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Selling up the Chain of Command

 

Sometimes the most important sale to be made is within our own organization.

For example, we all have ambition. Some of us ambition to be recognized, others to be paid more. Some ambition to advance a cause, others to keep their job. But few achieve their ambitions in isolation. We need to persuade others we are worthy of their support. And persuasion – like it or not – is selling.

Most frequently, those in the best position to support us are in our upstream chain of command. So learning how to sell to our boss, or their boss, is critical to achieving our ambitions.

Here are a few tips fresh from the sales bullpen you may want to consider applying to your upstream communications.

  1. Sell as you go

Unfortunately, it’s often not enough simply do great work, assuming others will notice and appreciate it. Reputation is like a campfire. It needs to be regularly stoked or it will gradually turn as cold as ash. [bctt tweet=”Reputation is like a campfire. It needs to be regularly stoked.” username=”candorpr”] In communicating with upstream executives or board members, reinforce the value of your work relative to what is important to them. As sales trainers say, “Sell benefit, sell benefit, sell benefit.”

  1. Think like they think

As a dad, I had to teach my kids how to buy a gift for their mom she would appreciate, as opposed to gifts of interest to them. It’s not much different in business. Whether delivering a strategic plan, a business case, a status report, a presentation or just an idea, know what is important to the audience with whom you are communicating. Gift wrap your information in a manner they will appreciate and appreciation will be returned.

  1. Speak with candor

Don’t be a “yes” person. Executives cannot trust someone who only says what they believe another wants to hear. Instead, be straightforward, authentic and tactful in all communication.

  1. Anticipate objections

A mistake of many persuaders is the failure to anticipate objections. I have seen many great ideas shot down because the presenter was unprepared to answer an unexpected question. As a part of your communication prep, take time to anticipate objections and formulate your response to each.

  1. Understand it’s always about numbers

Don’t be fooled. The pool of funds available for any endeavor is limited. Every person in your chain of command has numbers for which they are responsible to monitor and achieve.  So don’t just report activity or progress upstream, also report results – how your activity has measurably moved the proverbial needle. Tie what you do to the numbers valued by those in charge.

Several years ago, I provided an update to my boss. The project had come in over budget, but we had exceeded client expectations. Expecting a pat on the back, I was surprised instead to be criticized for the overruns. His words were, “Excellent work in our company is expected. You still have to bring the work in on budget.” That was the last time I took upstream communication for granted.

Stoke the fire. Regularly.

 

Rough Landings Made Right: Don’t Leave Your Audience Up in the Air

Coming home from a vacation in paradise always hurts a little. On a recent trip, poor corporate communication made it worse, until a quick-thinking flight attendant eased the pain.

After spending several days in the pool and on the beach south of the border, the flat concrete expanse at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport felt like the last place I wanted to be. I just wanted to get through customs and get home to my dog.

Then the pilot took to the intercom.

“Well, folks. It looks like there’s still a plane at our gate,” he said. “So we’re going to wait here a few minutes.”

I groaned. People around me shook their heads and muttered.

Then a flight attendant picked up the mic.

“Ladies and gentlemen, because our flight was faster than expected, we’ve arrived at the gate about 20 minutes early, so the gate isn’t available. We should still have you off the plane on time.”

People nodded. Shoulders relaxed. Visions of sprints to connecting flights evaporated. Thumbs flew over keyboards as everyone updated friends and family.

I give the pilot points for trying to get information to the cabin quickly. But if he had taken another moment to carefully consider his words, he could have left people with a positive impression, rather than giving passengers one more reason to grumble.

The pilot and the flight attendant, employees of the same airline, delivered essentially the same news: Passengers were going to be trapped with each other for a few more minutes. But they took different routes and got very different reactions.

The scenario carries three lessons for communicators and companies:

  1. Transparency matters. When companies explain WHY something is happening, not just WHAT is happening, people are more likely to view the position kindly. That’s especially true if customers face inconvenience.

  2. Messaging matters. The words communicators choose can play a decisive role in whether people cringe or cheer.

  3. Every employee is part of a brand. Organizations must make sure any potential representatives are on board with messaging and understand communications are critical.

At Candor, we’re always ready to help organizations craft messages to improve how people receive them, even when the news isn’t all good.

Aligning the Walk and Talk

Sometimes threats to reputation arise from unexpected circumstances. Sometimes they don’t.

Wells Fargo’s recent troubles didn’t suddenly appear due to a few rogue employees. They were the result of poorly crafted compensation incentives. Volkswagen’s legal and reputation issues weren’t due to overbearing U.S regulations. They were the result of missing compliance controls in their software implementation process. In addition to horribly damaged reputations, the losses these companies face is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

PR professionals are often placed in the position of trying to salvage reputations damaged by management or operational dysfunction. In such crises, most PR firms can do little more than deflect attention, slow the bleeding or ease the pain. At Candor, true to our brand, we advise our clients to communicate transparently, and we help fix underlying problems.

Candor started as a traditional PR firm. But we soon realized our experience in business consulting allowed us to help businesses get to the heart of what makes their organizations function, and help them fix problems before damage is done. So we opened a subsidiary called Candor Performance to provide business consulting services — to help our clients better walk their talk.

These kinds of problems can be traced to a misalignment between two or more of the following areas of the organizational body: strategy, structure, people, processes or culture. And much like a patient in need of a chiropractor when the body is misaligned, adjustments can alleviate the pain and return the patient to a state of organizational health and wellness.

In this manner, we have served companies large and small in almost 50 industries. And we believe we offer a unique value to the clients we serve.