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.

Thought Leadership: Tips to Lay the Foundation of Expertise

So, you want to be a thought leader. Great! You likely have untapped expertise or industry insights due to your position as a leader within your company. While the media landscape may seem saturated with thought leaders, it’s because people are hungry for information. In our current always-on, information-seeking state, your ideas and unique perspective could reach prospects in the right place at the right time.

6 Tips to Become a Thought Leader

Below are a few tips to get you started as a thought leader, as well as the background behind each tactic. 

1. Take a Stance
Form 3-5 marquee opinions you can expound on in interviews or contributed content. Doing so will also help you identify conversations to join and keep you from appearing to not have an actual platform. 

We help our clients get their beliefs, expertise and thought leadership placed in media outlets to assist other practitioners or peers in their space, share insights and further industry conversations. A few examples that added a bold, unique or contrarian point of view include:

  • The CEO of a company we helped drive to IPO says AI shouldn’t be seen as a “job stealer” and the conversation should focus on the good it could do
  • One CMO believes ABM is just good marketing and it takes AI and orchestration to elevate marketing tactics. 
  • Another CEO believes SEO is a tactic that should be elevated to the C-suite since it’s a bottom-line driver. 

2. Cultivate a Consistent Social Media Presence
You might be rolling your eyes, but you would be shocked at how many thought-leader audits we perform where we find company leaders are missing out on opportunities because they lack a social presence. If you’re not engaging on social, you’re not building a network or community. Not only can this staunch conversation, but it can also hurt your chances of being accepted as a thought leader in general.

Think of it this way: Media will look at your social presence to evaluate how successfully their articles might perform if they feature your commentary or if your article will attract eyeballs, should they allow you to contribute a whole piece. 

Thought leaders should start with Twitter. A good rule of thumb is to “like” 15 tweets per week, retweet three times a week and comment once. To increase exposure on LinkedIn, another important thought leadership platform, you should like and share articles at least once a week. 

3. Identify Personal Voice
Outline tone and personal brand — and stick to it in every instance, including in your writing and during an interview. Is your voice authoritative, yet punchy and playful? Do you offer trailblazing and innovative comments? Are you formal and educational? Professional yet relatable? Do you like to make comparisons, share personal anecdotes or offer metaphors to get your point across? 

Figure out your communication style and own it. Your PR team can then thread your message, voice and personal brand throughout all content and opportunities so media get to know you and readers/engagers know what to expect from your work. 

4. Provide Examples of Presentations
Share old presentations such as speaking engagements or company presentations on Slideshare or via LinkedIn using the projects or media features. Doing so gives your PR team a place to point people to when validating if you’re a skilled presenter. Even a link to an old webinar or office presentation can be the first brick in the foundation being laid for you.

5. Write Content
Author content on your company blog. I’ll agree, this one is easier said than done. We don’t often have extra time to put our thoughts to paper in a cohesive and beautiful way. Nonetheless, this step is important. Much like uploading old presentations, authoring blog content is an easy way for readers and media contacts to see the type of thought leadership you’re capable of sharing, your style of writing, overall voice and whether or not your content is captivating. 

If you just aren’t able to carve out time for writing, we have a few suggestions: 

  • Put some high-level thoughts together and let a colleague or marketing professional put your expertise into a polished format. 
  • Conduct story-mining sessions with your PR team who can write long-form contributed content pieces for you. Rework them so the actual wording is original, shorten and add to your company blog.  
  • Repurpose your social posts by transforming them into longer commentary pieces. 

6. Conduct a Media Training
BLASTmedia offers 30 minutes of dedicated training to discuss how our agency will closely align with the thought leader to ensure quality opportunities are secured, deliver real-life examples and scenarios, and provide tips and tricks to navigate sticky situations. 

Take time to conduct a media training session, whether with a professional or during your own time through research or YouTube examples, among other outlets. If you have a PR team, they can discuss how media opportunities are earned, what’s required from you and the media, the best way to prep and own the conversation, and tips to bring media back to focus if the conversation shifts away from what was originally discussed. Not only will you earn additional practice from training like this, but you’ll also be better aligned with your PR team and expectations from media contacts. 

Other Ways to Grow Your Presence as a Thought Leader 

You don’t have to speak at industry events to be a thought leader, but it is another avenue to bolster your profile. If you’re considering speaking opportunities, here are a few bonus tips: 

1. Join an Industry or Community Group
Connect with like-minded or similar-passioned people to learn from them and discuss how they position themselves as thought leaders. You may find there’s an event locally that needs an emcee or a regional industry conference where you could keynote. Networking with peers is a quick way to learn from other smart individuals and it can only shed light on more areas for you to pursue. 

2. Create an About.Me Page
This will display your personal brand and shouldn’t be tied to your company. You should list out your passions, areas of expertise, events where you’ve spoken, and content you want people to see. Include events where people can connect with you and information on how they should reach you if they’d like to use you as a source for media or to offer a speaking slot. A few examples include Ann Handley, Gene Marks and Patrick Schwerdtfeger.

Don’t let the above overwhelm you; many of these tactics are easy to execute and will further validate why you are a credible thought leader. For a snapshot of these tips, check out our checklist.