Thought Leadership and Sales

In his new book To Sell Is Human, author Daniel Pink argues that sales was, not so long ago, based on “information asymmetry.”

Cars for sale (…) fall into two categories: good and bad.  Bad cars, what Americans call “lemons,” are obviously less desirable and therefore ought to be cheaper.  Trouble is, with used cars, only the seller knows whether the vehicle is a lemon or a peach.  The two parties confront “an asymmetry in available information.”  One side is fully informed; the other is at least partially in the dark.

thought leaderThis led to our traditional idea of what a sales person is  – a slick purveyor of hairbrushes and tin siding. In contrast, modern sales is more about attunement and empathy. We know that buyers have access to information – and in fact, we can do well to provide them with that information. In the process, we position ourselves as “thought leaders.”

This is the leading marketing tactic of my own company.  I’ve written two books, and pretty much spend about half of my time writing blog posts for blogs other than my own company’s, and am a frequent speaker at various events.  I like to think that I’ve created the perfect job for myself, as it entails learning, and then sharing that learning with others.

As I look around, I see my peers equally engaged in this approach. It makes for a great environment, where so many of us are full-throttle sharing information.  Even marketers that might be considered competitors often share valuable knowledge with one another.

There are a lot more that while they use knowledge sharing as a marketing tactic, bring it to another place. For instance, I received a message the other day from one marketer that if I signed up, he’d give me a FREE COPY of HIS NEW EBOOK!!!

True, the marketer is practicing generosity. In a way.  He’s also being like Don Juan saying, “come with me maiden, and I will bestow the gift of my manhood upon you.” It’s a questionable gift.

Some people use the whole thought leadership approach in a way where the old-school sales approach is lying just below the surface.  It’s obvious why they want me to read their eBook, or attend their webinar, or read their blog post.

It’s long been understood that when given gifts, people feel what is often a disproportionate obligation to reciprocate.  Marketers know this quite well, and often use it to great effect.  Think of all those address labels you used to get with the Easter Seals solicitation.

But when the connection between the gift and the notion that the giver is looking for something in return is obvious, it can lose its power.  So what is a marketer to do? How can someone wanting to practice the thought leadership way of marketing avoid coming across like an old-school sales person?

I believe the answer lies in motivation.  If your motivation is to act for something in return, that underlying sentiment will somehow be communicated. Instead, you really must turn your back – at least partially – on the notion that you’re sharing information for any reason other than paying it forward. It means having faith in the notion that if you give unreservedly, others will find it valuable and business will come your way.

Weigh in on the debate: is thought leadership ever altruistic? Or a thinly veiled disguise to market oneself?

Post by Featured Sensei Blogger Ric Dragon

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  1. [...] for fun, here’s a link to an enjoyable discussion about thought leadership and sales around ideas from Daniel Pink’s new book “To Sell Is [...]

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