Telling a story

Using iMovie to Tell a Story

Using iMovie to Tell a Story

One of the things organizations are often tasked with is getting the word out. Company’s get the word out about products, a government agency’s about programs and charitable organization’s reach out to their constituencies. Today that can seem easier than ever with so many tools available. Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools have taken their place in our quiver of capabilities for reaching out. Getting noticed though still requires telling a story.

I did our Spring 2014 ExAM4Government.com and ExAM4Enterprise.com campaigns using iMovie. Please let me know which you like better in the comments below and vote for Mission Attainable (the first one) or Finish Line (Second) in the comments below. The winner will be used in our Spring 2014 campaign.

ExAM & Salesforce1: Mission Attainable

or

ExAM & Salesforce1 – Spring 2014

Ok, I admit it I used a few other tools I’ll talk about down the road (Adobe Premier, Fireworks, SimCap, and IOS Simulator), but I want to focus on iMovie because it is probably the most accessible.

One of the things I like most about iMovie is the trailers. They provide you with a few different pre-made templates that allow you to tell your own story using a very high quality professional template.

iMovie1 Template Choices

iMovie1 Template Choices

The most important word in that last sentence was story. I’ve made lots of clips over the years and I’ve learned that you can overcome having lower end equipment and software, but you can’t skimp on the story. Scripting your words, shots and video is critical to making people care. I love the iMovie templates because they make it so easy to pull together the planning part of story telling with the work of actually creating it.

Unfortunately the templates that come with iMovie are all that you get and there is no ability to build your own in the app. However you can get almost the same value by simply grabbing a large (I use 11×17) sheet of paper and drawing boxes where you label your pictures and video clips along with narrative text. A little work up front will help you tell a much better story.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Big Presentation, Little Prep Time: What to do?

Presentation Blog

One of the most difficult things to do well is to give presentations and speeches on short notice.   There’s an expectation that goes along with a presentation that there will be a certain amount of preparation that goes into it and the audience is going to be receiving a fairly well knit together show.  There’s a couple things that you can do if you’re put into a situation where you have very little prep time.  Maybe you are coming into to speak for somebody that is sick or maybe you were just presented with an opportunity to speak and have a very short time to get ready. Either way I think that a there are a couple things that you can do that will help put you at ease and help that presentation be well received despite inadequate prep time.

  1. I think a good way to start off is to, in some way, acknowledge the fact that you haven’t had an enormous amount of preparation time.  If it’s something where it’s public knowledge that the person you were subbing in for is sick, it’s really easy. You can use it as an opportunity to inject a little humor. Anything along the lines of, “So and so is ill so you get the b team,” or  something like that is a little bit funny but it also sets it in the audience’s mind that they should take in to account that you may stumble a little bit. You may get some slack out of it and a little bit of humor can work in your favor.

Oftentimes with very polished presentations the audience doesn’t feel as engaged as they sometimes do, particularly if it’s a smaller group, with a less polished presentation.  When you’re working your way through something you’ve given a lot of times, you lose some of the natural beaks and a lot of the conversational tone that really engages audiences when you’re speaking to them.  So I think sometimes the shorter the time between preparation and presentation can actually be a blessing in disguise. You end up with a better product from both sides because there is more of a willingness to experiment and take direction on the fly.

  1. The second thing is to try to eliminate highly specific sides and builds across slides.  One thing I do when I’m presented with a situation like this where I’m having to work from a deck or something like that is I will pull out any slides that have builds across two slides.  The tendency is to talk to what’s on the slides because that’s what’s providing you the guideposts to your talk, which is especially helpful when you are short on prep time. If you have something that builds across two slides, inevitably you’ll make one of two mistakes. Either you run across the second slide during the first slide or in anticipation of needing the material that is on the second slide and not remembering that it is there, you’ll use another example or you’ll have cover that material in some other way. It really just creates a kind of fumbling appearance to the presentation. I would much rather go in in advance and have more generic slides. That gives me a lot more free range than to have a polished slide deck and an unpolished presentation.  That will just serve to highlight the lack of preparation.  So make sure to remove complexity from your presentation materials and give yourself the broadest amount of free range possible.
  2. Finally the last thing I want to talk about is building that connection to the audience. I find it worthwhile to make sure I find something to link directly to my audience and their target interests. Say for instance that you are going to speak to a group interested in education, I’ll try to find some facts and figures that, while maybe not 100% directly relevant to my topic whether it’s strategic planning or investment portfolios, can be used as stage setting but also are just generally interesting that relate to their field. If you can find a few of these things to sprinkle into the beginning of the talk you’re giving that day, you can garner that little bit of engagement and trust you want from your audience. If you’re able to get people to buy into the fact that you’re going to be interesting, maybe not be topical, but at least interesting; the audience will give you a chance.

They’ll give you a chance to engage them throughout the rest of your presentation and I think that is really critical within the first few minutes. You need to be able to build that interest within your audience where they say, “Hey this is somebody that I want to listen to talk.”  You don’t always have to do that by being directly relevant to the speech that you’re gong to give the rest of your way through.  It could just be something that just builds a bond with the audience and generates enough interest so they listen to the rest of what you’re going to say.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Trying to make a point? Tell a story

Storyteling

I’ve talked a couple times about different tools that I use including Powtoon. Last night I was pulling together a Powtoon trying to capture the story of why I think there should be a premium put on decision making, particularly within the federal space as we go into these more austere budget times. Every little decision counts. It’s important to be able to evaluate everything that you have, identify areas where you can save a little bit here so you can give a little bit back there, and make better use of your resources to support the mission.

So this is a problem I’ve briefed for years at a high level using traditional mechanisms like PowerPoint decks, but it’s really something that I think lends itself to telling a story. In general, one of the things that makes Powtoon so great is it forces you to tell a story almost by the very nature of the tool set.  The tool is centered on the idea that you’re making a cartoon.

I think one of the big failings of PowerPoint decks is they let you be very conceptual. I’ll find myself starting to put the elements together of something and so I’ll begin to talk conceptually about whatever problem I’m trying to address at the moment. It takes a lot of effort to tell that story across a PowerPoint because you have to go back later to the notes so you can remember what your thought track was supposed to be. What I like about Powtoon is that it allows you to do all of that at one time, roll it together, and have something that you can show in a repeatable fashion.

I’ve found that if I focus in on something, you can cut down a lot of the abstractions that might go into a PowerPoint deck. It enables you to focus on the story elements. You may not get in all the nitty gritty details in there the way you would have in your busy PowerPoint deck, but you get the heart of it in there. What I found is that it resonates more with people even though you get a quarter of the data that would be in a PowerPoint presentation. The fact that you pulled it into a story means that people retain it better as well. I’ve had people watch a two minute video and tell me that “You know I watched that and I finally really got what you were talking!” Now I take that as a compliment on the one hand. On the other hand, if it’s somebody that I’ve spent an hour with presenting out of a deck and I found out all I really needed to do was show them a two minute video; I’m not quite sure how to take that. I don’t know what that says about my presentation skills but I do think that there’s something to be said for that tool, specifically meaning Powtoon.

I think there’s a bigger lesson that is you really have to focus on telling stories when you give presentations. It’s what drives the response that you want to get out of your audience. It’s what drives audience engagement and it makes people remember things. It’s very hard when you’re just hammered with facts and data to pull it all together yourself and remember all the pieces that were important. If you put in a story, people will remember the same way that they remember the stories that come out of the books they read and the movies they watch. It just makes it much more digestive.  So the next time you’re trying to make a point; tell a story.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Everybody’s selling something: Perfecting your pitch

Satellites_For_Sale_-_GPN-2000-001036

I had a really interesting meeting with a marketing manager at Troux Technologies the other day and I’d like to share a bit from it. It really highlighted how much marketing and sales has evolved over even just the past few years. If you read some of the books that are out there like, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, which I’ve talked about before, there’s a lot of crossover techniques from what would traditionally be considered sales and marketing approaches. These are now being currently applied to everyday business writing, meetings, and tactical approaches.

One of the themes of To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others is the idea that most people, in their day to day lives, are working on sales on some level. By that I mean that you’re constantly trying to convince people to take your position on something, to do certain things, or to engage on projects. To ignore that is to set yourself up for failure. If you just present people with raw information without any attempt to help them see the message, then you’re doing yourself and your project a disservice. You’re likely to fall short just on the basis of not having presented your ideas well enough.

One of the things that was brought up during our conversation was a discussion on how important it is, especially with really complex messages, to correctly identify the thought train that is going through the person’s mind. You need to be aware of what pieces of information will they need at what time so they can grasp the whole idea. I guess on some level you’re always doing that when you create an executive summary, a long paper, or you are working through a slide deck for a meeting; you’re always working through that process and I’d never heard anyone explicitly put it like that before. I thought it was a really good way to think about it, particularly when you’re trying to communicate complex things. By putting it out in bite sized chunks, you make it easier to enable people to grasp the big picture at the end of it.

He brought up another idea that I think is good practice to bring into your day to day marketing of your ideas and projects. It’s the idea that you should always be focusing on your stakeholder community’s big values. I think on some level that should be pretty obvious but it’s still worth mentioning and reinforcing. I know that I’ve found myself many times writing something and what comes through on the page are the things that are really important to me and not necessarily to my audience. So I’ll have to go back through, reorder things, and rephrase them to make sure that I’m capturing what is important to the person that I’m writing it for and not just for me.

I really believe that is a worthwhile exercise anytime you write something or pull together communications pieces. By making sure that you take a step back you can really see whether you’ve captured what’s important for your intended audience and not just what are the things that you believe are important about it. So I realize some of what I said is fairly obvious but I know, at least for me, the conversation was a great reminder of:

  • How important it is to think about what the customer or consumer of your information is going to need
  • What order do they need that information in in order to understand it
  • To constantly focus on the areas that are going to be of interest to them as you communicate your big idea.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Kindergarten wisdom for all ages

Kindergarten

I saw a post on Facebook this morning that I really liked. Somebody put up a little note saying that as your kids go back to school, to have a talk with them. Tell them that if they see somebody who is shy, or not fitting in, or kind of on the outside, to take a minute and go over and introduce yourself. Say hi and just to be kind.  I thought it was a really cool thing that if we did more of, would make the world a better place for a long time to come. I also thought that they had some interesting carry over into our work a day lives.

The stuff that is great and nice to do in kindergarten is still great and nice to do when you get older. I think we still have those opportunities to be inclusive, to help somebody out, and to help someone who is on the outside to come in and be a part of the group and gain a lot of benefit along the way.  One of the things that the Facebook post made me think about was how many people I know that maybe aren’t the most outgoing, who aren’t the first person to offer up their opinions but whose input, opinions and knowledge I really value. If I hadn’t gotten to know them as well as I do, I probably would have missed out on a lot.

As you are working your way through life and you have opportunities to speak with those people, it’s worth taking the time to make that effort. One of the things I’ve noticed is that it’s the quiet ones who seem to do the most listening. Sometimes that means that the things they say might be that much more valuable. I know not always but definitely sometimes.  So I’m curious what other people’s opinions are and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

You talk too much…and you never shut up!

gift of gab

I admit I love to talk.  Some people like talk about the “gift of gab.” Now I’m not sure if I have it but I do know that I definitely enjoy listening to myself talk.  However, as I’ve gotten a little bit older I’ve slowly but surely come to the realization that there are other people that are involved in a conversation.  If others aren’t involved in the conversation it is a monologue and people look at you funny, so this post is for all of you talkers out there.

If you find yourself in the midst of what should be a conversation and you realize that the other person hasn’t said a word in five minutes take a breath and see if maybe, just maybe they have something to add.  One thing that I try to make a concerted effort to do every time is listen first. If you get engaged in a casual conversation make it a point to really listen to what the other person has to say and let them get engaged in a story.  I find that if I work on listening first not only is my part of the conversation better because I know a little bit more about the other person but when people notice that you’re actively listening, a lot of times it prompts them to really open up. I think there’s almost a cue when you are actively listening to somebody that lets them know, “Hey this person is not going to interrupt me and they’re going to let me finish,” and because of that you get a better response on their part.

Finally I think that for every talker out there it’s really important to think about the conversations that you’ve had after you’ve had them. I think this is especially true and relevant in the business context.  Think about how you went through it and where you might have been better served to do some listening rather than speaking. It’s from my client calls or workshops with clients where I think I’ve really learned that the key to success is listening more talking less. I always try to take a minute and just think about the conversation I had and not just from the context of what was actually said, what I need to do about it, what are the action items, and other basic housekeeping details. I like to reflect on some growing points as well such as:

  • How could I have made the call better
  • How could I have listened more
  • Where could I have put in prompts to the cue the other person to speak
  • Where could I have elicited more information

As I said at the beginning, one of the keys to success is ensuring that you do at least as much listening as talking in any conversation because it’s what enables you to better meet the expectation of the other person. Many times, what helps you get your ideas across and enables you to convince the other person of the benefits of a particular idea or objective isn’t what you say so much, it’s how well you listen to them and how well you react to their cues.  I’m curious what other people have to say on the topic. It’s an area where I know I could still learn quite a little bit about.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Short and sweet: The value of brevity

short and sweet

In today’s modern world much has changed in the way of how we get and internalize our information.  With so much new technology constantly coming out that makes it easier and faster to get information, we are oversaturated. We are constantly hit with a barrage of information about absolutely anything and everything.  It has changed many things around us as well as how we go about getting and ingesting our information. Twitter has become the monument to our shortened attention spans created by this information overload.  Its platform that makes you get your message down to 140 characters can teach you some valuable lessons about elevator pitches and messaging in this social media era.

  1. There is so much content available now that if you can’t get your message across in the first sentence or even the first 140 characters people may not read further.
  2. The act of focusing down your message into 140 characters forces you to filter out all the extraneous information and focus on what’s really important
  3. Most of us learned the wrong message in college.  That lesson being, if you said enough stuff the teacher would take it and think you put enough work into it and give you the grade.  That’s not how the modern world works. People want their information quickly, easily, and most importantly, concisely.
  4. Twitter itself has made 140 character messaging a must for most organizations. Most organizations need to be able to communicate on that platform and others like Vine, Tumblr, and blogs etc. that reward those that are able to be both concise and informative to be successful.
  5. People don’t have time to read the whole novel.  Give them the Cliffs notes.  They’ll appreciate and love you for it
  6. You get 90 seconds in an elevator pitch and most peoples decisions are made on that basis.  In the new social media world a lot of research has shown that most people never make it past the first 7 seconds of a YouTube video.  This just illustrates that the quicker you entice the better.
  7. Who reads your next email may very well be dependent on how good your subject line is.  Great subject lines need to capture an audience and intrigue in just a few words.
  8. If it’s a really good idea, you ought to be able to get it across in a few seconds. If you can’t, you’re going to have trouble getting the eyes, ears, and attention of today’s overexposed, information overloaded, and harried content consumers.

These are just a few reasons I believe brevity is a virtue that is becoming more and more valuable in today’s world.  As always I’m curious what other people think.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

3 Rules for creating a constructive 1st draft

First Draft

I want to talk a little bit about what I believe a draft should be. Obviously there’s a lot of latitude in this subject but I think that it’s really important to understand that no matter what you call it, everyone has an understanding of what a successful draft looks like at the end of the day.

Our internal process for idea generating is very team oriented. We may have 3, 4, or even 5 people in a room working on a whiteboard, sheets of paper, or different drawing tools trying to get some concepts out. We may go back and forth, go and work individually, come back share things, and talk about anything that crosses our minds. I consider all those things to be part of the idea generating phase of doing things. The more people the better in many cases as the whole point of what you’re trying to do is come up with a lot of ideas. Then you want to vet those things down to just a few good ones. Once we have it narrowed down I like to hand it off to somebody to take as their own.

I think that when you get to the point where you’ve squeezed the idea sponge until its run dry in the room and you’ve winnowed your brainstorms down into a  more reasonable amount of a few different things that the team believes have legs its then time to hand that off to a person. Ideally I hand it off to one person or maybe just a couple people that work well together if it’s a big project to get a draft together. If it’s a document maybe that means an outline or if it’s a drawing, an architectural artifact, or whatever it is, there should be an accepted form to it.  I believe no matter what that accepted form is there are a couple of rules that people should follow to know when their draft is ready for exposure to others.

  1. The first thing that should happen is your draft should be able to clearly tell the story of whatever the next phase is going to be. For us, that usually means you’re going to go through a few different drafts, you’re going to get some critical inputs and refine things. Even in that first draft there ought to be idea clarity. What I mean by that is that you ought to be able to explain to me why the things that are in there are in there.  There should be a reason for all of the stuff on the page. So that’s number one and if you can’t do that then it’s not draft ready.
  2. It should not enormously deviate from the concepts that were put together by the larger team. If you’re responsible for taking the work product of the group and further developing it into draft form, I think it’s important that you be true to the concepts that were developed in the group.  If you don’t do that then there was almost no point to having that group work done.  If you get into it and find that there’s just too much new information that makes you want to go down a different route, at that point you need to go take it back to the group and vet that with them before you run with it.  I think that’s important because one of the most critical things that you got out of that big group session was consensus around some of the things that are important and needed to be expressed. So if you’re going to greatly deviate from what had been set forth in the brainstorm sessions you need to go back and get buy in even if you’re right. It’s important that you have those preliminary communications otherwise you’re going to end up presenting those ideas to a group of people who have never seen it before. You’re going to have some people, no matter how good your idea is, think that you betrayed the trust of the group by doing that. They’re going to dislike it just for those reasons and maybe a really great idea goes unused because you didn’t have the professional courtesy to express it or validate your new direction with the group.
  3. Finally the third big thing in knowing when something is a draft that it still has to have a certain level of professionalism. Now this is an area where I have gotten a little push back from people before.  They will say, “Hey it’s still a draft and I just want to have things on a page,” but I will tell you that won’t cut it a lot of times. I’m actually not one of these people but for a lot of others if you haven’t hit spell check and you turn a draft over to them, they can’t get beyond the fact that you misspelled a lot of words. It distracts them from the overall concept and so the five minutes it would take to run spell check is worth doing.  The same thing with drawings and things like that.  If you have an incredibly cluttered page where you can’t clearly express why things are working the way they are or why you’ve laid things out the way you have, it’s not ready and it’s not a draft.  I believe draft materials should be sufficiently developed so that they can be sent to somebody via email. They shouldn’t require extensive oral communication to have an outside party understand what you’re trying to get across or I don’t believe that they’re ready to be shared.  If you have to spend a half hour explaining to me the chicken scratch on a torn out sheet of notebook paper it’s not a draft.  It might represent some really great thinking but it needs to have just a little bit more polish.

Now I’m the first person to tell you don’t waste a lot of time making draft materials client ready but there is a certain amount of effort that is required to get something into a state where people can understand it and that is the point.  You want your draft materials to be good enough to convey the point of what you’re trying to accomplish and there are not distractions in them that prevent people from understanding the concepts that you’re trying to put forward.

Now those are my big three things needed for a draft to be completed.  This is to me, what makes something a draft. I think that way too often people don’t put enough thought into or don’t take the time to step through the idea to product phases enough to end up with the type of product that they should. I think a lot of those mistakes occur because people don’t pay attention to detail in the drafting process. So that’s what I believe constitutes a good first draft for any high level document, drawing or any other knowledge work product. I know that other people have great ideas about other things that should be in there but those are the big three that I find myself talking about more than any others.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

5 ways for IT to be more relevant

I think sometimes IT organizations and executives lose sight of the fact that they need to develop an ongoing relationship with the business. If you are in the IT organization in most businesses you are in the service business to large degree. In case you haven’t noticed there are a  huge number outsourcing and servicing companies vying for the work that used to be part of the internal IT organization monopoly. Recognizing this new reality and the requirement to compete for the “business” of your business is critical if you want to retain your share of the organization’s work and your relevancy to the business.

Start building your bridge to the business today.


Here are 5 ways to start engaging the business:
1. Get an elevator pitch
If you can’t succinctly sum up your value statement to the organization you probably won’t get the resources you need. Remember that you are competing for dollars within the organization in the same manner that most organizations are competing for dollars outside the organization. If your technology organization already suffers from a lack of access to senior executives you cannot afford to flub the few opportunities you have by not having anything shorter than a 45 minute brief to show where you bring value. If your only chance to get in front of an executive is while he is getting issued a new iPhone you better make the most of that 5 minutes.
2. Get a business case
Executives love dollars and cents; it is the language of business. Trying to explain things in technical terms isn’t helpful. Frame it in the context of the business. Will it save money? Increase time to market? Say it in those terms. You should be able to easily draw a line from your technology spend to the business of the organization, if you can’t expect to eventually lose those projects. This is an area of increasing awareness in IT with more and more solutions available that are focusing on enterprise portfolio management with solid financial analysis tools in addition to looking at relationships and modeling that has been a staple of many IT management tools for many years.
3. Get more relevant more often
People use what they know. If you want to be in the decision stream you need to be seen as relevant to making decisions. Many enterprise architecture organizations pride themselves on their grasp of the business, technology and data architectures. How do you leverage this information on behalf of the organization? Are you serving as a compiler of information or as a catalyst for change? I have spent an incredible amount of time in meetings with IT and EA staff while they talk about how the business doesn’t realize how much they know. If you really know things go out and be relevant, force the action and push the action to the business. This doesn’t have to be an in your face confrontational action. It can be as simple as delivering insiteful reports that are relevant to daily decision making. Think about this, do your dashboards tell a story about the information you have access to or one that is relevant to real decision-making. The fact is that most executive decisions are still made based on excel workbooks compiled from various data sources. The business is still having to take it the last mile in order for the information to be relevant and until that changes I doubt IT will be seen as highly relevant.
4. Get marketing
If you don’t market to internal stakeholders you won’t be successful, it is that simple. I’m not saying you have to take out full page ads or buy radio time, but you do need to make a concerted effort to appeal to those parties that should be using your information, leveraging your technologies and most importantly conferring with you before making major strategic decisions with huge implications for the technology infrastructure of the business.
5. Get proactive
I’m not sure how IT organizations got so passive aggressive, but I feel like some of the issues could be solved by simply taking the fight to the business. If you want to be relevant and you have real insight push the issue. Most executives are open to high value inputs, they know better information leads to better decision making. Just don’t expect them to be wowed by the size of your presentation or the complexity of your diagram. It is your job to get your insight into the language of the business, not theirs to become technology experts.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Developing quality messaging around quality

Quality doesn’t have to be a part of your services offering.  In fact, it is completely reasonable to make the explicit decision to focus first on other factors that may be more important to your customers. Price comes immediately to mind. Customers of some services and products may be more interested in receiving acceptable quality with the lowest possible price.  This happens particularly in the delivery of commodity products and services. However, if you have made the decision that quality is part of the way in which you are going to differentiate your business like we have at MB&A, it becomes critical to ensure that this message is constantly in front of both your clients and your employees. By virtue of choosing to differentiate on quality, you are almost inevitably asking that customers pay a price premium.  Your employees then go the extra mile to ensure that your services and products are differentiated to the point that they justify this price premium.

I think the easiest way to explain why it is so important to compete on quality to employees, is to explain what happens when you choose to compete on price. The decision to compete on price, generally means the beginning of a ruthless effort to reduce costs.  This needs to be done in order to support margins in the face of limited ability to support prices based on other factors. This almost inevitably ends in lower employee wages.  Even in a products business where there may be some opportunity to simply scale operational efficiencies to support lower costs, competing on price is essentially a race to the bottom.  Because of this, it shouldn’t be too difficult to explain to employees that they derive the most personal benefit from a quality focused strategy.  The idea of building quality into every stage of the product or service life cycle is simply part of justifying the additional cost to the customer.  In all probability, this results in higher wages relative to competitors in the same market that choose to compete on price. This is perhaps an over simplification, but I think it holds fairly true and it is certainly easy to explain and grasp intuitively.

Once there is broad recognition of the desire of the company to differentiate on quality, the hardest part begins.   The market to compete on quality, is almost always very competitive because of the perception of higher margins.  The very human desire to compete on these factors rather than simply on acceptability is another. Most people want to be perceived as delivering “high quality” services. Very few companies mottos or vision statements say that they aspire to be “technically acceptable” or the “lowest cost offering.” In order to compete on quality, the messaging needs to occur regularly, and not just from the vision of “being the best.”  There needs to be a consistent focus on quality and identifying repeatable practices that lead to an increase in, or more consistent level of quality. Their also needs to be an understanding across the organization that quality runs across two axis.  The first is the “level” or “grade” of the product or service being delivered, and the second is the consistency with which that “level” or “grade” of product can be delivered.  The perception of quality is a very tenuous thing.  Due to the price premium being paid, even small slips in quality can have disastrous results for the company. Companies attempting to go down market for sales should be very wary of the pressure to sacrifice cost elements that are important to delivering quality in the search for additional revenues.  Years of hard fought gains in the market for client perception can be lost in moments, dragging the company into the very price competitive environment that it initially chose to avoid by competing on quality.  Therefore, it is critical that the quality that is being messaged to the client be delivered every time, and that the internal messaging around quality be just as consistent and deeply embedded.

I think senior managers that are part of quality based companies simply cannot talk to quality points enough. The message surrounding the pursuit of quality should be something that is openly stated at every meeting. There may not need to be a ten minute diversion at every meeting, but something as simple as a single sentence reminder that “this is another chance for us to show we are the best,” on a daily basis ensures that people don’t lose site of the number one goal. I know that in our services business there is always pressure to compete on price and an instinctive desire to increase margins.  However, we constantly remind our people and ourselves as a leadership team that competing on price is a slippery slope and that we are better served by innovating on our clients behalf to deliver more value at our current pricing.  The message surrounding quality should also figure prominently in the work environment via the presence of the message in corporate communications, office decor, training, and performance management. Every element of the organization needs to be tuned to drive quality or the organization will end up competing on other elements of its product or service delivery.

The same approach of consistently messaging internally must be applied to existing and prospective customers. One of the most frustrating things that can happen in the pursuit of a sale is to have a customer compare your quality differentiated approach and price to that of a firm competing on price. This is inevitable as customers are always searching for a better price for “similar” services, and price competitors certainly do not advertise their products and services as “ok” or “not so great, but good enough.”  When this conversation comes up, you had better have an answer at the ready or be ready to lose the client, at least in the near term.  I have on several occasions said, “I almost hope that they end up choosing company xxxx.” It feels good to say, but it is a terrible approach and shows that you are failing to communicate your value to the customer adequately. This may be harder with prospective customers because quality is a hard sell, and competing on quality leads to very slow sales cycles. Simply put, it costs more to convince someone to pay more for a service on the basis of quality, than to ask someone to “try” a cheaper offering.  Based on this you should guard your existing customers well, because the cost to convert new ones is much steeper than the cost to retain existing customers who should be well aware of what differentiates your service.

The time to draw comparisons to your competition or draw attention to the value of your differentiated approach is not when the customer is in the midst of making a buy decision. It should be happening every day as they use or experience your product or service. Quality competitors shouldn’t have clients or customers shopping their business, and repeat business should be a given. This is an explicit activity. Marketing to existing customers should occur with the same intensity and MORE frequency than that to new customers. In particular, I think packaging of quality differentiated offerings is important. I have often been told that a client package is ready to go.  Then when reviewing the deliverable before it goes across to the client, you find that colors are not complementary or that the document is dull and lacks graphics. This is unacceptable, in our case having the answer to a complex management issue is only part of the solution. It is critical that the solution be packaged in a manner that enables it to be communicated to an executive team and then acted on. It is one part solution, one part communication piece. A technically acceptable solution that does not inspire action is simply not good enough. Quality in this case means having the answer and presenting it in a manner that inspires the client-side outcome. When this happens, the client can easily evaluate the value proposition you deliver because you have provided real worth to their organization. The final component of messaging for quality is that in order to differentiate on quality you have to message it and live it internally, message it externally, and finally have it be accepted by the client as being a product or service that is differentiated on quality. If you can get to this final step, you will rarely lose a client to a price competitor.

Put our team to work improving your organization’s performance. Visit Millsapps, Ballinger and Associates online.

Millsapps, Ballinger & Associates

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.