Skip to content

Using Thought Leadership to Earn Your Way Into Sales Consideration | Steve Watt

Using Thought Leadership to Earn Your Way Into Sales Consideration | Steve Watt | 415

The connection between thought leadership and social selling.

An interview with Steve Watt about enabling sales and thought leaders for the long game.

When it comes to thought leadership, every corporation needs people that are building new ideas, sharing new insights – in essence, creating new maps to move things forward!

But it’s not just about the “map makers.” It’s also about the “expedition leaders,” people who can share those ideas and insights, and bring others onboard – even if they didn’t create the maps themselves.

To discuss “map makers” and “expedition leaders,” and really delve into the most effective ways to invite your whole organization to do thought leadership, I’ve invited Steve Watt to join me on the podcast. Steve is the Director of Market Insights at Seismic, the world’s largest enablement platform.

In both social selling and thought leadership people need to show up, speak up, and publicly demonstrate both subject matter expertise and org-centric passion. Not every sales person can or should be a thought leader, but they can always be a spokesman for the org’s thought leadership content. We discuss the need to empower not just sales people, but everyone within a company, by showing them the benefits that being associated with an org’s thought leadership can have on their careers and reputation.

Steve shares why it is important to start with the right mindset, which may mean tearing down and overcoming staid beliefs and old perceptions about “how sales are done.” We discuss the way social media is constantly misused by sales people seeking to use it as a hunting ground full of traps rather than a fertile field for relationship-building. Steve is changing the mindset towards meaningful conversations and interactions, and teaching insights that will magnetically draw clients in.

Many sales people agonize over the deals they lost out on, while remaining blind to just how many deals never even gave them consideration. Steve explains the importance of conversation, interactions that build relationships, and how to stay top-of-mind when a client enters a buying cycle.

Three Key Takeaways:
  • Many smart and capable people in your org are sitting by, silently, because they aren’t “map makers.” Speak up early, and build your reputation as a subject matter expert.
  • In order to build thought leaders in your organization, you have to empower people and help them see the benefits – not just to your organization, but for their careers and reputations.
  • If your thought leadership boils down to “and that is why you need me,” that’s not thought leadership.  That is just selling – and in today’s market, you need more than a pitch to make your organization stand out.

If you need a strategy to bring your thought leadership to market, Thought Leadership Leverage can assist you! Contact us for more information. In addition, we can help you implement marketing, research, and sales. Let us help you so you can devote yourself to what you do best.

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.

And if you need help scaling organizational thought leadership, contact Thought Leadership Leverage or reach out to Bill Sherman on Linkedin!



Bill Sherman There’s an art to modern relationship building. Successful thought leadership practitioners know that social selling means increased brand visibility, shorter sales cycles, and a greater rapport on both sides. Quite simply, that’s how thought leadership spreads. So, today I’m speaking with Steve Watt. He’s the director of Market Insights at Seismic, a company that creates sales enablement solutions. A good part of Steve’s job includes thought leadership work at seismic in addition to sales support and enablement. So, I’m eager to sit down with Steve to explore the intersection of social selling and thought leadership. How do you do it? Well. What lessons has he learned and how do you integrate social selling and thought leadership into your organization’s culture?

Bill Sherman I’m Bill Sherman and you’re listening to Leveraging Thought Leadership. Ready? Let’s begin.

Bill Sherman So, Steve, I’m excited to talk to you because we’ve been carrying on a conversation both on LinkedIn and in person for a while around social selling and thought leadership. Let’s start with a level set. Where do you see social selling and thought leadership intersect?

Steve Watt I think they intersect at the point where people show up and speak up and publicly demonstrate. Subject matter expertise and buyer centric, client centric passion in a way that makes them a magnet for the right sort of business conversations, helps to build their reputation and their relationships. And I think it’s a bit of a gradient scale from. Doing that well all the way up into thought leadership. I don’t think there’s a stark demarcation there between the two, but more of a gradient scale that thought leadership may evolve when you do this other part really well over time and really purposeful ways, but it doesn’t have to. I do not believe that every sales person wants to be a thought leader, nor do I think they ought to be.

Bill Sherman Although I would argue that sales is an effective channel for getting thought leadership out into the your audience, your prospects, your customers. Right. And so they can be a part of a thought leadership team without having to be the idea generator or creator 100%.

Steve Watt I agree with that, Bill. You know, I think every firm needs thought leadership, whether it’s coming from executives or it’s coming from subject matter experts of various sorts. I think that that’s an incredibly powerful part of the selling motion and that, yes, individual salespeople ought to be contributors of that. They ought to be distributors of that. And they can also be so much more than kind of a distribution arm for it when they start to speak up and bring their voice as well, they may not be the you know, I like to make the difference between the map maker versus the map follower. They may not be the map maker. They may not be the one who is envisioning an entirely different world and an entirely different approach. But they’ve got a lot of expertise themselves and most of them are not publicly speaking up. And I think there’s a tremendous opportunity there to really empower and enable not just sales, but like let’s focus on sellers, but everybody within a firm just show up and speak up and publicly demonstrate that subject matter expertise. And that is a contributor to the thought leadership of the entire firm. I would suggest.

Bill Sherman I would absolutely agree with that. And I would say that it’s been a change to how the sales motion and the buyer expectations have come about. Right. So you could get away years ago with putting out a white paper or having one single expert speak at a conference or do exact columns for your CEO and say, okay, we check the box done. But I think your buyers, whether they’re B2B or B2C, are much more sophisticated. Now, certainly B2B is saying, okay, I don’t need to know how polished the top of the house is. But for the people that I’m going to interact with, whether they’re my sales rep or their my, you know, implementation provider or the person I’m calling customer service, these people know their game. How good are these people? And to use your point, there’s there are the folks who are the map makers and you use the term the expedition leader. If I’m signing a contract, whether it’s six figures, seven figure, eight figure, you know, doesn’t matter on behalf of my organization, I want to make sure that that vendor and that team is prepared to get us as the client to where we need to go. And so demonstrating that, yeah, we can lead you there is essential.

Steve Watt Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, we don’t need everyone within the firm creating new maps. You know, we maybe need a few new maps, but we need a whole lot of expedition leaders who can really, you know, they can follow the map, but they can really bring the entire team on both sides of the house. You know, the internal team and the client team along on that journey inspire confidence and get them to their destination on time, on budget, and with smiles on their faces. And those expedition leaders are critical. But like you said, how do I know when I’m buying from you? And I, you know, I talk to your CEO or I talked to some expert in your firm, and I think, well, that guy’s great, but how do I know they are great? How do I know the whole team is great? I think there’s a few better ways to demonstrate. You know, you can tell you can tell them stories about how great your expedition leaders are. But how about they show us instead. And those expedition leaders have an opportunity to publicly demonstrate that not only the subject matter expertise, but also the client centric passion to really achieve great outcomes together with their clients. And instead of telling us about it, they can more openly and honestly show us that greatness if they step up and really participate in this big public conversation.

Bill Sherman And it can feel a little bit daunting for the folks who are the expedition leaders who are leading current expeditions to. Oh, you want me to show future expeditions that I can lead them to? And so part of that is balancing the workload and making it easy for those folks who have that expertise to come aboard.

Steve Watt Absolutely. And you do often you hear a lot of pushback from expedition leaders to keep with that metaphor. I’m too busy. That’s not my thing. You know, it’s not like a woman’s plan.

Bill Sherman It’s not on my bonus schedule. Why am I working evenings and weekends to prove to people that you haven’t sold two yet, right?

Steve Watt Yeah. And to your point. So you got to make it easy. I think there’s a lot of things you got to do. You need. You need to explicitly empower them. And I say empower because it’s always got to be the carrot, not stick. You can’t force people to show up on social and do the sorts of things we’re talking about. You can’t force them. It’s wrong, for one thing, to try to force them and it won’t work. You know, if someone really doesn’t want to, they’re not going to. They will quit or they will just tell you no or they’ll do a really terrible job of it. So it’s always got to be carrot, not stick. It’s always about empowering them to see how it benefits them. You know, it’s not if you go out there and say, hey, we want you to do stuff because it helps the company. That is not enough. You have got to show how it helps individuals grow their own careers and how it builds their reputation both inside and outside the firm, and how it builds important business and industry relationships for them. And you’ve got to be sincere about that. So it needs real empowerment. It needs to help your people and not just help the firm. This sort of behavior needs to be modeled from the top. If you’re a senior leader, don’t ask other people to go out and do this if you’re not willing to do it yourself. So there’s a lot that goes on here. And you’re absolutely right. You can’t just you can’t just declare that we’re going to do this and then expect it to happen. There’s work that needs to be done.

Bill Sherman So I know that seismic focuses on sales enablement and you serve some of that function within your organization, but you also carry a thought leadership role and piece and function. And one of the things that I heard from you and just this last bit is what I describe as thought leadership enablement, right? Where it’s making it easy for the people with the expertise and with the skills to show what they know.

Steve Watt Yeah. And it starts with mindsets. There’s a lot of old mindsets that hold people back. And the first thing I do when I’m working, whether it’s one of our customers and I’m working with them, whether it’s other firms that are not our customers. You know, frankly, whether I’m speaking at a conference. I always start with mindsets because. That is where it all comes from. If you think social media is just, you know, you think LinkedIn is just for job seekers and you think Facebook is just for political rants and you think that Instagram is just for, you know, vanity selfies.

Bill Sherman And tok for dances and all.

Steve Watt The tiktoks for the youngins, you know? You know, if you’re if you’re kind of locked in these rigid mindsets, you’re not going to really see the opportunity, let alone act on it. And if you’re an advertiser who thinks that social is just for broadcasting promotional messages, you’re not going to get far. And if you’re a salesperson who thinks it’s just a big hunting ground and you really think that anybody wants to be hunted, you know, do you really think you know, it’s like sending out 50 connection requests a day is going to get you very far and, you know, pitch slapping people who make the mistake of accepting your connection request. I make a real purposeful effort to sort of show what’s wrong with a lot of these old mindsets and try to build up a new mindset in this place. And that’s that social and LinkedIn in particular, where I tend to focus, is really better understood as a conversation. And then you start asking people to reflect on how they operate in offline conversations and what sort of people draw them in or push them away in offline conversations. And in those offline conversations, you don’t thrive by hunting everyone who makes eye contact with you, you don’t thrive by only talk.

Bill Sherman Those are the creepy folks at the sales floor of the convention where you’re like, You’re trying not to make any contact because you know you’re going to get.

Steve Watt Pitched the moment you make eye contact. Oh, now here he comes, I guess. Here we go. I brought it on myself. My mistake. Yeah. Yeah. So don’t be like that. Right? So, you know, that’s why I start with mindsets about all of these things, and I try to build up a different mindset about actually being interesting, being valuable, being helpful. And, and we know that in other forums, this is the way forward. This is the way to build reputation and relationships and spark valuable conversations and build your career and build your business. But then for some reason, people get on social and they forget all of that, and they become robots, they become advertising robots, they become hunting robots, or they just shut down and don’t say or do anything. So I try to I try to really build that up. And I think that those that different mindset is foundational to everything that follows, whether you are building thought leadership, whether you are selling, whether you are serving clients. There’s a common foundation here of audience centricity and buyer centricity and client centricity that will set you in a much better path.

Bill Sherman Well. And I would argue that whether you are using social or selling products, solutions, services, whatever, or you’re using social to advance an idea through adult leadership, you are selling, right? You’re trying to take an idea to scale. And like you said, to your metaphor on the carrot and the stick, most people want to be attracted to ideas and insights and think through them and say, okay, does this work for me? Does this fit rather than be told, this is what you have to do? And so it works when you’re raising kids. It’s also the same thing here. You have to create that sort of repetition and presence before people have time to think and consider about it and say, Yeah, maybe that’ll work for me or for us, depending on the situation.

Steve Watt Absolutely. And your intent shines through loud and clear. You see people who are there doing what they probably think is demonstrating subject matter expertise or perhaps even they think they’re demonstrating and building thought leadership. But it’s a very thin veneer and there’s a big sales pitch coming up underneath it. If your thought leadership boils down to and that’s why you should buy my thing, that’s not thought leaders. And if everything boils down to whatever ails you, my thing, my product, my services is, is what you need that that’s just selling. That’s just old school selling. And so I say you got to show up with an honest intent to educate, inspire and help others, and thereby you pull the right people towards you. You’re leading to a sales conversation. You’re not leading with it. And I think a lot of people make the mistake of either leading directly with the sales conversation or leading with that very thin veneer of helpfulness. And then the sell the sales conversation comes bursting out very quickly.

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

Bill Sherman And I think the call to action and we’ve had conversations about how a call to action should be positioned right whether from a sales perspective or thought leadership, there’s the opportunity to ask for the sale and there’s a time to ask for the sale. But there’s a lot of time when your buyer isn’t in a buying mode. And that’s an opportunity for education. That’s an opportunity for introspection. There’s so much that you can do with an expanded set of calls to action to prepare the ground and then have them come to you when the time is right. Because at least when I look at it from B to B, the vast majority of your buyers are rarely in a buying cycle. And you can either do ambulance chasing and keep asking them, Are you in a buying cycle? And that just gets annoying. That’s Bart Simpson in the back of the car asking, Are we there yet? Right. Or. You built the rapport to the point where they look and they say, Oh yeah, I’ve been thinking about we should put out whether they’re going and seeking direct proposals or they’re asking for bids. You want to see that you’ve already influenced the thinking?

Steve Watt Yeah, I want to be in the consideration set forever. Absolutely. Deal. Like that’s like foundational. And most companies are not in the consideration set for every relevant deal. And everyone agonizes over the deals that they lost, the active deals that they lost to their competitors. But they sometimes seem to be blind to all those deals that happened that you weren’t even in it, like you were not even in the consideration set.

Bill Sherman And you didn’t know it was happening.

Steve Watt You didn’t know what was happening. And they don’t even know you exist or they know you exist, but they don’t know you. You serve this need or this job to be done. That’s a bigger fail to me than to lose in a head-to-head because sometimes it’s okay that you lose and had to hide because you were not the right solution for that firm. And they did a proper due diligence, and they chose the other guy. And you know, that’s okay. Sometimes it’s not okay when important deals are going down and you’re not even in the consideration set. And why? Because you haven’t earned your way there by exactly what you’re saying if you’re only chasing. I love that the ambulance chasing idea, like if you’re only chasing like super hot active buyers and you and you’re ignoring everyone else, that’s a big missed opportunity. I mean, I want to earn my way. I’m say me as an individual, but also my firm and our way of thinking. I want to earn our way into the hearts and the minds of the right people in advance so that we get into the considerations, earns respect, respect, trust, actually have some kind of human rapport. We’re earning our way into the consideration set. So at least we’re going to get an A at bat. Great. But more than that, as you said, we’re helping shape the way they think. I mean, ask any sales leader. How do you feel about RFP? And they’ll all say the same thing. They hate it. Well, they hate them unless. Unless they get in front of them. Right. Yep. Yeah. So if I can get in front of it and help that firm write their RFP, then I love our space. Right. Right. It’s built for me. Right. But if I’m coming in late, I hate these. Well, I look at thought leadership. I public subject matter expertise, buyer centric social selling. I look at all of these as ways to help write that RFP at scale. If I can help to change the way the broader market understands the problem and the way they formulate potential solutions. And even though like the language that they use, the mental models that they use. If I can help them understand it and start to develop their assessment criteria in ways that lead to my product and my solution. Well, I am helping to write the RFP in advance at scale, and that’s going to boost my win rates and my deal sizes. It’s going to reduce my cycle time and everything.

Bill Sherman And your cost of sale. Right. Because in many cases, you have a buyer who has been tuned in listening, understands the value prop and may come into a first meeting quoting you and your organization. And that’s always such a huge signal back when like, okay, we’ve been following what you guys have been saying now for several years. Now is the right time. Here’s what we need to do. And they show your framework or your way of thinking. You know, that your probability of close has just skyrocket.

Steve Watt Absolutely. You’ve you can see that explicitly when they actually feedback things, but you can also see it implicitly, implicitly when, you know, just some of the subtle language used or things prioritized or waves of enunciating the problem or the opportunity. And they’re like, yes, they’ve been absorbing they’ve been picking up some of what we’ve been putting out, you know, and that’s incorrect. And it’s terribly hard to measure and it’s not short term and it’s not transactional. So a whole lot of companies just ignore it. And that’s a huge opportunity for those who can see a little further afield. Well, and.

Bill Sherman That’s part of the need of having whether it’s on the sales lead side or senior leadership as a whole, the ability to be forward thinking regardless of what the economy is doing, what your market is doing specifically, and where your buyers are. You’ve got to be planting not just for this quarter, but planting to harvest a year out, two years out, right?

Steve Watt Absolutely. You know, I often joke that a whole lot of companies and a whole lot of leaders are like a driver blasting down the highway at 80 miles an hour and they’re looking at their hood ornament. And I mean, if they don’t lift their eyes up and look further down the road, they’re headed for a crash. And so, yeah, you’ve got short term needs. You’ve got numbers to hit. I mean, I don’t disparage the importance of that in any way, but if that’s all you’re thinking about, you’re headed for a crash because you probably one or more of your competitors is as at least some form of their their field of vision is, is further down that road. And if they are activating the kind of things that we’re talking about, that just stretch the metaphor that your roads are going to start getting bumpy and their road is going to get smoother.

Bill Sherman So, Steve, as we begin to wrap up, I want to ask you a question. You’ve been in thought leadership. You’ve been in the world of sales and sales enablement. I want you to think back to when you got into the world of ownership, and I want you to answer this question. What advice would you give your younger self? What do you wish that you knew? When you start getting into this world, the combination.

Steve Watt Speak up sooner. I think there are a lot of very smart people, very capable people with a whole lot to give and a lot to share who are not speaking on their heads down. They’re getting work done. They’re not looking up and speaking up in more public ways. And I was that in the past. And it’s amazing how impactful it is. And I think people and again, this comes back to this notion that a thought leader needs to be some fully formed, ready for prime time, ready for the, you know, the best seller list, ready for the, you know, grand stage at the conferences or not. And there are a thousand shades of gray between here and there. And so I wish that I would have spoken up sooner, started writing sooner, started speaking sooner, started formulating what I believed and what I learned and what I was. Seeing as tremendous opportunities for individuals and for firms. And and if I, I wish that earlier on I saw that it would be valuable to start speaking up and writing and doing other things like that. Because I was far from fully formed. I’m still far from fully formed. But you learn by doing it, by enunciating it by the feedback loops you get. You know, a thousand LinkedIn posts is a thousand, you know, trial balloons, a thousand feedback loops where you learn, wow, that really resonated or whoa, that went in a direction I didn’t expect. You know, I thought that was I thought people would understand that in one way. They understood that in a completely different way. So there’s just so much learning, so much confidence that you build and so much competence that you build as you do that. So I wish I would have started sooner.

Bill Sherman That’s fantastic advice, Steve. Thank you for joining us today. This has been a great conversation.

Steve Watt Thanks, Bill. I could talk to you about this stuff all day.

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. 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.

Bill Sherman works with thought leaders to launch big ideas within well-known brands. He is the COO of Thought Leadership Leverage. Visit Bill on Twitter

Back To Top