Cash value of communication

Often times I meet people who question the value of a focused, operational communications strategy. The argument is that there are plenty of other more important jobs to get done before looking coherently at communications.

Allow me as a former communications professional to take a step back and look at the kind of value, great communication can unlock for a startup. I will do so over a couple of posts here, and today I will be looking at one of the really easy ones to measure:

Sales.

Normally, when we think of sales, we think it of it as an effort to get our offer in front of the right people in order for them to make a decision on whether they want to buy our solution or not. The more we work diligently with sales, the better we will be at getting it in front of the right people, the more hot leads will be created, the better conversation rates will be and – ultimately – the more we will sell.

Ok.

So what role does communications play in that? Let’s look at it from a structured operational perspective:

Let’s assume you have your OKRs in place. You know what your objectives for the upcoming quarter(s) are, and you have identified the measurable key results that will support you in understanding what kind of progress you’re making towards reaching those goals.

If we look at sales, the objective could be to launch a new product successfully, and a key result could easily be to get 200 new hot leads and book 50 first sales meetings.

Ok. Where does communication come into play here?

Easy.

When you look at the job of getting 200 new leads, you need to figure out where to find them but – more importantly – WHAT to tell them in order to get them interested, so they become a hot new lead, you can work with.

In order to know what to tell them, you need to have a clearly crafted value proposition and a wording of it that resonates with the intended target audience, so you can optimize your conversion.

That’s all about communication and getting the actual words right.

Furthermore, in order to be on the radar of your future customers, when you try to convert them into hot leads, you need to have created awareness and a presence about your startup, your brand and, most importantly, your product(s). And you need to have done so in a way that is available and convincing in a way that sits well with your future customers.

That’s all about communication, too.

Finally, when you have the sales meetings, you need to ensure that the people you meet get hooked enough to buy. They need to be convinced by those final killer arguments for why your product is the solution to their problem, and doing so in a scalable way requires not only a solid structure but also – again – the most effective words.

Surprise, that’s communication too.

All in all a focus on great end effective communications is a powerful an extremely valuable driver for driving sales. It’s not just a marketing job – and yes, marketing is communications too. And communications is not only about PR and looking good on SoMe.

So do yourself a favor and prioritize your communications efforts in your startup. Doing it right can – almost – be translated to money in the bank.

(Photo by Tadeu Jnr on Unsplash)

Dealing with lost outcome

A couple of years ago I had the great pleasure of helping an interesting startup in the data management and analytics space get off the ground.

Part of that was to help them pitch to early angel investors in order to get the first funding. And one of the international investors we talked to had a point that stayed with me:

“To me this just looks like data porn”.

What he meant was: A lot of numbers and statistics but very little real actionable insights that made sense to him. And which he thus doubted would ever make sense to future customers.

His point came back to haunt me when I read a statistic claiming that 80% or so of SMEs really don’t know how to capitalize on their data, while reading another place that 90% of the companies providing the data management and analytics tools at the same time think they are delivering a killer user experience that just unlocks value at the click of a button.

There is something that is disconnected here. And I have a hunch what it might be:

The ability for SMEs to identify the outcomes they’re looking for – put them into words – coupled with an inability of the providers to think in terms of outcomes rather than inputs and analytics, when they design products.

It’s like one party is from Mars, the other is from Venus. And somehow they just can’t find each other.

In all fairness, I don’t think this is only true with data management and analytics. I think it’s a more generic point across B2B products and services; that startups and vendors are so focused on developing great products based on their own merits rather than developing great products that helps future customers get to the outcomes they are looking for in the easiest and most painless way possible.

So what could a remedy for all this be?

Communication. Built-in communication. A built-in communication and story telling strategy so to say that informs how the products are structured, the user experience defined and the value being delivered to the customer in such a way that they will not for a second doubt they have chosen the right product to help them get the outcome they have set for themselves.

A lot of things are happening in parallel in product development today, and many of them are good. But I think they lack the glue of the overarching story; the keeping track of the ‘Why?’ of it all when it comes to delivering value and outcomes including all the bigger and smaller sanity checks, you should include along the way.

Great communication could be that glue.

Great communication could tie prioritization of the roadmap with the user experience, the optimized flows and how you present the product and it’s core features to products. Great communication should be the rocket fuel of the growth story as well and dictate how the product is communicated, being sold and serviced afterwards.

Because communication is not only about PR, press releases and coming up with the creatives for the next campaign. Communication should be a key component of both product, sales and company strategy.

So people like the business angel from above and the customers, he was thinking of, instinctively ‘get it’ because the story points directly towards achieving a highly valuable and desired outcome.

(Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash)

The power of a (new) story

Back when I took the Prof G Strategy Sprint with Section4, one of the things that stayed with me was just how powerful a great story is in shaping entire companies.

I was reminded the other day, when I had a meeting with a seasoned communications professional, where we talked about what great people with a background in communications have to offer a startup board of directors.

The answer is: More than you would think.

Because aside from offering advice and help out on the PR and communication strategy and associated activities, what they can also help do is reimagine the entire mission of the company.

Now, why would you ever want to do that, you may ask?

Simple, really.

When you start out you may have a rather narrow mission in mind. You’re pretty set on the problem, you’re looking to solve, and who you’re solving it for. If you’re good (and lucky) you will have an excellent North Star guiding the first part of your startup journey.

But what happens when you have got that first product in market, and you have started seeing some traction? Do you focus on doubling down and getting even better at delivering your value proposition to that particular client segment, or do you start looking for ways to expand your footprint into new segments?

If you decide on the latter, it will most often take reimagining the vision. If fx you’re a MedTech company looking to serve a particular niche of hospital clinics, you may wonder if you could go direct to consumer – or direct to patient as it would be in this case.

That would entail a new storytelling. A broader vision and mission that can still be tied down to the original purpose behind the company so as not to alienate anyone on the team in process.

Done right this re-crafting of mission or purpose, if you will, could unlock the journey towards new value propositions, new products, new revenues – and new highs for the startup.

And having someone close to the company – eg on the board or an advisory board – with deep experience within communication could be the ideal catalyst for that sort of transformation.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Arghh, it’s good enough

“They will love it, when they see it. And they will realize that this is just what they have been waiting for.”

Trying to build something for a market that’s nascent is super hard on so many levels. Yet, it is also one of those areas where time and time again, I meet founders who seem determined that their novel idea is going to take the world with storm, once they unleash it.

It is almost as if the future customers have just been waiting for this new breakthrough. Without knowing it of course.

Reality is it seldom happens that way.

Breaking into a new market let alone creating a new market and a demand in it is super, super hard. And founders who think it’s just a matter of making the technology work are doing themselves and their chances for success a big disservice.

Because what you’re up against is the most dreaded practical barrier of them all:

Good enough.

While they may not be using the optimal solution today, maybe what they have just works for their needs.

Maybe they have become so accustomed to nothing happening in this particular space, that they have stopped looking or even hoping for something better.

Maybe their habits are just so engrained in them that the very thought of doing something in a novel way is somewhat frightening.

The point is that there could be a lot of reasons but that the end result is the same – for the time being:

What I have is good enough.

Overcoming that dreaded barrier is not only a question about making technology work. It is also – and perhaps to some extend more – about packaging it right, getting the message right and getting it out there in front of future customers using the right channels at the right time.

And so much more.

The real important lesson here is that although the opportunity can seem huge, and there seems to be a big void in the market for something new, getting something new going in that void is going to take skill, experience, muscle (aka money) – and some degree of luck.

Don’t ever underestimate that job.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

That’s so junior…

Back in the day I had a very experienced direct report who I used as a sounding board for thoughts and ideas to bring forward to executive management.

We would meet in my office (even though technically I didn’t have one), and we would go through the arguments, I had thought of making.

If I was off track, he would say in a very calm voice, while quietly shaking his head:

“Mads, that is junior behavior”.

And then he would follow it up with his interpretation of what senior behavior, aka the right sort of behavior, mingling, getting my point across needed to be successful with that particular project in that particular organization would be instead.

I listened. I better; he was usually right.

Since then I have always treasured having a sounding board and someone to lean on when things become a big hectic.

It is a nice contrast to my normal passionate, energetic ‘give-it-my-all-(alone)’-approach I often find myself (inadvertently) taking.

What I probably should become better at is making sure that I use the sounding board, when I need to and don’t leave it too long. But that too is a journey and learning experience waiting to be converted.

Into senior behavior.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Always be pitching

When you’re trying to get a startup off the ground, one of the things you spend most time on is…

Pitching.

Of course you pitch for investment or just any sort of backing really, because you need the support and all the ressources, you can muster, for the journey ahead.

But the pitching doesn’t stop there;

You pitch to future team members trying to get them onboard with the mission, generate excitement and – hopefully – install the love of the problem, you yourself feel, and which you just know is the secret sauce that will be key to (a) getting them onboard and (b) getting them to give it their all.

You pitch to existing team members and collaborators all across the pitch as you try to keep hold of and build the coalition, you have worked so hard to create, out (because no, any chance of success is not just about you – it is always about the team), so that in turn can crank out some impressive results.

You pitch to your backers to keep them engaged, excited and confident that they made the right decision when they decided to support whatever it is that you’re trying to do.

You pitch when you sit in meetings with your team discussing what the next experiment should look like, how it should look, feel and perform, because you’re most often the direct link back to your customers and their needs, pains and gains.

And of course – and perhaps most importantly – you pitch to existing and future customers; you go about trying to understand how you can help them become better off, and you pitch different proposals for solutions to them until you find the one that resonates the most. And then build from there. And pitch again. That job NEVER ends. And shouldn’t.

But pitching is hard work, no matter the context. So not being afraid to pitch helps. And being a good communicator does, too.

So if you think you lack something in the communication department, maybe that’s where you should be looking to invest some time and perhaps a little money in your own personal and professional development.

My best bet is that it will be worth it.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Customer #1

The other day I sat down with one of our investments to discuss their potential future direction. It was an interesting and productive session with some key questions arising during the conversation. One of those discussions was around who the customer actually is?

If you’re developing a B2B solution, is your customer the company, you want to sell to, or the person(s) actually making the buying decision? The answer has huge implications. Because it has a big bearing on how you frame your value proposition, how you go to market and what you need to do to close deals and show value after the purpose.

My general opinion is that the more you can focus on the one customer – the actual person – the better. The more you try to put a value proposition together for companies and teams, the more watered down it risk being because you have to fit too many different needs into just a single box. When you focus on just Customer #1, you can be really razor-sharp. And that is exactly what you need.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)