By Tony Attwood
If you can become a thought-leader or acknowledged expert in your field, selling your product becomes a lot easier.
This article is about two things. On the one hand it is about why taking on the role of a “thought leader” (or if you prefer “expert”) can really help you grow your business.
The other explains how becoming a thought leader is almost certainly much easier than you might imagine.
Part 1: Becoming a thought leader when selling into schools.
A thought leader is a recognized expert in his or her field – a person who might be sought out for information on her or his specialist subject.
Teachers, quite reasonably, see themselves as thought leaders in their own fields. They know that most non-teachers wouldn’t last a minute in a classroom, but they know that they can and do survive. They know how to run a class.
Thus, when we think of selling to schools we can immediately see a problem. We want to tell teachers that we have a product or service that would help them. But we need, at the same time, to acknowledge their expertise.
Simply telling teachers we have x for sale and they need it, generally doesn’t work that well. For having two people talking to each other where each see themselves as experts usually ends in disaster.
But if we can get it right, thought leadership can be incredibly powerful. Indeed, in a recent survey 58% of purchasers acknowledged that they were influenced by someone whom they could reasonably classify as a thought leader when making their purchase.
One approach which avoids the conflict between the thought-leader and the teacher is that which emphasises that the “thought leader” is willing to share his or her knowledge. Not someone who is going to tell the teacher “this is what you need” or “this is how you do it,” but rather a person who instead presents her or himself as an individual with an insight which can be shared.
This is done by moving as far away as possible from the traditional advertising approach represented by headlines such as, “Everything you need to know about…” or “Sale!” or indeed simply “GCSE History Coursebook”.
Instead a headline that poses a question which the teacher might find interesting to see answered can certainly help. As for example with advertisements that start, “What is the most effective way of…?”
If you can then debate the point briefly in the advert before reaching the conclusion that it is through using your product or service, you can be seen as having debated the issue, shared your thoughts, and now reached a reasonable conclusion.
In this way, without the potential customer in the school realising it, you become an influencer, and you become more effective for exerting your influence very gently indeed.
There is, however, a common misconception that thought leaders must hold a particular position, such as being a director in a top company, or the author of a dozen books, and that this is what makes the person a thought leader, but that is not the case.
In reality, a person who is presented as having a specialised area of knowledge or expertise makes themselves a thought leader. And better still if that person is willing to share that knowledge openly and freely, then the influence of that person grows.
What you need to do is to show that you are sharing your knowledge with others. The thought-leader comes across as problem solvers who like helping others solve their problems. Plus, they talk in simple straightforward language, no matter how technical the point is.
What’s more they are always moving on, looking for new information, trying to keep up to date with the subject matter. They are always learning and are happy to share what they have learned.
So being a thought leader doesn’t mean being a great speaker, or in some way famous – it simply is a frame of mind. A worldview that says, here’s some helpful information you might want.
This is not to say that all your advertisements should look like this; far from it. But if you occasionally can do this, so much the better.
Part 2: How becoming a thought leader is almost certainly much easier than you imagine
For this second part of my article I’m going to relay a true story on how people started treating me as a thought leader, without my noticing.
A while back, I became interested in the issue of dyscalculia, which may be considered the maths form of dyslexia. Over time, as a I studied the topic and worked with others who were far more knowledgeable than me, I felt it could be helpful if I produced one or two articles about dyscalculia for people who wondered why their otherwise very successful children were struggling with maths at school.
These articles created some interest, so I started to take my articles and put them on the internet – free for all to read. I eventually published a few books on the subject as well. Not as an expert, but as a lay-person making the subject of dyscalculia more accessible for the average reader.
Last year I was writing a new piece about dyscalculia and wanted to refer to the work of an academic whom I consider to be an absolute expert in the field, but (perhaps as a sign of my aging process) whose name had slipped from my mind.
Since I wasn’t at home and thus couldn’t turn to my bookcase to find this expert’s books, I took the obvious route of going onto Google and typing, “Leading experts on dyscalculia in Britain”.
This took me to https://www.dyscalculia.org/experts which provided a list of four experts, one of whom was, to my surprise, myself. (The result is still there as I write this piece, but of course I have no control over the site, so if they’ve suddenly decided there are others worthier of mention than myself, I can’t complain!)
So what had I done to get this status?
Basically, I had set up a website and once every couple of weeks I have added articles about dyscalculia to that site, as well as placing advertisements thereupon, for books and services. Because of the regular addition of new articles, it seems, I am an expert!
I never call myself an expert, but it seems that is how some people see me. And because of that, sales have been quite good. I have never tried to set myself up as being equivalent to the eminent academics and researchers in the field of dyscalculia, but my regular, fairly chatty, non-technical little articles have made people feel I am approachable and knowledgeable.
Yes of course it takes time to get this going, but I simply sat down and decided to write one little article a week. And as my experience shows, if you are looking to portray your company as one that has the knowledge that can benefit the teacher, using this sort of route can be helpful. And you can still go on trading while you are developing your secondary website.
If you would like to discuss further how you might portray yourself as a thought-leader in your advertising, please do drop me a line at Tony@schools.co.uk If you would like to know more about our services of helping companies sell to schools, there is a lot more information here.
Or please do call 01604 880 927.