How many languages do you speak?
I’ve been learning two new languages… Italian, just for fun; and Marketese, for professional reasons.
Marketese is marketing jargon, BTW.
You know, all those terms and abbreviations that describe the ins and outs of the marketing profession: MQL, SQL, LTV, CAC, PPC, SEO.
And don’t forget the business concepts we have to deal with on a daily basis: GTM, MVP, KPI, OKR, and SOS (when you need help).
Well, I’ve decided we don’t have enough 😉 and came up with a new one just for thought leadership:
Thought-Lead Growth (TLG).
There are a few business strategies that companies swear by and build their revenue journey on, like:
- Product-Led Growth (PLG), where the product itself drives the business growth, attracting, converting, and retaining customers. This model is common in SaaS, where users can discover, sign up and use the product by themselves with little or no involvement from sales or customer success.
- Sales-Led Growth (SLG), where sales reps are the ones driving growth, through prospecting, negotiating, and closing deals. This model is more common for service companies or enterprise sales where deals are complex and the solutions must be customized.
- Marketing-Led Growth (MLG), where a company uses marketing strategies to attract and convert clients. For B2C products, this is the standard. In B2B, MLG is more like an add-on to PLG or SLG. For solopreneurs, this is what they are always told to do.
- Costumer-Led Growth (CLG), is where a business uses customer insights and feedback to improve the overall experience, thus retaining more customers and inviting word-of-mouth referrals.
Until recently, few people have considered thought leadership as a growth strategy, especially because it’s hard to measure the results (but not impossible, as Rand Fishkin has shown).
The fact is that Thought-Led Growth can be an effective strategy for:
- SaaS companies to strengthen their PLG motion.
- Service companies and solopreneurs to boost their SLG or MLG strategies.
Why PLG Needs TLG
PLG is more about better UX and reducing friction in the buying process than differentiation and uniqueness. PLG companies tend to have very strong product teams and lots of new features to keep product marketers busy.
But the competition is also busy copying their features and coming up with new ones on their own.
Marketing ends up being a battle of features.
In fact, they spend a lot of time creating battle cards for sales reps and landing pages comparing features with each competitor (which are then placed in paid ads for people searching for the competitor’s name).
I used to work at a SaaS company with a very successful PLG motion, driving thousands of sign-ups every week. The company created a comprehensive product that does a lot of things: it’s a contact database, a sales engagement platform, and an analytics powerhouse. Yet, most users tend to use only one of the features, not all in conjunction.
Why? Because customers have been primed to look for the “best in class” feature. They will try different tools to look for that optimal experience. So reps end up with a bunch of tools, jumping from one to another.
But there’s an inherent problem in that: context switching. Sales reps switch between tasks every 3 minutes. Add common distractions to that (like meetings and Slack) and the fact that it can take up to 20+ minutes just to get back on track. No wonder productivity is a problem.
Maybe you didn’t notice, but what I just did right here is a bit of thought leadership marketing (TLM) by emphasizing the problem.
TLM evangelizes the problem and gives people a reason to pay attention to what they need, not just the shiny new features of a product.
That’s why product-led companies need a Thought-Led Growth strategy to move the conversation FROM which features are better TO why you need to tackle this problem and try our solution.
Thought-Led Growth doubles down on educating prospects about the problem to attract them and convert them into customers.
Why SLG Needs TLG
Thought leadership Growth gives reps in an SLG motion the ammunition they need to convince people to buy.
But isn’t that what content marketing does? Yes, but it’s not as effective anymore. People are tired of the same old tactics of gated content, webinar recordings, and product pitches disguised as blog posts.
As I’ve talked about previously, thought leadership upgrades the traditional content marketing strategy with disruptive ideas that make people stop in their tracks and listen.
The average pitch I get every other day from a sales rep goes something like, “We have helped companies like yours do X and obtain Y results. Would you like to jump on a call and discuss?”
While traditional content marketing would provide sellers with a few blog posts and videos to share with prospects and build “authority and trust,” TLM goes deeper.
Let’s be honest. You can hardly build trust by sharing a link. First, you have to convince them to click. Second, the article has to be very good (thought-leadership good).
A TLM pitch would look more like gifting a copy of your (or your company’s) book. This is an immediate show of expertise and authority. And it works.
The I.D.E.A.S. Framework for TLM assets starts with “I” for Intellectual property (e.g. a book).
A book with your original POV and framework is the most underrated yet the most powerful asset in any thought leadership marketing strategy.
Very few companies do this, yet those I’ve spoken to that have testified of the power of a published book in their evangelism strategy.
- BombBomb (Ethan Beute) — Human-Centered Communication
- Uberflip (Randy Frisch) — F*ck Content Marketing
- Gainsight (Dan Steinman) — Customer Success
- Challenger (Jen Allen) — The Challenger Sale
Here’s what Dan Steinman says:
“Sending a hardcover book to people gets their attention very differently than sending them emails or leaving them voice mails. So our sales team got a lot of mileage out of the book as did our events team because we gave it away at conferences and things like that and it had a huge impact. Seventy thousand copies have been sold of the book. It’s hard for me to go anywhere where someone doesn’t have it or hasn’t read it. So probably of all the things we’ve done other than our conference, what’s probably been the most impactful is the fact that we wrote the book on customer success and we promoted the heck out of it and we gave it away. I mean, we spent money to make that a real marketing vehicle for ourselves.”
Books are not the only vehicle. You can also offer access to original research data or exclusive VIP events.
So how do I define TLG?
Thought-Led Growth is a business strategy that uses thought leadership marketing to attract, convert, and retain customers.
Thought-Led Growth is for those who want to be the leaders in their niches or industry. It’s not about being better than the competition, but being the one.
Coming up with a unique POV, writing a framework and publishing a book about it, conducting original research, and building a community of loyal fans is the road less traveled. But it’s the road thought leaders take.
You can copy what others are doing, publishing LinkedIn posts and blogs based on quick templates for the sake of likes and views.
Or you can create disruptive content that positions you as an expert.
Lead or follow—your choice.