Thought leadership and business development

In business development, thought leadership is really about trust. That is why thought leadership is best demonstrated, and why simply claiming it can backfire. Thought leadership is about who you trust to guide you through the issues and find solutions. If you want to be a “thought leader,” you should:

  • Show insight that helps your customers achieve their goals in ways they may not have thought of on their own
  • Demonstrate customer service before the project even starts
  • Do your homework so that what you say demonstrates that you are informed
  • Not only identify the trends that could impact the customer, but help them figure out what to do about them

In business development, thought leadership requires two-way communication. Thought leadership is not only about what you have to say, it’s also about how well you listen. You must listen so that what you say and recommend will be relevant to the customer. A thought leader who is not relevant is not a thought leader in the customer’s eyes.

Relevance is also critical to being a thought leader. In business development, relevance is often a matter of timing. You should anticipate what the customer needs to know so that you provide the right guidance at the right moment. If you make recommendations before the customer is prepared to act on them, it will be premature. If you make recommendations after the customer has reached a decision, they will not want to revisit the topic.

See also:
Relationship marketing

You can see how this works during the pre-RFP acquisition process. If you try to influence the RFP when the customer is trying to decide which the best contract vehicle will be, they won’t even know what to do with your recommendations. And no one will want to listen if you try to recommend a different contract vehicle when the customer has already determined their acquisition strategy and is getting ready to release the RFP.

However, if you are there to help them figure out what contract vehicle will best meet their needs for what they are trying to procure, and if it requires an RFP you are there with recommendations for the specifications that they can copy and paste right into the RFP, you will be demonstrating:

  • The kind of customer service they can look forward to
  • Your ability to anticipate problems and solve them before they become issues
  • That you listen, understand your customers’ needs, and do your homework
  • That you add value

If you want to show the kind of insight that will also make you a thought leader, your recommendations need to anticipate and solve problems that the customer would have struggled with on their own.

If the customer doesn’t have the expertise to write the RFP or isn’t sure how to resolve the trade-offs that are inherent in specifying what they want to procure, this is a golden opportunity for you to help them figure it out. If the customer is facing change but is not sure what form it should take, this is a golden opportunity for you to help them figure it out.

When you are consistently there, with the right advice at the right moment, then you are the contractor that the customer goes to for answers. You are the contractor that the customer trusts to talk about their issues because they know you’ll have something constructive to say that will help them achieve their goals in spite of the challenges. Whether you use the label “thought leader” or not, being a thought leader can put you in the best possible position to win your customer’s business.


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Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

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