What role does thought leadership play in building trust?

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Trust has always played a critical role in the purchasing decisions of consulting buyers: The fact that clients are often sharing their most business critical problems with their professional advisers points to the need for a profound level of trust between client and consultant. However, that ability to build trust—particularly with new clients—has unquestionably been impacted by the pandemic. The need to conduct relationships online has taken a toll, and with the pandemic continuing to impact the ability to travel and meet face-to-face, these could be impacts that consultants have to learn to live with for some time to come.

It's fortuitous then, that consulting firms have an established tool at their disposal to tackle this very issue. Our research indicates that, done well, thought leadership has a pivotal role in building trust. Late last year, we carried out a survey of 200 senior buyers of consulting services in the US that revealed that almost a fifth of clients put thought leadership as the reason why they trust the firms they trust the most. This was on a par with the number that put a firm’s expertise at the top of their list, but ahead of all the other factors we asked about, such as breadth of services, or the quality of past deliverables.

Of course, not all thought leadership is created equal. As with so many other things in life, there is both good and bad content, and conversations we’ve had with clients over the years tells us that—perhaps unsurprisingly—bad thought leadership can actually have a negative impact on clients’ perceptions of a firm, and can therefore actively damage trust.

So how can firms ensure that they’re not eroding trust with their thought leadership? Making sure that all published content hits a high quality bar is an obvious step, but one of the main ways that a firm can ensure that its content is trusted is to ensure that it has a solid backing in data. It makes sense: Clients are much more likely to be convinced of the credibility of a specific set of recommendations if the advice they are pursuing is founded in robust research. They’re also much more likely to feel confident using a particular piece of data-driven thought leadership to win the hearts and minds of their colleagues.

While trust can be hard-won, providing a path towards building a trusted relationship by producing content that has its roots in data and analysis is surely an achievable first step on that journey.

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