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If You’re in Sales, You’re NOT a Thought Leader


If You’re in Sales, You’re NOT a Thought Leader

Written by: Jill Rowley |

“What’s with the headline, Jill?” you might ask. “You spend your career in sales and now you write a piece that suggests everyone in sales is too dumb to be a thought leader?”

Nah, that’s not the point of this article. Pay attention, and you’ll discover I’m suggesting the opposite is true:

You’re too smart to act like a thought leader.

Your goal isn’t to be the smartest person in the room; it’s to grow your business by genuinely helping your clients.

In fact, your success depends on your understanding the critical distinction between a thought leader and a trusted advisor.

Some companies foolishly seek to turn at least some of their sales talent into “thought leaders”. This is folly.

First, you should never call yourself a thought leader.

Second, wannabe thought leaders tend to talk at people, instead of listening to them. To succeed in sales, you need to be a great listener. Hell, if you can’t do this you won’t even notice when the client signals she’s ready to make her purchase decision and have you close the sale.

It’s ridiculous that some salespeople try to be thought leaders. It makes dramatically more sense to solidify your status as a trusted advisor. This requires shifting your mindset to think about yourself as an advocate of buyers, rather than as someone who “targets prospects”. Trusted advisors don’t hunt and farm; they help!! #BeTheBestAdvocateOfAndForYourBuyers

To achieve trusted advisor status, you can leverage digital channels and social networks to do research to be relevant to build relationships that drive revenue:

Know your buyer: How does your buyer think and communicate? What does she value? (Facts? Anecdotes? Recommendations?) Is she nervous or aggressive, skeptical or a raving fan, crazy busy or eager to be entertained? Where has she worked? What skills does she have? Where did she go to college? To whom is she connected? What groups is she a member of? Who does she follow on Twitter? #KnowThyBuyer

Know your buyer’s reality: What’s her industry like? Are the politics at her company cutthroat or highly collaborative? Does she need to involve ten others in her buying decision, or just two? Is the deck stacked for or against your offerings? Has she been quoted in articles? Has she done any podcast interviews? Does she have a blog? Are there any video interviews you can watch? Does she speak at events? #BeWhereYourBuyersAre

Be clear: To earn trusted advisor status, you must be easy to understand. Your job isn’t to impress the hell out of your buyer, but rather to make her life simpler and safer. If she can and does easily repeat what you tell her, you’re in great shape. Do you look at things through the eyes of your customer versus your commission check? Do you connect your buyers to customers like them and partners who know have specific expertise? #BeVisibleAndVaulable


Be expert and knowledgeable: To be a trusted advisor, you need to leap over at least two hurdles. First, you need to have something of value to say. Second, you need to know what to say differently to different clients. Both require that you possess – or know how to access – substantive expertise. Do you share relevant content that relates specifically to what your buyers care about? Do you follow and engage with the smarty pants people (analysts, thought leaders, experts, consultants, bloggers) in your buyers’ world? Do you share third party content? Do you go to industry events, attend the sessions, and tweet the key learnings? #TeachWhereYourBuyersAreLearning

To use a simple example, most clients don’t want access to Einstein; they’d be thrilled instead to have someone who can explain what Einstein said and why it matters.

To translate this into social selling DO’s and DON’Ts:

  • DON’T try to publish mind-alteringly profound thought leadership pieces
  • DON’T try to be the smartest person in the digital room
  • DON’T brag and boast about your quota crushing capabilities and expert negotiation skills on your LinkedIn profile
  • DO use social media to publicly interact with knowledgeable experts, which helps you remain informed while also demonstrating your ability to access valuable insights
  • DO curate content that matters, screening out the random noise while highlighting a few rare gems
  • DO listen and watch for opportunities to make new connections and strengthen your existing relationships
  • DO track developments in and around your buyer, so you can fully understand her world #SocialListening 
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