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How to Build Authority In Your Market

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
14 min read

If you liked this podcast episode, check out my articles on positioning strategy and value-based selling next.

How to Build Authority In Your Market:

Full Transcript

Dave Ramsey has one of the biggest radio shows and podcasts in the world, maybe the biggest in the personal finance space. I’ve even taken one of his courses and it’s pretty good. I think he’s really entertaining. He makes a great radio show. But here’s the thing. He’s self-taught. Contrast Dave Ramsey, who has a following in the millions or tens of millions, to my friend Danny, who has a following in the hundreds. Danny is an accomplished director at a renowned financial firm, has a prestigious finance certification, and he and his wife have built an enviable financial life. Danny is, no joke, one of the smartest people I know. Danny has great credentials, but no one knows who he is, which goes to prove something you probably already know. Being the best isn’t the same as having authority in your market. Being the best and being known are somewhat separate.

In this episode of Modern Sales, I’ll discuss how you can build authority in your market while sharpening your expertise in steps that you can take today to become more known so that you can build a platform that brings you inbound leads while you sleep.

Welcome to Modern Sales, a podcast that’ll help you sell more by understanding how people buy. I’m your host, Liston Witherill, founder of Serve Don’t Sell, and I dig through academic research, interview people inside and outside of sales, and nerd out on psychology, economics, and neuroscience to figure out how people make decisions. I am on a mission to change the way 100 million people sell, so that buying B2B services can feel as good as reliving Michael Jordan’s game winning shot over Craig Ehlo. Wouldn’t that be nice?

If you’re listening on Spotify, hit that follow button so that you don’t miss a single episode. If you’re listening on iTunes or Apple podcasts, please subscribe and leave an honest review, as long as it’s five stars. It helps me get the word out for the show so that we can, together, change the way 100 million people sell. Thank you in advance for your help. Now to the show.

Outbound prospecting works. It just works. Cold calling isn’t dead and neither is cold emailing. LinkedIn prospecting still works and many other forms of outbound still work like direct mail even. None of that is dead. But it is like running on a hamster wheel. While inbound marketing and selling has the promise of becoming a flywheel, something that continues to spin after the initial effort, outbound only works while you’re actively doing it. What’s more, outbound doesn’t do anything to build your brand or authority in your market. What would move the needle for just about everyone is to be seen as an expert before you meet with your clients in the first place. What are some key indicators of authority and what can you learn from a lab coat? That’s coming up right after this short break.

Welcome back. If you put on a lab coat and then you hung out in a hospital, people, not surprisingly, would assume that you are a doctor. If you put on a police uniform and walked around downtown, people would assume that you’re a police officer. Which is to say, we use symbols to identify authority in the world, because the problem with expertise is that no one can see it. If you’re a trained doctor or if you’re a trained police officer, no one knows that just by looking at you. Even if you told someone that you are an expert, it’s relatively meaningless unless and until you can prove it.

What makes you an authority and why should you care about developing your authority in the market anyway? Well, just like my friend Danny, you might be great at what you do, but it doesn’t matter if no one knows it, which is just a product of a simple, uncomfortable fact. You’re competing in a market not only to sell, but also to be known as an authority. It’s not enough to do the things that authorities do. You also have to do them incredibly well, and you also have to have reach.

Here’s the solution. Let’s look around, let’s see what authorities are doing, and I want you to put on your lab coat.

Let’s go to the dark side for a second. There is a wonderful book called Influence by Robert Cialdini. In it, he talks about the five factors that persuade us, that influence us, that cause us to act. This stuff can be used for good and it can be used for bad as well. What I want you to do is use it for good. Let me just say that right upfront. As always, in all of my advice, in everything that I talk about, I want you to act ethically with this.

What does Cialdini say about authority? Well, authority is one of five factors of influence that he laid out in his original book. In particular, he identified three different ways that we perceive authority. Number one is title. Number two, clothes. Number three, trappings. You can see this in a lot of areas. A lot of people who are authorities in sales, so perhaps the biggest name is Grant Cardone, he uses all three of these things. Title. He says he’s a successful real estate investor with his own real estate company. Clothes. He wears designer bespoke tailored suits. Trappings. He often shoots videos of himself on a private plane or in very expensive cars. It’s an authority trifecta. That’s an extreme example.

But if we look at, say, nurses and doctors, they have titles, they wear clothes, and they often have the trappings of someone in that profession. We expect a doctor to have a stethoscope. We may expect a doctor to have a clipboard and other basic things that would point to whether or not this person is legitimate.

There’s another important point here. One of the reasons for a lot of medical mishaps is that nurses have historically been subordinate to doctors, which is to say doctors don’t know everything. Shocking, right? Sometimes nurses have a better handle on the situation than doctors do. What they found in a lot of research in emergency and surgery situations is that nurses actually had the correct diagnosis but didn’t do anything to correct the doctor because they deferred to the doctor’s authority.

Authority has this double edge, right? It can cause us to defer to others, and sometimes that’s good and sometimes that’s not. We have to use this carefully. But I’d say there’s even more to it than that. In terms of the authority we’re talking about, authority in a market, authority as a business owner, authority as a seller, one piece of authority that you can use is your work; the things that you publish, research that you’ve done, results that you’ve delivered.

Another is your audience. I know it’s a circular argument, but it turns out actually popular things are popular. How do you become popular in the first place? Well, some of it is age and time. Some of it is luck. Some of it is quality. Some of it is being promoted by other people or things that are already popular. But that, in and of itself, is a sign of authority. We look at popularity as an indication of quality or expertise or authority in the marketplace.

Then, of course, nested under the heading of titles, third party credibility. Sometimes that’s a certification or credential. Other times it can be as simple as other authorities conveying authority on you. Them trusting you is a transfer of trust and also a transfer of authority.

If you want to build your authority in your market, here’s what I recommend you do. Number one, identify other authorities in your field. Number two, go to where the people are. Number three, develop a publishing habit. I’m going to go one at a time and then I’m going to give you some takeaway actions that you can use in order to develop authority in your market. If you stick around to the very end, I’m going to give you a special, downloadable bonus that you can use in order to get started on the path to your authority.

First up, identify authorities in your field. First thing I like to do is kind of look around. This is a little bit of a double-edged sword in that you don’t want to simply copy everyone else out there because if you did that, for instance, there would be no Gary Vaynerchuk. No one selling wine was using YouTube and that launched his career as the head of a giant marketing agency. No Gary V. Without doing something slightly different. But it wasn’t new to be on video and it wasn’t new to find ways of reaching lots of people. What I recommend you do is look for those existing authorities in your field and see what they have done. What are some symbols that they’re using to establish their authority or credibility?

Let’s look at someone in the sales space that’s pretty well known, and that’s Jeffrey Gitomer. he’s been working with sales teams since 1986. This is all according to his website. Is he a certified sales expert? It doesn’t seem like it. Like me, he started training teams based on his own experience. He started publishing in 1992 and then he kept publishing. He’s published books. He’s had columns in good old-fashioned newspapers. He’s done webinars. He has a podcast. He has a pretty popular weekly email newsletter as well. All of that has many different purposes. It helps him reach more people with new content. It helps him build his authority. The act of creating helps sharpen his expertise.

Now, when I was doing research for this episode, I Googled world’s top sales experts. What’s funny about that is I saw lists that contained lots of people I’d never heard of, which isn’t to say I’ve necessarily heard of all sales experts, but it was just surprising how many people were not on my radar, but are on the radars of other people.

Jeffrey wasn’t on every single list. On several lists was Dan Pink, an author whom I greatly respect and wrote a book called To Sell Is Human. Well, he made these, quote-unquote, top sales experts lists because he wrote this book. The truth is, while his book can help you with sales information, I would say by far it is not for salespeople. Like I said, it could be useful in some ways, but it’s certainly not for someone who’s doing sales and it’s not for anybody who has really done any reading on sales in the past. Still, he’s seen as an expert in this domain.

Given that these service I did turned up so many people I hadn’t heard of, it points out another important thing. You don’t have to be the world’s foremost authority for your authority-building exercise to make an appreciable difference to your career or to your business. You just have to be known by the right people. The thing about the internet is if you internet correctly, you can be known to the right people.

Back in the days, if you think about talk shows, it was pretty much Oprah, and Maury Povich, and Sally Jessy Raphael, and a few other people, but it was mostly Oprah. It was a world that can only have so many talk shows. We no longer live in that world. There can be infinite talk shows. The key is having to position yourself correctly to be an authority who’s known, again, by the right people. Identify authorities in your field, see what they’re doing, what they’ve done, what symbols they’re using to establish their authority and credibility.

Point number two, go to where the people are. Where are the people in your market? There are really two things to consider here. Where are your ideal clients now and how competitive is it to be there? Secondly, where will they be in the future? Less competitive channels will be a lot easier to stand out in, but relatively smaller markets in terms of overall reach. Podcasting, for instance, probably fits in this category. There are less people relatively who listen to podcasts, but that also means the competitiveness here on podcasts is lower, although it’s increasing quite a bit.

I’m coming up on two years of doing this podcast. The anniversary is coming up in this July and this is episode 126. I cannot believe it either. When launched this podcast, there were hundreds of thousands of other podcasts. At the time that I launched, there were about 500,000 podcasts. In the entire history of podcasting, which depending on the estimate you look at was something like 20 or 30 years by the time I launched this podcast in 2018, there were about half a million podcasts. Well, last week, I’m recording this episode on May 4th, 2020, just last week, Spotify announced, Spotify alone, that they have over 1 million podcasts. Two years ago, Spotify barely added podcasts to their service. Now, in 2020, they have over 1 million podcasts on Spotify.

This is an area, obviously, that’s getting much more competitive, but people listen to podcasts. More people are listening to podcasts. At the time that I started, it felt relatively less competitive. Still feels less competitive than SEO, search engine traffic. You know what? It’s a wonderful medium for developing trust. You get to hear me, you get to get a sense of who I am, how I approach things, and important to me, I get to communicate in a longer form set-up here. I’m not so rushed to get you just one or two takeaways in 60 or 120 seconds. I’m not very interested in that. That’s not interesting. I want to teach you something that’s going to take a little bit longer than that. I’m want you to feel like you’ve really gotten value every time you show up here. Podcasts allow me to do that, which brings me back to my point.

There are people listening to podcasts who are in my market. My perfect clients are listening to this. Thank you for listening, by the way. I believe this channel is going to continue to grow in the future, which is why I invested in it. It’s not that hard to imagine now a future where we all have wireless earbuds in our ears all the time and, God forbid, we may not even be talking to each other, which hopefully that doesn’t happen. But we definitely will have wireless earbuds in our ears more than we do now.

Lay out where are your clients now? Are they on LinkedIn? Are they on Instagram? Are they on Twitter? Are they on Medium? Are they listening to podcasts? Are they turning to YouTube? What are they doing to turn for answers and to start doing their initial research in the marketplace? I got to tell you, part of what’s going to dictate where your clients are going is also how your competitors are responding. But you will be able to find gaps, ways that you can differentiate, and channels you can differentiate in, and angles for your content that your competitors aren’t currently taking. That’s point number two, go to where the people are.

That brings me to point number three. I foreshadowed this when I was talking so much about content. Point number three, develop a publishing habit. I was looking for authorities who could disprove that you could become an authority without publishing and I was not able to find anybody. Part of the reason that might be the case is the people who I would know as authorities by doing searches, defacto, will have some amount of content out there.

Now certainly there are ways of becoming an authority in your space without publishing, but it’s quite hard to do that and I didn’t really find a viable model for that. I guess you could argue that creating community or curating other experts could position you as an authority, but I would say not really. Those things can help you build an audience, a somewhat captive audience, or at least an audience that you know, but that doesn’t really position you as an authority. I really do believe that developing a publishing habit is one of the most absolutely crucial things that you’re going to have to do.

Whether that means you’re looking for PR opportunities, you create your own podcast, you go be a guest on other podcasts, you advertise on podcasts, you’re publishing on LinkedIn, or Medium, or Facebook, or your own website, or whatever, whatever you decide to do, I really do believe you should develop a publishing habit. If you’re not publishing anything right now, I would say do what is easiest. Medium is free. It’s easy to publish. If people in your market go there for information, publish there. If your people are on LinkedIn, also free, no friction, publish there. Just don’t spend too much time in your newsfeed. If people like podcasts, and you like to talk, and you’re articulate when you speak, and do you know how to make points and sound smart, then maybe podcasting is for you.

One person that really strikes me is Cal Newport. He’s a professor of computer science. He’s built a huge following around productivity and reducing digital distraction. He’s written the books Deep Work and Digital Minimalism. On brand, he does it all without social media, which I personally love. He writes great content. He does research. His first book was about study habits for college students, if you can believe it. He was even recently on The Breakfast Club, a hip hop show recorded in New York with Charlamagne tha God, Angela Yee, and, of course, DJ Envy. There’s Cal, on The Breakfast Club, just talking about his life without social media and reducing distraction.

There isn’t necessarily a playbook for this. The reason I bring up Cal as a counter example to some of the other people I’ve talked about, Jeffrey Gitomer, I’ve talked about Dan Pink, or Dave Ramsey, or Gary V., a lot of people will tell you, you need a strong LinkedIn or you need a this or that. The truth is, there are lots of different ways to do this. What you need to find is alignment between where you think you’re strong, and where your clients go to hang out, and consume information, and start their search, and also where things are moving, which of course is going to be a moving target. Nothing is static.

Even just a couple of years ago, no one really went on LinkedIn to consume content, at least not the way that they do now, where they’re spending hours on end in their feed. You can adapt, but I do recommend figure out where do you feel you’re strong.

Seth Godin, someone I look up to tremendously, writes a lot of books and he writes on his blog. That is the way he develops his authority. Ryan Holiday writes books and sends an email newsletter. His books, if you’re not familiar with him, are often about stoicism and meditation, not things that you would associate with a young author. But he’s been able to develop his own authority.

But I will say this. Sales influencers are often on LinkedIn because a lot of people who buy stuff are on LinkedIn. But I’ll leave you with the question, where do people hang out in your market? Develop a publishing habit where you publish there regularly.

Those are the three points that I want you to think about. Number one, identify authorities in your field. Number two, go to where the people are in. Number three, develop a publishing habit.

As promised, I have some actions that you can take and a downloadable piece of bonus content. All you have to do is go to That’s You are going to have to pop in your email. Once you do that, you’ll get a copy of a worksheet that asks you these questions. What do you want to be known for? Who are some examples of authorities in your market and what symbols of authority do they use? What credentials or certifications do you need? Where do your clients hang out online? Which of those channels do you feel the most confident in? What three steps are you going to take this month? If you like that worksheet, all you have to do, go to

That’s it for this episode of Modern Sales. Thank you so much for listening. If you aren’t already subscribed to this podcast, please do so by clicking the subscribe or follow button. You can also get notified of all podcast episodes by visiting

I also have a brand new course that you can go check out. It’s called the Systematic Sales Crash Course. It’s an email course totally free for you. All you have to do is go to to sign up for that.

Thanks to everyone who makes this podcast possible. Juan Perez is our editor. Mary Ann Nocum is our show assistant. Our theme and ad music is produced by me, Liston Witherill, on my iPad. Show music is by Logan Nicholson at Music For Makers, as well as Epidemic Sound.

Thanks so much for Liston Witherill of Serve Don’t Sell, and I hope you have a fantastic day.

Modern Sales Podcast