Why Results Are Critical to Thought Leadership

In my previous life managing thought leadership campaigns for a global law firm, I also held writing workshops for the lawyers. During those workshops, I celebrated the virtue of plain language, warned against overusing adjectives, and stressed the importance of getting to the point, fast.

We also tackled lawyer bios because as any digital marketing person will tell you, they typically are the most visited pages on a law firm’s website.

After reading dozens of our lawyer’s bios, I noticed a common theme: They contained all kinds of information – where they went to school, how long they’d been practicing, their areas of expertise, awards they’d won, leadership positions they held within the firm – but not the one thing most likely to grab a potential client’s attention.

Where were the outcomes they’d achieved for their clients? Their results?

“You say in your bio that you advised a Fortune 500 company under investigation by the U.S. government for bribery in Brazil. So, what happened? Did your advice help them?” I asked one of the lawyers.

She told me she’d helped the client implement a plan that convinced the U.S. Department of Justice that the company was taking the proper steps to resolve the issue and the prosecutors decided not to file charges.

Bingo! I said. That was a big win. That’s why another company in a similar situation might want to hire you, right? So, get it in your bio!

Now that I work at Rhetoriq helping consultants with a range of expertise in various industries articulate why their approach to solving a business problem is better than their competitors’, I notice the same phenomenon while helping them develop case examples, also known as “use cases.”

Case examples are an opportunity for subject matter experts to prove that their solutions work. Without results, it’s all just theory, which is why case examples are a critical part of Harvard Business Review articles. Business people like to read about how other business people have solved problems. And yet the case examples we see often lack evidence that the firm’s solution works.

The basic structure of a case example is as simple as one-two-three:

  1. The description of the problem (problem)
  2. The actions taken to address it (solution)
  3. The outcome (results)

Just like the lawyers’ bios, that third component – results – is the critical part, the reason we’re here. We can talk all day about the problem. We can spend hours discussing how difficult it can be to enroll cancer patients in clinical trials. And it’s also easy to talk about solutions – to get SMEs to explain the process they used to help a client, such as making clinical trials patient-friendly by doing A, B, and C.

But results? That’s when it starts to get squishy. That’s when we start getting answers like, “It established greater transparency across divisions” or “It created a more inclusive environment” or “They increased supply chain efficiency.”

That all sounds very nice but business is about numbers, and to get potential client attention and differentiate yourself in the market, you’re going to need them. Clients don’t spend money on squishy.

So… by how much did creating greater transparency across divisions improve the company’s performance? How did creating a more inclusive environment affect the bottom line? Did it reduce turnover? By how much? And by “increasing supply chain efficiency,” how much time and money did the organization save? Did it produce new revenue? How much?

Answering these questions is the most important part of a case example. These answers are what will make someone think, “Oh my gosh, look at the results they got! I need to talk to this person.”

It’s the difference between one person telling you, “I’ve cut out carbs and I’m exercising every day” and another saying, “I’ve lost 25 pounds in three months.” Which dieter do you want to talk to?

We often find that our clients (just like my lawyers) don’t understand how valuable it is to provide meaningful, measurable results in their white papers, articles, and reports. So, we explain the importance and encourage them to think about ways they could quantify the outcomes of their approach. If we’re successful (and sometimes we’re not), our client ends up with powerful supporting evidence, like this:

  • Problem: A drug company was having trouble getting 7-to-13-year-olds from the U.S., Germany, and Brazil enrolled in a clinical trial that had a complex schedule of events, including three mandatory overnight stays in the hospital. To consent to the program, patients and their parents needed a clear understanding of the trial’s procedures and expectations.
  • Solution: The company developed an animated video in English, German, and Portuguese that explained study activities and showed how the drug works. This helped parents and children understand the informed consent form, previously a large stumbling block.
  • Results: Using this tool, the trial enrolled 150 patients six months ahead of schedule with just two dropouts, and the trial was able to proceed as planned.

See how much more effective this case example is than if it had been left at “we made the trial patient-friendly”? Or even if it said, “We increased enrollment”?

Without quantifiable evidence of results, one doesn’t really have a case example. One has an advertisement. So, stretch yourself (if you’re the expert) and encourage your subject matter experts (if you’re the marketer trying to promote them).

Dig deeper. Get those numbers. Find that evidence. It’s worth it.

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