One of the biggest challenges in running a software/service company is communications. We have technical users who need to implement our software to fit different business requirements and we also have business users just reselling cloud solutions. As these companies grow they end up looking pretty much the same. Guys at the top stop dealing with the nuts and bolts but still lead the organization in terms of selecting who they do business with. Their staff then has the task of figuring out the nuts and bolts. If you suck at either your company is going nowhere fast.
Marketing and sales collateral without technical articles may lead to a sale but the service deployment will flop. Best product on the market will never go beyond grassroots and word of mouth if it’s not backed by professional looking marketing.
You can’t run a one-dimensional business.
This is something that everyone struggles with.
One of the ways we have been able to excel through the years has been on my back. I was there to shake hands, answer phone calls, help with Exchange in the odd hours of the night. You can do really well with great personnel but it doesn’t scale.
As my business started growing I still maintained the role of the communications quarterback – someone else generated the content but I was the one delivering the message and also one getting the feedback. It’s not easy to grow when the process goes just one way.
Step 1: Share the expertise
Put people in your organization in charge of delivering the message.
If you take a look at http://www.exchangedefender.com/blog you will see almost daily updates from the VP in my company. Everything from support to marketing to network operations to development to strategy and consulting.
These aren’t quickie posts. The chances of them being read by the majority of our partner base is slim. But folks that will read it will be the ones that care and want to know more about the topic than just the highlights.
Truth is, you can’t write blog posts for skimmers. People that dive into the post need to get some substance out of it.
This is almost exactly opposite from what you see in commercial blogging endeavors. The idea there is to create as much noise with as few words as possible so people will keep on clicking through and running up the view counter on the advertisements.
Do not model your corporate blog after the trade blog junk. The goal is to get the people to read, not accidentally click on an ad.
The big problem is that people may not care of have the time to read your posts.
The biggest problem is that they will definitely not have the time to read it when you post it.
Solution: Write valuable posts that will be shared, saved and read later.
Step 2: Promote
Remember what I said about who chooses to do business with you and who actually has the task of doing the real work? It’s typically not the same person. Same goes for blogs and documentation and any kind of content you make available. It could be that the person that follows your blog is in sales or marketing but if they are reading a blog post about the technology it won’t go anywhere.
You need to make sure everyone reads your blog. Good luck with that.
First, make sure you do the initial promotion – post it on Facebook, on Twitter, include it in your newsletters and mailers, make it a part of your signature and every piece of email your company sends out. That’s the easy part.
Second, make sure the content is available on demand – when someone asks you about a topic, make sure you link them to the content instead of answering the question. Now some will argue that this is horrible customer service but the truth of the matter is that there are no quick questions and quick answers, you have to consider some background in order to make the right decision.
“So the answer kind of depends on what you are doing but let me point you to a post on our site that gives you all the details instead of me guiding you in the wrong direction.”
The goal of written communications is for it to be complete.
Step 3: Consolidate
Finally, get to the point.
Once you have awesome documentation and a ton of content your most attentive listeners may not be your intended audience. Or vice versa.
The problem with the white collar economy is that you no longer get to choose to decide what is your job and what isn’t. If you can’t stay on top of everything you’re soon to be out a job. We all need to do more.
The problem with doing more is that folks that do more get promoted and have less time to stay on top of things. So you have to make it easy for them to delegate the communication to someone else.
At ExchangeDefender we have started producing ExchangeDefender Executive Podcasts.
10 minutes, ~10 megs, covering everything you need to know about what we’re doing. We talk about support issues, network maintenance, development progress, marketing and everything else.
You can listen to it in your car and when you hear something that you need to know more about you can just ask your staff to look into it for you at http://www.exchangedefender.com/blog or go get it yourself.
As we and our partners grow it becomes more important to stay on top of stuff and work closely with one another.
When we don’t, the profitability of the solution falls apart. If you’re spending too much time to support the product or don’t take advantage of the stuff that would make you more successful we both stand to lose.
It’s in our best interest to create a better message. It’s in your best interest to do something with that message. But it can’t be one sided.
Step 4: Focus
Since I know I’ll be punched by those of you that have listened to it so far, let me say it up front: Yes, we ordered better recording gear. This was one of those ideas that looked good on paper so we decided to record it and see if anyone would listen. Lot’s of people did and we just didn’t have the time to get the gear in for recording #2.
Two weeks ago I wrote about our decision to dramatically cut down our conference schedule. That post kind of got a life of it’s own but my main message was that in order for us to become more valuable to our partners we need to put the focus back on our partners. The goal of going to conferences is to test ideas, touch base with existing partners and more – but the primary goal is to get new partners. As big as we are, should we spend money to get new partners or just work better with the existing ones?
Truth is, we can become far more successful by working better with our partners.
Every day I am being asked to take over billing, take over support, take over implementation/migration/deployment and so on. You can’t take on new business if you’re not going to be good at it… and we can’t get good at it if we’re on the road.
So here we go. This is just a piece of the whole ExchangeDefender puzzle we’re putting together for 2012. The better we serve our partners the better you’ll serve your clients and more successful everyone will become. At least that’s what we’re working on 🙂