When being an expert can hurt, rather than help, your client
So I’m sitting in a little cube at a client’s office… the second of two conferences I managed for my client has gone off without a hitch (yay!). But while most attendees saw it as just another workshop, I saw it as a master class in how to bring experts together to learn something new in their own field and change their tried-and-true process. By being thoughtful and listening to how WE were relying on our OWN habits to design the course—and then changing the approach–we actually got them to engage in and participate in it, without the bias (and eye-rolling) that comes from being an expert.
In both cases, the room was full of experts in this industry. Therefore, the practice tools focused on subjects that were about as far from their experience as possible so our experts couldn’t rely on past experience to solve the problems. In the exit interviews for conference No. 1, our experts were very clear that they thought the practice tools had no value because the tools didn’t apply to their industry.
For the second session, we allowed them to use the same tools and talk about how the techniques apply to their day jobs. We got a completely different—and much better—reaction. Best of all, our experts comprehended how insights from another industry could apply to their own work.
I think many marketer-client relationships could benefit from the same approach. We are expert at building or shaping our clients’ brands, from language to logos to the promotional tools we use – and we learn new tools on the way while we help our clients. Change management, in which ST!R has become very experienced, also has many similar features you’d think you could apply to multiple clients: internal communications, new messaging, new processes, and a public-facing persona reflecting the change. Applies to everyone, right?
Of course not. While it’s true that many of the tools we’d use to rebrand a program or company are similar, there are significant differences or considerations that drive your tools, message and approach:
- What is your end goal? A higher, more premium profile? Higher stock prices? Happier employees? Each of these takes a different approach.
- Will this rebranding differentiate you from your competitors in a concrete way, whether financially or by positioning you as a market innovator?
- What communications and tools do you have in place already? A good change company—a good marketing company for that matter—will do a communications audit to see what you’ve been saying and how you’ve said it, what works and what doesn’t. I find it remarkable how often I’ve come across a piece of tone-deaf communication because someone didn’t think about all the people, at every level, who would read it.
- While your execs have a great idea of what you’re doing and why, does your front line? Have you operationalized the message and its dissemination so it can be communicated over and over, in multiple languages if necessary, and not lose its impact?
- Are your communications—the who, what, where, when, why and how—written clearly? Executive jargon is a learned language. Make sure your newest or most junior employees can understand what you’re saying and what their role is. (And please, spell out the first use of any acronym!)
- Do you have the will and the means to see this all the way through, even if it takes several years to fully realize the dream?
Beyond those considerations:
- Do you have true buy-in from the leadership of the company, or just lip service? Employees can smell “inauthentic” a mile away
- Will employees, who often have little to no input in these decisions, just sit back and wait for this idea to fail and then go back to doing things the same old way? Real change feels—real.
- How can you embrace the stars in your organization—the exceptional employees who may not be senior leaders but are well-known and respected across all levels of the organization—and let them shine in this new world? Peer-to-peer leadership is often much more credible than messaging from the C-suite.
- Should you invest in the help of professionals who can look dispassionately at the problem, present alternative solutions gleaned from other clients and execute anything from the plan to the actual change, rather than trying to do it yourself and being limited by your own experience and inter-company bias?
Even experts can fall back on old solutions that have worked “here,” but may not apply “there,” a dangerous misstep when others are relying on you to move them forward. My client’s seminar reinforced that one size certainly doesn’t fit all, especially when you assume you already know all the answers yet don’t ask the right questions. Learning from experts in many industries keeps you sharp and offers you a broader set of good questions to ask.
Keeping up on trends, reading how other experts approach their businesses— even if they aren’t in your business— and managing your agency or team with a watchful eye for the tried-and-true-and-trite are critical pieces to realizing real change and success, whether for your agency or your client.
Do you feel it’s better to have a specific methodology when approaching all clients, or do you like to develop your plan of attack more organically? Let me know—I’m interested in hearing from both sides!
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