B2B 42 | ArmorCode

B2B 42 | ArmorCode

 

By analyzing the issues and collaborating with our clients, we can comprehend their concerns and provide specific remedies that effectively meet their requirements. For today’s episode, LingRaj Patil, VP of Marketing at ArmorCode, reveals the company’s go-to-market approach. He shares how ArmorCode prioritizes customer-centric problem-solving to drive meaningful impact and innovation within the cybersecurity industry. LingRaj emphasizes the significance of starting with problems and working closely with customers to fully understand their pain points. By articulating and offering targeted solutions, ArmorCode effectively addresses the problems faced by its customers. LingRaj also shares his career journey and the trajectory that led him to spearhead the Purple Book initiative. Come join us for an informative episode where we explore go-to-market strategies, solving problems with a focus on the customer, building communities, and the strength of collaborations in the continually changing field of cybersecurity.

Listen to the podcast here

 


 

ArmorCode’s Go-To-Market Approach: Serving Customers In The AppSec Space With LingRaj Patil

I have with me the pleasure of hosting LingRaj Patil, who is the VP of Marketing at ArmorCode. I’m super excited with the things that ArmorCode is doing and what LingRaj and his team are doing. Without further ado, let’s get right into the conversation. Welcome, Raj. How are you doing?

I’m doing very well. I’m looking forward to this conversation with you.

Same here. As always, I always start the show with this question with all my guests, so you’re going to be no exception to that. How do you view and define go-to-market?

In its basic sense, go-to-market is a way that you take your product or service to the market. I think there are a couple of distinct steps within that one, the way I look at it. The first one is the problem that you’re trying to solve for the customer needs to be very clear. A very good understanding of what the problem that you’re trying to solve. Especially in a startup, it becomes very important because you’re in a new space and championing a problem and a solution for that one. Sometimes in a startup, when you start out, the problem that you think is the problem customers care about is not the problem that they care about. Understanding the problem is very important.

Marketing the problem is very important. That’s the first step because customers don’t latch onto the problem. They will not latch onto the solution that we’re going to propose later. The second one is then articulating the solution and the unique way in which you solve that particular problem better than anybody else. Those are the two steps that I would say are part of the go-to-market. As time progresses, I’ve also found that it’s very important that you grow with the customers and the problems that they’re facing. That’s where building on being very tight with the customers and understanding the evolution of the problem and the evolution of the solution that needs to happen with that.

This is how I look at go-to-market. Of course then, there are different strategies and tactics like whether you use events to take that engagement with the customers, community, one-on-one engagements with your customers, prospects, or sales contact engagement. That are the tactics that I would say is what’s working in the go-to-market journey.

I like the way you put a lot of emphasis on the problems. You’re always starting with the problems. You also mentioned working with the customers and then articulating or repeating the problems. As you’re doing that, you articulate and push out the solutions of the products and services you’re building and how you’re solving those problems.

Totally. I think this is where a lot of companies go astray by not spending enough time on the problem but jumping straight to the solution, assuming that the problem they are trying to solve is an urgent problem to solve. There are problems to solve and there are urgent problems to solve. Meaning this problem needs to be fixed right now. Understanding that urgent problem to fix right now is very important. Championing that is very important. Also, the problem needs to be a problem that is a problem for enough people that it’s a big opportunity for you as a company.

One of the challenges that I’ve seen in the startup space is that they have maybe 3 to 4 design partners and their top 15 people. They found their opinion about what is the addressing problem by talking to those 10 to 15 different people. The thing is, the problem needs to be a bigger problem. With a startup, you’re always struggling with the lack of resources and time that you have and how do you reach to maybe hundreds and thousands of people. Understand that the problem is affecting those people.

In my mind, one of the things that I look at is, “Is the problem a problem for 3 people, 30 people, 300 people, or 3,000 people?” We want to solve a problem that’s a problem for 30,000 companies. That’s the market space that we want to go after. Not a problem, that’s a problem for just 30 people. The way we have found to do that is by engaging them at scale. We have used Purple Book Community as a way to basically articulate or understand what problems these leaders we seek to serve are facing and champion it for them. Sometimes the problems that they are facing need to be championed for themselves because, in organizations, they are not getting the word out.

This is a problem that needs immediate attention in terms of budget reallocation and in terms of conversation with their own peers in the industry. They’re all fighting this battle. How do you bring those forces together so that it becomes a movement? That’s what I feel is needed to solve problems. Of course, the product we come up with helps solve part of the problem, but it doesn’t quite solve the people part of it. The people part of it is very important. That’s why when we are defining problem, there is a whole groundwork that needs to be laid out to make it a success that people buy the problem, want the problem, champion the problem within their companies, and then we help them with that as well.

As you are talking about the problem size and the market size, one of the questions that came to me is, how do you estimate or how do you know that this problem is good for a lot of people? You answered it in your own words, which is one way to do it is through a community. You mentioned Purple Book Community. We’ll definitely deep dive into Purple Book Community during our conversation. Switching gears here, let’s take a step back. Why don’t you walk the audience what is your career journey like? How do you end up doing what you’re doing today? It’s not like you started your day one of your career journey and you start and thought about Purple Book Community. What is your current journey like so far?

In terms of my education, I did my electronics and communications. I was doing computer programming. I used to do networking programming, building switches and routers that powered the internet. If you go back to the late 1990s and early 2000s, that was the hottest thing at that time. The internet was very big and a lot of infrastructure had to be built. I was doing programming for that. I remember an experience that changed my perspective toward technology and marketing. I was part of a project. It had about maybe eighteen people. I’m talking about the mid-2000s. It had about maybe eighteen people, and the technology was so cool that the team was very excited about working on it and how it’s going to change customer’s life.

While I was working on it, I was pulled aside for a customer request that came in for a problem that he was facing. It was a team of four people and maybe we did that work for 3 to 4 people. It actually became a bother for me. Why are they taking me away from the school project? I just want to change the world to work on something so small. I did that. I came back but I didn’t pay much attention to that.

About maybe a year and a half after this was done, I met the product manager. I asked him about how this particular big project did in relation to the small project. He explained that the small project I worked on and didn’t pay much attention to actually had become more revenue and more profitable. I started thinking, “Why is this project, which is not even that cool, ended up becoming that much more popular among the customers?” I learned that was because it was solving a problem that was very urgent and important for the customers.

The big project that we’re talking about. We, as engineers, were excited about it. It was a cool technology that we all wanted to change the world, but this was the one that we were facing. That made me think the technology might be very exciting for the technologist. At the end of the day, it needs to solve a problem for the end-user or customers. That’s what got me thinking. I then did my MBA. I got most fascinated about how you take technology and articulate the business value of that. One thing led to another.

Technology might be very exciting for technologists, but at the end of the day, it needs to solve a problem for the end-user, for the customers. Click To Tweet

Within Ericsson, I moved into marketing. For a period of time, I have gone from a bigger company progressively smaller. Ericsson has a global giant. After that, I worked in two mini-funds, maybe 1,500 to 2,000 people. That was very exciting before I ended up at the company that I’m at. I’ve been involved with naming the company to basically being where we are now. We are a Series A-funded company now. We are close to three years old from the time of conception.

Actually, on May 13th, 2023, we are going to celebrate the second anniversary of the launch of the company. Little did we know when we started on May 13th, 2021 that the journey we would have for those two years would be so phenomenal. I feel that journey from working from a bigger company to a smaller one, and on this startup makes me think that I should have started my journey with the smaller company much earlier because of the impact they are having.

This is a great story and journey for sure. Even I can relate to a lot of these things. Even I started my journey in larger companies. That eventually progressed to the early stage and smaller companies. In hindsight, if we were to connect the dots, it’s the experiences in the larger companies that gave us or helped us arrive at the moment where we are now. I completely agree with a lot of things that you mentioned, Raj.

One thing that I want to transition into is what you mentioned about ArmorCode. You’ve been involved with the founder from day zero, our writer inception, and you’re hitting the two-year mark on May 13th, 2023. Congratulations to you and the team on that big milestone. Tell us a bit about ArmorCode. Who do you serve and what is your go-to-market approach for ArmorCode?

In ArmorCode, we solve an application security problem. To make it very simple to understand, I can explain it to you. There is a lot of new software that is getting written. Software is being written not just by the software companies. Traditionally, non-software companies are writing software in the journey for digital transformation. These companies, when they write software, are under pressure to release software faster, and they release faster to give a sense of perspective software that used to release. When I started out as an engineer, we used to release software once a year and do it twice a year. Now, we’re at a point where companies are releasing software every month, sometimes every week, and sometimes every day. That’s the piece at which innovation is happening.

Now we are at a point where companies are releasing software every month, sometimes every week, sometimes every day. That's the pace at which innovation is happening. Click To Tweet

The security team used to get tested the software. They’re not getting it right now. They are under pressure to release it faster. Consequently, a lot of vulnerabilities in the software are getting shipped. Speed is one problem. The other problem that’s happening here is there is rapid adoption of open source. What that means is, earlier, most of the software was created by you. Now, in some cases, 70% to 80% of the software that we’re creating is created by somebody else. That means if they have the vulnerability slip in, or worse if they were a hacker and they injected the vulnerability so that they could exploit it later, you’re ingesting it. That’s the second problem that we are talking about.

The software has gone from becoming monolithic software to more microservices. What we do is we help companies find out vulnerabilities that need to be fixed before the release goes out. Earlier, the customers had to look at 1,000 or 10,000 problems and figure out which ones to fix, not having enough time to fix, and just shipping it like that. We tell them, “Instead of these 10,000 problems, these are the 50 problems you need to look at before you ship it.” We give a prioritized view of what’s important that needs to be fixed so that it’s possible to fix it in the one-week release cycle you’re having.

Clearly, that technology is needed, given all the different security horror stories that we are hearing in the industry. Not just businesses but even common manner individuals and consumers are being affected by it. Who are your customers and the personnel that you serve around these AppSec problems?

The people that we serve are security leaders and security engineers. Within security, these are application security and product security. If you look at security, we can classify them to two broad teams. One team is entrusted with enterprise security, meaning making sure that my enterprise network is secure and it’s not hacked.

The other one is interested with product or application security. What that team does is whatever product and application we are building, we need to make sure that people cannot hack into that so that our customers do not get impacted by using our product. Our product is used by the team, what’s called the application security team or the product security team, now broadly called the software security team. That’s the team that uses it. Within that, application security engineers are the ones that use it. Their managers are the ones who are influencers. Chief Information Security Officers are the ones who ultimately write the check.

Who is your typical customer base? Is it mostly enterprise or mid-market? I’m assuming it’s not small to medium businesses.

It’s mostly mid-market and enterprise, even though the problem that we are solving is relevant. For somebody to use our product, they need to have a certain amount of scale for our platform to be useful for them.

Let’s talk about a GTM success story. One thing that I’ve been following and tracking ArmorCode’s success and the team’s success very well. Something that stands out is the way you went around, went about, and built the Purple Book community. Can you share some more details around what led you to come up with this whole community idea? How are we helping move the awareness of the problem with the personnel that you mentioned?

The community started way back in December 2020. I would say at least the conversation about it started then. It started out because as we were talking to security leaders for whom we were looking to solve this problem, we found out that there were lots of companies that were facing this application security problem. There were some companies that had put millions of dollars into making their application security program very robust. They had a very good understanding of what are the best practices, what are the case studies, and things like that.

There were a lot more companies that didn’t have that kind of a budget. They were not even aware of a problem like this, or they were just beginning out. We thought, “Why don’t we get together with the companies and leaders who are championing crusaders in this area and then co-author a book with them for the benefit of the rest of the community?”

It started out as a project to co-author a book with ten security leaders about the concerns, best practices, and case studies in this. Once we got these ten leaders together to write this book, they came together and said, “The problem is so big that we need to have more experts from other areas to basically chime in to fully characterize the problem.” Those people then started inviting the other industry expert that they respected. Before we knew it, that 10-people team had become 29 people team that came together to write this book. That was such a creative phase of this community that we spent a lot of time articulating the problem, challenges, best practices, case studies, and things like that.

It started out as a book which would’ve 4 chapters and it ended up as a book with 10 chapters. Once the book was done, people who were in the community had so much fun talking to each other and hanging out with each other. They said, “We need to have a community around it. Let this not end and the book writing is done.” That’s how the community continued. Now, we have 250-plus members. For the most part, it’s the only community that we have. That community is very near and dear to us mainly because we understand that the problem that we’re trying to solve is so big that it cannot be solved with technology or product.

Even though technology or product is a very important part of it, we believe there is a very strong people aspect to this problem that people are the ones who ultimately need to solve this problem. We need to have a movement around it. Mindsets need to change within the company. There needs to be greater awareness of the problem. Since we started, we have done things that we never thought we would be showcased on Nasdaq, where we have done an annual conference. In 2022, we did the first annual conference with 2,200 people from 24 different countries.

That’s the kind of scale that can be achieved only when people who are part of the community are championing the cause. Otherwise, a startup like us cannot think of pulling off a big event like that. That’s what I think is a difference. We are not a startup just focused on building a product. We’re a startup that’s focused on building a movement around the problem that needs to be solved because that’s what’s needed to solve the problem.

Something that caught my attention is you mentioned the community taking shape or taking birth in December 2020. That’s around the same time or maybe right after the startup was conceived and formally established. Walk me through the thought process between you and the Founder and CEO, Nikhil, as to what led you to this thought process of maybe you should explore and start a “community.” What led you to that point in time?

We saw that a lot of security leaders were trying to solve this problem in their own small circles. Also, there was no full characterization of the problem itself on how big the problem is and what are the best practices in solving it. There were lots of efforts that were going on. We felt that the problem that we’re trying to solve cannot be solved using technology because these people are not united in their fight. That’s when we thought we should bring all these leaders together in one place so that there’s an information exchange that can happen immediately. They can start getting solutions to some of those problems, at least the low-hanging truths, immediately by hanging out and talking to each other. That’s how we got them together. That’s how it started up.

B2B 42 | ArmorCode
ArmorCode: Problems cannot be solved by just using technology if people are not united in their fight.

 

This is a good validation for one of the principles of people looking to start a community. It’s always focused on 1 or 2 problems that the industry can rally around. I think that’s a very important point. It’s not about how a “community” can benefit your company or product versus expanding your thinking and view around why someone would care about this problem and why it’s important that people who are working on this problem come together.

The people I’ve seen when there is a problem, which is for any startup to be successful, we need to be attacking the problem that makes the maximum impact for the maximum number of people. The way to find that out is the way our community rallies around that problem. Let’s say for example, I was solving a problem that impacted me with 30 companies. If you try to build a community around a problem that 30 companies are interested in, you can’t build a community around it. Whereas, if there’s a problem that 3,000 or 30,000 companies are facing, then you can build a community around it. You can rally the team to build awareness about that cause.

Many times, what happens is the awareness that we’re talking about in many organizations, the security leaders are very much aware of the problem, but sometimes it doesn’t go up. We believe application security and security need to be a board-level problem. The board needs to be discussing it. Right now, look at security leaders. In almost all of the cases, they’re not reporting directly to the CEO. They are reporting to somebody who reports to the CEO. It could be a CIO or a CTO. Sometimes, they want CFO, Chief Legal Officer. This problem needs to be championed, and it’s very important.

I give an example. I think that not having a Chief Security Officer reporting directly to CEO is like not having the Head of Pentagon not reporting directly to the president of the United States. Imagine the Head of Pentagon being three levels below the president of the United States. How secure will the country be?

That’s a great analogy.

In our world, all companies are getting on a journey to digital transformation, whether they’re a software company or not, technology company or not. Even the companies that you traditionally consider, like manufacturing, didn’t have that much of a technology impact. There is a digital imprint of the manufacturing flow that they’re having. There is so much digitization that’s happening. There is a digital representation of the physical company that you’re running that needs to be secure. The knowledge about how to secure it cannot be three levels down from where the CEO or board of directors are. That’s where the community also helps. Build an awareness of the problem at a high level there is an awareness.

I think what you articulated there is very important around why it matters. You also shared some insights around why the Chief Security Officer should report to a CEO and why the security level problem should be more of a board-level problem, nothing less than that. Something else that you mentioned earlier while building the Purple Book Community is around the book, as it says in the name. Walk us through the process of why it matters around why and what led you to the thoughts of building and co-authoring a book with all these security leaders.

There was no book on this subject. That’s where the project started. We said, “We need to have a book that leaders can refer to on what’s the problem. How does it look like? You need to characterize the elephant first. What are the possible ways to basically tackle this elephant in the room that nobody’s talking about? That’s where the idea of the book came about, and the book became a community. I’ll tell you how it became a community.

Our original idea was to write a book, print it, and put it on Amazon. We realized the whole software security. Security is such a dynamic area that the moment you write a book and you say, “These are the problems. These are the best practices.” Put it, and you think you’re done. There’s going to be another attack that’s going to happen. You’re going to learn. We are in this constant process of learning and evolving. That’s why we say this book is going to be digital. We are going to put it on a website. That’s what people are going to read.

When it’s constantly evolving, that means there cannot be a date and time when we say the work is done. It needs to be community and it needs to be constant dialogue on it. What we thought we could characterize the problem. Say an elephant. We figured out it’s a shifting elephant, meaning it needs to be constantly recharacterized every attack.

What you highlighted, like community and content in this case, is a unique piece of content that you cannot get anywhere, which is the book are the centerpiece to what I have to do as a winning CMO playbook. By the way, years back, I continued to study, “What sets apart the top tier CMOs versus the rest of the pack? It comes down to three principles. You have content, community, and events or experiences. You can call it either way.

What I’m seeing happening over here with ArmorCode and Purple Book community is you got the community piece, which is the Purple Book Community. You got the book which is articulating or collating and brings all the best practices from all these best and brightest minds in the app security on security world. You’re also doing a series of events. Starting with one event and it looks like now you have chapters of events that are happening. It looks like you’re building all those things. The third piece we didn’t talk about is how are you thinking about our planning and doing all these own branded events around the Purple Book Community.

Can you restate the problem?

It looks like you are hosting and bringing together all these leaders. We are back in December of 2020 or even the early part of 2021. Sometimes you actually hosted the folks in one place. Maybe it was in Silicon Valley. That was the first. Since then, it’s taken its own movement or shape and form. You’ve got chapters and different places where these events are happening. Just explain on that.

The reason why we felt the need to have in-person events is because of the emphasis that we’ve put on building relationships. There are a lot of communities where information exchange happens, people come together and share information, but the focus is on information exchange. What we wanted to do at Purple Book Community is we wanted to build personal relationships with people among people. The kind of collaboration that happens. We have seen the magic of people meeting, discussing, and then coming up with ideas. We experienced it because we are having those meetups in Bay Area and we had a lot of fun just getting to know each other. Many of these Purple Book Community members have become friends with me now.

This is the experience that we wanted to take to different parts of the world. We looked at the concentration of all members. We saw that New York has a very big concentration. Atlanta has a big concentration. Those two cities have chapters now. There are other cities that are able to do this. India also had a concentration of members, so we have chapters in India as well.

To answer your question, why did we evolve from being one place to multiple places is to build that relationship and then enable those leaders to build a community around themselves. We have leaders in different chapters who now have their own local meetups run independently of us. That’s how w scale. You cannot be there in all the places, but these are the people who believe in the cause that this problem needs to be solved. That’s how we are scaling the community.

B2B 42 | ArmorCode
ArmorCode: Why did we evolve from being in one place to multiple places? It’s because we wanted to build relationships and then enable those leaders to build a community around themselves.

 

For me, why I’m excited about what you guys are doing with Purple Book is it reemphasizes the notion that in order to build and have a meaningful community, it’s not about the founder or the originator “broadcasting” to the community members, but facilitating that exchange of information, relationship, and knowledge between the community members themselves. That’s what I see happening now with these chapters.

In a way that the community validates the passion behind a problem, the moment you start doing these things, that’s when the community starts building momentum.

Switching gears over here in the sense of your role at ArmorCode. You are the VP of Marketing at ArmorCode. What are the different functions that you’re responsible for? Who are your team? How is your team set up?

When I look at marketing, I look at three main functions here. One is the brand and thought leadership. You need to find one problem and champion that. How you do that is your brand. Are you trustworthy? Are you a voice that people come to for advice? Are you looked at as a company that can be a confidant for the security leader? One is the brand part of it.

B2B 42 | ArmorCode
ArmorCode: You need to find one problem and champion that. How you do that is your brand.

 

The second one is product marketing, which is essentially having excellence in understanding our customers’ problems, how our product solves them, and communicating that. Also, enabling our customers to tell that story in terms of case studies or maybe podcasts and things like that. Basically, the material that you create to champion that. The third one is the demand gen part. Demand gen is very essential to create demand for the business. Those are three big ways that I look at marketing. I’m responsible for the brand, the content, and the product. For the demand, the way we set it up, part of it is done out of sales and marketing and the inbound. Some of the national events part is handled by in marketing.

The outbound is under sales versus the inbound is under marketing.

I wouldn’t say that’s a full description of it. For example, the national events, marketing still does the national events.

That’s a great story that you shared over here around the Purple Book Community. Clearly, GTM is a success story. Switching gears, it’s not every day that we see success stories like these. A lot of failures before we run into a success story like this. For our audience, can you share a GTM failure story and your learnings from that?

There are plenty of them. In a startup, one thing that we have embraced is the notion of, “Start something new, fail fast, learn from it, and then win to something that works.” There are a lot of experiments that we have done. Some of them have succeeded, and many of them have failed. In terms of the failure itself, we’ll take email marketing as an example. The effectiveness of email marketing is not very high, for reasons that I can relate to myself. I get so many emails from so many other people that I get half of them, I just delete them. I don’t even read because they don’t relate.

I feel a combination of an in-person touch or having some time compelling misconnection with the problem with the customers or the prospects, and then following it up with an email. That is a good combination. If you make email the primary tool without actually touching them, in some way, shape, or form in other formats, maybe on LinkedIn, on the website, or at events. It’s a combination of these three things that makes it effective. If you were to focus solely on email or open rates, the standard open rate is 20%. Sometimes we do better than that. There are CTRs. To progress customers’ interest or prospects’ interest using tiers, email has not worked across.

I think the big takeaway for anyone who’s looking to do or invest in email and outbound using email, is what you articulated there definitely makes sense. Don’t use email as the first cold outreach. Rather, invest in knowing that person, connecting on LinkedIn, building some “relationship” and then use the email as a secondary or tertiary vehicle to reach out.

That’s part of it, but there are limits to how many people you can meet also. You cannot always meet somebody in person and then follow it up with an email. The way you scale that is, for example, LinkedIn. We have a very strong presence on LinkedIn. That’s a lot of people who follow us and know us. That’s how we keep our followers or supporters updated about what we are doing. In some ways, they know us. We are at events. They know us even though we do not have that one-on-one interaction. If you combine that with an email, then you have a more successful strategy.

To the extent that you can share, what budget were you given to start this committee and the book project?

I think that’s probably a privy that helps to be privy to the company. I can share the details. Community is not about big budgets and big spending. The community is about identifying a problem that everybody’s passionate about and then rallying people beyond it. I feel people will do a lot of wonderful things, not for money, but for a cause that they deeply believe in. If you look at some of the biggest heroics, even in our real life, people do it not for money. If you look at the army, they’re not the highest paid, but they are the people who are so motivated by a cost that they’re willing to lay down their life for that.

The community is about identifying a problem that everybody's passionate about and then rallying people beyond it. People will do a lot of wonderful things, not for money, but for a cause they deeply believe in. Click To Tweet

When we tap into it, all of us have that innate desire to be part of something big and play a significant role in doing something like that. I feel in the community, we essentially tap that. You tap into people’s ability to champion a problem much bigger than any one of us and then grow from that. If somebody thinks that by putting a lot of money into a community, they can become successful, that definitely is not a way to do that.

All I would say is, in the beginning, find like-minded people who are passionate about the problem that we’re passionate about, and then let that passion build from one to another. If those people are then talking to somebody else about that and that person is talking about somebody else, then you know that you have a problem that is big enough for people to champion it on their own without any big money being spent.

It’s almost similar to how you know when there’s a product-market fit. It’s the same example over here. It’s more like a community problem fit.

Exactly.

Clearly, you’ve got a lot of cool skill sets that people lean on you for. You definitely talked about brand, thought leadership, community, content, and events. What are 1 or 2 skills that your leadership team and other folks in ArmorCode or in the industry lean on you for? What do they reach out to you for?

In terms of what people reach out to me for is, there is a problem that we need to put a spotlight on. If there is a solution to that that we need to put a spotlight on it and create a buzz around it. That’s something that I’ve had some success in creating. It’s either in terms of getting spotlighted by Nasdaq or being invited to speak in Davos during the World Economic Forum, or even building a community around a problem that needs to be created. You create that impact, not just with what we are doing but with the activities that happen around the company and community. That’s something that I have helped the company.

Talking about looking at the different trends or resources that you lean on, what type of resources or what is in the top of your mind when it comes to taking the go-to-market of your team to the next level?

Resources as in materials that I look at like a podcast?

Yeah, it can be a podcast, it can be a book, it can be maybe other communities that you lean on, or maybe it’s even a tool like ChatGPT.

For me, I would say podcasts have been a big influencer. What you’re doing is awesome because there is so much knowledge transfer information that happens. Podcasts have been a great resource for me. Talking to people has been great. Going to events has been fantastic. We are looking into ChatGPT, we are using it in some, but I’m sure there are a lot more possibilities with ChatGPT that we would like to learn more. Sometimes I wonder, maybe I should have one person called the head of ChatGPT just sitting there and thinking about all the possibilities of what ChatGPT can do for all businesses. We’re not there yet, but hopefully, we can get that level of focus on using the full capabilities of ChatGPT.

Same here. I’m super excited about what is possible with ChatGPT. It’s creating or carrying all the time and energy to explore use cases and testing things out. I think that really matters.

There are some things that ChatGPT is great at but ultimately, ChatGPT cannot build a community. Ultimately, it’s the people connecting with the people that build it. Even though there is a lot of human cry about the number of jobs that we lost, there are things that human beings are uniquely suited for that ChatGPT cannot provide.

B2B 42 | ArmorCode
ArmorCode: There are some things that ChatGPT is great at, but ultimately, ChatGPT cannot build a community. Ultimately, it’s people connecting with people that build it. So, even though there is a lot of outcry about the number of jobs lost, there are unique things that human beings are suited for.

 

Bringing the show toward a close of finish. Last two questions that I have for you. Who are the 1, 2, or 3 people that have shaped, inspired, or played a key role in your career growth so far?

I think there are a lot of people. Identifying 2 to 3 people would not be telling the full story of the people that have made an impact on me. What I am is a result of influences that people around are bad either in a personal capacity or in a work capacity. If I had to pick just three people, I would say maybe my parents. They’ve had a very strong influence in the way I was brought up. I remember a teacher in my MBA school. There was something about him. He believed in me in ways that I didn’t believe in myself. He saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. I could see that he had duplicated about me. He made a great impression on me to stretch myself. There are a lot of managers that I’ve had in my career who I don’t want to mention one or the other that has played a huge role in my growth.

Almost always, what it comes down to, which I’ve seen, is it’s not the expertise of the person that has made an impact on me. It’s that person was not an expert but that person cared. That’s very important. That person cared for me as a person, took a personal interest, and I try to do the same thing with the people that I mentor. I don’t try to view my knowledge and walk away. At the end of the day, it’s the amount of cave that I give to that person personally. That’s what makes the difference.

Finally, the CEO that I work with, Nikhil. It’s the third company that we are working together. I would say he’s one of the most phenomenal leaders that I work with. So passionate, so energetic, and still so humble. He has accomplished so much but still has the biggest mindset. He’s very humble in learning. That’s something that I learned from him. He has been one of the great reasons why ArmorCode has the success that it is right now. Even the community, he’s the big cause that it is right now.

The point that you made earlier, Raj, is around when the key role of a mentor or people who have touched you is not about the time or not when they share their expertise. Rather, when they convey or show that it’s you as a person they really care about, they sincerely care about you as a person. The final question I have for you is, if you were to turn back time and if you were to go back to day one of your go-to-market journeys, what advice would you give your younger self?

I would say to care about the problem that you’re solving for the customers. That’s very important. As I told you, in the earlier days, I was enamored by the technology and what it could do that I lost that connection with the end user who uses it. If I go back and I say, “Connect with the people who are ultimately going to use the product that you’re going use, understand their problem, the most pressing problem that they would be willing to spend time and money on and help them solve it.”

Care about the problem that you're solving for the customers. Click To Tweet

I say help them solve it, not just with the product that you’re having, but in any other way you can. Community is a way for us to do that. We are not monetizing the community, but the thing is it helps the community come together. That’s what I would say care about the end customers or the people that you’re trying to help so much that they feel that we are sincere about making their life better.

Fantastic. Great conversation, Raj. Good luck to you and the team at ArmorCode. I’m wishing you all the best.

Thank you very much. It’s my pleasure.

 

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B2B 41 |Thought Leadership

 

B2B 41 |Thought Leadership

 

For Robert Buday, thought leadership is the eminence an individual achieves by developing, delivering, and creating demand for a superior solution to a complex problem. If business leaders embrace this approach, go-to markets can gain so much more. This is not just about earning bigger revenue but also about delivering better value to all. Joining Vijay Damojipurapu, the author of Competing on Thought Leadership discusses the overlap between a good go-to market program and a good thought leadership program. He explains how to build compelling business narratives through his argument structure and the nine elements of exceptional content. Robert also shares some of his best success stories that show the immense positive impact of thought leadership.

Listen to the podcast here

 

Elevating Go-To Market With Thought Leadership With Robert Buday

In this episode, I have the pleasure of hosting Bob Buday, who is the author of Competing on Thought Leadership. Welcome to the show, Bob.

It’s great to be here, Vijay.

Thought leadership is a very relevant topic in the first half of 2023, especially for the bigger brands. I’m looking forward to diving into these topics and various comments about how you define, build, measure, and so on. With that, the first question I have that’s top of mind for me as well as the readers, is how do you define go-to-market through the lens of thought leadership?

Before I define go-to-market, I need to explain what companies compete on thought leadership as I put it in my book and I should probably define thought leadership before I define go-to-market. I define thought leadership as the eminence that a firm or an individual brings to the market and the fame or the eminence that they achieve by developing, delivering and creating demand for a superior solution to a complex problem.

You might say, “What firms am I talking about?” I’m talking about firms who will bill you by the hour and who provide expertise. Management consulting firms, law firms, accounting firms, and architecture firms are firms whose people deliver the expertise like a software company. The other firms that are competing on thought leadership and go way beyond the management consulting sector, the only firms doing thought leadership several years ago when I got into this profession were tech firms that sell complex solutions that address complex problems.

PTC is a great example of that. Salesforce.com, Adobe, and any Microsoft product. All the Metaverse vendors. Selling a complex solution to a complex problem that not enough people understand the problem that they have that the Metaverse solves. These firms want their customers to view them as experts on those problems, not just as vendors of software and hardware.

The third category of B2B firms that increasingly want to be seen as thought leaders are financial services firms. I use that term broadly to mean everything from investment banks like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to venture capital firms like Andreessen Horowitz or Kleiner Perkins to private equity firms. Increasingly and we have done research on this, those firms as well want to be seen as thought leaders. We have also surveyed clients of these firms, and they are looking for advice from all sorts of B2B firms that provide complex solutions to complex problems. They are looking for thought leadership from those firms, and those who show thought leadership on the issues of concern have a leg up in getting chosen.

With that definition of thought leadership in mind and the firms that I call competing on thought leadership, and I will explain that in a bit, I look at go-to-market as not just the firms that market thought leadership that gets articles into Harvard Business Review, write bestselling books and give keynote presentations at conferences that generate leads.

People ask for business cards and say, “I’d like to talk to you more,” after or between sessions. I look at go-to-market as not only the marketing but the development of superior expertise best done through primary research that compares best practices with worst practices. I also include go-to-market with the ability to scale some expertise. It’s the people you are sending out there to consult, deliver legal advice, build systems if you are an IT services firm or design a building if you are an architecture firm. Also, if you are a software company with a consulting unit like SAP has. With the people you send out into the field, the customer has said, “I loved your HBR article PTC. I need your experts to help me think through how to leverage the Internet of Things.”

The people you send out in the field are as smart as the “thought leaders” in the articles or the thought leader who gave the keynote presentation at some conference, which precipitated interest. I have a chapter in my book. It’s the smallest chapter. It should have been the largest chapter, in hindsight, about how to deliver thought leadership content.

That is typically the most overlooked aspect of thought leadership and the most important because you can have a bestselling book. You can have a cover article in Harvard Business Review. You can be looked upon as the firm that is the leading expert in solving this problem or that problem. If your people can’t deliver that expertise at a consistent level of quality and scale, what you will wind up doing is creating a market in which your competitors can deliver that expertise better and more consistently. You will be creating a market that your competitors will take away from you at some point.

If you cannot deliver the expertise at a consistent level of quality, you will only create a market your competitors will take away from you at some point. Click To Tweet

Thanks for going over setting the foundation for how you define and view a partnership program and then how that place with a go-to-market motion. Some of the thoughts that come to my mind are that go-to-market is more around how and when you build a product and a service. Building a product and service that translates to revenue will necessitate. It will require understanding your customers very well.

Understanding the problems that they are dealing with. Understanding how to message it to them and how you reach out to them. Some of the essences are the principles of go-to-market. There’s a good overlap between a good go-to-market program and motion and a good thought leadership program, especially around customer problems and content. Once you generate the demand, are you ensuring that your in-house team is trained and can deliver on those skills either through services or products?

Any number of consulting and IT services firms you can be sure are looking at generative AI and trying to figure out how they develop new services. Customers are interested, and they want to know where they can use ChatGPT and other generative AI. There will be dozens of these things before long if there aren’t already. They’re like, “How do we create a consulting and IT service around generative AI? Clients are asking for it. Do we have it?”

The ones that win with the leading generative AI practices that grow the largest practices in helping their clients figure out where to use generative AI, build the systems, and capitalize on the technology will be those consulting in IT services firms that do primary research on how the best users of generative AI are using it, where they are not using it and why.

This is primary research. They compare that set of companies to the worst users of generative AI. The companies that have tried to use it here don’t work well. A wrong application was used over here. It’s the right application, but they implemented it poorly. Consulting on IT services firms that when what I think is going to be a big market for generative AI expertise from strategy to systems and maintenance are going to be the ones who study how the best and worst users of this technology, what they do differently to create a consulting and IT service that does more of the right things than the wrong things.

B2B 41 |Thought Leadership
Thought Leadership: The consulting and IT services firms that win are those who study the best and worst users of the latest technology. They make a difference by doing more of the right things than the wrong ones.

 

There are those practices given that companies began to use generative AI. There are those practices that are there for the taking that a software company, a consulting firm, or an IT services firm can learn from to help figure out and devise their service here. Those who develop superior service based on this research and then develop superior marketing and sales write the HBR article, the cover article of where generative AI is, how companies should use generative AI, and how they shouldn’t. We spend a lot of money and get no payback or negative payback. Those future thought leaders will be the ones who do the best primary research, marketing, and delivery.

Let’s switch gears a bit over here. I want to dive a bit more into how, why, and what led you to go down this path of building a thought leadership firm. Why did you write a book on thought leadership? Can you walk us through your career journey? What were the key points that led you to this moment over here?

My career started in 1977. I was a journalist. I was a sports writer first. I later became a business writer because there were no sports writing openings at a larger newspaper in Southern California whose doors I knocked on in 1980. They said, “Sorry. We don’t have any sports writing jobs, but we have a business writing job open. Are you interested?”

My father had his business, and I did a little work for him right after college. I had a wife and a kid on the way and I said, “I know a little bit about business. I will take a business writing job.” It was one of these turns in one’s career like that was a good turn going off that road. I was good as a sports writer but not great. Good sports writers are a dime a dozen. Many journalists want to be sports writers.

Like trying to be an actor in Hollywood, you are up against tons of people with incredible levels of talent. I was not a great sports writer. Maybe I could have developed to be. I found writing about businesses far more fascinating than writing about athletes and games. It was at that point in 1980 that the world of business journalism became to evolve and grow. That was probably in part because of the oil cutoffs in the ’70s.

The economy started to be an issue that newspapers put serious money into, including beefing up their business sections. I became a business journalist. I got bored at this large newspaper in California, the Orange County Register three years later. I struck out on my own. I started a healthcare trade publication and sold that within a year. I went to work for a large trade publisher in healthcare. I was tired of commuting a long distance to Los Angeles from Orange County. I was hired by a trade publisher called InformationWeek. They are still around.

They moved me to Boston. I spent two years in InformationWeek in the mid-‘80s. I needed to make more money. One of my sources for articles was a management consulting firm called Index Group and they were looking for somebody to handle their public relations and be the editor and ghostwriter of their publications. That was my entry into thought leadership in 1987. The first correct turn or right turn was out of sports journalism into business journalism. The second right turn or correct turn was out of business journalism into thought leadership.

If I recall, they are in the tech industry. They are one of the leaders back then in the tech space.

The firm I joined in ‘87 Index Group was bought by CSC, Computer Sciences Corp, the next year in ‘88 when CSC Index, which was later branded, was a $40 million firm. Talk about being lucky and being in the right place at the right time. It’s pure luck as I’m coming out of college, having an Advertising major living in England, and somebody saying, “I’m looking for somebody to market this rock and roll band. It’s called the Beatles.” Have you ever heard of them? I never heard of them. Marketing the big management consulting concept of the ’90s, business reengineering, that’s the place I landed.

It was there from ‘87 to ‘97 that I learned how thought leadership is done well and how the sausage is created through primary research looking at Michael Hammer. He was the Chief R&D Officer at this consulting firm. He and his colleagues were in the research part of the CSC Index and how we brought these concepts to market through Harvard Business Review articles, the bestselling book, conference presentations, and rest. This is the pre-World Wide Web. It was like getting an MBA in thought leadership at the time.

From that experience, I was hooked. I said, “This is a career. This is a serious profession of thought leadership.” I believed it was only going to grow because I saw it work so effectively at this firm. This is a secret to firms outside of the management consulting industry. They don’t know about thought leadership. They may have a corporate publication Oracle.

At a corporate publication was a bunch of journalists writing feature articles for Oracle. It was not thought leadership. It was not experts in Oracle writing articles. It was journalists writing feature stories for Oracle that you could have read in technology or other business publications. I thought leadership works if it’s done well. Other B2B firms and other consulting firms are going to discover this because not every consulting firm was as good at thought leadership as the firm I worked at that time.

You did mention quite a few times that leadership is more prevalent with consulting firms. If you go back to your background at CSC Index, it’s a technology firm that did thought leadership very well. What advice would you give to the technology companies as to why they should invest in a thought leadership program if they are not already? How does one know that it’s a good thought leadership program?

Technology companies need to understand what thought leadership is and is not and why their clients are looking for thought leadership, and of what types. We surveyed 5,000 business executives who were big buyers of IT services and technology, consulting, and other business products and services. We asked them to rate nine what we call hallmarks of thought leadership. “Which ones were more important? What do you want to see?”

The most important one was what we called evidence, which is proof that the solution that somebody’s recommending in their article, book or presentation works through real case examples. Customers who have adopted the solution and gotten big benefits were number one. The novelty was number two. “Tell me something I don’t already know. If you are telling me something I already know, why would I switch to your firm from my current vendor?”

My advice for technology firms is to understand first what attracts buyers of their products, especially the non-IT business executive. Proof that the software has helped the customers have decreased cycle time, increased revenue, increased profitability, and all that. Give me real stories. Give me the real names of companies and people who are vouching for this software and technology. Otherwise, it’s not believable.

Technology firms must understand what attract buyers of their products. These are proof of how the software has helped whatever customers gained in revenue and profitability. Click To Tweet

The disguised client case studies are good, but they are not nearly as good as customer case studies in which the company and people in those companies are talking and identified because they are a big, “Show it to me. I don’t believe it,” factor because it’s so much hype, especially around technology. Look at what’s happened with Metaverse.

Metaverse was a concept that was at the top of the world circa years ago, and then it’s fallen off the end of a table while generative AI is displaced from a technology company standpoint. I believe that’s in part because the technology firms pedaling the Metaverse largely did a poor job collecting the case studies or stories of companies that they use augmented in virtual reality.

It’s a little short of what the purest definition of the Metaverse is but they didn’t have enough case examples that show if you use the metaverse in things like marketing or simulating things, whether it’s training pilots or doctors how to perform surgery, without those case examples, people are not going to buy these headsets.

Can I challenge you a bit on that? The reason is it also has to do somewhat with the market adoption of this technology. It might be ahead of its time. You and I know Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm. He is one of the endorsers of your book. I want to get to how you got his endorsement. Coming back to the point I was making, it might be a climb in the market where it’s still too early.

The reason why I bring those up is if you look at the proliferation of smartphones now versus part of the earliest makers of the smartphones laid back in the ‘80s or early ‘90s, it was Microsoft. The market is not ready. How they presented the product was not done right. A lot of these things were missing at that time. Coming back to my earlier point, it might be that Metaverse is still relevant, but that’s not the time for it yet. We don’t know. Only time will tell.

Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm says you need to collect those maybe a few examples that are out there of companies that have capitalized on this emerging technology or new technology. If you look at the revenue of SAP from 1985 to 1995 and they were a public company back then, you can see how they slow increase in sales and then business reengineering concept, which is the thought leadership that sold SAP R3, ERP software at the time and reengineering as a consulting practice by ’93 and ‘94. I don’t think it’s a coincidence, but you’ll see sales of SAP and ERP spiking upwards.

The firm I worked at and other consulting firms who came up with their versions of business reengineering, McKinsey, Capgemini, and all the others like Accenture and Deloitte made the market for SAP and ERP at the time. It’s a marketing that SAP could have done but didn’t. I say Metaverse. How long has Metaverse been at this? Several years. It must have some beta customers or early users collect success stories.

Find out the surgeons who have been, through Metaverse, enabled surgical procedures and who honed their craft in using some heart surgery tool and then used it out in the operating room. Collect those stories. Get people to talk about the improvements that were made. Tell those stories in a way that the average executive can understand. Executives will take notice of this.

The thought leadership marketing skills at many technology companies are need to be improved to be able to capture those stories, learn from those examples and take them to market. That is part of the go-to-market. Do customer research of this type and leadership research. Capture it. Put it in language that the average non-technology executive can understand because you are going to have to sell that person, not just the CIO.

You touched upon several important points as to how one can recognize and create an effective thought leadership program. What helps our readers is if you can walk us through a go-to-market success story around thought leadership. You did mention CSC. It’s that one because you had a front-row seat over there. If you can walk us through that, that’d be great.

That’s an old story. I will give you that quickly, and I will give you a newer story. The CSC Index business reengineering success story went from roughly 1987 to 1997. The way that I call the sausage that created the content of business reengineering was a research program much like the corporate executive board. The corporate executive board sold to Gartner but a multi-company funded annual research service that Mike Hammer and CSC Index co-owned for about ten years. That research was all case study research.

The companies that funded the research opened up their doors on whatever the research topic was and we talked about how they were dealing with the issue. As Mike Hammer said many years ago to a reporter when reengineering was big, the reporter said, “Mike, how did you invent reengineering?” He said, “I did not invent reengineering. I discovered it.”

What he meant by that was he discovered it in looking at the practices of the companies that were getting the biggest benefits from IT back in the late-’80s and early-’90s compared against the companies that got little or no value from IT. What was the difference? The difference was they built their systems across functions rather than built siloed systems.

Everybody knows that, but it was new at the time. It was a big idea. That was the research part of thought leadership. In the marketing part of thought leadership, we had an extensive series of golf events. We were in Harvard Business Review several times. We had our McKinsey quarterly-type publication insights.

We had people on our lecture circuit. We had the ability to wine and dine them. It has prestigious resorts and club resorts. We had a bestselling book co-authored by Michael Hammer and James Champy, Reengineering the Corporation. We sold two million copies in the ’90s. PR was going for us too. We had a cover article about reengineering in Fortune Magazine in ‘93 and the classic reengineering article in 1990, Reengineering Work: Don’t Automate, Obliterate by Michael Hammer. We had all the pieces of the thought leadership marketing mix pre-World Wide Web.

What was your role back then? How were you working with Mike and the team then?

I was the Director of Marketing. I was the number two person in marketing. I handled our publications like the McKinsey quarterly-type journal. I handled our public relations and our survey-based research done for PR purposes as opposed to the thought leadership that Hammer and the research team put around Mike in this business they co-owned.

I was an occasional pinch hitter researcher in that research service. It was called Prism so I got to see how that business operated. That was a great experience to see how the research team came up with ideas. That’s an old success story. A new one is some training that I have been doing for a very large consultant in an IT services firm. I have trained in eight classes, all virtual classes of between 10 and 20 people.

I had 22 people in a couple of sessions over the last few years. One of the most important skills in thought leadership is content development and writing, which is what I call constructing compelling narratives or agreements. I have taught this course eight times to these groups and they are in the thought leadership research function at this big consulting and IT services firm.

After each class, I have had people come back to me and say, “This is enlightening. It’s helped.” When we are done with a research study trying to analyze, we have all this primary research data. We have got survey data, case study data, and secondary research. It’s helped us once we have a raw idea of what we want to say to put it into a compelling narrative or argument. I have gotten a lot of joy out of teaching this class eight times. There will be a ninth class in June 2023, and then they want to go for more.

There’s something that caught my attention as you are telling this experience of yours. I’m sure you must have come across a lot of folks, especially in the tech industry where product marketing function and even content marketing function, not just PRN corporate communications, are all expected to craft narratives that will shift the thinking of the buyers and the user audience. What would you suggest? Do you have a framework? How do you tease out how to build those narratives?

I do have a framework and it’s what I call the problem solution, argument structure or narrative structure. It takes the form of an outline. First is a high-level outline and then through iteration with the subject experts and if you want to call them ghostwriters or content developers, they go through this sixth part argument structure and build a compelling argument.

That needs to stay in outline form until all parties have agreed that we have a solid argument and lined up all the data or all the examples we need. The logic is rigorous. It’s unassailable. We have something new, and that’s proven. We have the evidence. At that point, somebody is ready to turn into pros and maybe you could use generative AI to turn this outline into pros.

The mistake I see having been made so many times over the last years since they have been in this career is that a writer and an expert or 2, 3, or more get together for a couple of hours. They talk through an article and then write their drafts. Something he or she heard, the experts look at it. They don’t think it’s good. It might be well written but it’s superficial and not convincing.

They go back and forth. Weeks later, you are on draft seventeen and maybe the thinking is a little better but nobody’s satisfied. The writer is pulling out his hair like, “I can’t please these people.” The shortcoming there is using pro writing to build an argument, and it’s a very inefficient way to build an argument.

The best way to build an argument I have found is by working with people through a structured outline where you start with what is the exact problem in the world that we are focusing on. Who has that problem? What type of companies? What executives in that company have that problem? What is the problem? How much is it costing those companies in terms of time, money and market share? It starts with the problem and ends with the superior solution.

The best way to build an argument starts by determining the exact problem to be addressed and ends with the superior solution. Click To Tweet

The argument needs to be deconstructed over typically weeks, sometimes months to come up with a rigorous argument. What you will discover through this process is, “We want to be able to say this but we have no evidence.” “Where do we get the evidence?” “We think that customers implemented the system this way and they got big benefits. We think they did that but somebody going to need to talk to them.” “Who’s going to talk to them?” “Let’s collect that case study.”

We did that. We interviewed them. It’s exactly what we think is the new and better solution. We need to collect 2 or 3 more examples or more than that to bring some serious evidence to bear. The worst approach to thought leadership is rushing very quickly from an initial discussion between some subject experts rushing to pros and it rarely turns into serious substantive points of view that the solution is fundamentally different from anything else you have read out there.

You also mentioned in your book about there is a strong connection between a good thought leadership program, content program, and demand gen. If the partnership is done right, demand gen will be the outcome.

Thought leadership should be done for no other purpose than eminence and revenue. If your thought leadership programs can’t take some credit for new revenue coming in, then your thought leadership program is not working. I have heard over the years, “Thought leadership should not be measured by least generated.” “I say, “BS. It should be generated,” as long as you are collecting the data and your salespeople are telling you honestly, and that often doesn’t happen.

Salespeople like to take full credit for converting a lead or opening a door even if it was a publication that an executive first read and then talked to one of the sales executives. These companies are not in the business of giving conferences and publishing management journals. They are in the business of selling stuff. Thought leadership has to help them sell stuff. If it’s not helping them sell stuff, then it’s not effective. It doesn’t mean thought leadership is the wrong approach. It’s that it’s not being done well enough.

One of the questions that keep coming up is about an investment thought leadership program and how we know if it’s working or not. Fairly if done right, it should translate to a measurable pipeline and business generated, at the end of the day for sales. I’m opening the page in your book and something that you mentioned is how you know that you got a good partnership program and more importantly, how do you know that you have developed exceptional content.

Let me read it out for the readers over here. You have nine elements of exceptional content, which is it has to be relevant, novel, deep, and feasible to implement evidence-based, illuminating, irrefutable, clear, and stimulating. I like the way how you define the criteria so that it’s not subjective. It’s not like saying, “The CMO said he likes it or she likes it. That’s why I’m going to go with this,” versus the CRO or the salesperson. It’s not based on someone’s opinion. It has to be objective.

When it’s a subjective discussion that gets into what it’s good, and somebody else says, “I don’t think this content is good,” the discussions go nowhere because they can’t. Having an objective or more objective set of criteria helps people understand, “What are we building toward here?” You say having proof for evidence is the most critical. Our surveys say that proof for evidence is the most critical piece of thought leadership. It’s proof that the recommended solution has worked in the form of real case examples. You have no case examples. I would argue that your thought leadership and that content are not going to be effective and generate interest.

Your point is valid, especially if you have a product or a service where they have seen success stories but how about at a time when they are still in the early days and are testing it out? They don’t have a success story yet.

It’s harder to create thought leadership. You could create thought leadership around the problem to show how well you understand the problem. Geoffrey Moore would probably say, “They are early adopters. They will put their money on all sorts of things that are not to be effective yet.” That’s a very small part of your target audience. Your early adopters might play with that.

B2B 41 |Thought Leadership
Thought Leadership: It is harder to sell your business and create thought leadership around it without having success stories.

 

At some point, it’s going to have to show up in their business. They move the dial. Otherwise, they are going to face pressure from above like, “What are we spending on Metaverse? $100 million? What did it do?” We don’t know yet, especially during recessions and economies. Those types of investments tend to get wiped out where somebody can’t even say it’s moved the needle to any extent.

On a lighter note, here’s one final question for you. You earned the endorsement of Geoffrey Moore and even Ram Charan. These are big names in the business world and these are advisors to the C-level folks at Fortune 5 and Fortune 10 companies. How did you get them to endorse your book? What’s your secret sauce there?

I know both of them. I know somebody who knew Geoffrey Moore very well and he got the book in front of Geoffrey, and that is my colleague Alan Alpert, who we did a podcast interview with Geoffrey Moore. Alan knew Geoffrey and Geoffrey got the book and decided to write what he wrote. I know Ram Charan, and a good friend of mine has been working with Ram to help publish how many dozen books that Ram has published over the years.

I got Ram to read the book, and Ram was positive. Ram is one of the people whom all sorts of individuals and firms can learn from about thought leadership. He has done an amazing job in bringing new and important ideas to market. Ram is the perfect example of somebody to whom I say, “You need evidence.” If you read his books, he’s got real evidence and typically from firms that he identifies and CEOs whom he works with. Ram is an amazing individual and so is Geoffrey in using real examples in their work. It makes it much more believable.

It goes back to the point that you mentioned in the book. You took the example of Jim Collins, author of Good to Great. He and his team spent five years going and digging through all the research materials and the financial report of these various companies. They came up with a “simple framework” for how to identify whether you got the right ingredients to go from good to great. It all boils down to the research element and the case study’s simple points.

Jim Collins has done that several times. His first big book was Built to Last, which he co-wrote with Jerry Porras. That was based on the same research model. We are going to interview and research a set of companies that have had exceptional financial performance over some period and compare them with competitors that have not had the same financial success. We are going to compare what these two companies and different industries did differently.

B2B 41 |Thought Leadership
Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies

Built to Last was based on that formula and so was the second big book, Good to Great. He’s got a bunch of researchers in this company who do copious amounts of secondary and primary research. That’s why Jim’s ideas have stood the test of time. Even though some of the companies that he said are on the great list or the best list, some of them have fallen off their search. That’s in In Search of Excellence, Waterman and Peters. A lot of these very successful companies fell off their perch later.

That’s the challenge. First of all, to get up to the top ranks is a big challenge, but to stay is not easy. We all know the different cases, and that’s a topic for a different episode for sure. One final question for you is if you were to give advice to your younger self, what advice would you give to your younger self who’s starting the journey early on?

B2B 41 |Thought Leadership
Competing on Thought Leadership

This would have been my younger self wanting to be a sports writer or starting to be a sports writer. There’s a great need to help people and firms explain complex things compellingly. There’s a big need for that, and sports writing doesn’t fit that bill. I have thought about this over the years. This is about writing about the business and economics of sports, which nobody was writing about back then. If I was to be a sports writer, that’s where I should have focused. It took me ten years to discover this field of thought leadership.

The second thing is my college major, which was Communication Studies, which is the art and science of persuasion. I should have used that to guide my career for those first ten years. I happened to work at the college newspaper as a sports writer and fell in love with sports writing at the time. Listen to what courses in college you loved the most because that’s a good sign of your career interests later.

Thank you so much for the time and wisdom that you shared here. For you, the reader, if you have not yet bought the book, buy the book. It’s been a great read for me and reinforced some of the lessons that I can apply in a B2B go-to-market space. Get the book, Competing on Thought Leadership by Bob Buday. Thank you so much. Wishing you the very best.

Thank you. Same to you.

 

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