Liz Simpson | Thought Leadership Marketing Methods

Adam LeanPodcast

Since the Internet has come on the scene, sales strategies have changed drastically. You need a totally new approach to how you speak to prospects, says Liz J. Simpson, founder of Stimulyst. 

You must use digital marketing to establish authority in your niche and spur business development that creates high-value relationships.

Liz’s passion is helping small business owners become thought leaders in their niche… which helps them bring in a steady flow of high-paying clients almost automatically – no old school outbound sales needed… so they can experience steady revenue and predictable growth. 

That structure means less stress and more money… and more freedom.

We talk about the components of a digitally- driven thought leadership-based business development system in your business and how to implement it, as well as…

  • How to “educate” your prospect into buying from you
  • What you must know about a buyer – it will inform your marketing, sales approach, and more 
  • Why you must “niche down” if you want your business to survive in 2020
  • The only thing customers care about
  • And more

Listen now…

Mentioned in this episode:


Adam Lean: In this episode, we’re going to talk about how to win more business with digital marketing. We’re going to talk to a marketing expert who says digital has disrupted how decision-makers make purchasing decisions. This is P is for Profit. 

Adam: Welcome to P is for Profit. My name is Adam Lean and I, along with the rest of the team at The CFO Project, are passionate about helping business owners improve the profitability of their business. My guest today is Liz Simpson. She’s a marketing expert and owns a business development agency called Stimulyst. Liz, welcome to the show.

Liz Simpson: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here, Adam. 

Adam: Oh man, I’m excited to jump in and find out why you do and how you do this. I completely agree with you about the digital marketing has disrupted how people make buying decisions. So I’m excited to dive in. But before we do, tell us a little bit about yourself in your background and why you started this business.

How Liz Got Into Thought Leader Marketing

Liz: Yes. So I spent over a decade in sales, Adam, and then I had my 30th birthday, I realized I was miserable. I had a best friend who said, Wow, in our early 20s, we have been roommates. And I told her all these goals, and she said on my 30th birthday, she was like, Oh, my gosh, you’ve checked the boxes, you have the six figures and the house and kids and marriage. 

And she meant it as a compliment and I got off that phone call and I felt gut-punched because I thought, okay, if I’ve checked the boxes, then why do I feel miserable? And so it was kind of just this, you know, existential crisis, if you will, of figuring it out. Okay, something’s not right. You need to reassess what your goals are and what success looks like for you. And so I left corporate soon after to the disdain of about everybody I knew. And I decided I wanted to be a speaker and author. 

And in that time that I was working with clients, I just realized over and over, so many businesses lack a plan for how they’re going to have sustainability for revenue. Meaning that when I would have relationships with clients, so many of them, you know, there was no structure that was creating revenue for them. You know, they were trying many different things, throwing spaghetti at the wall, and I was seeing how it was impacting them personally. And the speaker, when I was at a conference once, she said, If good people knew how to do good business, the world would be a better place. 

And that was just one of those moments. I was like, that’s it. I want to help good people do good business. Like I want to help people because if they’re not stressed out about where clients are coming from or when times are good, worrying about, you know, is the floor going to drop from beneath us in a few months. So my obsession is helping businesses create structure and processes around client acquisition so that they can have predictable growth. That’s really what drives me. 

Adam: Wow. Yeah. And I know that’s a, your story resonates a lot because I talk with a lot of business owners and it completely makes sense. So a couple of questions based on your, you know, what you just share with us. So, how did you reassess your goals? What like, what, how did you define what success looks like going forward? When you thought you’ve checked the boxes, how did you reassess that and figure out what you wanted to do?

Liz:  Because my business has evolved with the market over time. So I’m really like I wrote a book on self-discovery. So I have very radical, I wouldn’t say radical, but I’m highly committed to self masteries. So getting up in the morning, working out, meditating, journaling, listening to myself. There’s a quote by Danielle Laporte, where she says the journey has to feel how you want the destination to feel.

Adam: Oh, I love that.

Liz: Yeah, and Malcolm Gladwell has the, yeah, I think it’s Malcolm Gladwell, the book Blink, and just really studying our intuition. Okay, I’m a book nerd. Another one, if someone hasn’t read it, Essentialism by Greg McKeown, like you know, 

Adam: Yeah, I read that too. 

Liz: Yeah. So I’m just radically committed to what’s going on with me. How do I feel? And I really believe that my intuition is the GPS. So in that, right, in the feely area, it’s been okay what do I do well? What do clients need? And what type of lifestyle do I want? That’s always been the focus. And through that, I’m obsessed. Like, if we wanted to talk about buyer psychology, what buyers need, buyer behavior, sales processes like I love those things. I can talk about those things all the time. And those tend to be things that other people don’t enjoy. They don’t seek out about sales like I do. So I just kind of found a perfect marriage there.

Adam: Yeah. And so I’m assuming that you think it’s okay for people to pivot based on if they get to the place where they thought they wanted. And if, not where they, that heart lies. It’s okay to pivot and do something else in your business or even an entirely different business.

Liz: Yeah, I think it’s required, I think, I mean, I don’t believe in muffling through life. I think that’s where we find innovation and ingenuity, is people kind of follow, you know, the pieces and then they fall into something that’s brand new, because, you know, so yes, I definitely believe pivoting is necessary. I think we pivot with the market. 

Adam: Yeah, makes sense.  So let’s talk about sales. So, what makes sales so difficult for business owners and entrepreneurs?

Beyond the Door to Door Method

Liz: I think the idea of it. I just think people have a poor perception of sales. They think of it as sleazy, manipulative, you know, I’m trying to muscle someone into making a buying decision. And that was more, we call it traditional, I hate to call it traditional. Those were some more of the old school tactics. I call it outbound, right? So a lot of times, outbound 

Adam: Or door to door sales, we’ll call it. 

Liz: Exactly right. I’m interrupting you and your process and I’m trying to muscle you into something that you don’t need. But if we’re talking to small business owners, you know, the majority of the time you’re in business because you really want to serve your market. You see a problem that you want to solve. You know, you want to give great customer experience. You want to have relationships with your clients. 

And that’s really what sales is. Sales is really having a relationship with another person and it’s an exchange of value. And I think we struggle with sales because in the past, sales tactics were very aggressive, but the buyer’s taking control of the buying process now. So your buyer is going through the majority of their buying process online, meaning that 60% of the sales process happens in private. So they’re not having to talk to someone to make a buying decision. 

They’re deciding, they’re looking for something they’re googling. They’re doing their own, they’re self-educating. And then if your process demands that they have human interaction, they’re waiting as long as possible until that happens. So knowing that the buyer’s in control, there’s no, you know, I won’t say there’s no real way but it’s not good business to practice those old sales tactics anymore. And I just think most people still think sales as I’m going door to door. I’m a snake oil salesman. 

Adam: That makes sense. So I guess the question is, how do you be discovered by your potential buyers looking online? Like, what are the, what are some of the low hanging fruits that business owners just need in order to be discovered? And I’m assuming that’s where your processes come into play. But talk a little bit about that.

Liz: Yeah. So if I were to wrap up everything that I do in one phrase, I think it’s thought leadership marketing. There’s so many brands, there’s digital marketing, you know, there’s LinkedIn, there’s, you know, online sales, there’s inbound, outbound, but really, from my perspective, it’s about leadership marketing. It’s really understanding your buyer. So the framework I teach clients is prospects only care about outcomes. 

Adam: Absolutely

Liz:  And that that’s what they’re looking for. We’re in business, you know, as Peter Drucker says, the purpose of business is to create a customer. And so we’re all about solving some type of problem. And so the best way to do that, if we know buyer behavior is I have a problem or I’m curious about something or I’m aware of something and so I’m going to go online to find facts that support it or I’m trying to understand what this looks, like how other people approach it, then the best solution is to be the information that they find when they’re looking. 

So be that education. And so thought leadership marketing is the idea of positioning yourself as a subject matter expert of being an authority, which we naturally tend to be if we’re in business. If you decide to start a business about something, you tend to start that business because you have a higher level of expertise about that, you know, solution that you provide. So it’s just making sure that you are creating the content for that. 

So we’re on the podcast because both of us are leveraging thought leadership marketing right now. By sharing our thoughts, our ideas and our approach for those who resonate with us when they’re looking for these types of answers, when they hear this, hopefully, we’re educating them, and then hopefully they build rapport with us, which shortens the sales cycle. So now that when I’m ready to make a buy decision or a purchase decision, I’m going to go to the person who has educated me about the topic to begin with. So that’s, I guess that’s the long answer of that, Adam. 

Adam: Yeah. So I mean that because there’s an underlying level of trust that they’ve built because they trust you through the way you’ve positioned yourself as a subject matter expert. 

Liz: Absolutely. 

Adam: I want to dive into this a little bit further. But let’s talk about one thing you said, prospects only care about outcomes. I completely 100% agree with you. People don’t hire a marketing person because of the marketing person’s tactics or processes. They hire them because they want more sales. So talk about it a little bit more.

Structure Creates Freedom

Liz: Yes, absolutely. So the framework that we have is, if we look at each of those, I believe structure creates freedom. And typically, small business owners are looking for freedom. And they’re either caught up in the day to day of the business or trying to figure out what revenue is coming from. So I’m always, you know, structure creates freedom in business. It just so happens most people do not create structure around their sales process or the client acquisition process. So our process and approach is first that that piece is positioning. 

So where I think most people trip up is they get excited about tactics that they hear about. But they don’t have a clear positioning strategy, meaning that you’re not absolutely clear on who your buyer is, your buyer behaviors, what does their buyer’s journey look like? What’s your unique perspective and approach to their problems? And getting clear about how to create messaging that resonates with your audience. 

So if we know that buyer behavior means that most people are looking online for solutions, what’s the language that they use? What are they looking for? And then how do we mirror that language in our positioning strategy? And then from there, the second part is the O, which is optimized. So once we have a clear position strategy, we’ve aligned marketing and sales, we’re all speaking the same language within the organization, then we need to make sure our digital footprint reflects that. So, you know, your website is, you know, a critical asset that you need to optimize with that language. 

And then for my clients, it’s LinkedIn. So LinkedIn is the number one professional platform. It’s, you know, all of your fortune 500 companies are there, there’s over 63 million decision-makers there. And 84% of C suite executives say that they turn to LinkedIn to make purchasing decisions. Lastly, LinkedIn is one of the top indexing sites with Google. So what that means is, if you google yourself right now, odds are your LinkedIn profile is going to be one of your top results. I’ve dumped so much money into SEO from my website. 

And if you google me, and I had a YouTube channel for about five years, which is owned by Google, but if you google me, my LinkedIn profile is the number one result. So I want to make sure that top result that people find me online is buyer-centric, and it reflects my positioning strategy. And I’ll go quickly through the last three. The C is for cadence. So cadence is basically, all right, if we’re going to go out there and try to go get business, what’s our approach? What are the steps? And what’s our language at each step? How are we going to build value for our prospects that each step in our sales process? 

And then the A is amplify. That’s your thought leadership marketing. So while you’re going to get business, that’s the sales side. Once we have a sales process and deal plays, in the background, we’re building thought leadership marketing, meaning we’re doing podcasts, we’re publishing articles, we’re providing value, we’re speaking. Whatever that looks like for your brand, but you’re building this brand of being an authority, an educator and a trusted adviser for whatever it is the solution you solve. 

And then finally, the O is converting them online connections into offline conversation. So for my clients based off of their deal size, they’re in relationship-driven businesses. So they can only take clients so far online. Eventually, they’re going to have to have a conversation to then transact into business. So what’s our method for how we’re going to convert that online attention into offline sales conversations, and make sure that the offline sales conversation is aligned with the reputation that we’ve built digitally? So that’s the long process.

Adam: I wish we had time to dive in each of these because that makes sense and I would love to learn more about each of these. The concept that you have, the positioning, the optimizing, the cadence, amplifying, online to offline, that conceptually makes sense. But let’s just dive into one of them. And let’s talk about the positioning. So how does a business owner listening begin to position themselves in terms of understanding their buyer’s behavior, understanding the buyer themselves? Like, who are they targeting? 

Nitching Down 

Liz: Yeah, so if you’ve been in business for some time, and I love this, this align, so what was your topic, Adam, I’m excited about what you do because when someone I’m working with clients, this is one of the questions I’m asking are, who are your best customers? You know, who are the clients and what are the services that you’re seeing the greatest profitability? And I was the chief growth officer for a consulting firm where I lead sales and marketing. 

And part of my structure where I was incentivized was our gross profit margin. And so if you’ve been in business for some time, it was looking back, you know, if you’ve been in business for years, looking through your clients and thinking through who are my best clients, and why? What was it about our relationship? What was it about what they were buying from me? 

Was it that they were buying a particular product or service that had a greater profit margin on it? So that’s one way that you can look at there’s part of the emotional connection of what types of clients do I enjoy? And then there’s also the business of, you know, for what types of clients was I able to create the greatest outcomes for, where am I uniquely qualified? So that’s one way. If you’re newer in business and you’re still in that phase of you’re kind of you know, exploring and experimenting, really looking at your past experience. 

So are there particular industries that I have an affinity for or I have a particular experience in? So that’s where I would start. My belief about this digital economy is that the generalist is going to be disrupted by digital because if you look at buyer behavior and what’s happening with technology, if we know that buyers are searching online, what we also know are tools like voice search are becoming more and more paramount, which means your buyers are searching very specifically. 

So they’re not saying I’m looking for a digital marketing expert. They’re saying I’m in the manufacturing business. I have a small business, small manufacturing business in Texas and I’m looking for a digital marketing expert to help. So as they get more specific in their searches, if you’re a generalist, it’s going to be really hard for the market to find you. When it comes to positioning I believe in niching down as far as you can go, really, so that your market can really find you if they’re looking for a specialist in that industry.

Adam: So quick question on the niching down. Make sense. Completely agree. I’ve heard, you know, the riches are in the niches. But how does somebody, let’s say a roofing company, how do they niche down? Do they niche down to say commercial roofs only? Or do they niche down to a town or do they niche down to a type of buyer?  

Liz: Yeah. I think that’s a personal decision. So you’re talking about basically, vertical and horizontal niches, right? So, a vertical niche is saying that I’m going to look at an industry, you know, I specifically help professional service firms to our small businesses with less than 20 employees. That’s an that’s more of my vertical, right. The horizontal is that I can help them with LinkedIn strategy. So I’m, some people might say on the social selling expert. That’s more horizontal. 

To me, the perfect mix of these is the match on both axis. Where you can match your vertical with your horizontal. So I’m a LinkedIn expert specifically for b2b professional service firms that have under 50 employees. Like that, to me, that’s the sweet sauce is when you can match both. It’s incredibly uncomfortable. I will say in the years that I’ve been working with clients, this is where I get the biggest fight because when you’re a small business and you’re concerned about cash flow, your immediate thought, and I’m going to cut off business, and so it’s uncomfortable. 

Typically, what I tell clients when I’m working with them to ease their mind is that, you know, let’s do this for 18 months, you don’t have to stay here forever. But in order to carve out enough of a threshold to be seen as a thought leader in your space, we have to commit to this strategy for a good 12 to 18 months. Now, if your business is profitable enough, and we have enough of a threshold, then we could look at reaching out to other verticals to grow. Inevitably, though, that eases their mind. But typically by 18 months, they realize that you kind of let the full through and they’re so busy serving clients or expanding it that they stay there longer.

Adam: Yeah, that makes sense. Looking at businesses in general, you’ve worked with several businesses, what separates the successful business owners from those that always seem to struggle?

Liz: Structure. Structure creates freedom. Typically it, without fail, normally, if I come into a business that’s struggling, they lack processes. And so that structure piece, here’s the thing, if you have a process around sales, if you have a process around marketing, inevitably to create a process that means we have to think on it first, so we would have had to strategize first. Then we have to build it step by step. So as a process, even if the process is failing, I can reverse engineer and assess my process to know where, what step is broken.

And then I can shore up my knowledge on that particular step to grow it or to fix it. But most times, there’s no process, which is why they feel like their hair is on fire, they’re throwing spaghetti at the wall. And then the real frustration is I don’t even know what’s broken because I don’t have processes around different divisions of my business. So I really just believe, and that’s hard for me. I’m a high D personality type. 

My strength finders on the activator, futuristic, strategic. So I’m that person. I’m a visionary. I see it and then I’m like, let’s go start it. Let’s go get it done. And so I understand that sometimes structure, even for me as a business owner, has been something I struggle with because like, I don’t have time to go build these processes. I’m dealing with these clients today. But oh my gosh, every time I’ve built a process, without fail, I realized that’s what my business has been missing. And so for most small businesses, it’s thinking about your structure.

Adam: Yeah. Now that’s so important. So, Liz, let me ask you, if somebody’s listening and they want this structure, they want these processes, they want more of your advice on how they can become more of a thought leader and get more business, where can they find you?

Liz: Yeah, LinkedIn is great. So Liz J Simpson is who I am on, so you can simply look me up, Liz J Simpson  on LinkedIn. And then let me know that you came from the podcast in the message, so I can give Adam his prop.

Adam: All right, and we’ll put your LinkedIn link in our show notes so that anybody listening, you can just click on it, and go to the LinkedIn. So Liz, last question, is there any other wisdom or tips that you’d like to leave with our audience?

The Impact of a Well-Written LinkedIn Profile

Liz: You know, I really would just say, you know, if you’re in the b2b space, definitely LinkedIn is more than just a resume site. I think most small businesses approach it as that the place you go for resumes. Even their profile looks like, you know, a job. You know, these are my achievements. And so the one top tip I guess, I would give is that if you’re going to start on optimizing your digital footprint and really preparing for your buyer, is to optimize your LinkedIn profile. So go through your profile and think through what is my buyer looking for? 

Everything from your headline. Make sure your headline speaks to the outcomes that you create for your buyer. Make sure your summary, even the description of your role, and if you’re going to my LinkedIn profile to keep it simple, you can look at how my LinkedIn profile is structured and the language that I use and then reassess your own profile and rethink how you can structure that. That would be my top tip because if you’re in the b2b space, your buyers are looking at your LinkedIn profile.

Adam: Love it. Well, Liz, thank you so much for being here today.

Liz: My pleasure. Thanks for having me, Adam. 

Adam: Yeah, so, you know anybody listening, if you will like to see if Liz can help you with your business, please reach out to her. We’ll put her LinkedIn profile in the show notes. But again, thank you so much for listening. And remember, the goal of your business should be to make more profit and last year and turn that profit into cash that you get to keep. Thanks for listening.