Episode 264:

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 they’ll rarely pay attention to who the current “thought leaders” are in their industry. I think because they’ve been burdened, they’ve been disappointed by what they’ve seen in the past.

Drew McLellan:

So Stephen, we talked about this phenomenon in the book quite a bit, this idea that to be a genuine authority or thought leader, you have to be generously and frequently teaching with no sales strategy behind it. That it is just your goal is to simply help your audience be better at their job. So I’m curious, Stephen, from your perspective, these are people who, while they are jaded and … Jaded, and what did you say, Susan?

Susan Baier:

Skeptics, jaded skeptics.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, jaded skeptics. They still follow some thought leaders. So for this audience, how did the ones that they deem actual authorities, what did they have to do to get past the skepticism?

Stephen Woessner:

So this is going to sound really bias and unintentionally, one of the things that I’ve loved about this result outcome is because in the unintentional pieces, we did not set this study up to validate the 10 truths of authority.

Drew McLellan:

Right. From the book, right.

Stephen Woessner:

Correct. We did not. But when Susan and I are going through that data, it’s like, holy bananas, that jaded skeptics, these are the people that have the sniff test, these are the people that are say, “Unless you follow the 10 truths, unless you’re fully aligned with the 10 truths of what makes someone an authority, we have no time for you.” Their BS meter is very high.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Stephen Woessner:

But if somebody does follow the 10 truths of what makes somebody an authority and they truly are to your point, coming to their audience with generosity and teaching, they have something new, it’s not the tired, old stuff that Susan is talking about, then you can actually win over the jaded skeptics. And then they’re enthusiastic about sharing the word of mouth that you actually do know what you’re talking about.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Stephen Woessner:

And so that was a really interesting proof point, completely unintentional, but it was awesome to see.

Susan Baier:

Yeah. I mean, I will get the jaded skeptics through and I see the things that are really positive for trusting followers become hurdles for jaded skeptics to get over in trusting you as a thought leader, the book isn’t going to cut it. In fact, you calling yourself a thought leader is not helpful. So all those things that first group is going to glom onto, this group, if you have those things, they’re going to make you prove that you’re actually worth that title because those things alone won’t do it for them.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Although I will say, and I don’t know that your study proved this, I will say that if you can win over a jaded skeptic, they’re a huge fan because they’ve climbed over all of the people who are posers and you’ve actually proven that you are a genuine authority and you are teaching frequently and generously because you know it’s the right thing to do. So once they find you, I bet they wrap their arms around your leg pretty tight.

Susan Baier:

And they follow so few thought leaders, because so few clear that bar. But your message, your teachings, the resources you’re providing, don’t have to work their way through a mass of other input for them because they’re excluding a lot of that. So if you do develop a relationship with folks, they are very likely to be tuned in to what you’re telling them at a higher level.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So before we have you tell us about the last two segments, listeners, if you have not yet picked up your copy of Stephen’s and my book, The 10 Truths of Authority, they’re outlined in the book. And I will pull that chapter out of the book and attach it as a PDF to the show notes so you can see what those 10 sort of elements of being a true authority are, and you can sort of gut check yourself both as in terms of who you follow, but also if you’re working on an authority positioning for your agency, that you make sure you follow those best practices. So if you are not familiar with those 10 truths, don’t freak out about it. I will put it in the show notes for sure. All right, Susan, what was the third attitude in those segments?

Susan Baier:

So the third segment is we call it discriminating and engaged. It’s 25% of the audience, and these folks, their hurdle for thought leadership is that you actually can demonstrate success in their field and have received recognition as an expert in their industry. So it is very focused on the work that they do and sort of where their organization is very, very appreciative of helpful content. And they sort of have this attitude that if they don’t stay abreast of the latest and greatest ideas in their industry, it’s going to hurt their organization eventually. So it’s a high stakes for them.

They really want strong thought leadership, but being in the field for a long time, having achieved success yourself and being widely recognized in their industry are things that they’re going to look for, for a thought leader.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So listeners, this is, we talk a lot about niching down as an agency. This would be an audience where you could really be a huge influence too, because if you have decades of experience in their industry, all of your case studies are baked around their industry or the audience they’re trying to reach, or however you’ve niched down, this is a segment of the audience that is going to gravitate to you because that’s one of their proof points, is that you’re not a generalist, that you are a specialist in their space.

Susan Baier:

Right. I mean, I think for me, the icon of this segment for thought leadership is somebody like Jay Bayer, right? Who’s been in his industry for many, many years, is extremely helpful, has a very successful consulting practice now in this work and has decades of success in running an agency, being a marketer, all of that kind of stuff.

And where you look back at those sort of less discriminating followers in the first segment, somebody like Gary V. may be more appropriate to them. He’s very generalist, a lot of information that could sort of help anybody in an industry, very popular on social, but a very different sort of archetype than what I see the discriminating and engaged going for.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Okay. And the fourth segment?

Susan Baier:

Yeah. Last segment is self-described experts. And it’s so funny, because these people show up in a variety of studies that we’ve done over the years and they show up here as well. They’re 25%, and they are defined by basically their belief that they are already an expert in their job, their discipline and their industry. They know as much or more as everybody else does. And so their bar is extremely high for people that they follow, because not only does it have to be very industry specific for them, but it also has to be somebody sharing stuff they don’t know.

So this is one of those segments that if you want to be a thought leader for these people, you really have to know a lot. This is like the NASA engineer level thought leadership expert, right? Because you’ve got to impress people who are already confident that they are experts in their own fields.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. So when you guys step back from this study and you’re not necessarily looking segment by segment, but maybe to a certain extent you are, what are the overarching sort of elements or definitions or distinguishing marks, if you will, that actually to this audience make someone an authority?

Stephen Woessner:

So each of the … In where Susan was going down that path with each of the segments, they each define authority differently as far as the types of things that stand out to them and so forth, like maybe the types of content and whatnot. But then as we look at the study more holistically, we start to see the types of content that applies for each of the different segments, but then also as a whole. So for example … And this is one of those things that I really enjoyed seeing too, again, unintentionally tying into the book, and that is how can we be helpful on a consistent basis with content that is going to help them be better at their job every single day?

It was almost as if we were writing the book and crafting the study at the exact same time, which we weren’t doing. And the fact that one of the determining factors of whether somebody is seen to be a thought leader or not is, are you providing both strategic as well as tactical content that helps them be better at their job every day?

Drew McLellan:

Interesting. So they didn’t want just philosophical and just like, here’s the why you do something. They also wanted some how.

Stephen Woessner:

Yeah. And so then from like a personality perspective, like Susan was talking about, the trusting followers might want that served up differently than a jaded skeptic.

Drew McLellan:

Sure.

Stephen Woessner:

But again, holistically, right? If 43% of the entire survey respondents wanted both strategic and tactical and then slicing that apart where some wanted this and some wanted that. So I think, again, it goes back to if we’re thinking about how we’re going to be helpful every single day, taking big pieces, small pieces and serving up content in a variety of different ways, that’s extremely important, that it is not a one size fits all. And you and I talk about that all the time.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Right. What surprised you the most out of this study, Stephen?

Stephen Woessner:

I think what surprised me the most was … Well, there’s several really cool findings, but the one that really surprised me the most was the power of the word of mouth, where 62%, that if somebody is perceived to be a thought leader, that 62% of the time that is going to give them … I shouldn’t have said a word of mouth. It is the power of swaying the decision. So 62% of the time, that decision is going to sway in favor of the thought leader because of their thought leadership position. That’s pretty powerful.

Drew McLellan:

Let me see if I understand this, what you’re really saying is … And I was going to get to this question. If I think someone is truly an authority or a thought leader, 62% of the time, that means when I am ready to make a purchase, that is going to make me want to make that purchase from the authority or thought leader because they’ve earned my trust, they’ve earned my confidence. So it shortens the sales cycle and it tips the scales to the thought leaders advantage. Is that what you’re saying?

Stephen Woessner:

Yeah. And although we didn’t measure sales cycle time, but everything else that you just mentioned, yes. And so, here again, from the point of view of where ROI is super important, if we know that that is going to affect decision-making, is it logical to assume that the sales cycles last? Sure. Could we make some extensions into the things that you and I talk about in our book, that you can charge a premium price?

So the fact that that is tipping scale in the decision-making process absolutely contributes to ROI, and it creates distance or distinctiveness from competitors. I mean, there’s just a whole slew of things they can gnaw off of that.

Drew McLellan:

Right, right. Susan, what surprised you the most?

Susan Baier:

No, I would agree. I mean, I was … Skeptical is not the right word, but I’ve seen a lot of people make assumptions about things, but then you go back and do the research and it’s maybe not as strong as they thought or whatever. They’re sort of hopeful about it. I was very, very surprised to see both the extent to which people say they have referred someone to a thought leader, 91% say they have done that. And then these measures of the impact of that thought leadership position cross a big range of things, 62% more likely to recommend a business service provider who’s got a thought leadership position, 61% saying that a thought leader and what they’re talking about impacts decisions in their organizations, 59% saying they’d be more likely to keep working with an organization because they are a thought leader.

62%, and this is the one that blew my mind. And I think Stephen’s in the same position on this, 62% say that the recommendation of a thought leader they trust would have a greater impact on the consideration of that service than advertising by the provider. Just the thought leadership component is so powerful. And when we look at things in terms of what people think of, things like how many social media followers you have, very low on the list, relative to those things that you talked about, Drew. About being helpful, about providing new information.

And then you take the overwhelming majority of these people who are talking about thought leaders, so colleagues and other business people, and who are more likely to recommend folks and to work with folks in that, that’s just amazing to me. And I was surprised to see that result be so strong because honestly, I didn’t anticipate it. And we asked the questions specifically not to confuse them with any bias towards that result. And nevertheless, we saw it. It blew my mind.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So I think about the pressure that puts on someone who puts themselves in a position of authority. So every day, I get emails from people who want to sell stuff to agencies, every single day. And they just think that I’m going to talk about them or share their stuff, or put them on the podcast or whatever. And it’s like, I don’t know you, I don’t know your product or service. There’s no freaking way that I’m going to introduce you to my audience because I know that if I say they should check you out, they’re going to. And if you suck, I look like a jerk.

And so there’s incredible pressure on the person who is trying to assume a position of authority or trying to be helpful on a regular basis and build an audience, to really vet who and how they make recommendations because of that statistic. And so agency owners and listeners, to me, this is … The stats that Susan just rattled off are all of the proof points of why Stephen and I wrote the book and have been out beating the streets saying to you that the new way of selling for agencies is to niche down, take a thought leadership or an expert or an authority position and do it well and do it for the right reasons, because the benefits are vast. So yeah.

Susan Baier:

Go ahead, Stephen.

Stephen Woessner:

Still on the topic of like really cool surprising things, and that was-

Drew McLellan:

Stop right there. We’re going to take a break and then you’re going to tell us the very surprising thing. Okay guys, so if you were about to turn the podcast off or you were thinking, “Oh, I’m done walking the dog,” now you have to wait, we’re going to take a quick break and then Stephen … So Stephen, this better be really surprising. And then Stephen is going to tee up the very surprising thing. We’ll be right back.

Hey there, do you have an up and comer inside your agency who’s become like your right-hand person? How are you investing in them? Who are they surrounding themselves with and who are they learning from? You might be interested in taking a look at our key executive network, it’s built to help you groom the leaders in your agency. It’s designed to surround them with other AMI-taught agency leaders, and it’s facilitated by one of AMI’s top coaches, Craig Barnes. They meet twice a year and they stay connected in between meetings with calls, Zoom get togethers and email. AMI agency owners call it one of the best professional development investments they’ve ever made. Head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com, and look under the membership tab for key executive network. All right, let’s get back to the interview.

All right, welcome back. Right before the break, I rudely interrupted Stephen, who was about to tell us an amazingly surprising thing that came out of the study. And so now-

Susan Baier:

I can’t wait.

Drew McLellan:

… I’m waiting with bated breath. Stephen, you’re up. Here we go.

Stephen Woessner:

I think the magic of the moment has gone. No, so okay. It is the fact that you and I like to use the phrase, the one trick pony, but it’s the fact that we have to be helpful across multiple channels. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to create original content, that’s not what the segments are saying, that we have to create original content for every single one of these channels. But for example, we asked about insights gained across multiple different platforms and about 43% said they’re taking in that content from a thought leader in a live speaking event, or 36% at podcast interviews or newsletters or blog posts or online videos.

The whole point is that there was a litany of variation of channels consumption across the four different segments, which in our mind proves that yes, you need a piece of … Or you need a channel of cornerstone content or potentially two, and then slicing and dicing that across many different channels so that you’re not a one trick pony, because it is clear from the data that across these four segments, that they are consuming content in many channels. And so that was a great opportunity to be helpful in a very large degree, but we have to pay attention to it, that you can’t be a one trick pony.

Drew McLellan:

When I listened to you say that, I think if you are genuinely hungry to teach people stuff, part of what you would always be thinking about, and I know that every time I come up with a new, crazy idea, a lot of times it’s a, how can I get this to them in a different way, or in a different time, or what if nobody’s listening to my podcast but they would really watch these three minute videos? I’m constantly thinking about how do I get the message out in different formats?

And I think if you’re genuinely trying to teach with that teacher heart, you would naturally try … Just, my mom was a teacher and she used to say that everybody learned differently, and her job as a teacher was not to teach one way, but to figure out how each kid learned and teach that kid that way.

Stephen Woessner:

[crosstalk 00:41:02].

Drew McLellan:

And I think for authorities, that’s the same thing, right? Not everybody watches a video, not everybody listens to a podcast, not everybody reads books, not everybody, fill in the blank. So a true teacher is going to create this myriad of ways that their lesson plan, if you will, gets out to their audience. Yeah.

Stephen Woessner:

Yeah.

Susan Baier:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

So I know one of the things that was critical, and then I have this question, and then I want to start talking about … Okay, now I’m putting my agency and our hat on, what do I do with this? So that’s where we’re headed. But before that, I think one of the things that I thought was really interesting about the data that you guys found was the power of word of mouth in terms of growing an authority or thought leader’s audience, and just the power. I mean, we know in all the Edelman studies in 2019, 2020, we know that people have a lot of faith when someone like them makes a recommendation. So in your study, your study sort of validated that, that word of mouth in terms of getting more people to pay attention to like respect a thought leader came from referrals. So can you guys talk a little bit about that?

Susan Baier:

Yeah. I mean, we had a whole list of things and we asked folks, where do you hear about new thought leaders that you would want to follow, somebody new to you? And the number one answer across the board was colleagues I know in real life, word of mouth. 45% cited that.

Now, that’s not the only thing they cited. We also saw conferences, industry organizations that are publishing content, posts or articles. But there’s a huge percentage of folks for whom it’s word of mouth. And the numbers on social media were half that.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Susan Baier:

So it really is about that. And of course, that speaks to what you all talk about in your wonderful book, if you want to have word of mouth, you have to build a structure to make sure that you’re helping that happen. And you have to have a story for people to tell and help them understand who’s going to most benefit from the work you’re providing, and that speaks to the niche thing that you guys talk about. You really have to give people something to talk about if you want word of mouth. And if you’re an agency working on your behalf or a client’s, word of mouth is going to be a critical component of discovery for the people that you want to reach in terms of your thought leader.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Stephen, it’s your turn to send someone money because I said something nice about the book. So you owe Susan $20. All right. So let’s talk a little bit about how this is relevant to agency owners. And I see this in two distinct lanes. One, agency owners, I know I keep beating you over the head about this, but hopefully this is reinforcing the argument that I have been making for a long time and that Stephen and I made in the book, that the way to get new business in 2020 and beyond is to be a specialist, not a generalist.

And again, you can be a specialist in an industry niche, you can be a specialist in an audience, you can be a specialist in a methodology of how you do the work, but you cannot be the generic agency that just serves the butcher, baker and candlestick maker.

But I also think that you can, and should, get the data from this study. And by the way, in the show notes, there will be a link where you can download the executive summary of all of this research. So Stephen and Susan have been rattling off numbers, but they’ve got a whole executive summary that will walk you through all of the data. And you’ll be able to download that in the show notes as well.

But anyway, I want you to take that executive summary and I want you to grab some of those data points and charts, because this is a way you can help your clients understand how they can differentiate themselves as well. So this is a one-two punch for you. This is about how you can grow your own agency, but also how you can help your clients grow their business.

So let’s talk a little bit about that. What are the to-dos, what are the takeaways for you guys of this study? If someone wants to wrap their arms around this sort of … Somebody is like, okay, I get it. My clients can specialize, or we can specialize, how do they use this data to tell them how and what to do?

Stephen Woessner:

I think there’s now maybe a new layer to the niche piece. And here’s what I mean by that. So when we think about the attitudes and the four different segments, or the four attitudinal segments, it’s not necessarily personality type, but it’s what they’re looking for in a litmus test of that content, and how we’re serving it up. So what do you mean by that is if we’ve chosen a niche and now we’ve decided that trusting followers aligns best with our agency, now we’re going to create content with the right proof points within a niche and serve it up in a way that that’s going to be the best consumed or the most appetizing for trusting followers.

Because what it seems to me, and maybe Susan will disagree, so I’d like to get her opinion too, is that not all four segments are ideal for every agency. And so maybe you align well with jaded skeptics or whatever. So the point is, is that choosing the niche and then deciding, okay, this is how I’m going to serve up the content for the jaded skeptics within that niche.

Susan Baier:

Yeah, I agree so strongly with that, Stephen. I mean, it’s really a segment of assessment of what you need to do to be effective. And I agree so strongly, but not all of these segments may be right for you or for the client that you’re trying to support through this. I mean, if you don’t have a long track record, but you have great ideas, those trusting followers, as long as you can get your book out there, get on stage at some of these conferences and stuff like that, they’re likely to listen.

And there are other segments that you really have to have that track record, or they’re not going to pay attention to you. But at the same time, there are a lot of people in this study for whom having a best-selling book isn’t essential. So I think that it’s important to realize that you can hold a strong thought leadership position with a very engaged audience without necessarily speaking at all the big conferences or without having a best-selling book on Amazon.

So I think sometimes we exclude opportunities because we assume that they won’t work. And one of the things this research showed is that no matter who you are, no matter what your level of experience, as long as you’re providing helpful information, that’s something they haven’t heard before, there’s a space for you regardless of how famous you are or how long you’ve been working in these fields or whatever. So I think that’s really encouraging. I really believe everyone can establish a thought leadership position with the right audience, the right focus and a lot of hard work, but there’s nobody in here that’s excluded based on our research.

Drew McLellan:

So as part of your executive summary, there’s a little recipe for every segment you pick the kinds of things you should think about doing, right? And so when they download your executive summary, if they go, oh, I really want to be of particular value to the jaded skeptics, in your executive summary, you’re giving them kind of a, here’s four or five things you should think about doing, right? To kind of put this into practice.

Stephen Woessner:

Yeah, exactly. And so going back to your comment about niche and then how we took that into the segments, I think what … Even though it’s not necessarily called out in the executive summary, so just using a little bit of intuition here in getting this together, think also point of view is so critically important.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Stephen Woessner:

The why around the agency, in those stories and those recommendations and those truths, and all of those things that the agency believes that are really the core of what it is that they do and who they do it for and the why behind it, like all of that is super important to not only come through in the content, but then also maybe helps you find the right segment too, that you should be really putting your emphasis toward.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, it seems to me, point of view is also what gets you away from being just fact-based thought leadership. And now you’re layering not only personality, but belief systems and sort of how you approach the work. So now it really is a much more nuanced thought leadership. And I know that one of the things that sort of bubbled up in this study, but also Stephen we talk about is, at the end of the day, a lot of this thought leadership, a lot of whether or not I assign someone the label of thought leader is not only intellectually, do I agree with them or do I learn from them, but do I like them?

And I think when you are very professorial in your thought leadership, and you’re just spewing out, even though they’re super helpful and valuable facts, but you’re just spewing out the facts without wrapping your own philosophy and beliefs and sort of explaining how, why you believe what you do around the facts, it’s kind of hard to get to know you well enough to like you.

Susan Baier:

Yeah. And being someone like me is one of those things that pops up, that people like in thought leaders, being accessible. And you don’t necessarily have to be funny. I just think being relatable is important. And I’ve worked in an industry where people are not used to relatable, right? In terms of research and stuff like that. And I can see what happens when they find that, it’s a great relief to feel like, oh, this is somebody I could talk to or ask a question on, or whatever. And you certainly experienced that in your thought leadership work, Drew, where people feel you’re very accessible. And I just think that’s a big deal and it’s a big deal across the board, no matter which segment you’re in, they need to be able to feel like they can relate to you.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So as we sort of wrap this up, what are … And Susan, I’ll ask you first, and then Stephen, have you be the caboose in this. What do you think are the three takeaways that as an agency owner are most relevant and valuable in this study?

And then I’m going to come back around and actually have you help me … Because we started talking about ROI. I want to wrap this up in talking about, so how did you define and how did your respondents define ROI? So first of all, Susan, big three takeaways as an agency owner.

Susan Baier:

The first one is that there are four very different perspectives from thought leadership followers out there, and they are not all the same. So you really need to dig into those differences, number one. Number two, it isn’t based on their age, their gender, how big their company is, their industry, their job level, any of that. So if you are targeting your thought leadership consumers that way, you should just stop because you’re probably limiting opportunities to get your word out there because it’s not about those things.

And then the third one for me is that ROI discussion, it’s just seeing the impact of thought leadership on that whole sequence of first following, then listening to then making decisions and then buying and then recommending that we see across the board, powerful impact of thought leadership on that.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and talk about a great set of data points to justify a content strategy with a client, right?

Susan Baier:

Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

Look, we want you to do this, we want you to take this thought leadership position. Here’s the data points that say that this investment’s going to pay off.

Susan Baier:

Every step along the way, we see the impact of thought leadership, during that whole decision process from first consideration to buying and then passing along the good word and having somebody else and staying longer, like it’s just the whole sequence we see it affected.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. We didn’t talk about that very much, but the retention factor is huge, right? So it’s not just about attracting new clients or customers, it’s also reinforcing the buying decision because they know they’re with somebody who really knows their stuff.

Susan Baier:

They said, they’re going to stay with you longer if you have a thought leadership position, very helpful.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. All right, Stephen, your three takeaways, and you can not repeat any of Susan’s.

Susan Baier:

I just took all the good ones.

Stephen Woessner:

Well, darn it. I was going to repeat them verbatim. So I think the way that niche and then the additional layers into the segments is really powerful because we hear all the time from you and other research sources that not every … I think this is exactly how you say it, but you can correct me. Every client is the right fit, but not every client is the right fit for your agency.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Every client’s a great client, but they may not be a great client for you. Right.

Stephen Woessner:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Stephen Woessner:

And I think the four attitudinal segments say that, that if we’re going to plant our flag of authority, it really matters where we’re planting the flag.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Stephen Woessner:

So that’s the first piece. The second piece is the fact that the study really pounded home too how important it is to be helpful. And so, yes, as the co-author with you in our book, I love the 10 truths. And then the unintended outcome, the validation and the just underscoring in the data, how important those 10 truths are, was really wonderful to be able to see, so that’s really cool.

And then lastly, not only is it important to create content, but it’s important to serve it up in the right way and being cognizant of the attitudinal segments and serving it up in the right way [crosstalk 00:55:11].

Drew McLellan:

And that’s the channels, right?

Stephen Woessner:

Right, exactly.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. All right, Susan, so give us … Let’s big close. Big, big close. Give us the data points that drive all the way through the buying cycle, tied to thought leadership.

Susan Baier:

All right, here we go. Well, we got to get to them. So I don’t want to get my numbers wrong. Okay.

Drew McLellan:

So this audience, this tells you that we have not pre-practiced this in any way, shape or form, because now I have Susan scrambling for data points.

Susan Baier:

Okay. So the first one is just the extent to which they are listening to other people to find thought leaders. Most of the people in our study are following more than one. So it is definitely sort of an active pursuit in terms of awareness, who should I be following, who should I be listening to? And then we have that sort of a definite process, the different segments are going through to validate whether this is somebody they want. But once they have somebody that they trust, 91% of them are talking to somebody else specifically about thought leaders, unbelievable number, right?

Drew McLellan:

It’s a staggering number. Yeah.

Susan Baier:

It’s a staggering number. 62% say they’re more likely to recommend a service provider who has a thought leadership position. So if they’re working with somebody and they have a colleague that says, “Hey, we’re looking for a service provider that does this.” If that service provider is a recognized thought leader, 62% of these folks say they’re more likely to recommend that person than maybe another company, another provider they know that doesn’t hold that position.

Once you’re working with a thought leader and you’re following them, 61% of them say that what that thought leader says is actually impacting decisions you’re making in your organization. So it’s not just going in one ear and out the other, it’s actually decisions being made in companies based on what a thought leader told them to do. 59% say, if you’re working with a company now that has that position, you’re more likely to continue to work with them than maybe a vendor that doesn’t have that position. 62% say that recommendation that they get from somebody else would have a great impact, not a small impact, a great impact on deciding to hire them. And it just goes through this whole sequence. It has a tremendous impact. And like I said, I was just blown away.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So listeners, I don’t want to say I told you so, but I totally told you so. This really is the way for you to think about positioning your agency. And I am happy to get on the phone or have an email chat with any of you that want to talk about how COVID has impact the specialist agencies versus the generalist agencies. I will tell you, of the 250 agencies that we work with every year and that we’re working with right now … And keep in mind, I see their financials, so nobody’s lying to me. The agencies that have recovered the quickest from COVID or were not impacted at all by COVID are the agencies that were specialists and that had begun to build, or had built a thought leadership position around that specialty. And again, whatever that specialty may be, it doesn’t have to be by an industry, it could be for an audience or a methodology, but without exception, they have weathered the COVID storm better than the generalists have.

So for all of the reasons that we’ve talked about in this last hour, for all of the things that you and I have talked about in the past on previous podcasts, I really want you to start wrapping your head around this idea of the way to future-proof your agency, the way to protect yourself from the economic downturns and God help us, pandemics or whatever else is coming our way through the rest of our career, one of the greatest insurance policies you can have is to be a specialist who has developed a thought leadership practice, who is considered by their audience an authority in the way that they define an authority. That is protection, that is insurance, that gives you a buffer and an edge over everybody else.

So you guys, thank you so much. Both of you are repeat guests. Thanks for coming back. Thank you for coming up with this brilliant study idea and having the fortitude to pull it off and for coming on the show and sharing it with us. I know this is something you’re going to go back and look at again. So thanks for keeping us smarter about the industry that we serve and how we can make our clients better. This has been awesome. Thank you.

Susan Baier:

Always great to have these conversations. I so appreciate being able to come back on your show, Drew.

Stephen Woessner:

Thanks very much for the invitation. It was fun being with you guys, as always.

Drew McLellan:

Yep. Awesome. All right, guys, this wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency. We gave you a lot to think about today. And so just let some of this soak a little bit. And here’s the other thing I want to say about the whole idea of niching down and finding an authority position, do not overthink this to death. It’s more in front of you than you think it is. So find somebody that you trust to talk it out with, but this should not take you six months to decide. You know where you have expertise, you know where your greatest case study stories are, you know the industry or the audience or the methodology where you just rock it every single time. You know when a client walks in the door and you’re like, oh, I know we can delight them every single day. You know what it is. You just need to have the courage to embrace it and tell it to the world.

So give that some thought, put it into action. I will be back next week with another engaging guest to get you thinking about the agency a little differently. In the meantime, you know how to reach me. I’m [email protected]

Couple other things, big shout out and thank you to our friends at White Label. They are amazing sponsors. They help me put this podcast out every single week, but what I really value about them is how good they are to AMI agencies and how they … If you need White Label PPC design, or dev, they are your go-to. They are great partners. They project manage like a dream. They will make you and your clients look amazing. So check out whitelabeliq.com/ami. Because they’ve got a special deal just for you, the podcast listeners. And I will see you soon. Thanks for listening.

That’s a wrap for this week’s episode of Build a Better Agency. Visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to check out our workshops, coaching packages, and all the other ways we serve agencies just like yours. Thanks for listening.