Too many times salespeople stick to talking about their own products and services because that is where they are most confident and comfortable. They discount their personal knowledge and that of their company unnecessarily, thinking they have nothing of value to share outside their offerings. But that is short-sighted!
Today’s clients want proactive thought leadership – ideas and recommendations on how to improve their organization or business overall. Buyers want partners who are concerned with helping improve their business without being on their payroll, so to speak. They are willing to provide such vendors multi-year contracts and even give them sensitive internal information if it gets them more valuable recommendations for better results.
So, how do you become a Thought Leader for your Client?
- Sharing Lessons Learned – the Good and the Bad
Start by taking time to reflect on what you have learned about the clients you have served over time. What valuable lessons have you learned about implementation success, process changes, software rollouts, or change management that made one engagement more successful than others? What roadblocks or possible issues could they avoid if they proactively planned for them? Are there Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in your organization that are a wealth of information that you could better leverage for your clients, whether industry focused or function focused? The information doesn’t always need to come from you, but you do need to become fluent in the case studies or best practices so that over time you are more self-sufficient. Even if a client’s plan is on target and you only have minor improvement recommendations, sharing that viewpoint can be comforting and of value to the client. In today’s volatile, competitive market, risk mitigation is a priority for many people.
- Looking at the Client’s Organization More Holistically
In almost any role other than sales, people are typically overly busy—focused on their own projects and initiatives. While everyone should be concerned about the organization at large, they have to prioritize, and it is reasonable they focus on their immediate, local issues first. So, it is common and easy to get myopic – focused on their personal to-do list or their team’s list, rather than looking more broadly at how their projects could be better leveraged in their larger organization. Having someone like yourself think of other parts of their business that could benefit from their project can help them stop and reflect on it. Just by asking the question or making a suggestion enables you to assist their thinking. If your contact gets them more impact from their work or more recognition, you have become a Thought Leader to them. As a salesperson, you can sometimes get into departments or doors that internal people have a hard time doing due to internal politics. Leverage that!
- Looking at Their Industry, Especially the Competition
Just like the item above, often busyness can keep people from considering the competition. I have heard too many people say, “I have my own problems to solve, I don’t have time to see what my competition is doing too.” Perhaps you can help your clients by filling that need. What successes has the competition announced of late? What can be learned from their failures? How can those mistakes be improved upon to become a success for your client’s organization? This is important - you must be very clear that you are not sharing confidential information. You only want to share public information from your research. You want them to continue to trust you, so that is vital. If they can count on you to help them stay abreast of key changes with their competition, don’t you think they would find that valuable? Be someone that watches, reads, and tracks their market to give them a competitive nugget on occasion. That will make you stand out! While we are in the Sales Consulting business, we have provided our clients with all sorts of insights from our competitive research that has helped to improve their business. We have created credibility as a Thought Leader who cares about their business, even if it is not immediately raising our revenues.
- Looking at Your Client’s Customers to Confirm Their Wants and Needs
Having an outside perspective on what their market, and even better, their customers want can help jump-start your client’s brainstorming about how to bring them more value. It can engage them in collaboration with you. Now you might say, “Well isn’t that the responsibility of the client’s marketing department?” Yes, but our research shows that marketing is often overwhelmed with today’s growing responsibilities related to marketing automation, as well as creating exciting branding and advertising work. That workload, along with the very common challenge of internal sales and marketing misalignment, often causes a gap in sharing internal insights regarding customer needs. Research and insight on customer’s desires are often of interest to them and is a welcome catalyst to good conversations. Even doing a short survey or phone call with a number of customers can give you valuable insight to share.
To begin building your reputation as a Thought Leader, pick one of the four options above and work on implementing it this month. Then build a plan to execute the remainder over the next year. You will see your client’s perception of you change. You will find they will be proactively ringing and emailing you more than they do now. You may be invited to more or different meetings than you have been before too! So, stop, reflect, and take a step towards becoming a real Thought Leader for your clients today!
Personal Challenge: Thinking of a specific client, which of the four approaches is of most interest to you to begin executing? Schedule time to do your research each week for the next three weeks and on week four, bounce off your findings with a peer or your manager to see if they feel you found something of value for your client. After making any tweaks, aim to execute it before the end of the month.