Episode 264

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Thought leadership is one of those buzzwords that has been so overused, it has almost been rendered meaningless. But as Stephen Woessner and I preach to agency owners in our book, Sell with Authority, when done well for the right reasons, being an authority can drive significant revenue for your agency. Stephen’s agency, Predictive ROI, decided they wanted to quantify the value of thought leadership so they engaged Susan Baier (Audience Audit) to do some research to answer the question “is there an ROI to being a thought leader?”

Creating unique, relevant content targeting a very narrow niche is time-consuming. Is there a payoff? How does it impact both new sales and retaining clients? Does it influence the sales cycle? How do people define what is and isn’t a true authority?

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Susan and Stephen join us to share the data that came out of the research and the implications that data has for us as agency owners, both as we think about our own biz dev but also how we advise clients about their own thought leadership efforts.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

Agency Owners | The ROI of thought leadership for agencies

Agency Owners | The ROI of thought leadership for agencies

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • How agency owners can use data to measure the value of thought leadership
  • The origins of Susan and Stephen’s research about the ROI of being an authority
  • The research methodology Susan used for the ROI of thought leadership study
  • What Susan and Stephen’s study uncovered about people’s attitudes/beliefs toward experts in their field
  • The distinguishing characteristics that others use to determine if someone truly is an authority
  • How referrals are impacted by someone’s position of authority
  • The big takeaways of the study on the ROI of thought leadership and how to apply them in your agency
“As agency owners, we all know people out there who say they are an expert, authority, or a thought leader. But the reality is that we don’t get to put that label on ourselves.” @stephenwoessner Click To Tweet “To be a genuine authority or thought leader, you need to be generously and frequently teaching with no sales strategy behind it.” @susanbaier Click To Tweet “One of the distinguishing marks of thought leadership is that you are providing strategic and tactical content that helps clients be better at their job every single day.” @stephenwoessner Click To Tweet “A recommendation from a trusted thought leader would have a greater impact on a buyer’s decision than advertising from the seller. The thought leadership component alone is so powerful.” @susanbaier Click To Tweet “A true teacher is going to create a myriad of ways to get their lesson plan out to their students. Thought leaders need to do the same.” @susanbaier Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Susan Baier:

Ways to contact Stephen Woessner:

Additional Resources:

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Agency Management Institute Community, where you’ll learn how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money and keep more of what you make. The Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ, is packed with insights on how small to mid-size agencies survive and thrive in today’s market. Bringing his 25+ years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Thank you for being here. Thanks for carving out the time. I think you are going to be very glad with this episode you did. This is a research episode. We’re going to talk about a piece of research and what it means for us as agency owners, and also I think how it can apply to the work that we do for clients.

You are familiar with both of my guests, and I’ll tell you a little bit more about them. But before that, just a couple of things I want to remind you about. So I have said in the last couple of podcasts, and I want to say again, if you have not read the book that Stephen Westerner and I wrote called Sell With Authority, and for whatever reason, it would be difficult for you to get a copy, either financially or for whatever reason, if you send me an email with your mailing address, I am more than happy to mail you a copy. If you want to buy it, that’s great, just go to Amazon and buy it, and thank you very much. But if that is a challenge for you in any way, shape or form, no judgment, I don’t need to know why. Just shoot me an email and say, “Drew, I would love a free copy of your book,” and I will pop it in the mail to you.

So just shoot me an email at [email protected], and I promise the books. I’ve mailed them all over the world. I will tell you, if you live far away from the United States, sometimes it takes a while to get to you, but I promise, I will pop it in the mail to you within a week of getting your email and it will be on your door as soon as the postal system or whoever is going to bring it to you can get it to you, so happy to do that if that would be helpful.

I do want all of you to have access to the information, that’s why we wrote it, is I didn’t write it to make money. My murder mystery novel that I’m going to write someday, that’s where I’m going to make my big money as an author, but I didn’t write this book to make money. I wrote this book because I think the message is critical. I think it is a blueprint for how you can sell as an agency finishing up 2020 and going into 2021 and beyond, I think it is the new way of selling. And we certainly explain why I think it’s that way in the book, and I want you all to have it. And so if that means I have to send you a free copy, I am more than happy to do that. So please ask, don’t be shy or embarrassed. I’m really happy to give it to you if you would like it.

All right. Another thing I want to tell you about is, as you know, I brilliantly selected 2020 as the year that I was going to launch my very first international conference. It was originally scheduled for May, we moved it to November. The hotel has now told us that they are not going to be ready to host an event in November. So I am fully believing that the third time is the charm, and we have now moved the Build a Better Agency summit brought to you by our friends at White Label and some other amazing sponsors that I’m going to be telling you about in the episodes ahead, we have moved it to August 2021.

So family day, so that’s for AMI members. Family day is August 9th. So we’re going to come together for a half day of panel learning, sharing best practices with each other and working on a remarkable speaker, if I can pull it off. And then we’re going to all go to dinner together on me. So if you are not a member and you would like to attend that event, if you just go over to the Agency Management Institute website, if you are a gold member or above on the associate side, or you are a virtual or live peer group member, you are welcome to attend family day on August 9th.

And then for all of us, August 10th and 11th, remarkable speakers, speakers talking about diversity of revenue streams inside an agency, about how to decide how you want to build your agency now and then put together the plan to make it come true. We’re going to talk about BizDev, we’re going to talk about imposter syndrome. We’re going to talk about how to have difficult conversations around diversity issues inside our agency. We’re going to talk about what you need to do to make sure your agency is teed up to be ready to be bought by someone else, whether that’s an internal or external buyer.

We have amazing speakers, amazing sponsors. At the round table, you get to be both a teacher and a student. So we’ve got lots of stuff packed into those two days. And God help us if we are not traveling by August 2021. We are already about 50% sold out, so I would love it, if you know that by August, you’re going to be so hungry to be around other agency people in a room together, sharing a cocktail, telling stories, networking, connecting, learning, teaching, all of that, all wrapped up in AMI love, I would love for you to join us.

So if you go to agencymanagementinstitute.com, the very first nav button is BABA Summit. If you click on that, you can register now so that you are ready go. I do expect that we’ll sell it out. I don’t think we’re going to sell it out tomorrow, so don’t freak out if you can’t buy the ticket right away. But I do think that we will sell out eventually. I’m confident that people are going to be ready to come back together and learn from each other and just be present with each other. And so I would love for you to be a part of that.

So with that, let me tell you a little bit about this episode. So both of my guests are repeat guests. And one of the challenges and one of the jobs as a podcast host is to both contain and kind of course-correct or direct the podcast guests into talking about the things that you know your audience is going to appreciate and find value in. And I will tell you that I’m a little nervous about having these two on the show together, because they’re both quite a handful when they’ve been on the show by themselves.

So as a duo, I suspect that I am going to have to bring my highest level of podcast host skills to bear. So you are all familiar with my co-author, Stephen Woessner, who owns Predictive ROI. His agency helps clients develop their thought leadership and then figure out ways to monetize that thought leadership through creating genuine connections with their clients and customers and then inviting them in to buy products and services from them.

And you also are all very familiar with Susan Baier, owner of Audience Audit. So Susan is my partner in all things research. We have worked together many years on the Agency Edge Research Series, which we started in 2014. We’ll be back pretty soon with an episode to tell you about the 2020 results, which were mind blowing. But Susan also works with many other AMI agencies and other agencies and clients direct when they want to do research that has sort of a marketing bent or focus or purpose.

So Susan and Stephen are with us today to talk to us about a study that Stephen initiated with Susan around the ROI of thought leadership. So we talk a lot about thought leadership or taking a position of authority or being a subject matter experts, but nowhere has there really been data about the value of being an authority, a thought leader, or a subject matter expert to your business.

And so Stephen and his team decided that it would be valuable for them to know the data. So we make a lot of assumptions about the value of thought leadership. And we certainly made a lot of those assumptions in the book, but Stephen wanted data points to prove that there was a rationale and an ROI into doing the work that it takes to be a genuine authority. And so he and Susan have worked together to put together this study. They are now out of the field and they’ve got some amazing results that I want to share with you. And I want you to listen to this episode and I want your left ear to be tuned in, in terms of how this is relevant to your agency and how your agency sells it services.

And on your right ear, I want you to be listening in terms of how can I use this data to help our clients make good marketing strategy and tactic decisions around content and the value of perhaps them stepping into an authority or thought leadership position? So dual purpose in this episode. So of course, I brought two guests to give us our dual purpose. So without any further ado, let’s jump in and welcome Susan and Stephen to the show. Stephen, Susan, welcome back to the podcast. Glad to have you both back.

Susan Baier:

Thank you. Super to be here.

Stephen Woessner:

Thanks very much for the invitation. Always a pleasure to spend time with you guys.

Drew McLellan:

So Stephen, I know that the idea for this research project that we’re going to talk about today kind of came up post our book, Sell With Authority, and it was really about your agency wanting to better define the value of being a thought leader. So tell us a little bit about sort of the origin of the research and then how you and Susan brought it to bear.

Stephen Woessner:

I don’t know if this is 100% accurate, although I haven’t seen anything that would … I don’t want to say compete with it, but one of the things was, or one of the sort of main goals or why around this project was, would it be possible to essentially quantify in some way, shape or form, truly the return on investment if somebody actually put in the effort to become a thought leader? Because obviously, it’s not easy to do, it’s hard to do. It takes a lot of hard work. So that was the first thing, because we get asked that question all the time.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Stephen Woessner:

And that is, well, if I go down that path, if I’m going to do that, what is the result outcome that I can expect? So certainly that was part of it. Because ROI is certainly important, but then also this was an opportunity to candidly and maybe a little bit selfishly, for us to be helpful to our audience in a brand new way. Where we’ve had books before, we have our podcasts, we have video series, that kind of stuff. This was an opportunity for us to demonstrate, hey, this is how you can build out a brand new piece of cornerstone content and then slice and dice it for your audience. So it was a good way for us to sort of live by example.

Drew McLellan:

Right, yep. So Susan, I know you work with a ton of AMI agencies, other agencies. I know you also work with brands direct, had you seen a study around this idea of, can we put a dollar value or we prove the ROI to a business of becoming basically an authority, an expert, a thought leader?

Susan Baier:

No, I hadn’t. And that was part of what really intrigued me about this. I’ve done some research for some thought leader clients and sort of looking at their audiences and what they feel is most valuable and kind of what they want out of that particular thought leader. But we hadn’t done anything this wide ranging. We hadn’t explored the ROI question. And for me, part of what was so fascinating about this opportunity was … I mean, it’s kind of meta, but I actually did a thought leadership study about thought leadership and I mean, all three of us work to develop our own thought leadership in our own ways. We all work with other folks and I have lots of clients for whom thought leadership is important, and here was an opportunity to really explore on a more sort of expansive basis what people think that is and what does that mean to someone if you say you’re a thought leader? What kind of qualifications do they expect come along with that claim and what kind of stuff are they looking for?

And so for me, it was just an irresistible opportunity to really dig into something that I think is very near and dear to all of our hearts and to a lot of the people that we work with, and get some real new insights into what that whole marketplace is, what that whole thing looks like.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. One of the things that I find interesting about the study is … And when I knew you guys were working on it, we’ve all made the assumption that there is value in thought leadership.

Susan Baier:

Sure.

Drew McLellan:

We have all developed our own thought leadership. And certainly Stephen, you and I in the book are advocating that every agency should develop a position of authority via their thought leadership. So what was exciting for me is that we were finally going to be able to put real data to what we’d all assumed and knew sort of intrinsically was true, but now we have proof points to really validate what we’ve been teaching and talking about for a long time.

Susan Baier:

Yeah. And really, I think provide some new perspectives on it that we didn’t expect to see, but that are nonetheless really helpful, both for people who are interested in thought leaders and people who are working to be thought leaders.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Susan Baier:

Which is that’s always fun, seeing something a little bit new on something that you think is kind of rote and very familiar.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So anybody who’s been listening to the podcast for a while knows Susan, that you and I do a study every year called the Agency Edge, which is certainly thought leadership.

Susan Baier:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

But they’ve probably heard you talk about the methodology that you use around this attitudinal study, but just in case somebody is not familiar with it, can you explain little bit about the methodology of the research you did and then we’ll dig into what you guys learned?

Susan Baier:

Yeah, absolutely. So this is a quantitative study. It was an online survey. It’s not a focus group or just discussions with folks. And we have a sizeable group of respondents. We had 325 folks who are business professionals who are following thought leaders. That was the qualification for participating, and they come from a range of industries. And actually, when we ask the qualifying question, we didn’t use the terminology ‘thought leader’ because we wanted to ask some questions about that later in the survey, which we’ll talk about, but we asked them if they follow someone that they consider an expert on a business topic or their industry or something.

So we have this big group of folks, which gives us a very high statistical reliability on the study. And while we’re gathering a lot of information about these folks, like we wanted to know what kinds of organizations they’re in and some specifics with regard to who they’re following and what they’re using that for, the focus of the study was on how they come at this discussion in terms of what’s in their heads, what has their experience been with respect to thought leadership? What do they think is the value, or somewhat less value of that kind of thing? And what are their attitudes about the kinds of things that make someone a thought leader, or in fact makes them less likely to be seen as a thought leader by these respondents?

And that’s really where the attitudinal segmentation comes from. We put all these attitudes in front of everybody in the survey, we ask them to agree or disagree. And then the analysis we do bubbles up the unique groups in this audience that are people who share a set of attitudes about this that make them very different from everybody else. And that’s a kind of a unique way to look at things like this. Most segmentation includes a lot of demographics or business information, and ours really doesn’t, it’s just about what’s between the ears. And in this case, it bubbled up four different segments, that to me were kind of surprising. I expected to see some of them, but I didn’t expect to see others. So for me, it’s like Christmas, we just get to open it up and see what it says, because we don’t decide ahead of time, so always fascinating.

Drew McLellan:

I think that’s a critical component. It wasn’t like you guys predetermined, you didn’t pre-label groups of people.

Susan Baier:

No.

Drew McLellan:

The data tells you how groups of people happen to cluster together. And as you were talking and you were saying how you didn’t use the word thought leader and all of that, one of the things that I find both fascinating and also rewarding about this idea of becoming an authority or a thought leader is it’s a lot like brand, you don’t to decide what you are.

Susan Baier:

Yes, [crosstalk 00:17:51].

Drew McLellan:

Right? The world in general decides what you are. So whether it’s on the agency side of my world, when I put on my Agency hat, we do a lot of branding work and we are always telling clients, we have to use what’s true about you to define your brand and then you need to live it out day after day. But the ultimate arbitrator of that is the consumer who decides are you really what you say you are?

And we all know a lot of people who are out there saying they’re an expert or an authority or a thought leader, but ultimately, we don’t get to put that label on ourselves, the audience decides whether or not we are. So one of the things that I personally found really fascinating about this study was the way people decide if someone is or is not an authority. So tell us about the four segments that you found and the core beliefs or attributes, or attitudes that each of them had.

Susan Baier:

Right. So we found four, they’re all fairly evenly distributed, which again is something that just happened. It wasn’t a predetermined. The first group we found, we call it trusting followers, and they’re 27% of our audience. And these folks, they’re a little less experienced, they will admit with regard to sort of their industry and their knowledge. And they are really looking for the very sort of public signals that someone is a thought leader. So this can be you are a professional keynote speaker and they see you at all of the big conferences. This can be, you have a best-selling book or two, you have a very popular podcast. Other people are saying you’re a thought leader.

So they’re a little less judgmental than some of the other segments we found. They are actively looking to find people to follow, to learn from. They are very likely to trust the advice that they’re getting. And they’re also the most likely of anyone we saw to trust that when they hear something from a thought leader it’s new and it’s helpful. They’re the most … They just really have a lot of faith in what other people are saying about thought leaders and that they’re a value, and they’re sort of collecting them and looking at them and learning everything they can.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. What’s the second segment?

Susan Baier:

So the second segment is jaded skeptics. These folks are very different than that, this is 23%. Now, everybody in our study says they follow experts in their field or their industry or whatever, but this is the group that is least likely to just take it on faith that that expertise is true. They are the least likely to have that trust.

These people were fascinating for me because we talk about thought leadership and what people think of thought leaders, and that there are a lot of folks out there trying to do this. These people have really been affected by what they see as people who say they’re thought leaders, but in fact are really self promoting. They’re really not trying as hard to provide helpful and valuable information as they are to fluff themselves up.

There’s a lot of, sort of offering tired advice. I call it thought regurgitation, instead of thought leadership. But these folks really believe that thought leaders, generally speaking, are pretty egotistical, they’re pretty self-focused, they’re sharing the same old tired advice. And these folks, actually, one of their attitudes is that