TALKING SALES 214: "Case study in personal branding"

John Smibert

"Personal Branding is not about tools - it's about strategy" - A John Smibert discussion with Tony Hughes.

TonyHughes Brighterv450x500In a very short number of years Tony Hughes has established an outstanding global award winning personal brand. Recently he was recognised by LinkedIn as one of the top three experts and thought leaders in sales.

He is one of the three most read writers of content on B2B sales.  He has been recognised as the number one sales blogger by Top Sales World and a number of other notable organisations.  He has published two best selling sales books and has over 250,000 followers on LinkedIn.

He has achieved all this in not much more than three years from a standing start - well almost! When he began working on his brand he was a very experienced sales expert yet was not well known outside those he had touched directly in business.

So how did he achieve this? And what can we learn from him?

In this discussion I ask him that.


Tony is a leading author and keynote speaker in the world of B2B sales and sales leadership. He is well known for his books "The Joshua Principle" & "Combo Prospecting" and for the RSVPselling methodology.

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John: Welcome back, my followers - thank you very much Strategic Selling Group and Masterminds and so on! We're here again with Tony Hughes, and I got some great questions for you, Tony. Are you ready?

Tony: I am!

John: Okay! Look, the thing that really has impressed me about what you've done is build a really strong personal brand, and I know you've got people all over you wanting your time now because of your brand, so it's really important. Can you talk a little bit about how you did that, what really worked, what didn't work and where you get the value from that?

Tony: Wow, that's a big topic! I'll try and keep this brief and focus on a few things.

Joshua PrincipleJohn: I remember when we first talked a couple of years ago, I actually commented... You had a book out (The Joshua Principle) which was a good book, and you had about 1,200 connections or followers on LinkedIn (now over 250,000), practically nothing on Twitter, you really didn't have a presence out there. It's a big change in two years!

Tony:  Let me just go back to first principles. The first thing is it's not about tools, it's about having a really good strategy, and the awful truth that everyone needs to face, if they want to build good following in social, is they need to think about their content strategy, and I'll come to that in a moment.

John: Content is king.

Tony: Absolutely it is, but the first thing is I did my research. I've studied David Meerman Scott, so his book The New Rules of Marketing and PR is a must-read for anybody who's serious about this. I read a lot of your content, John, so your speciality is branding, so you actually provoked me to get serious about this and gave me some good advice...

John: I gave you a few whips, yes. [laughs]

Tony: You did, when you gave me some good advice, so follow people that are good at branding like yourself. I read David Meerman Scott's book, and I also read Michael Hyatt's book which is a really excellent book as well, so he's worth following in social, and I thought about what really is my strategy. So the first thing is I needed to think about my audience. My audience is anyone who owns a revenue problem in business.

John: So what you really said there is you've got to have clarity in who your target audience is, and make sure you work hard to get attached to that audience or get them attached to you.

Tony: Correct, and you need to provide value for them. We need to get away from narcissistic blasting and spamming of our message at people. If Narcissistyou work for a company, if they've got a social strategy that they want you as a salesperson to be part of and will then involve pushing out a lot of propaganda about your own company and solutions... I believe that big mistake, because that turns people off, they don't want to follow you. If you can position yourself as an industry expert, as someone with strong domain knowledge and insights that's relevant to your market and then push out or publish content that's like that...

John: Let's just talk on that subject a little bit, because I do get a lot of salespeople or sales leaders, and they'd published something on LinkedIn and I go, "I do know that guy, he's published something on a subject I'm really interested in," I click on it, and it's how their company is going to create value, and it's all about their company, and I get to the end of the first paragraph and click off and go to the next one.

Tony: Yes.

John: This is a really, really important point. You're saying by writing content that's going to be of value to your customer, that's got essentially, aside from the general context, nothing about you or your products and your company is going to create value in your personal brand. Why?

Tony: Because you're talking about them rather than yourself, and that's one of the Rackhamkeys to selling. Professor Neil Rackham years ago identified that the top 10% of performers talk only one-third as much as the bottom 90%, so we know that we need to lead with insight that's relevant for the customer, not about us and our products.

John: And they attach themselves. They see you delivering value, they see you as a domain expert, and therefore they want to read more from you and they get more engaged with you, they start building trust with you.

Tony: Yes. So you need a good brand, that's really a separate topic, you need to create a good, professional, engaging brand in social, especially LinkedIn if you're in the business-to-business world, and then you need to attract and engage people based on content. Now, you can work with other people's content and that's a very easy thing to do - that's a more complex topic, we could talk about that separately - and you need to also publish some of your own insights.

Now, it depends what the purpose is of your publishing. For me as an author, I want to build audience following so when I publish my next book I've got a big audience base. For someone in sales, they're not trying to create following for that reason, I believe that they want to publish some insight so they can set the agenda when they're trying to meet with people. 75% of buyers will research us before they agree to meet, and we want them to see the right thing when they do that.

John: Let's get back on a separate interview and talk about what advice we've got for salespeople to build a personal brand. I'm really interested in some of the things you did as a result of reading the books you talked about and so on. What did you do?

Tony: So the strategy for building following, the first thing is attach your brand to others that are credible, admired, respected and followed by your target market.

[caption id="attachment_2621014" align="alignnone" width="625"]Brand Association Brand Association[/caption]

The first thing I did is, yes, I started publishing good content, but a lot of what I would do is I would run commentary on others that I really respect that have big following, and I would let that person know, I would message them in Twitter, I would let them know in LinkedIn that I've published an article about them, and they would typically have a look at it and they would go, "Wow, this guy Tony Hughes has written some flattering things about me, this helps with my own credibility," they would then share that out with their followers, and then their followers - not all of them, but a portion of their followers - would have a look what I'd written and they think, "Wow, this guy Tony Hughes is actually as good or better than this other person that's let me know. I'll follow him as well."

John: And they haven't shifted from him, they've just added you to the people they follow.

Tony: Correct. So if someone's in the field of sales leadership and they're trying to build big following... I know this is very self-serving, but if you wrote something positive about something I've published you let me know, there's a chance that I'll share that with my followers, then a portion of my followers will become your followers as well.

John: And a number of times I've done that sort of stuff, and I see that you pick it up and let your followers know so a little bit rubs off on me.

Tony: Yes, but I really value your content. I don't regard you as a competitor, I value your content and I know that my readers will value your content as well.

John: And the very important thing here is it doesn't become a self-promotional thing, you're not writing content that is promoting yourself.

Tony: Correct. You never in a post say, "And the reason I know this is because of my book or because of my methodology or because of my services." You never, never sell inside LinkedIn; that's one of the sins of social selling, to try and connect and sell to somebody.

John: Because you're looking for a trusted following that will follow you because they see value in what you're putting on the table, and ultimately when you engage with them they do become customers, but not by selling on social.

attracting followersTony: Yes. And David Meerman Scott talks about this concept of be seen as the forager for the tribe, be seen as the person that goes out into the woods and finds all of the food and gathers everything and brings it back. Because everyone's busy, most people don't have time to go and follow 37 different people inside social that's relevant to them, but if you do it for them and you're an aggregation point for great content, with updates that you're publishing outside LinkedIn, then people think, "Wow, follow Tony and he finds all of this great stuff. I don't need to follow 37 people, I'll just follow Tony."

John: I've got to tell the audience here, this man been absolutely amazing. When he started this process nearly two years ago, I know you made a commitment after reading David's book and so on, you said to me you're going to publish one article a day for six months.

Tony: Yes, and I did it for seven months, even when I was on holidays up in Vietnam, so my family were very tolerant! [laughs]

John: And I've got to say, every single article had gems in it, value there. And nothing was about you, nothing was about anything you're offering, it was all about, "Hey, I have value to give to my audience, I've researched this and I think you'll find value in it." - you did a great job!

Tony: Thank you!  But the thing is, if a person can't write... Writing is a really difficult thing. I'm an author, you can also write well, but I worked with many people who just say...

John: Well, I do this much better than I can write, I can tell you!

Tony: Well, but I meet many people who say, "I just can't write or I'm worried about writing." That's okay, go work with other people's content, go and find people that your market follows and run some commentary on theirs, and you can use a strategy of updates inside LinkedIn when publishing other people's content rather than your own. But everybody should publish at least three blog posts or LinkedIn Publisher articles inside their LinkedIn profile that sets the agenda of the value that they offer people and the values by which they operate, but without it being a sales pitch.

John: Yes, and I'd say minimum three. If you can put four or five or six together and just publish them once every couple of months, that's fine, if you're putting good value out there. Make sure it is good though.

Tony: Yes, correct. And the last thing I'll say is I don't think anybody can build a strong personal brand in social, if publishing is not part of that strategy.

John: Okay, I think that's a really good point. I'd like to close this discussion here, and we might come back and have further discussions on personal branding, particularly for salespeople. I'd like to thank you for your time, I hope you guys got a lot of value out of there, whatever part of the audience it is! What we discussed wasn't directly focused on salespeople and sales leaders, but I think you'll get a lot of value out of that and hopefully other thought leaders will too. So Tony, congratulations on what you've achieved in the last two years, brilliant effort and I wish you well!

Tony: Thanks, John!


More interviews with Tony Hughes:



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