January is traditionally the time when people look at what has worked well for their business in the previous year and focus on what needs to be improved. One of the areas our leadership team has been reviewing is our business messaging. Is it still relevant to what we do? And can we simplify it to make it easier for potential customers to understand what we do?
It’s important that business messaging works for our staff as well as for the external audience. When a company gets beyond a certain size it can be difficult for people to see the big picture of their organisation’s activities because each have their own immediate priorities and are focused on one specific area.
However, aligning everyone behind the same messages is crucial if you want to gain traction with a target audience. Almost everyone in an organisation, from the sales team to service desk staff, has regular contact with customers. Each occasion is an opportunity for them to say something about the business and to give the customer a better understanding of the full scope of what a company does.
My area of expertise is IT, not communications, so I’ve been doing some research into what the experts say. Apparently, you have to say things seven times before people “get it”. You also can’t just assume that they understand what you mean, but need to regularly check that they’ve taken it on board.
We’ve changed direction significantly and now have job titles that simply didn’t exist two years ago. So, as well as our newer recruits understanding their role, we need our long-serving members of staff to be on board with how we’ve changed.
Fordway has a long-established tradition of quarterly company meetings, which include a report on how the company is doing and an explanation of the direction we’re taking. As a management team, we’ve been looking at how we use this forum more effectively, taking time to ensure the content is right and that the format encourages staff to use it as an opportunity to ask us questions.
It takes a little preparation, but it pays dividends. This sort of meeting helps people to understand where they fit into the picture and how they contribute to the business. But not everyone feels comfortable speaking out in a group situation so it’s important we nurture a company culture where staff can seek clarification at any time.
Avoid the PowerPoint slides
Of course, part of communication and ultimately the art of persuasion is all about storytelling. As busy managers it’s very tempting to dust off and update a deck of PowerPoint slides, but I know that this approach bores me personally. If you can use some relevant anecdotes to clarify the sort of conflict you face or the type of problem to be overcome, people engage on an emotional level. Suddenly, they aren’t just looking at the facts and figures. Their brains have engaged, and they are far more likely to remember the message long after the meeting.
The analogy I’ve found most helpful is that everyone uses taps to get water. The water company doesn’t need to specialise in different sectors – they provide water to everyone who needs it. Similarly, every organisation needs an effective, efficient and optimised IT infrastructure, whether it’s run internally, via a contract with a service provider or in the cloud. These days IT is indistinguishable from the business, and everyone expects it to be available whenever and wherever they need it. Our job is to make that happen.
In the past we’ve organised the sales team around vertical sectors – public sector, finance, construction, media, etc. But I’ve realised that our skills and expertise are not vertical, but apply to every industry and market sector. Our target customers are defined by the size, complexity and importance of their IT operations rather than their industry.
Another thing I like to do is to test people on our business messaging – particularly the sales team, who’re our frontline ambassadors. If they can’t explain what we do clearly and succinctly, we’ll struggle to win new business.
Communications is an important skill for a managing director. It may not be the one that comes most naturally to me, but like anything else it can be learnt. With the support of my leadership team and marketing department, effective communications is one of our priorities for 2018.
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