Archive for September 2010
Start moving your messages where they will be heard.
I just got off the phone with a friend at a medical device company. This friend helps prepare technical information for clinicians. His team works at moving IFUs (“Instructions for Use”) and other labeling concerns across regulatory and legal hurdles to be ready for clinicians. Their challenge is to reduce medical waste for their customers (getting rid of medical waste costs more than the usual garbage fee) by reducing the amount of paper they put into the system, that is, reducing the clutter they send to clinicians with products. So they are taking the necessary steps to move documents online where they can be used or downloaded to a computer or PDA, or even, yes, printed. It makes sense: people don’t read documents. People don’t store documents. People want the information they want right now and paper is becoming a bit of a nuisance.
Getting the right information to the right people at the right time is always a work in progress. I’ve been advocating the power of search for some time, which means putting information within the reach of your intended audience’s search engines. That information needs to be there before your audience realizes they want it. Right now this is a choice companies make, with most sticking to their old corporate sales monologues and the tools that send the monologues forth, from sales rep to potential customer to waste bin. Companies anticipating the search need are the heroes of the moment.
My friend pointed out that engaging in conversations is not just for consumers, but even more for experts deep in a technical conversation. Generations grow up and Facebook, already a burgeoning economy of its own, is the model for how next-generation clinicians will expect to learn how to program a defibrillator, for instance. Companies will do well to help pave the way for this to happen.
Getting our messages to the right people at the right time trims all sorts of waste: less paper wasted on unneeded documents. Fewer brain cells wasted on fighting off unwanted sales pitches. And more freedom for finding.
Let your technical staff converse with the world.
Several technical clients and friends I talk with are nervous about their business model. Their ways of getting new business feel not just old-fashioned, but wasteful of time, money and the energy of strong, passionate employees. These clients develop products that depend on interaction with their customers. Their specialized custom manufacturing is not easily duplicated and requires extensive collaboration. The problem is their customers are sometimes (often?) under the impression they purchased something close to an off-the-shelf solution: something that will work right away. Those customers may not realize (or may choose not to realize) they have actually purchased a highly custom product that requires lots of detailed conversation to make it work properly. The other problem is that neither my client nor their customer went deep in talking through the expectations each brought to the purchase.
What if my technical friends approached their business with the notion of starting technical conversations on the front-end: as a way into the sale along with the way through the sale, rather than just as a fumbling, awkward add-on after money has gone between accounts? What if these firms located the people already hard at work inside the company who had a passion for telling the detailed story on the outside of the company? I’m calling these the cominglers: employees who know the details cold and, with a bit of prompting and freedom, could carry on vital, interesting conversations outside the walls of your firm. Conversations that attract new customers even as they build credibility in the industry. This is actually happening all the time as people invest in the variety of social media channels.
It’s a plenty scary thought to many managers and VPs. I can hear it now: “We don’t want our engineers talking with civilians!” But is that really what you want, given your customers’ hunger for detailed engagement before, during and after a sale? Moving past marketing’s old monologing ways involves taking steps toward engagement at all sorts of levels within our organizations. Engagement was never just the salesman’s job, which has become clearer every single day as companies move to Facebook.
As I teach college writing students, I want them to grip their firm’s innerworkings as well as to put their head up in the space where their company moves to see the context their products and services walk among. Ongoing conversations depend on these very people.
Who are the cominglers in your organization?
Photo Credit: Steve Powers-Visual Blues