks to targeting. This is true of either a manufacturer or a sales associate. Both need to target well whether they are advertising or prospecting. With a good lead generation program, targeting is ground zero. Nothing else matters if you’re not speaking to the right person. The right thing or offer to the wrong person is a bad investment, so identifying who you need to get your message in front of and how to get it there is critical. Since this is a writing about “thought leadership” and not ad logistics I’ll leave the “how” alone. Just know that you must find ways to get to the right folks. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be the inherit qualifying and disqualifying that comes with the sales game, it just means that it’s smart to know you’re fishing in the right pond.
Step #3 Tell a Compelling Story This never happens: your neighbor buys an item that interests you (like a car, swimming pool, a nice piece of jewelry) and says, “Oh Wow! If you like this you should go speak to Barb at the XYZ showroom. She was so boring. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. She acted like she really didn’t like what she did for a living. She’ll take great care of you!” Telling good stories is the best way to have a positive reputation and get referral business.Selling is communicating and how well you do it has everything to do with your level of success.
Know what your approach is and refine it. Repetition is best friends with refinement. Remember earlier when I said that it was important to think about who has influenced your thinking? They most likely communicated effectively if they made a strong impression on you. They also most likely told you a story they knew well and believed in. My point? You can indeed wander around aimlessly in conversations without a well thought out story about who you are, and why you do what you’ve decided to do for a living. It is very important to be authentic and passionate, not over the top, please but appropriately passionate about who you are and why you do what you do. Some impressive credibility facts about your company, a story about how your goods or service has positively affected someone’s or people’s lives, how carefully you listen and make intelligent suggestions… these well thought out items should be practiced and framed in before you start calling on “live” individuals. Practicing with a friend or loved one, or at least the mirror ( which may or may not be a friend), will give you confidence to work on new sales relationships and keep you focused and from covering unnecessary verbal real estate. Storytellers are the top performing sales associates in all SIC’s.
So let’s boil these three items into the take-a-way. The summary looks like this – “If you tell the right people a compelling story that highlights the benefits of what you have to offer, you are covering the most important territory that needs to be intellectually traveled on.”
I kinda like the idea of Prospects International being a thought leader but as stated earlier would never self-appoint us. That would be the equivalent of inviting yourself to a party you may or may not have been invited to. That said, since we’ve always been committed to self-examination and the subsequent improvements and innovations that come from that drill, our culture lends itself to being critical thinkers. Whether we are ever considered thought leaders or not is inconsequential, as our true intention is our goal, which is to give the world our best along with some things to give serious thought to.
How about this idea? Since we’re always learning from our clients, the marketplace, and one another inside the company, we’ll continue to provide “selling thought content” to stimulate thoughts about selling more and better. Then maybe we’ll coin a new phrase… thought stimulators! Or maybe not. I guess we’ll have to think about it.
* Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Ries and Trout warns about line extensions and overextending yourself. Sometimes new ventures can be exciting, even exhilarating, but often they create more problems and costs than they’re worth if they are not compatible with your original goal.