Ideas for Thought Leadership Development: 4 Questions to Ask Your CEO

Thought leadership has grown in prevalence as B2B marketers recognize its value through the purchase funnel. Even to the extent that a 2020 study by SurveyMonkey found thought leadership is “top priority” for two-thirds of marketers. However, only 26% of marketers consider their current thought leadership program to be “very successful.”

Most marketers prioritize thought leadership. But why do such a small amount consider their strategy to be successful? 

Fortunately, developing ideas for thought leadership doesn’t require an entirely new strategy. Most B2B SaaS leaders have a wealth of untapped knowledge to make a great story. It all comes down to asking the right questions. 

The significance of story mining

BLASTmedia uses story mining to uncover insights from key executives — including CEOs — when developing robust thought leadership campaigns. While there’s value in exploring insights from all team members, CEOs act as a natural north star to guide growth and evolution — so they should likely be on the media front lines, gilding the messaging. 

CEOs are uniquely positioned to represent their business’s core values directly from the source. This is, in part, due to their integral role with an organization.

Story mining questions to ask your CEO

Below, we’ve laid out a few questions to get started for those who have not yet conducted a story mining session and why they’re important to ask.

Question #1: Tell us about your career path so far. What inspired you to enter the industry, and what led you to your current position?

It’s essential to keep your opening question as general as possible when looking to uncover new stories. Ask about a CEO’s background and what led them to their company. This lets them steer the conversation to a topic that resonates most. Once this topic is identified, it allows for more probing, in-depth questions throughout the session. 

Question #2: What are the biggest pain points/concerns your industry is facing right now? 

Challenges exist within every industry. And CEOs are always looking for the latest problem-solving tactic. Knowing what your CEO sees as top pain points in their industry can lead you to valuable insights on how to overcome them, thus the opportunity to position them as the subject matter expert.

Question #3: What are your short- and long-term growth plans for your business? 

Understanding a CEO’s goals and projections will help you explore potential story angles for company growth and business leadership. It also gives you a sense of where to set priorities in verticals and messaging

Question #4: Where do you see the industry heading in the next 5-10 years?

CEOs always think ahead about the direction of their company and the industry at large. This forward-thinking gives them a unique and sometimes surprising perspective on how their industry is evolving and why. And a hot take on any industry’s future is always relevant, regardless of the timeframe.

Developing ideas for thought leadership should be a strategic process. Questions for CEOs should remain as broad as possible, as the job requires them to focus on the bigger picture and an organization’s overall direction. 

Those conducting story mining sessions need to have a solid understanding of the B2B SaaS CEO role and the conversations happening within a specific industry. Then, the most relevant and timely information can be gained from an interview. After this, you’ll be armed with all the insights you need to develop a powerful CEO thought leadership strategy. 

Interested in learning more about how to leverage story mining? Contact Lindsey Gropper to learn how BLASTmedia can help.

Becoming a Thought Leader: Taking a Stance

Voicing your opinion is now easier than ever before, which may be why it seems like every B2B SaaS company has a thought leader on hand these days. When comments are a commodity, it can be hard for SaaS thought leaders to stand out in a crowded space, much less lead the conversation.

Sure, anyone can call themselves a thought leader, but building a strong thought leadership presence is so much more than slapping your name on a blog post here and there or being quoted in a company press release each quarter. True thought leadership offers an opportunity to showcase your expertise and provide valuable information that can help other leaders overcome the obstacles impeding their success.  

Chances are you have untapped industry experience and insights that are incredibly valuable to your audience. By putting a bold, contrarian or unique spin on run-of-the-mill conversations, you can differentiate yourself from the competition and stand out in a sea of stale comments and traditional how-tos. 

Challenge the status quo

One way to take a stance sure to be remembered is by calling out the status quo. In this Barron’s article on the future of education, Katie Sievers, customer success manager at Credly, and Harvard University professor Chris Dede pose the idea that digital credentials will replace proxies like a college degree as the baseline requirement when vetting top talent.   

By challenging the status quo, thought leaders can call out areas ripe for growth or reconstruction, then demonstrate their expertise by offering ways to execute that innovation. Shining a light on how our normal way of doing things needs to evolve establishes you as an industry expert leading the charge. 

Make a statement, and make it bold

We’re all drawn to a bold headline or a punchy quote; it’s the curiosity in us. A huge part of thought leadership is grabbing everyone’s attention in the first place — and saying the same thing as everyone else isn’t going to cut it. Thought leaders must cut through the noise with a statement worth exploring. 

Take this Fast Company article by ScoutRFP’s Michaela Dempsey as an example. In her piece, Michaela brings attention to the fact that males lead the majority of tech companies. To be more precise, only 11% of executive positions in Silicon Valley are held by women. Thought leaders willing to say something bold — like “Silicon Valley is where women go to fail” — will stand out among the generic “we need more diversity in executive positions” tracktalk and spark a critical conversation around important topics. 

Shine a light on what makes you special 

No two thought leaders are the same, which means no two have the exact same experience. Since we learn by watching others, SaaS thought leaders can examine their specific journey to produce tangible advice for people experiencing similar situations. 

This Forbes article featuring Michael Lagoni, the CEO of Stackline, is a great example. Here, Michael discusses how he took a chance on his vision to create a platform with all the tools needed to track and manage an e-commerce business and founded Stackline with just $300 in the bank. As a SaaS thought leader, sharing those unique aspects of your experience gives your audience a fresh perspective on how to reach their own goals.   

Today, being a thought leader is much more than bolstering your brand or solution; it’s about providing your audience with the insights and information they need to succeed. To ensure your SaaS thought leaders can stand out from the competition with a strong thought leadership presence, start with this Thought Leadership Checklist.

3 Things Every Impactful Thought Leader Has in Common

It’s a common assumption that a thought leader can be built from the ground up. And, while the tactical elements of this are true — like contributing more articles to industry magazines or improving the way you’re represented on social media — there are a few … shall we say, soft skills… every successful thought leader needs that can’t be put in place by a PR team.

Do you have what it takes to become a true thought leader? Here at BLASTmedia, we are more than just media relations experts. We’re research pros. So, we “reverse-engineered” a handful of great SaaS thought leaders and identified a few traits they all have in common:

  1. Thought leaders have talk-tracks that aren’t about product
    A thought leader must have thoughts that aren’t based on carefully-crafted product messaging. Having a non-product-focused talk-track doesn’t mean you have to totally detach from your industry, it just means you need to detach from tying everything back to why your product can solve the problem in the end. A great example of this comes from HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan. Halligan is known for his thoughts around a flywheel vs funnel sales model. Sure, converting prospects through the buyer journey ultimately ties back to HubSpot’s space, but the actual talk-track Halligan works through isn’t focused on using the product to solve all your sales stage needs.

  2. Thought leaders know their personal values
    Let’s face it: many voices in the tech world are basically saying the same thing. I mean, how many times have you heard someone talk about building a company culture that puts employees first like it’s revolutionary? That’s why taking a strong stance on an issue will encourage people to listen to you. It’s not easy to have a strong stance if you don’t know your personal values, though. As you establish these personal beliefs, it will make it easier to jump on important conversations and passionately deliver your insights. From time to time, this may even intertwine with talking about your industry as whole or your product directly — for example, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki recently held true to her personal values around her children’s media consumption, noting that she only allows her children to watch YouTube Kids and limits the amount of time they spend watching videos.

  3. Thought leaders have a personality outside of their profession
    Sure, people want to hear about your professional accomplishments and great ideas — but you won’t be able to solidify a place in their memory without showing the personality that makes you human. Some of my favorite thought leaders have worked their way onto my list of go-to sources for industry trends simply by being a real human. Take Moz CEO Sarah Bird for example: she not only passionately shares her vision for the company, but voraciously speaks on societal issues in which she’s personally invested and even partakes in the occasional “Amazon Prime vs HBO” conversation.

Becoming a thought leader takes time and a whole lot of conversations with media to build a foundation — but it also takes inflection and, dare we say, thought. By establishing a talk-track that sets you apart from your product, identifying your personal values and letting your human shine through, you’ll be able to set yourself apart from the rest of the noise. After all, literally anyone could be a thought leader if all it came down to was a few blog posts about your product.

Once you’ve done some introspection, hone these thought leader soft skills and check out how you can tactically amp up your presence.