A compelling POV built on top of a strong thought leadership strategy separates your consulting firm from the rest. It’s the most powerful way to convey your expertise to clients before they hire you. It does this by demonstrating your unique approach to solving their most pressing business problems.
But finding the right topics is difficult. Many firms take a regressive route, writing about current projects or client questions. This backward approach spreads thinking thin when your clients want to go deep.
Such shallow, retrospective content fails to make an impact on the types of clients you’d ideally like to work with. It doesn’t help you dig deep into your clients’ most pressing problems, nor does it do justice to the real value you can deliver.
Instead, take a thoughtful approach to identify master topics that align with your firm’s point of view (POV). Choose issues that educate and inspire while connecting to your capabilities. This proactive strategy will yield focused thought leadership that attracts clients seeking your unique expertise.
5 STEPS TO DEVELOPING THOUGHT LEADERSHIP TOPICS YOUR CLIENTS CARE ABOUT
An effective thought leadership strategy breaks down the clients you serve and the problems you solve into a set of discrete, actionable topics on which to stake a claim. This 5-step process will help you gather what you already know, organize it, and identify what’s most relevant and important for your ideal clients.
#1 — CONDUCT QUALITATIVE INTERVIEWS
There’s a reason your clients hired you when they did. They saw your firm’s ability to help achieve their vision or overcome a sticky problem. Something about you made you stand out. Exploring what that “something” is could lead you to uncover topics you hadn’t thought about before. The best way to start this exploration is through internal interviews with your firm’s senior and practice leaders, and external interviews with your clients. Using a structured interview guide for both sets of interviews, dive into the decision-making process of your clients hiring you.
Ask questions like:
- What were they really hoping to get out of an engagement with you and why? Dig deep beyond the obvious answers of revenue growth or cost reduction.
- Which client challenges have been difficult to overcome in the past and why? Regardless of your firm type, consider challenges of all types. For example, a strategy consulting firm might consider organizational challenges (e.g. executing on strategic direction), functional challenges (e.g. developing a portfolio of strategic options), and leaders’ individual issues (e.g. inspiring change).
- Which of these challenges do they see becoming more or less difficult in the future? It’s always interesting to compare how your subject matter experts view challenges evolving with the perspective of your clients.
- What organizational challenges did your client face to bring a firm like yours onboard? In today’s buying environment, even when a leadership team knows what to do building consensus and alignment on doing it is quite difficult.
Using an interview guide will help you bring structure to your analysis, but don’t be afraid to follow any threads of new ideas you normally wouldn’t think about. That’s usually where you’ll find unexpected nuggets of insight.
#2 — BUILD A MATRIX OF ISSUES AND SUB-ISSUES
Identifying thought leadership topics can feel like a creative exercise, but it requires some organization and operational practice to be truly effective. This looks like documenting and categorizing all the various problems clients hire you to help them solve and the nuances for how you solve them. Do this right and you’ll easily have 40 or 50 issues to explore — maybe even 100.
Once you have them all listed, start grouping them so they are easy to identify. Your goal is to group issues under master themes and sub-topics so you can focus your resources in a handful of areas. No matter how large your firm is, you should be able to count all your master themes on your own two hands. Keeping your master topics ten or under helps you avoid spreading your thinking too thin. If you find yourself with 20 or 30 master themes your thought leadership strategy will be too shallow.
#3 — TEST THE WATERS WITH CLIENTS
Thought leadership works best when it taps into both societal trends and pressing challenges that resonate with your ideal clients. Your clients want content that provides better ways to solve their real problems. To prioritize the issues you’ve discovered, conduct an online survey with your clients, prospects, and newsletter readers (if you have them). If you need to go outside to a research organization to increase the sample, it’s worth it to do so.
The goal of the survey is to pinpoint which issues and challenges from your list of issues and sub-issues clients see as most important to their business. And equally important, determine which challenges they have the most and least confidence in their ability to overcome on their own.
#4 — PRIORITIZE ISSUES AND SUB-ISSUES
Once you have your survey results, it’s time to analyze and identify one to two master topics, along with a handful of sub-issues. Look across the data to find those topics where clients see high importance and feel low confidence. This importance-confidence gap represents your best opportunity to develop compelling new insights. This generic example shows a firm that would likely want to prioritize topics 1 and 5:
Match these issues and sub-issues with your firm’s strengths and weaknesses, highlighting which topics are most relevant to your firm. These should be your top priorities to address for the next year. Once you understand what those topics are, the next step is to assign subject matter experts (or SMEs) who are best suited to be the voice for the topics. Topics that lack a clear SME often represent opportunities to elevate a “nexpert” from within the firm.
#5 — DEVELOP A COMPELLING POV FOR EACH MASTER ISSUE
A compelling POV attracts ideal clients, solves real burning problems, and serves as the North Star for both your firm’s marketing efforts and its solutions design. Tap experts within your organization to be the subject matter experts to “own” each master issue. Work with them using our 5-step process for developing a POV that is compelling and unique. While sometimes that unique POV will emerge from a subject matter expert’s experience in the field, don’t be discouraged if that’s not the case. The reality is that the most compelling POVs are often discovered through research.
CLAIM YOUR DIFFERENTIATOR WITH A SOLID SLATE OF THOUGHT LEADERSHIP TOPICS
In a crowded marketplace, a focused thought leadership strategy is the best way to build brand relevance and client preference. It cements your status as an authority on the topics most vital to clients — and demonstrates your firm’s proficiency in guiding them to innovative solutions. By tackling issues with conviction and foresight, your content will keep you top of mind for issues that matter and make you the preferred option when clients are ready to buy.