Finding Opportunities for your Thought Leadership Market Positioning, Understanding References, and Marketing Your Insight
An interview with author David C. Baker about creating great thought leadership positioning from business success, getting a reputation as a thought leadership market positioning expert, and putting guts and discipline into your content.
We interviewed David C. Baker, author of The Business of Expertise: How Entrepreneurial Experts Convert Insight to Impact + Wealth, and MORE. He’s a leading authority on Thought Leadership Market Positioning, Reinventing, and Selling Firms in the Creative and Digital Space. We talked to him about finding opportunities to grow your thought leadership market positioning, capitalizing on your business acumen, how to utilize (or ignore!) your references.
We discuss having to say no and getting over the fear of lost opportunities. Then, the conversation shifts to the practice of giving away your content and why you need to hold back on applied knowledge. Finally, we wrap up with tips on getting through rough times and coming out the other side without giving up the position you’ve built.
If you want to know more thought leadership market positioning, this episode is for you!
Three Key Takeaways from the Interview:
- How to use smart thought leadership market positioning when you’re selling inspiration for a living.
- Why smart thought leadership market positioning means focusing on your content.
- Don’t give away your applied expertise for free!
If you enjoyed this podcast on thought leadership speaking, check out Thought Leadership Leverage’s home page!
Peter And welcome, welcome, welcome. This is Peter Winick, I’m the founder and CEO of Thought Leadership Leverage. And you’re joining us on the podcast today, which is Leveraging Thought Leadership. Today is my guest today is David Baker. David C. Baker. He is an author, is a speaker, and he’s an advisor to Entrepreneurial Creatives Worldwide. He’s written five books. He’s advised over 900 firms and keynoted conferences in over 30 countries. He co-hosts a very popular podcast called Two Bobs. And I just finished reading his book and I loved it. And his book is called The Business of Expertise How Entrepreneurial Experts Convert Insights to Impact and Wealth. And I read many books. I read probably two books a week, but I really, really, really dog-eared this one and scribble linnet and wrote a bunch of notes and it really spoke to me. So, I’m really excited to have you on today. Welcome aboard.
David C Baker Thank you. If you need another copy of the book, I’ll send it to you. And thank you. Thank you for not falling asleep while you were reading it. I appreciate that. And thank you for the kind introduction. It’s really good to be here. I can’t think of a better fit for what really motivates me and the topic of your podcast – podcast. So, this is fantastic.
Peter Yes. So, you know, you’re advising – so, your background. I just read a recap and it came from advising creative agencies, from other professional services firms on how to do what they do. Well, and it’s obviously gotten broader than that in terms of this business of expertise. So, I would argue that all of our listeners, authors, thought leaders, speaker, etc. are ultimately in the business of expertise and in some instances are accidental entrepreneurs. Like it was that expertise that is what drives them. And it’s like, oh crap, in order to be an expert, I sort of have to be an entrepreneur. So. Right. You talk about that a little bit where it’s sort of, oh, jeez. Yeah. I wouldn’t identify as an entrepreneur, but I guess I guess I am one.
David C Baker Yeah. Michael Gerber decades ago said, “Entrepreneurs are technicians who suffered an entrepreneurial seizure.” And I think that’s true. You could be a really smart advisor. But if you don’t understand how to make smart business decisions and you don’t know how to sell your services, it’s probably going to fall flat. I think of the target for my audience as the overlap between two circles. One would be experts, but there’s a lot of experts who are not also entrepreneurs. So experts who are in an entrepreneurial setting and specifically they’re selling their thinking for a living. So, you know, weekend and week out there standing naked, metaphorically in front of people and just selling the thoughts in their heads, not deliverables, not what they’re doing with their hands. And it’s a terrifying world, but it’s also a really exciting world to be in. So, yes, over the years, it’s expanded to consultants, lawyers, engineers, architects, even physicians just helping them think through how they should position their services.
Peter Yep. So let’s let’s talk about it through the through the lens of, you know, the typical listener here, you know, the author, thought leaders, speaker, et cetera. I mean, they’re totally standing out there naked right there, getting up there, keynoting and writing and speaking about their stuff, their work there, you know. And if folks don’t like it, it’s either, you know, either options are bad. You know, they don’t like your thoughts or they don’t like you. Right. So neither of which makes you warm and fuzzy. So, yeah, tell me a little bit about one of the things that you advise folks on the front end over with regards to how did it how do you even do this? Right. How do you monetize this expertise that you have. Yeah, but I agree that it’s that expertise, entrepreneurial overlap. But again, most of folks here are coming at it from the expertise lens. That’s where they’re diving in and the entrepreneur piece is sort of the vegetables they have to eat to get to the good stuff.
David C Baker Yeah. And I don’t even know how to talk about that anymore without talking about positioning first. And that’s because after the world was Google-ized, so to speak, in the late 80s, then all of a sudden we no longer, none of us had a protected geographic market. So, if anybody could come in and be a replacement for us. I mean, the good news was that we could then go anywhere. So, in a moment when any consumer, even in a business setting, could find exactly what they needed almost instantaneously, and in most cases of cases, it was free. How in the world are you going to make money on your expertise, which is gets right to the question that you were asking? And I think it has to be positioning. So, we have to say. Yes. Yes. Yes. A lot. The beginning of our practices because we’re just trying to make enough money to live. Yes. But then we have to say no, no, no. Most of the time. And we need to narrow our focus so that we become irrelevant to almost everybody that talks to us. But in the process, we become incredibly relevant to just a very, very small segment. And those people, we understand. You’re talking on the phone with them and all of a sudden they say to you. And this list will happen repeatedly. Wow. It feels like you have a camera in my office.
David C Baker You know, starts with that positioning. Right. And from there, I would say and it’s impossible to take step two without step one. But step two is calculating how many points of view you have that are unique. They’re not controversial just to be controversial. Sure. But there are like, and we’ve all experienced both competence and incompetence. I remember for the first three, three and a half years of my practice, I felt like I was winging it quite a bit. And one day I said, all right, I’ve got to stop this. I’ve got to figure I’ve got to write down the topics on which my clients are consistently asking me for a point of view. Yeah. What are those? And it was surprising to me. And it’s almost embarrassing. Came up with fifty-five topics that I didn’t have a clear point of view on. So just thinking really carefully. And I guess everybody’s different, but I’m never going to articulate a clear point of view unless I am forced to speak on that or write. Oh, sure. Because sure. They’re embarrassing things. Right. So that’s where it starts.
Peter So let me let me touch on what you’ve said, because I think I have a similar worldview, but maybe use some different words, have a slightly different twist. I look to sort of back and forth on this. So the first thing when you call the positioning, I call that solve for X. Right. So a client comes to us. Oh, what do you do on the leadership person? A salesperson, management. So, I’m like, OK, the world doesn’t need another leadership expert.
David C Baker Right. Right.
Peter And the world doesn’t give you a sales expert. So, what is the, you know, you’re the X guy or gal. What is that? What is called platform? Right. So, what’s your platform? Right.
David C Baker Right.
Peter And the platform is not the title of your book, but it’s this is the thing that people will know you as. And the problem when your clients are really, really smart is there’s lots of things you could do, might do. And there’s many of those things that you could do or might do that you’d actually do fairly well and better than average. But finding the thing that you are better at than anybody read, good at or better than anybody. And then sort of being known for that and having the courage to say no. Right. I’m really good at dealing with, you know, high-risk decision making for senior leadership teams in the technology space. I just made that right. That means you’ve got to say no to things that don’t fit there because you want to be the high-risk decision making in the technology space guy. Second point I’ll make is, you know, you call it a what’s keeping your clients up at night. I, we talk about pain points, right. So, what are the things that you actually have the solution to? What are the pain points? Right. And then the third thing is really defining who your clients are. We call them avatars, but not you if you’re the leadership space. Oh, yeah. Well, anybody that’s a leader. OK, well, how do you define is 40 million leaders out there and you’re gonna be equally good to all of them? I don’t think so. Is it a newly minted leader? Is it a leader in a second generation family business in the Midwest? Very different people. Right. So push back any ideas you agree with? Disagree with.
David C Baker Oh, I. I’d love to disagree. Just because it might be fun, but I don’t actually. I think it’s exactly what I’m saying. And why is it that we don’t take the approach that you’ve just described? It’s often because of fear. For some reason we are here that will run out of opportunity when that’s never occurred to us once in the past. And so, we’re always dabbling afraid that something run out. We won’t have a way to make a living. And it’s a very odd feeling because when you when you go through a successful life and you pause and look back on it and you say, all right, I was successful. What kept me from being even more successful is it because you ran out of opportunity? It’s never that. It’s because you didn’t focus on the and choose between the opportunities that you did have. So I’m. Completely on board. We’re using different language, but the concepts are exactly the same.
Peter Maybe that’s why I love your book so much. I feel like I might have written it.
David C Baker Yeah, but the second edition you can if you want it can be yours. You can have it.
Peter There you go. There you go. We’ll talk about the rights after. So, let’s talk about the different ways that an expert that is obviously entrepreneurial can monetize that expertise. Right. Speaking, coaching, consulting, video-based learning, digital learning. I mean, there’s things going on in the world now that are making me face to face a little bit of a problem, to say the least. But give me a sense of what your. What your view is on? How do you decide what lanes to play in the underlying business models of what land to not.
David C Baker Well, one of the things that I think has changed in our world is that we could answer that question exactly right. But we have to keep asking ourselves that question every three or four years, because the world is changing pretty quickly around us. Right. And then before I even answer that question, I think and this is counterintuitive, but I think we should view this as an opportunity to give away, not make money on it, but to give away all kinds of brilliant insight. But it’s unapplied brilliant insight. And then there’s a very firm dividing line. So, all of these prospective clients who may never pay you any money are benefiting from what you’re writing or you’re speaking or whatever it is. And then some of them, they’re so impressed with the depth of your thinking that they will be willing to pay you a lot of money. So you have to keep that equation. So I’m a big believer from a thought leadership standpoint that I should give away tons of insight. And the more I give away, the easier it is to close the sale when I’m charging a lot of money to a few people who already have a sense of what I’m going to say. But they want to pay me to advise them. And just to apply it in a very particular time, I’m not using unknown tools. I’m bringing the same tools to the table every time. But I’m pulling different ones out because every client has their own unique form of dysfunction.
Peter So I want to violently agree with that. Right. So, and I think there is a school of thought that says, no, you’ve got to hold back the goodies and don’t show them everything you don’t like B.S. I’m like the reality is the folks that are gonna do the ‘do it yourself’ piece today. Great. They wouldn’t have been your clients today. Many of them will grow at some point to become a client or not. And even if not, it didn’t hurt you, did it? Is. No. You know, it’s not a zero-sum game. However, for those that really have the problem that that is of the scale and the magnitude, that it’s worth making the investment to bring in the guy or gal to fix it, you know, the fact that they’re fluent in the way that you think and your methodology, using your frameworks, et cetera, makes that buying cycle and the working relationship easier because there’s no black box, there’s no mystery. You told them upfront. You published upfront. This is exactly how we’re going to work together.
David C Baker Yeah. And if they’re going to pay you a lot of money, I think they have a right to know how you are going to solve their issue. So instead, otherwise the alternative is that you start solving the issue before you get paid in an attempt to impress them. Instead, you say, listen, I don’t know how we’re going to solve this yet because I haven’t dug deep into what you’re facing. But I can tell you that in the past I have used this methodology, that gift changing every year, and it inevitably leads to the right leads the right answer. So as soon as you start paying me, then I will start caring. Well, I, may not say that.
Peter So I think that’s a good point, because what people don’t realize on the on the buy cycle, on the sales cycle, is your work actually does a sales job of getting people to third base. Right. So if you have to first spend all this time educating prospects on your world view, your perspective, the tools that you use, how you use them, where you’ve used them before, that you don’t get paid for any of the right. Right. So if you’re content can do that as it should. That actually saves you a boatload of time. And where, you know, for us, it’s you know, we put out a lot of stops in various formats with lots of people that reach out to us and say, hey, we found you stuff for five years online on Twitter, LinkedIn, videos, whatever. And now is a good time for us to talk. We got a call. It could literally be a one call close. And that’s holding me to me because they know our stuff. So I don’t have to do all that work and that I think people don’t have the faith that that is actually the truth. But what I found as well.
David C Baker Right, I have this perspective that that viewed well, experts auto view, marketing and sales as sort of a whack a mole approach. You know, somebody expresses some interest and very kindly pushback a little bit. And if the opportunity is real, it will continue surfacing. My my podcast partner, Blair, and he has this phrase used all the time. He says the sales, the sale is the sample. So in the conversation that I’m going to have with a prospective buyer, they’re going to see how they will have those same conversations. So if I’m in the business of charging for my expertise that I shouldn’t be giving it away to people because I don’t want to teach that as well. Now, I don’t mind giving away a lot if it’s on applied, but I don’t want to give away the applied expertise.
Peter Yeah. So let’s talk about where it is. So that’s a good point. Right. So the difference between the unapplied and the applied is the unapplied – these are my frameworks, these are my models, etc. I apply. It is solving your problem for you at this point in time, which requires the meter to be run, right? So it’s OK to spend time. Talking about the unemployed, the theoretical right. And that’s where your content can come in like we know. And I’m sure you have a similar process, David, you talk to somebody. So you know what? I’m going to send you some things. Take a look at it. Feels like a similar situation to where you are. Whether it’s a case study or piece of content that you’ve written. And then they go, oh, my God. Yeah, it does sound like me. Right. Except, you know, online comes in purple or something. Right. It becomes really obvious to the buyer why it’s not fair to ask you to solve their problem now until they’re a client.
David C Baker Right. Yeah, exactly. I think that’s exactly the way it should happen. And I I don’t know I don’t quite know where we’ve lost our minds on this front. We feel like we feel like sales is such a fragile process and that if we make a single mistake in the negotiation and all that stuff and we don’t dare ask more money, here’s. So I’ll make a confession here. I don’t give out references to anybody. And I explain why there’s a five point reason. I point that every service is 100 percent prepaid and is nonrefundable. Yep. And and that’s the way it’s been for twenty six years. And people hear that and they say how in the world how do you make that work? And you make that work by just being willing to be a little bit different. And by putting enormous effort into your thought leadership so that there’s never any question about how the process will look and what your credentials are. It’s that’s the beauty of thought leadership. But it’s just it’s one of the most it’s it’s a better invention than the wheel in my mind.
Peter So I have. So I just want to comment on that, because we’re almost a line, but slightly off. So my model is when people ask for a testimonial reference or something. One is there’s a zillion of them on the site. So that writes one place to point them. There are some that do it. Usually what I find is it’s it’s they think they need to, but it’s, you know, or they’re risk averse or whatever I’ll say to them. That’s great. I have respect to my clients time and I’ll be happy to give the name to three or four people that are you know, that I help through a similar scenario to you. However, prior to doing that, I need a commitment from you that we’re going to go forward. We’re gonna pencil in a date. And, you know, I’ll give you four, five days to go talk to these people and then we’re committed, which means I’m not contracting it. You know, signed a contract at that point. But I’m asking for the commitment. And if you’re not willing to give it, give it. I’m not going to give them the reference at that point. That’s always how I’ve sort of sniffed out the tire kickers in terms of fees. I’m. Quite similar to what you do in terms of we typically get paid all or most upfront depending on the project that, you know, it’s a longer project with Miles. But any of our initial engagement, we get Pete up paid upfront in full when you book us. And that’s the end of the story.
David C Baker Yeah, I think your approach to references is really interesting. I do have testimonials on the site with specific people, not just Jenny G in Omaha, which you’d never know who that is. Right? They’re real people and they could look them up as they want. I just I don’t want. It seems like people ask for references just out of instinct. They don’t know what to do next. Right. So all I’m illustrating is that we don’t have to follow the normal rules if we’re experts. We can think about the process differently.
Peter Well, I’ve never lost a deal because of the references. when you think about the whole reference process, do you really think I’m going to send you someone that says I’m an idiot? But yeah, just so you know, it’s I dunno. and I think you’re right in certain industry, just so, you know, put out an RFP, get three bla bla bla. I’m not in that space. You’re not in that space. Yeah. You know, so but I think it is understanding the. What do they do? What are they really looking for when they’re articulating, you know, a reference. You’re right. Maybe they’re not ready. They’re not they’re not there yet. They’re not totally competent because we start to wrap up here. David, any additional thoughts in terms of, you know, so far you and I are on the same page on almost anything. Any thoughts or recommendations to folks out there or maybe in the in the form of, you know, immediately, if you’re doing this, stop it? Or if you’re not doing this, start doing this right now.
David C Baker Mm. Wow. Well. You know, when business takes a slight downturn, I think the biggest danger, whether it’s now or five years from now, I think the biggest danger is giving up that expert positioning that you’ve worked so hard to earn. And so if people are going to get a watered down, how tightly they’re defining their clients, then I would just urge them to think really carefully about only doing that privately rather than publicly. That would be one thing. But maybe the biggest thing is, you know, you hear people say this joke all the time. It’s a story about the cobbler’s son who has no shoes. Yes, that’s funny. The first four hundred and eighty three times a year. But it just pisses me off after a while, because here you are asking people to treat their business seriously and you don’t have the guts or the discipline to do it. And that just disgusts me over time. So treat your business seriously. And then when tougher times come, you’ll have a strong foundation because spending that marketing flywheel up takes an enormous amount of effort and it doesn’t happen quickly if you are really a non position firm. You don’t know exactly who your target is and you don’t have lead generation. It can take nine to 12 months before you seize any fruits from that. So start it now.
Peter You don’t just on that last point you made. I think that’s mission. I think that’s critical because we live in this, you know, immediate gratification. Let me go do something on Google and the cost per click. And, you know, like this thing, bang, bang. You can put up a campaign today and, you know, watch clicks tomorrow. The. It is invaluable to have a proper marketing system in place where that flywheel just pays dividends over and over again. You will not get there if you if you’ve got this. You suffered from short termism. Where you going to campaign for two? OK. That’s a campaign like it takes time. It takes investment. People need to feel comfortable with you when you work. And they might be doing it from the bleachers for a while reading it. But it does pay massive dividends over time.
David C Baker I yeah, I add about 70000 words of insight to my Web site every year because I love to write something every week. So there are almost 2 million words there. And if nobody’s reading them, it’s so satisfying to me to get ahead. A little bit of additional clarity on a particular topic. And then the next time it comes up, I don’t have to stammer around quite so much. So I just really believe in that. I hope that your listeners take it seriously as well. The fact that we’re listening to this podcast on the thought leadership would indicate that they do take it seriously, so.
Peter Exactly right. Or they or they download their own podcasts. Right. Anyway, this has been fantastic. David, I. I urge you all to get a copy of the Business of Expertise. It was phenomenal. And I appreciate everything that you’ve shared and violently agreed with me. Too much makes my thinking of something.
David C Baker Thank you for having me, Peter. I really appreciate it. My pleasure.