HubSpot's Secret Weapon: The Thought Leadership Committee

Credit: Mark Roberge, Harvard Business School

In his book The Sales Acceleration Formula, Mark Roberge—former CRO of HubSpot—outlines the exact tactics that HubSpot used on its journey from $0 to $100 Million.

In the demand generation chapter, he explains that the best way to build an effective content marketing strategy is to hire full-time journalists and use them to establish an internal thought leadership committee.

Here’s the excerpt from pages 117 to 120 where he explains the process:

There is one key resource of the content production process—the journalist.

Journalists hold the keys to the future of demand generation! Nobody recognizes this opportunity, not even the journalists themselves. Take advantage. Your job as an executive is to develop this journalistic capability within your company to drive the modern demand generation process.This can be tricky. Developing this journalistic capability is the hardest, but most important, part of your journey. There are a number of options here. On one end of the spectrum, you could hire a full-time journalist. The good news for you is that many journalists are extraordinarily gifted and, unfortunately, their traditional professional opportunities are becoming scarcer every day. Newspapers and magazines are on life support. Exceptional journalists are struggling to find work. Find them and hire them.

On the other end of the spectrum, you could hire an intern. Go down to the university near your office with the best journalism program, find a great student, and have them come by your office for a half day every Friday morning to write. If you are extraordinarily budget conscious, you may even be able to pay them through course credit.

Of course, there are many options in between these two extremes. The journalism industry is very open to freelance lifestyles. You can find a freelancer to write for you. Alternatively, do you have an office administrator? Traditionally, these folks have exceptional written communication skills. Could you eliminate a mundane five-hour task in their week to free up time for valuable content production time?

When hiring this journalist, do not obsess about domain experience. This hire does not need to have deep knowledge of your product, your industry, or your buyer. It is helpful, but it is less important than great journalism skills. A great journalist can sit down with a PhD neuroscientist, pick her brain for an hour, and write a beautifully interesting piece of content. They do not need to be experts in the space.

Once you have found the journalist, the next step is to form a thought leadership committeeThe thought leadership committee provides the journalist with a continual source of domain knowledge. Anyone at the company who understands your industry, your product value proposition, and your customer’s needs should be considered for the thought leadership committee.

Certainly your executive team should participate. If you sell a technical product, some engineers should be involved. If you have relationships with partners or external thought leaders, they can contribute as well. Your salespeople on the front lines are valuable resources here because they understand your buyers. They hear the questions buyers have at the beginning of their buying journey. Salespeople have well-rehearsed answers to those questions. They understand which answers resonate with the buyer. These questions and corresponding answers make for beautiful blog articles. In fact, check the “Sent Items” folders on your salespeople’s email server. Salespeople often send the same canned responses to their prospects as they address questions that arise throughout the buying journey. These canned emails make for exceptional blog articles.

With both the journalist and thought leadership committee in place, the final step is to put the two functions together to produce content on a continual basis. I refer to this step as defining the content production process.

Let’s assume you have 10 people on your thought leadership committee. An example content production process would look like this. Every Tuesday at 9am, one member of the thought leadership committee will sit down with the journalist for a one-hour interview. The interview should be on a niche subject. Don’t choose your product as the subject. The interview should be about a trend in the industry, a question buyers have early in their buying journey, a phrase that likely resonates with an individual your business can help, and so forth. After this one-hour interview, that member of the thought leadership committee is done for 10 weeks, as the other members will cycle in.

An hour interview can generate a lot of content. From that one-hour interview, the journalist can write a three- to five-page ebook on the discussion topic. The journalist can write three or four short blog posts around niche subjects in the ebook. The journalist can generate dozens of social media messages for Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook about the quotes, stats, and trends mentioned in each blog article. Although this content is created within a day or two, it can be scheduled for release to the public over an entire month. Each day of the month, one of the social media messages is published. It links to the corresponding blog article, driving interested readers to the blog. At the end of the blog article is a call to action to the reader that states, “Did you like this blog article on XYZ? Perhaps you will like the ebook we published on the same subject.” Many readers click the call to action and are brought to a landing page, where they find out that the ebook is free. They simply need to provide their name, email, phone number, and company URL, and they will have access to the ebook immediately.

This process can be repeated each week. If you’re feeling enthusiastic, you can repeat it twice per week or even every day. The result is a stream of high-quality content, developed with minimal budget and minimal time from the executive team and other high-value employees. You have now extracted the brain power of the company and promoted it to your buyers on the digital page. As more and more content is published, more and more potential buyers follow your business on social media. More and more people link to your corporate website and blog. As we learned earlier in this chapter, this rise in social media following and inbound links drives exponential growth in the number of buyers finding you via Google searches. Thanks to the landing page and free ebook offer, a high percentage of these website visitors self-identify themselves to your business in exchange for the complimentary content. This is inbound marketing at its best. This is a formula for predictable, scalable demand generation.

I love this format for scalable content generation. It pairs well with Gary Vaynerchuk’s Document, Don’t Create strategy, and it makes total sense to lean on the thought leaders in your company to help with marketing.

When in doubt, it’s always a good call to take content marketing advice from HubSpot.