Shaping Your Consultancy’s Thought Leadership To Accelerate Growth
“My team has been putting in a lot of effort into creating premium content that showcases our consultancy’s expertise. But not much is happening.”
This is a copy-paste from one of the email chains with a prospective client early on in our communication.
This subject comes up often. In fact, the lack of ROI is one of the most common frustrations and objections that I encounter with consultancies.
There are several reasons why your firm’s thought leadership content is not driving its business development.
One big reason is the lack of a clear goal or strategy that consulting firms use when crafting every piece of content.
Here’s the problem. If you don’t have a goal, how can you measure success? How do you even begin to define “success” and “success metrics”?
If you don’t have an overarching strategy, how do you decide on what the right topic for your content is? How do you determine when to make adjustments? How do you tie it all together?
My strong belief – and a tried-and-tested method – is that consultancies must frame all their expertise-driven content efforts to generate demand.
That’s exactly what I’ll be discussing in this article: what demand generation is, why you need it, and how to go about it.
Why is your consultancy’s expertise-driven content not converting?
Not all content is thought leadership. And not all thought leadership content generates the same ROI and business development results.
As I explained in my article on why consulting leaders can’t outsource their expertise-driven content generation to marketing, true leading-thought content requires deep expertise in a narrow field.
It can’t be a superficial-level piece that anyone can put together with 2-3 hours of research.
The new archetype consulting firm, openly sharing its expertise, doesn’t worry about making money but about educating its target audience to help them solve their problems. The result of not worrying about money is that they will make more money.
However, as you get your consultants in the habit of producing thought leadership content regularly, it’s equally important to communicate the goal of such pieces and the best approaches that can achieve business development results.
We live in a buyers' market
Remember, 70-90% of the ‘selling’ is done before prospects even engage with consultancy firms. They Google your firm and individual consultants. They browse through LinkedIn posts and case studies. They check out the feedback from past clients. They connect with peers in their industry. They exchange experiences in groups and communities. They check out reviews, expecting 5-star assessments from former clients.
The buyer has unlimited information, immediately available at the fingertips.
Now, say your consultancy deals with marketing technologies. Your consultants can write in-depth reviews of products. They can offer insights into the market and make expert observations about upcoming trends. These are great pieces, but in this form, they will not get your consultancy far.
Why? Because they are not inspiring actions among the buyers who are coming across this content. These types of pieces are not encouraging their readers to change anything about their current way of being or to shoot a message to your consultancy. Sure, they are educating, but they are not selling.
Business development is rooted in education
Yes, educating your audience should be at the base of your consultancy’s marketing and business development strategy. However, the goal is to motivate your target audience to reach out to you with an inquiry about your services. That’s the prism through which you need to create the body of work.
Furthermore, failing to unify your consultants’ marketing efforts around very specific, tangible goals means you can’t accurately measure your progress over time. You simply can’t compare the performance of different pieces if you don’t have a roadmap you’re following and are using to compare the results against.
What is demand generation?
Demand generation is an approach to content marketing that aims to generate interest among the target audience in the product or service you sell.
In consulting, demand generation-driven content is based on two pillars:
- Audience education: This is how you demonstrate your firm’s expertise. This is how you build trust and increase awareness. Your content authoritatively proves your consultants’ deep expertise and a thorough understanding of the target audience.
- Audience action: This is how you motivate your audience to reach out to your firm. You need to give them a reason to want to change their current status and hire your consultants to help them do it.
Recommended reading: The Best Way To Grow A Consulting Firm? Educate Your Audience!
Going back to my example of a marketing tech consultancy. As I said, explaining the current market and upcoming trends can showcase your consultants’ expertise. You can check off “audience education” with this type of content.
However, to turn pieces like this into demand generation-driven content, you must take it a step further.
- You can, for example, explain why it is detrimental that companies align their marketing stack around a single solution – failing to do that will cost them a lot of money and is unsustainable in the long run.
- You can explain why the trend that you predict for next year MUST be acted upon this year. Failing to do so now may result in costly fines, significantly longer downtime periods, dissatisfied customers, and so on.
Encourage action. Encourage change. Explain the problem, explain the solution, and demonstrate your superior ability to solve the pain point and deliver strong results.
That’s how you generate demand with your expertise-driven content.
How I organize my content to generate demand for my expertise
Over the years, I developed my signature style in content. Most of my readers can recognize my pieces just by reading the first paragraph.
The ability to develop my unique voice is a by-product of certain habits and the mindset that I had developed.
I usually start with the WHAT. I try to use real-life examples of problems my audience faces. Or place a pain point in a larger context. This part is really easy. I have a giant Google doc where I copy-paste emails and add notes from Zoom calls with prospects whenever they bring up an objection, a hesitation, or a problem they are facing. All I have to do, just like I did here, is go into that pool of inspiration and pick a problem that I’d like to address with my post.
Then, I explain the WHY. Why is this problem happening? What is the root cause of this specific pain point? Is this problem a result of internal or external factors?
I then proceed to explain the HOW. This is the advice part of my pieces. I offer an alternative route. I explain how my target audience can use this different approach to not only solve their pain point but the transition to a much better place – stronger business results, organic growth, better efficiency, happier clients, etc.
Finally, I try to close off my pieces with the NOW. I explain why continuing to stay in the current state damages my audience. I urge them to use the knowledge that they’ve acquired from my piece to take action today.
My trick? I want to make my audience feel comfortable with the idea of change. Because change is scary. Change is uncertainty. And many of us hesitate to take that next step.
That’s why I like to give practical suggestions on how to start small and build up from there. It’s not as scary when it’s gradual. It’s not as scary when it’s one step at a time. As long as you get moving today.
How to rock demand-gen audience education as a consulting business development strategy?
Here are three methods you can start using right away when putting together thought leadership content that educates your audience to generate demand. You can mix and match them depending on the topic.
- Shift the potential client’s thinking
Here, the goal is to explain common practices, approaches, strategies, and beliefs within your target audience members. Then, show them why it’s not the most optimal one. Explain the alternative – your strategy, your approach, your practices. Provide evidence of why the alternative will deliver significantly stronger results for your target audience.
- Picture the transformational potential
In these pieces, your main goal is to convince your audience that changing their status quo is necessary. Paint a picture of what waits for them on the other side. It can be significantly higher productivity, lower costs, exponential business growth, high retention rate, etc. This way allows your audience to draw a mental comparison between their current state and what could be.
- Explain the cost of inaction
Here, you need to use your deep expertise to educate your audience on why maintaining the status quo is a bad idea. For example, my argument to my audience is that failing to offer highly specialized services to a narrow audience means your consultancy is racing to the bottom, given the dynamics of the market and shifts in buyer habits.
Use these three methods to formulate the concept of your article and create an outline. As you do it repeatedly, you will notice that it becomes a natural part of your content production, whether it’s an article, a conference presentation, or a social media post. It just becomes a mindset.
What formats should your consultants keep in mind when educating their audience?
Finally, let’s talk about content formats for your demand generation approach.
There are different mediums for communicating your expertise, educating your audience, and inspiring action. I’ll use examples from my expertise-driven body of work to illustrate the formats.
First, you have blog articles. I use blog posts, like this one, to dive deep into topics. Most of my pieces are longer than 1,000 words. I realize that it’s quite a bit to read, which is why I try to structure my writing. I make sure to use titles and subtitles, organize my thoughts into bullet lists, etc. Blog posts are currently my main medium for educating my audience and generating demand for my expertise.
I also have a rich portfolio as a conference speaker. Presenting at events is yet another opportunity to educate your audience by deeply diving into a topic. I usually do a case study, explain a pain point and offer a solution, or highlight my prediction of trends and what their impact is going to be on my target audience.
In 2021, I hosted a series of webinars. Here, I would zoom in on a specific problem and coach my audience on the proven methods that help overcome that problem. I would always make it a point to explain the importance of changing the approach I’m suggesting and show evidence of how this approach delivers results.
I use social media posts, LinkedIn especially, to communicate one thought at a time. I know that people tend to scroll through their feed and don’t have the patience to read essays. So I try to keep my posts focused on a single thought. My goal here is to engage my audience, source their thoughts, to gauge their interest. I don't put any links in my posts (except on Saturdays) e.g. to my website/blog content. I am sharing my thinking straight 'in the feed' of my followers. It's where I meet my target audience, who don't like to move away from Linkedin to read my other content.
Finally, I use my newsletter to deliver the most important content to my busy readers. I offer a breakdown of my LinkedIn posts, I provide an in-depth piece on a specific subject, I provide a relevant piece of evidence – a statistic – to further educate my audience and shift their thinking, and I end with a list of my services that they can benefit from.
Recycle, repurpose, update, and reformat your content
I publish a lot of content. I produce a few long blog posts per month, I create ebooks and guides a couple of times a year, I publish posts on LinkedIn almost daily, and every now and then, I also do guest posts or podcasts.
And no, I’m not driving myself crazy, writing and composing for hours daily. In fact, I don’t spend more than 3 hours per week on my content.
My secret – though, it’s not really a secret since I’ve been actively promoting this approach – is to recycle, repurpose, update, and reformat my content.
I put a lot of effort into creating larger pieces. These blog posts are at the core of my content strategy. I then put these larger pieces through my content machine. I extract individual thoughts and share them in a short format on LinkedIn. I gather statistics from various articles and turn them into an infographic (well, my marketing assistant does – her design skills are superior to mine). I take a recording of my webinar and break it down into main takeaways and also publish it in article form.
Furthermore, I make sure to update my older pieces regularly. As the market changes, I want to ensure that my content remains relevant. So I finetune my articles – some yearly, some more often than that. As a result, I can use an article I originally published two years ago and put it through another spin in my content machine.
Recommended reading: My 1-Day-Per-Week Content Machine That Consultants Can Replicate
Pay attention to the visual consistency of your content
This is my last piece of advice for today.
As your consultancy transitions towards producing demand generation-driven leading thought pieces, get in the habit of ensuring they are visually consistent.
As a medium-sized or large consultancy, this is the job you can easily pass on to your marketing team. Have them create featured images for your posts, cover art for podcast episodes, infographics, the design of ebooks, the design of presentation slides for speaking engagements, etc.
Having brand consistency across your visuals will allow your audience to instantly recognize your firm’s content.
“Content marketing”, and “thought leadership” – are all very general terms. On their own, they do not mean much for business development in consulting. Once you actually get on the path of content marketing and thought leadership, you need to define very specific goals and map out a strategy that will get you there. Otherwise, you can end up spending 10 hours a week producing insightful pieces and see no meaningful results.
OR, you can take on the demand generation approach – channel your leading-thought content towards motivating change in your target audience’s way of thinking and behavior. This is when you will start seeing an increase in the ROI of your consultancy’s thought leadership efforts. This is when audience education becomes a business development machine.
And you don’t even have to start from scratch. Go back to your old pieces. Read them and ask yourself: “How can I update this case study/post to make it action-driven? What do I want my audience to do with this knowledge that I’m sharing?” And then share, repurpose, recycle, and do it all over again.
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Hello, I’m Luk Smeyers, and I’m helping mid-sized consultancies become high-performing consulting firms. I have been in the consulting businesses for more than 20 years, in very different roles: as European CHRO in a global consultancy, as a founder of a mid-sized analytics consultancy, and as a leader in a 'Big 4' consultancy, post-acquisition of my consultancy. I had the privilege of achieving global visibility as a consulting leader, and I never had to sell, persuade, or negotiate as a result. I have now bundled all those experiences, expertise, know-how, research, reading, successes, struggles, and failures from managing and advising consultancies in the past years.