How to stand up organizational thought leadership and who should own it. An interview with…
A discussion about inviting employees to be the face of your brand and share their thought leadership , and how their input can improve your entire organization.
An interview with Eric Dates about adding thought leadership to a growing organization.
How do you bring thought leadership online in a quickly growing organization?
It’s a task that can be easily over-complicated, adding more spinning plates to employees who already have their hands full. So how do you make it work?
We’ve invited Eric Dates, the Director, Growth Marketing at Ncontracts, a software firm providing risk management and compliance to a rapidly expanding customer base of financial institutes. Eric’s voice adds to the conversation as someone who is currently adding and expanding the role thought leadership plays at his company.
Eric shares how he kick-started thought leadership at Ncontracts by finding people inside the organization who are interested in becoming the face of the brand. He’s found that people get excited at the prospect of being offered the space to share their voice on behalf of the org.
Getting people interested in thought leadership might be easier than the task of creating it. Eric explains how he helps people break down the large task of thought leadership creation into smaller chunks, to avoid employees feeling overwhelmed. We also discuss how to integrate a high-profile employee into the thought leadership program without overshadowing others or taking away from the many voices that are involved.
If you want to understand how to better shine the spotlight on the amazing talent in your company, as well as share great ideas, this episode will
move you in the right direction.
Three Key Takeaways:
- By showcasing a variety of the talented people in your organization, they gain credibility and create a level of trust for the entire org. Credibility that can be relied on, and will pay off in every future interaction.
- Getting subject matter experts to move into thought leadership involves giving them the space and confidence to share their ideas.
- Understanding the full potential of employees contributing to the org’s thought leadership can help marketers move the needle.
Join the Organizational Thought Leadership Newsletter to learn more about expanding thought leadership within your organization! This monthly newsletter is full of practical information, advice, and ideas to help you reach your organization’s thought leadership goals.
Bill Sherman How does a marketing team move into thought leadership? It’s not like you can flip a switch and suddenly the light of your org’s thought leadership shines everywhere. You need to get momentum for your thought leadership within the walk. And so today I speak with Eric Gates. He’s the director of Growth Marketing at End Contracts, a software firm that manages risk and compliance for financial services firms. And today, we’re going to talk about launching thought leadership within a marketing team. How do you set up an employee advocacy program? How do you recruit experts to participate? And how do you balance everything? Aligning the experts professional goals, your target audience needs, and the org’s objectives. I’m Bill Sherman and you’re listening to Leveraging Thought Leadership. Ready? Let’s begin.
Bill Sherman Welcome to the show, Eric.
Eric Dates Thanks, Bill. Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
Bill Sherman So let’s dive in with a question that I think a lot of people wonder about. If you’re in an organization that is growing, has a growth trajectory and is trying to use thought leadership to help reach those goals. How do you bring thought leadership online within an organization which is high growth or aspiring towards high growth?
Eric Dates That’s a great question. And I think it’s. So common. And it’s something that can be simple and a lot of the times it gets overcomplicated with how many levels you had to bring it to and whatnot. So, kind of how we here. My current job was an contracts company. Our whole staff is comprised of industry expertise. And when you have such a great wealth of knowledge, you almost become so used to it being very common nomenclature with where you’re at. So you almost take it for granted when you’re looking at developing content for marketing strategies or overall corporate comes, etc. So, kind of where we started was, hey, let’s find the folks internally that have something to say, have an opinion on something in our industry, and let’s see if they’re interested in kind of putting a face to a brand. And that’s kind of where we started these conversations. And of course, you know, naturally everyone gets excited when you start saying you want to make them this face, whether it’s of a certain core aspect of the business or if it’s the overall face of the company. It just stirs up a different person and it’s really exciting. And you start to have those conversations of, I’ve always wanted to do X or I’ve always dreamed of having my own videos on LinkedIn. So, kind of generating that initial excitement is how at least we here did kind of just launch this idea of how we’re going to get thought leadership into the market. So it’s kind of that initial marketing internally to your to your peers and colleagues of, hey, how do I get them excited enough to say, Yeah, I’m okay with doing that.
Bill Sherman Absolutely. Because if you don’t clear that first hurdle, then either it winds up being just a pure anonymous marketing function because you can’t put a face with a name at that point. And I think in many cases, when you can put that human voice with it, it takes on a different characteristic.
Eric Dates I totally agree. And kind of that other kind of hurdle that is common to jump over is how do I make. Something that could potentially come off as a big pill to swallow. How do I make that? Easily downloadable, small bite sized chunks. So that way they don’t see it as a huge project that’s going to overtake their whole job. Right. And that was another aspect.
Bill Sherman Well, and let’s pause there for a moment because. There are several different ways of doing this. It can either be become a percentage of their job or it can be, Hey, we’d like your help on this, but it’s in addition to the 32 other things that you cover, and it’s one more spinning plate in a world of spinning plates. How did you approach that challenge?
Eric Dates So really I broke it down at its most simple form of what are we trying to communicate is it’s words, right? We have words and words are constantly firing through our minds as we hear things, as we read things, etc. So kind of how we saw success was starting this on a more grand scale is, hey, when we’re looking for thought leadership from you, really all we’re looking for is for you to do a massive brain dump, whether it’s on to a word doc or let’s put in front of a camera, ask you a question and see what happens, because we’re looking for that authenticity, right. That I think is so valuable when you’re having a thought leadership strategy and overall implementation. So it was just really, really cool to see how. That progress and what that turned into once we started doing it. But yeah, we really just said, Hey, let’s start with the words. Let’s get those words in a place where we can either edit them or listen to them, and we’ll start there.
Bill Sherman And that’s one of the things that I think is a barrier. Many times you have experts who have. Insights that are in their head, which feel commonplace to them. And they’re convinced that, well, just everybody knows this. Right? But if you get those insights to the right people, they’re like, okay, that gives me a first step on a journey that I didn’t know how to start. And so that process of extracting knowledge or codifying it and even coming up with the plan to share it really becomes that first hurdle. Because I think you’re leaving brilliance untapped if you don’t have some way to get it, like you said, onto video or on the page to begin with.
Eric Dates Absolutely. And it’s funny with folks who are subject matter experts, whether they call themselves SME or they don’t they may not identify as one, even though they totally are. And those folks are my favorite because, you know, you can see that person evolve into this natural like I am confident now what I’m saying and I’ve now remove myself from this almost internal bias of, Hey, I hear this every day, how could this be valuable for people if this is something I talk about all the time? And then once you kind of show them this path of like this market out here of this channel, when we push this out, you’re getting ten, 20, 50 responses to something that you said and something just clicked and they’re like, Oh, my goodness. I really know what I’m talking about.
Bill Sherman So it sounds like that process of going to someone who may not see themselves as a subject matter expert is something that you actually did in this process. Is there a story or an example that you can flesh out? You know, did they push back, paint that picture? How did you help that person see that they had something to contribute?
Eric Dates Absolutely. I think a great example here with my company now we have a group, extremely integral group or a department called Our Solution Architects. You know, they’re the ones who whenever a product demo is happening, they’re a master of the product in some aspect of the industry. So, we have some very strong teammates there who have a wealth of knowledge. And what we uncovered was, as we were kind of pushing this idea of, hey, we want to record some videos with you just talking. And since they’re almost blinded by a title of I’m a you know, I’m a solution architect, I know how to do this really well with this product. Why is marketing approaching me and saying that they want to put me in front of a camera when we’ve got Michael, our CEO, who knows everything? Why? Why me? And then we start to say, well, that’s exactly why. It’s because you’re engaging with potential clients and customers on a daily basis. Your face is so much more common than you think in our business, right? Because they’re seeing you on a zoom call. They’re seeing you on a team’s call demoing the product. They’re asking you the hard questions. And while, again, going back to that bias of, well, this is just my job, I say this every day, they really start to see, okay, that that actually makes total sense because I am talking to these people so much and in kind of the stems a little bit more to the marketing aspect to this, but it’s hey, now that your face is so familiarized with clients and customers, if I get you before the demo happens out to the market as a thought leader. And then someone comes in as a prospect, requests a demo to see some software, and they see you again. All this there’s like instant credibility of, wow, I saw what you were saying on LinkedIn and now I get to ask you all these questions on a one-on-one basis. It just it sparks such a better organic, credibility driven conversation.
Bill Sherman And I think one of the things there is you have the opportunity as the organization to credentials, as the expert, where if they have to introduce themselves for the first time on that demo call or a zoom. There are things that, if they were to say themselves, would sound either a little odd or even raging narcissistic. Right? Whereas you can shine the spotlight on an expert in that sort of pre phase through marketing and credentials them in an entirely different way that they could never talk about themselves 100%.
Eric Dates I mean, that’s. To me, that’s just so powerful the way you communicated that. Really. I didn’t. You did a great job clarifying that, but my mind kind of exploded. That’s you’re talking about that because you’re right in this world of titles. And you know what? What degrees did you go get after you graduated undergraduate or what specialties did you achieve? And it’s almost putting the proof in the pudding. Before any of that even happens. So, I just really blew my mind. That’s a it’s a really cool way to think about it.
Bill Sherman And I love what you’re doing of helping showcase talent that may they may not realize how much relevance their expertise has to the people who are using the product, using the service on a daily basis. And those are the experts that when things get hard, they turn to and trust.
Eric Dates 100%. And I think something you said actually right when we first met way back when through LinkedIn and when we were talking around know, hey, Bill, how do you define what that leadership is? And you answer that with kind of and I’m going to butcher this, I apologize. But, you know, you almost have to show the folks where you’re going to take them, what’s where this industry is headed before it’s headed. They’re right almost. You’re leading the thinking. And when I started to dissect that and I spent a good amount of time just thinking on, you know, what does that what does that mean? I read some of the things you sent over, and I just had this epiphany. And again, this is all credit to your writing in great words and the way that you’ve formatted all this, because it just again, something just clicked like, oh, my goodness, if we can get something out into the market. From a lead generation perspective in marketing, I’m using this information on a medium of video or a podcast that’s got this solution architect or whomever is doing the speaking, talking about something our product solves. And if I’m a prospect, I have not heard that before. Now I’m thinking you have something that I either don’t know about or kind of knew about, but now I know I want it. And it really is kind of leading that thinking of like, Oh my gosh, I need to listen to this person or, hey, I need to listen to this company because what they’re doing is ten years ahead of where I’m at now in my current job.
Bill Sherman Or it may even be closer. It may be a year or 18 months away. But you’re not thinking about it because you’re putting out today’s fires. Right. And if someone’s telling you, look, this is going to be a fire you have to deal with in 12 to 18 months. Here’s what you can do today in fire prevention to make sure you’re not screaming 12 months from now.
Eric Dates 100.
Bill Sherman You do that a couple of times. People will come back to you again and again. And I think one of the things that you were describing on building that relationship early between the voice of the company and the people who are in need of solutions is. You’re building a rapport in what I would describe as a very cost effective way that allows you to punch above your weight as an organization. Right. You can accomplish more than your size normally would let you.
Eric Dates Absolutely. That hit the nail on the head right there is you can you can be the gorilla in the room without being the gorilla in the room, you know.
Bill Sherman So where does the leadership go for you? What are the challenges that you see your organization? Addressing and what’s the next steps on the journey?
Eric Dates So with one of our I say more recent hires onto the team for marketing, it’s been about 6 to 9 months. Time flies these days. But you know, we had onboarded ex regulator from the OCP in our world that’s extremely impactful for when they speak and everyone drops everything and listens. So that’s kind of this next project that we’re working on is how do we capitalize on this wealth of knowledge, right? 30 plus years working in that space. I mean, that alone is just incredible. How can we to your point on Voice of the Company, how can we add that in an organic and authentic way into what we’re saying? That doesn’t come off as like, Oh, hey, we’ve got this awesome guy coming in. We’re going to let him steal the show now and he’s got everything you need. So we’re trying to understand how we. Not bridge the gap, but merge these two. Kind of opinions and points of view. We have our overall company that we’ve been establishing for a long time and we’re enhancing that and getting that louder in the market. But then he brings such a unique perspective and point of view that I think what the market is looking for is his opinion. Because I think sometimes an experts opinion when they’re not being held down by a brand or a company, sometimes their opinion can be. That that connection point for someone. I, I think that way too. I’ve always wondered if someone in your shoes thinks that way. If you think that way. Okay, then. Then this company must clearly think that way. And that’s how they start to get engaged in that environment. So we’re really kind of still just scraping the tip of the iceberg with that strategy of how do we take this plan, an idea laid out from a channel perspective format, etc., and then go to market with this plan that feels authentic and cohesive while also bringing some more of a true opinion into the mix.
Bill Sherman And that advantage of having 30 years of expertise, like you said, working with the governing authority on the top. Allows the ability to have a range of opinions. And I think one of the challenges that you wind up having on an editorial is, okay, we could have him talk about, you know, ten, 20, 30, 50 different things and he’ll have opinions which are the ones which are most relevant to your audience as well as which then tie back to your organization and the needs that you’re trying to accomplish.
Eric Dates Absolutely. And that hits it perfectly because it’s almost like we’re dealing with trading now, two brands that have to work in tandem, but then can also work successfully apart. Because again, after working for 30 years, again, it’s awesome to have him on board. But I’m hoping and I will assume he’s going to go out and enjoy life and just do his thing and capitalize on all that hard work that he’s done for 30 plus years. So once that exit kind of happens, which is inevitable, we have to make sure that those two are then separate enough so we can kind of go into his own world and create the brand that we all know. He’s going to just do an absolute great job at creating.
Bill Sherman If you are enjoying this episode of Leveraging Thought Leadership, please make sure to subscribe. If you’d like to help spread the word about the podcast, please leave a five-star review and share it with your friends. We are available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and all major platforms as well as at LeveragingThoughtLeadership.com.
Bill Sherman And that’s one of the interesting intersections between personal brand and thought leadership, right? And thought leadership has a portability like personal brand. But as you talk about, there are ways for thought leadership of the organization and an individual to come together sort of in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. You know, the chocolate and the peanut butter combination where you go one plus one equals more than two for the time that they’re together.
Eric Dates Absolutely. And that that is to me. The art that is, you know, merging an end goal with a and making it cohesive. And I would be the first to say that we have been doing a lot of trial. And an error. Trial by fire, if you will. And again, it’s not officers.
Bill Sherman Testing is also a nice, good phrase for that. There we go. Let’s test this and see if it works.
Eric Dates You know it yet again. Those does make as confident of a decision as you can make. But also, don’t sit on it for 6 to 9 months. It’s you know, we just wasted way too much time trying to make it perfect again, I think. Kind of as a inflection point for one our marketing team but to the organization is what does I’ll say what is what is good look like for us, right? What is good and then what is great look like and what is perfect case scenario as that kind of we’re striving for that, but we can’t wait for that. We got to get going on these things. So, we’re, you know, we’re making mistakes and we’re, we’re enjoying it along the way. But I think and this kind of speaks more to a marketing content strategy thing is, is if you’re always creating content, it may not fit the bill for something like a thought leadership player, Hey, this is going to be great for a personal brand. There might be 30 seconds in that video that you captured of, you know, an hour. It’s like, man, that was powerful. We should totally use that as an organic pose for this. And again, it’s amazing when you’re always creating and always just getting those words out into the medium that even though it may not be what you wanted, there’s still something that you can use for the organization and the goal. So it’s been really cool to kind of just learn. Putting changing the tires on a moving car is kind of the perfect analogy, but it’s been really, really enjoyable to just kind of. Watch a lot of this kind of unfurl. And again, like I said, we’re just at the tip of the iceberg right now.
Bill Sherman And that’s something that I think a lot of organizations are going through right now. And that metaphor that you use of changing the tires on a moving car is how does thought leadership fit into an existing marketing strategy? How does it fit into an overall business strategy or with R&D and figuring out where the lanes are and where the boundaries and handoffs are become very important. But you learn by doing rather than, you know, whiteboarding it to the nth degree.
Eric Dates Exactly that. That perfectly sums up what a lot of people would be hesitant to do. It’s this. This isn’t my perfect picture yet. I can’t let go of this. I can’t see it go live. It’s not ready. But it totally might be, you know. So it’s a great, great, great way to put it.
Bill Sherman So you referenced a question that you asked me early on in our conversations a year, year and a half ago. And I want to turn the question to you without a twist. Okay.
Eric Dates Okay.
Bill Sherman You’ve mentioned subject matter experts and we’ve been talking about top leadership. What to you is the difference, if any, between someone who’s a subject matter expert and someone who’s practicing for leadership?
Eric Dates So I would say the main difference. This is just one man’s opinion here. But I would say the main difference between the two stems on something we talked about here is the earlier conversation is. To me, someone in thought leadership is someone who has the confidence and self-perception of I am a thought leader. I think there’s a lot of meat on those bones there of like, hey, if I’m a subject matter expert, that’s great. You know, I may know everything there is to know about, let’s just say, marketing, because that’s what I work in. Not saying I know everything by any means, but let’s just say, yeah, hypothetically speaking, in a crazy world where I know everything about marketing. But I’m not confident enough to sit in front of a camera and show folks what’s in my brain. I don’t think that justifies thought leadership in itself. But I think if you find someone who’s confident and comfortable enough to clearly relay that information in a way that’s full of context and application, I think those are the folks, at least in my opinion, that really succeed in Excel and thought leadership, because it’s that connection point of not only, okay, I agree with what you’re saying, but also you’re kind of showing me what I need to do and what I can take away and put into application here once I’m done listening to you. That’s kind of where I would say the difference is from, from my perspective, but I’m very excited to hear what you have to say about it.
Bill Sherman So there’s a couple of different ways that you can look at this, right? One could be the focus of the time. So a subject matter expert is focused on solving the problems that are today firefighting. In some ways, they may do a little bit of fire prevention, but thought leadership really is that process of looking around the corner to the future, figuring out what are the opportunities that the risks, and then bringing actionable ideas back. But I think there’s a lot of ebb and flow between subject matter expertise and thought leadership, right? So you can start as a subject matter expert and evolve into thought leadership. When you start peering around the corner and telling know colleagues or customers and clients, here’s what’s coming and here’s what I think you should do. Right? A lot of people sort of stumble into thought leadership from subject matter expertise.
Eric Dates It makes total sense. I love that. I mean, I think the common thread there is the application of here’s what I recommend or here’s what I think you should do in order to solve this problem that is coming. I think that’s just yeah. I mean, so powerful. I mean, really that I’m just thinking on that of like things that we have going on in the background as we’re talking it from our organization like me. How do you say that to some folks so they can just, you know, drink on it with their brain for a little bit and just let that simmer? Because I love the way you said that.
Bill Sherman All of our colleagues, all of our customers and clients want life or work to be made a little bit less difficult. They know, what should I be doing that’s going to matter and what do I need to prepare for in a way that isn’t going to cause chaos? Right. And if you can make that as a gift to them or you say, here’s what’s coming, here’s what you need to do, you build so much trust and respect.
Eric Dates Absolutely. And I think to your point, it doesn’t have to stem from credential. Right. I think if you can achieve that, then again, to those folks out there who may be on the you know, on the fence of do I start speaking my mind or not? I’d say just you got to just start and do it because you can’t know unless you just do it.
Bill Sherman And that process of encouraging people to find their voice. And some people are like, I don’t have anything to say that’s original or No one wants to listen to me. They’ll come up with them a dozen and a half different excuses of Why not? But if you can support them and give them that courage for that first step, often you start getting the snowball going.
Eric Dates Absolutely. And that’s. That’s the difference. That’s the difference between good and great, right. Is that that small decision?
Bill Sherman Well, and I think it’s also the role of curating thought leadership. It’s not about shining the spotlight on ideas. It’s shining the spotlight on people who have good ideas. And so if you’re curating at the organizational level, showcase some of the amazing talent that you have in the organization or people then from the outside go while they’re smart. I want to either work with them as a customer, a client, an employee, whatever the relationship is. But you create a halo effect at a brand level by showcasing your people.
Eric Dates I love that. I mean that that I feel like needs to be a quote or something in bright letters on it because it’s just astounding in so many companies. Again, no secret, they spend tens of millions of dollars on this and they never achieve it. But if they just looked internally right, they might totally achieve that without spending a dime.
Bill Sherman Well, and I’ve heard people say, well, what if I showcase talent in our organization and they leave? You know, all of that sort of voice goes elsewhere. I think the reverse. What if you don’t showcase the talent of your organization? They’re definitely not going to feel a chance of growth. They probably leave and your customers and potential new hires look and go. Do they deal with smart things over there? Are they, you know, an up and comer in the organization or are they just sort of following along?
Eric Dates Yeah. I mean and the more you can break down the brand walls of perception and show the bones. Of the organization and highlight them to your point. Now, there’s no guessing of know. Are these people legit or not? It’s like, no. They’re all great and they’re confident enough to show all levels and titles, whatever. But they’re scouring those individuals to enhance that brand across. Lord knows how many channels and followers across the spectrum.
Bill Sherman Well, that goes to your example of showcasing some of the people on the account and the product level. Through video early on and saying, no, these are the people who know and we’re going to shine the spotlight on them. It doesn’t have to come from the C-suite.
Eric Dates Totally. And it’s funny how many folks out there. You know, honestly, I was one of those folks that assumed just like if you’re not an IT executive level, you’re probably not going to be speaking on behalf of the company. And that’s why I love this organization I’m with now is because they are checking their ego at the front door every day and they’re there. They’re okay with whatever makes sense and whatever works. It’s not who it’s we want this to be successful. We’ll figure out who’s going to do that best versus Nope, they don’t have a C in front of their title, so we got to get that ghost right that up and send it up to the you know, they just.
Bill Sherman Stay in the boiler room. They don’t actually talk to people on behalf of the company.
Eric Dates Yeah, exactly.
Bill Sherman So as we begin to wrap up, I want to ask you one question. As you’ve talked through this conversation, you’ve described yourself as the marketer who has. Investigated more and more into thought leadership and started integrating it into a marketing overall and strategy. What would you say you wish you knew, say, a year ago or 18 months ago about thought leadership. So there are many people who are in that position now where they’re looking at going, I need to learn something about leadership. What do you wish you knew?
Eric Dates I think one, I wish I knew. Back then. I wish I clearly knew what that leadership was. First of all, I think that’s the barrier is you hear this term all the time. What does it actually mean? And that’s why I love how you made it just so simple to digest. So I think that’s one for me. Another one would be. It wouldn’t necessarily be something I know it would be something that’s inside of me, which is that confidence to bring the idea to the table of, hey, we may not be doing this at all. We’ve got folks who are building software. We’ve got folks who are demoing software who know so much. Bring that idea to the table and just get it up for discussion. Right. I think that’s something that. It can be intimidating for a lot of folks, especially at the more junior levels is if you come to the table with a CMO or an EVP of Marketing or a CEO, founder of a company, if you get them excited enough to say, hey, we’re going to. Enhance your voice by 50 people and you’re going to have all these advocates for the company just hitting the market with this incredible credibility, boosting content that is going to enhance the trust, those connections between folks that we may not be hitting with our overall digital marketing. So I just think. If I knew how effective thought leadership could be. I would have done it a lot sooner.
Bill Sherman And I think that on its own, you talked about quotes that needed to be places. That’s one that I would put on the wall, many marketers. Eric, thank you very much for joining us today. This has been fantastic.
Eric Dates Thanks so much for having me, Bill. And again, always great to chat.
Bill Sherman If you’re interested in organizational thought leadership, then I invite you to subscribe to the OrgTL newsletter. Each month we talk about the people who create, curate and deploy thought leadership on behalf of their organizations. Go to the website. OrgTL.com and choose. Join our newsletter. I’ll leave a link to the website as well as my LinkedIn profile in the show notes. Thanks for listening and I look forward to hearing what you thought of the show.