Professional Services Marketing Blog

Rethinking Thought Leadership:  7 Tips for Gaining New Clients

Thought leadership image


If you follow this blog regularly, one of the things you know is that we have a strong commitment to researching high growth professional services firms. Perhaps one of the most startling findings was when we discovered that average growth firms were actually more likely to pursue a thought leadership strategy than were their high growth peers.

At first I was perplexed. But as we dug deeper, I gained a better appreciation of what people meant when they said they were pursuing a thought leadership strategy. The result was a new view of the entire topic:

  1. Thought leadership should not be aimed at impressing your peers. While it may feel good to be the most clever tax attorney or the sharpest programmer, it will likely do little to generate new business for your firm. Sad but true.
  2. It’s much more productive to impress potential clients. Potential clients are just that, potential clients. They are the appropriate targets for a thought leadership strategy.
  3. Potential clients are impressed by the ability to explain a complicated topic simply. Making an already complicated topic more complicated doesn’t help. Even though you are impressed by your understanding of a topic's subtleties and nuances, many readers will get that glassy-eyed look and stop reading.
  4. Writing everything you know on a subject is not thought leadership. Long-winded explanations seldom win the day. Of course, you know a lot about your area of professional expertise. No need to prove it by sharing it all.
  5. Scaring people seldom motivates them to choose your firm. This seems to be a particular problem with attorneys, accountants, risk managers and security experts. Perhaps it’s an occupational hazard. List all of the bad things that can happen is more likely to get people to stop reading than motivate them to action.
  6. The real payoff comes from helping someone understand something they didn’t understand before. Think insight rather than more information. Help people see the relevance of your knowledge, not its depth. Remember, they already assume you know your stuff.
  7. Share it where your clients will see it, not your peers. If your goal is to get a new job, impress your peers. If your goal is to get a new client, impress your prospects with your usefulness. This may seem obvious, but I’m amazed at how often folks fail to target the audiences who are most likely to become clients. Similarly, don't use jargon that only a peer would appreciate.

How do you turn a thought leadership strategy into new business? Write something really useful and share it with potential clients. Make the complex easy to grasp and you will be rewarded with the new business that you desire.


February 7, 2012


This post is hard to read on mobile because the “share” box keeps hovering over the text.

February 7, 2012

Aaron Taylor

Steve, thanks for reporting the problem. We’re aware of the issue and are working on a fix for it.

February 7, 2012


I’d made the same observation in the study about the role of thought leadership and came to the same conclusion.  It was that or give-up on ‘thought leadership marketing’ and that wasn’t gonna happen.

February 7, 2012

Lee Frederiksen

@Steve, thanks for the heads-up.
@John- It’s reassuring that other folks are drawing the same conclusions. Thanks for the comments…lwf

February 9, 2012

Bethany Dawson

My favorite tip is tip number 1—so often people become caught up with impressing their peers or the higher-ups of their own industry when all that attention should instead be focused on generating new leads!

February 21, 2012

Greg Austin

“Writing everything you know on a subject is not thought leadership.” Truer words were never said. Thanks!

February 22, 2012

John Gray, Law Firm Marketing

A great reality checck for those of us who don’t take the time to remind ourselves that as lawyers we are supposed to make things simpler for our clients - not more complex.

My tip for those writing legal content for clients is to ask yourself, “How is this information making my client’s life better?”  Whether its good news or bad news your passing on of the information should contain a “value add” that shows you’ve got the client in mind.

February 22, 2012

Lee Frederiksen

Looks like this is an issue that quite a few folks have been thinking about. @Bethany and @Greg- those are some of my personal favorites as well. @John-
I think that is a great way of thinking about the topic you are writing on. Thanks for your comments…lwf

April 3, 2012

Charles Michael Lauller

You hit the nail on the head.  Too often the focus is to impress peers versus improving a firms RPL.  Thus I believe #7 is where the rubber meets the road!  Thanks for the post.  Keep up the good work~

April 3, 2012

Lee Frederiksen

Thanks so much for the kind words and your comments. It does seem like playing to your peers is too common in the professional services world.
Thanks again…lwf

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Feb 06 2012