People want to do business with people they trust.
In the past, that trust was established in a few select ways. For example, a mutual friend would introduce you and trust would be implied through the mutual connection. Or, a big legacy company would convey trust simply because the business had been around for so long. But in today’s world, trust can’t be built just by having a professional social media presence, or a well-designed website—those are table stakes. And the ways in which you used to build trust with customers—buying advertising on TV, billboards, etc.—simply don’t work today.
Today, trust is built through direct relationships, interactions, and personalized content—and being seen as a “thought leader” in your respective industry.
However, for everyday business owners, managers, and salespeople, hearing the term “thought leader” can make the goal of being seen as an authority feel daunting. Either they don’t see themselves as being someone that prominent, or they don’t want that for themselves, or both. But the truth is, in today’s highly segmented digital landscape, anyone can become a thought leader in their respective niche without ever needing to reach people in a mainstream way. You can still provide value. You can still regularly share information, build a community, and educate others in your space. And, in some sense of the word, you can still be seen as an influential voice.
Here are 3 ways thought leadership can be used to build authority, trust, and engagement with customers—and why it’s the future of sales.
1. Thought leadership doesn’t feel like a sales pitch.
People don’t want to be sold to. Ever.
What people want, and why they’re open to spending money on your product or service, is because they genuinely want help solving some sort of problem in their lives.
Another word for “thought leadership” is really “education.” As a thought leader, what you’re doing is educating customers—both on the problems they are experiencing, and the solutions that can be used to solve those problems.
When you educate customers on the problem, they get the feeling you intimately understand what they’re going through (which positions you as the authority, the person with the answer).
When you educate customers on the solution, customers trust your recommendation because you’ve already established that you understand the problem.
And when you educate customers over and over again, making them more knowledgeable about new problems and new solutions, they will continue to engage with you over and over again.
2. Thought leadership means creating highly informative content.
Unfortunately, creating enough content to be considered a “thought leader” is both time consuming and difficult.
But it’s necessary.
True thought leadership is about sharing interesting, informative, thought-provoking material that won’t only be interesting to this customer, but also provides value and builds trust. For example, at my company Usherpa, what we do with the loan officers who use our technology is help them create and send out informative material to their clients.
This could be:
- Industry stats and reports
- New regulation or law changes
- Market trends
- Success stories
- Related news
All of these types of information don’t feel like ads or sales pitches. Instead, the salesperson is further educating the client or customer—which continues to build authority, trust, and engagement over time.
3. Thought leadership changes the context of the relationship.
We have very different relationships with people who we “buy” things from, versus people who “educate us.”
For example, I’ve learned over the years working in the mortgage industry that a really great real estate agent isn’t really selling you a house. They’re educating you on what a great house looks like—and then if you end up buying a house through them, that’s great. But if not, it’s okay. They care far more about helping you make an informed decision one way or another.
If this sounds selfless, that’s because it is. The whole idea behind thought leadership is to give more than you receive, help more than you ask for in return, and build a meaningful relationship with the customer or client instead of just chasing a quick sale. In the short term, this might seem like a longer path, but in reality it’s the reason why the top 1% of salespeople end up doing so much repeat business. The reason people continue wanting to work with them is because they know they can trust the individual.
Why? Because that’s how human relationships work.
All in all, thought leadership isn’t reserved for titans of industry. More and more, we are seeing salespeople at major companies, small business owners, and startup founders, even ambitious managers and freelancers, establish themselves as leaders in their respective fields. And since so much of the world is moving remote, we can expect this trend to continue.