For many business professionals, thought leadership content is all about helping to grow the sum total of human expertise – their contribution to making the world a better place. And that’s one reason I just love working with these people. They have significant expertise, and they want to share it.

But for an article, blog post, video, podcast recording or other content to be effective as a business development tool, it has to persuade the other person to make a change. Specifically, you want that content to generate some kind of action.

It might be to get in touch with the author, but that’s not something that happens often. Rather, it might be around bookmarking your firm’s website, connecting with the author by LinkedIn, following your firm on Twitter, or just forwarding that content to someone influential.

And in order to do that, that content has to do one of these two things, or both if possible:

  • Persuade the potential client that they have a problem they need to solve or something bad will happen to them, and/or
  • Persuade the potential client that they’re missing out on an opportunity unless they take action right now.

I used to call these “fear” and “greed,” until my business coach pointed out that those are rather, well, repellant terms. So, we’ll call them “problems” and “opportunities.”

Let’s take a look at how you can design content that is effective at causing potential clients to take action.

Show your firm to be a source of solutions to pressing problems

Let’s start with the “problems” side of that. There’s some good solid research showing that people are more motivated to solve a problem they’ve been convinced will hit them hard, rather than by opportunities.

Here’s how your firm can design effective “problem-oriented” content.

1. Convince them the problem is real

You need, first of all, to convince your prospective client that the problem you’re talking about is real. This starts by describing the problem, and saying who’s going to be affected by it. Be sure it’s in terms that the prospective client can relate to – maybe by providing statistics: “Current regulations allow emissions of XX cubic feet of particulate material per month. The new regulations will restrict this to YY, less than half the current amount.

2. Deal with their objections

Your next task is to deal with their objections. “Objections” is a term from the world of sales technique, and simply means any reply that they might have to your stated problem, as a reason not to take action. Two main possibilities:

  • “Not me” – they may think that the problem will affect someone, maybe, but not them. They might respond, for example, that their company is exempt from the regulations because it’s too small. Your business professional – the author of the content – will need to provide convincing reasons to convince them that “Yes, this is going to affect you.”
  • “No problem” – they may believe that although they are affected, it won’t be all that bad – “We just install scrubbers on our emissions stacks and we’re good.” You need to point out points such as the fact that installing scrubbers effective enough to catch fine emissions will reduce their operating efficiency by XX percent.

3. Describe the likely outcomes of the change

Once you’ve described the problem and the fact that it’s going to hit the reader with the kinetic energy of a freight train, you need to show the expertise of your author by describing the potential outcome. I find that many business professionals are reluctant to do this – most of them are extremely precise people, and don’t like to speculate. The way I help them get past this is by pointing out that the readers value their expertise, and that they are providing a good public service by giving their professional opinion.

4. Make recommendations on avoiding the downsides

The fourth point in “problem-oriented” content is to provide recommendations on how to (1) avoid the problem entirely, or (2) mitigate its effects. Generally such advice needs to feature a disclaimer such as, “These are steps we have found to be useful. Your situation may vary, so we suggest you act only based on the advice of a qualified professional.This will reassure your author regarding their professional ethics, and also provide useful information to the reader.


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Show how your firm can help them access opportunities

The second kind of motivation has to do with showing how your firm can help the reader access opportunities. Here’s how to do that.

1. Describe the opportunity, in clear terms

Start with getting clarity around what you’re discussing, and to do that, you may need to be crystal-clear that this opportunity is different from those that went before. For instance, say you’re talking about the opportunities of some new technology such as a hand-held data-gathering device. You need to consider that the reader has probably used previous generations of this technology, and those generations are now gathering dust in a storage closet. You need to show how the current devices will actually get used.

2. Deal with objections

As with “problem-oriented” content, you need to consider their objections. These come in two main varieties:

  • “We tried that, but, it didn’t work.” Consider previous versions of the solution your content is recommending. This might include technology, but also include government incentive programs.
  • “It’s not relevant to us.” Find reasons why the opportunity actually is relevant to the person you’re creating this content for.

3. Describe future developments

Third, “opportunity-oriented” content needs to present the author’s ideas on future developments. It helps to demonstrate their grasp of the issues, particularly if it is put in terms that the target reader can relate to. This point helps to convince the potential client to get in touch – to say, “I need to get some of that.

4. Make recommendations

Your recommendations might include something like, “Apply for this government funding program right away, as the funds are limited.”

To be effective, “opportunity-oriented” content has to demonstrate not just that your proposed solution works, but, that it’s overwhelmingly worth the extra expense and hassle it will cause. Furthermore, you need to persuade them that, fast action is required – that they may miss out if they delay.

That can be a high hurdle to meet, so if you have a choice, it’s probably best to convince them that there’s a problem they need to solve. Most business situations can be presented as both problems and opportunities.