Leading your industry in sales and leading your industry in influence are two vastly different concepts. Of the two, the latter is what has made my entrepreneurial journey worthwhile — and I’m not the only one who feels this way. “To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society,” wrote Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock in his annual public letter to CEOs. “Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate.”
But how can we look beyond our product offerings to ensure our company makes a larger impact? Through advocacy.
I’ve been a steadfast advocate for my industry since the day I chose to pursue a career in rehab therapy (and co-founded WebPT, the leading software solution for physical, occupational, and speech therapists — and it’s a behavior that’s become the bedrock of my company’s culture. More important than any sales pitch, advocacy has allowed us to demonstrate the true value of our profession and establish ourselves as thought leaders within our industry. Here’s how you can do the same.
1. Use your knowledge to drive your industry forward.
“Thought leadership” has become a veritable buzzword among today’s business professionals, because it works — when done correctly. Thought leadership isn’t about sharing rambling opinions via social media; it’s about leveraging deep industry knowledge to provide valuable education and shine a light on the trends and challenges within your line of work. Furthermore, it’s about making your thoughts, words, and insights actionable (like in the following points).
2. Blog with meaning.
Blogging is one of the most-used content marketing tools, because purposeful blogging is highly effective. Not only can blogging help enhance a company’s online presence, increase brand awareness, and generate more leads (all-important business aims), but most importantly, it can also build trust. Blogging has the singular ability to humanize your website and therefore your brand.
From day one, producing quality blog content has been instrumental to my company’s growth — largely because we take a measured, intentional approach to the process. We don’t just create content for the sake of creating it; rather, we ask ourselves:
- “What is the goal of this piece?”
- “Does it provide value?”
- “Will it drive action?”
Take, for example, a blog post we wrote about a specific insurance billing code that was confusing many of our customers. This content wasn’t related to selling our product; it just helped our customers do their jobs better, so we devoted time and resources to it. This piece remains our most popular post to this day.
Even if the blogs you’re creating aren’t directly related to your product offering, the most important thing is that your content conveys your company’s authentic and knowledgeable voice to industry stakeholders. Another company that does this well is Hubspot. Not only is the Hubspot blog geared toward helping their customers better manage their software, but it also goes a step further by providing insightful productivity tips to help marketers and sales teams achieve their business goals in high-impact ways. This approach has helped them build credibility and establish their company as a leader within the marketing and software industries.
3. Use data as a power for good.
In today’s fierce market, access to valuable industry and customer data can give companies an edge over their competitors, a sentiment supported in the Forbes Insights “Analytics Accelerates Into the Mainstream” report. But instead of just focusing on department goals and key performance indicators (KPIs), we should consider how we can use data as a force for good to help elevate our industry knowledge and bring awareness to areas of strength and opportunity.
To help gain a better understanding of the opportunities and threats facing the rehab therapy industry, my company launched an annual survey in 2017 that is distributed to professionals all over the country in practices of all sizes. As a result, we now have a remarkable snapshot of the demographics, trends, frustrations, and motivations currently shaping our industry, as well as its future outlook and potential success in the current environment that did not previously exist.
No matter how hard-hitting your data is, the key to successfully leveraging it is to share it far and wide. Knowledge is power, but it loses its efficacy if it remains siloed for too long. With our report, our goal has always been the same: to get its mission-critical data in the hands of as many stakeholders as possible to open up the lines of communication and drive change throughout the entire industry. I’ve also incorporated many of the report’s findings in the WebPT Blog’s monthly Founder Letters, where I share my opinion about opportunities and challenges within the industry to spark positive change and help physical therapists reach their highest potential.
4. Let your voice be heard.
One of the best ways to leverage your industry experience and share the data at your disposal is to help educate others, whether that be at conferences, on podcasts, by hosting webinars, by joining advocacy groups, or through mentorship. Whichever avenue you take, be intentional as you identify what matters to your industry — your community — and what stance you’d like to take to elicit long-term change.
Personally, I’ve found one of the most impactful ways to effectuate change within my industry is by giving back to the young professionals in my field. I serve as a mentor to many physical therapy students and regularly speak to student groups about innovation in our industry. Even though these students aren’t buying my product right now, the future of my industry hinges on their forthcoming actions.
In recent years, I’ve also taken my advocacy a step further as a member of the Physical Therapy Political Action Committee (PT-PAC) Board of Trustees. With this position, I’ve been able to educate the government and healthcare industry leaders about issues and legislative efforts specific to my industry. As a company, we’ve been using the WebPT platform to promote physical therapy as a safer and healthier approach to managing musculoskeletal pain. Of the 90 percent of adults who could benefit from physical therapy — but aren’t currently receiving it — a significant number are managing chronic pain through prescription drugs. Physical therapy is uniquely positioned to help mitigate the country’s opioid crisis — and we are committed to doing our part to help make that happen.
Leaders have the opportunity — and the responsibility — to use their voices and platforms to advocate for their customers. Similarly, Kate Ryder, co-founder of Maven — a digital clinic that connects women to vetted healthcare practitioners — also uses her leadership position as an opportunity to advocate for her industry. She supports her customer base by drawing attention to the shocking gaps in the healthcare system when it comes to maternal care.
The main takeaway here is not to be afraid to challenge the status quo if it means better outcomes for the people you place at the center of your business.
5. Be transparent and honest — even when it might not seem financially beneficial to do so.
Having integrity is the ultimate characteristic of an exemplary leader. It might seem obvious to not take advantage of your industry, but I’ve seen several health tech companies use manipulative tactics and fear-mongering to sell their customers products they don’t need. Its taking a long-term approach to business versus short-term method of selling by all means necessary.
When these situations occur, it can be tempting to point fingers and name names. Instead, I publish content that sets the record straight and provides truly objective information that my peers and customers will find useful. Even if my readers don’t ever become customers, that’s okay. I aim to provide value to the entire community. And of course, you never know who might share your valuable content with others. Not all issues require you to take sides, but sharing all of the information — not just that which benefits your company — can help your customers make the right decisions and further engender support of your brand.
Being at the helm of a purpose-driven company — in addition to being an upstanding steward for your industry — requires honesty, strong principles, and the courage to step out of your comfort zone and into the role of an advocate. Advocacy comes down to leveraging your role — and access to information — to start important conversations and promote positive change within your industry. Although the success of your company hinges on sales, true leadership inspires and elevates. Like the old adage, “a rising tide raises all boats,” when you put your efforts into supporting your industry, your business benefits as well.
Dr. Heidi Jannenga
Dr. Heidi Jannenga, PT, DPT, ATC, is the co-founder and chief clinical officer of WebPT, a seven-time Inc. 5000 honoree and the leading software solution for physical, occupational, and speech therapists. Heidi leads WebPT’s product vision, company culture, and branding efforts, while advocating for rehab therapists, women leaders, and startups on a national scale. Jannenga is a mother to her eight-year-old daughter Ava and enjoys traveling, hiking, and practicing yoga in her spare time.