I did something apparently controversial today. I sent a mail out to our team asking if I could spend some time with each of them over the next month to learn how they sell our service to our customers; how they describe it to others and how they evangelise it. And that was my mistake. I framed it wrong.
You see, our service is many things to many people. It has to be – it’s part of the value we bring to the table. For example, consultants are traditionally either technical or non-technical. It’s rare to find someone who is a good blend of both, and at the right times. Rarer still is to find a whole team of them together and arm them with the some of the best technologies and the right kind of ethos.
I was actually a little shocked at some of the responses I got back. Most were positive, but some are clearly designed to probe deeper: why do I want to know this? Is it aligned to other activities? How does it relate to those – does it replace them? The tone is defensive and it saddens me (perhaps though, I have misunderstood) that people may not see the value in defining something more clearly – if not to the outside world but at least to ourselves.
We all do fantastic work and I want to make sure that we do, each of us, share the best bits of what we do and capture those. I suspect we’ll see many common themes occurring but I hope we’ll be pleasantly surprised at some of the ‘secret ingenuity’ that I’m sure goes on.
Whenever we are engaged in conversations internally or externally about what it is we do, we invariably start off by listening. We try to understand what is important to our audience and figure out if we have something that we can offer along those needs. Sounds sensible, right? And I think it absolutely is.
What I’m interested in, though, is how those folks who are not on my team – folks who we task with making initial introductions – how do those guys view us? What do they think we do? How much do they understand? Are they good evangelists for our service?
And that, right there, is our identity. Not what we want it to be. Well, if we are lucky – it might be! But ultimately I think another team member actually summed it up beautifully:
Your brand is what you want. Your identity is determined by others.
And this ties in neatly with my belief that there is actually a stark difference between ‘brand’ and ‘identity’ and the two are not to be confused with ‘brand identity’ which is an altogether separate beast invented by marketing people.
So we need to work on our identity – and if it is given to us by others, I’d like to influence them in the most positive way possible to align that identity with our brand.
And that’s why I believe a conversation, with everyone on the team, is absolutely critical to defining what that is. Every one of us will have a perspective and a view on what it is we do and what the magic of our service actually is. And although I’m driving this activity, I’m certainly not arrogant enough to believe I can answer such a complex question myself.
Part of the problem is our diversity and flexibility to work across the key stakeholders both vertically and horizontally.
But there’s strength in our diversity: we cover a range of technologies, and we have a broad range of expertise, each of us bringing our own unique experiences from our careers and hobbies and interests into the mix. There’s also strength in the team – nobody knows everything, but between us we are very likely have some of the best subject matter experts in the field and importantly, we network with other areas of the business to find the answers if we don’t have them.
So the question I am asking is, what is our brand and identity and more importantly, how do we communicate the value of something which is so many things to so many people? It might be that the output of this exercise is actually the discussion itself – the conversation and the thoughts and the emotion that goes into it will in and of itself, I think, be a valuable task. But it might also be true that the results can be fed back into all these existing activities to enhance and complement them – double win!
We obviously do a good job of this today. Our business is growing. Our team is strong and getting stronger. But I wonder how much of this is ‘by default’ or ‘by design’? We rely a lot on a member of our team to ‘get in through the door’ and then start making headway to scope out requirements. I think that’s absolutely fine, and of course it is a requirement when discussions start to progress. But is it enough to expect someone to be able to do a decent job of promoting what we do and recognising if there’s potential by simply telling them that they should ‘call us in at the first sign’? No, I don’t think it is.
And here’s why I think that.
At that moment – at that very first introduction to the notion of working with us, a potential customer is forming an opinion. They’re forming a first impression. And most of that first impression is going to come to them from someone who doesn’t, in all probability, understand our diverse and complex service well enough to be able to communicate it’s benefits clearly and succinctly.
So we lose momentum at that very point. And I want everyone to know that we work in a great team; we have some fantastic people and I know, having worked on this team, that we deliver brilliant and lasting change into the customers we work with. I am excited about that. It drives me to get out of bed every day because I love my job.
And I just don’t think that other resources perhaps ‘get that’ – and maybe they can’t. Maybe they never will. And if that’s the case, I still don’t think there’s any harm in doing what I suggested which is taking a good look at how we ourselves describe our service. What is our key message?
I know our team has done a lot of great work defining cornerstones and pillars and guidelines and processes and what not. There’s even, I’m sure, some brilliant marketing collateral. But there’s no substitute for watching someone enthusiastic describe something to you because you catch a bit of that. And the best introductions for potential are when a customer sees that enthusiasm, understands what might be doable and are inspired to come talk to you about it.
Because in my mind, that’s a win – and that’s where the real value conversation starts.
‘Sales’ and ‘pre-sales’ is one such obvious application for a better, cleaner and neater description of what it is we do. Of course it is – clear communication is key. But it is not the only purpose for having such a discussion and I shudder at the thought that it becomes labelled as a sales-related activity.
It’s actually a business development activity, I think. And that’s where I went wrong in my email – or at least, one of the places
Some of my team have – rightly – focused on the output, but unfortunately immediately; asking what are the deliverables? Where do they apply? What is the delivery mechanism? These are great questions – but for me, at this point, the value of this exercise is in the conversation and the understanding. This is arguably such a fundamental task that to focus on the output would skew the discussion; the fact of observation altering the outcome.
If we can’t talk to each other – or explain to a colleague in passing what it is we do – then perhaps we have a little more work to do!