SalesCraft 01.27.10: Executive Communications for Field Leadership
Leadership requires communication. It’s not enough anymore for a sales executive to be “good” in front of a room. Sales leadership requires the ability to communicate to multiple audiences in multiple formats. Quality counts, because those audiences expect more and have a shorter attention span.
All sales executives will tell you that communication is important. If they’re honest, they will also tell you that it’s hard to maintain a consistency and frequency with communications when they have so many other demands on their time. In recent years, the role of field communications has become more prevalent. Different from traditional communications roles, field communications is the gatekeeper for communications to the Field. Frequently this function also enables regional field leaders to communicate with their teams.
At the first SalesCraft meeting of 2010, a panel including Debbie Medal of NetApp, Bill Taylor from Oracle and me, shared our experience assisting field executives with their communications. Joe Mullen of SNP Communications who also has significant experience in this area, was our moderator.
The critical success factor for successful factors for communications is to be sure your executives are speaking in their “authentic voice”. This is a fancy way of saying it’s important that they be themselves. We can all tell the difference between when someone is speaking from the heart or reading words written for them by someone else. An authentic voice – making sure that your executive speaks from the heart and is true to their personal and business values — is deeply important.
Flexing to Your Executive
It seems like an obvious statement, but each executive is different. Each come with their own strengths and weaknesses and likes and dislikes when it comes to communications. Look for areas of strength and build on those. Someone who is not good in front of large groups may be great moderating a panel. Remember that when people are communicating they are more vulnerable. To really be a good communicator, you have to open yourself up. You must be sensitive to where their individual level of comfort.
To be a good coach you need to be both honest and sensitive. There’s a lot of trust involved in letting someone else look after your communications.
Know that there is muscle memory involved. Everyone gets better at communications with practice. Be sure to keep challenging your strong communicators with new mediums like video. Strength as a communicator has become a “must-have” skill for all executives.
A Voice in Your Head
When writing for someone else, one of the most important things you can develop is the ability to hear that person’s voice inside your head. Can you hear them speaking those words? How would they really say something?
In order to develop this skill you need to be around this person. Actively listen to them speak both formally and informally. Before long you’ll be able to “hear” them anytime you want.
Special Guest - Carl Eschenbach, EVP Worldwide Field Operations at VMware
A natural and gifted communicator, Carl shared his perspective on the impact of having a dedicated resource to assist him with internal communications. His ability to communicate effectively while reducing the time and effort required has changed dramatically. He considers it a vital role.
Today, Carl regularly hosts a quarterly radio program, tapes video messages, hosts a quarterly leadership call and more. His signature vehicle “The Esch File” is a weekly audio recording communicating the top news of the week. This has become part of the field culture at VMware and allows him to connect with a large organization in a way that is easy, impactful and immediate.
We were fortunate to have very knowledgeable and experienced panelists who’ve worked with some of the most successful field leaders in high tech.
Bill Taylor of Oracle
Know What’s Going On – It’s your job to be connected and aware of what’s happening in the business. Good news or not. What’s more you must have the business acumen to understand what’s important now and how to present the information in a relevant way to your audience.
Keep It Simple – Communications works best if it’s simple. What are you trying to say? Who are you trying to say it to? And why should they care? Answer the fundamental questions and you can’t go wrong.
Debbie Medal of NetApp
Process & Metrics – A repeatable process and vigilant metrics are key to communications. Continually ask your audience what they liked and what they want in the future. Then build that in to future programs.
Balancing Leadership & Audience – In a larger company, the entire field leadership team will form a “bench” of communicators. Learn how to balance executives with message and audience.
So what exactly should a Field Executive communicate? Communications for the sake of “communicating” is designed to fail. It’s important to focus on news. Think about what is top of mind for the audience right now and talk about that. Some topics are obvious – earnings release, major product launches or events, an acquisition. Avoid opinions and pontificating. Figure out what news is executive level.
To Measure or Not to Measure?
There were differing opinions in the room about metrics. Is it really possible to measure the effectiveness of communications? Is communications so subjective that it can’t really be measured? And what is the responsibility of the audience to stay informed? At some point the responsibility shifts to the audience and a commitment is needed to be an active participant.
Our moderator for the evening was Joe Mullen of SNP Communications has worked with dozens of field executives. SNP provides effective and innovative program for field executives.
How do you place value on alignment, consistency, motivation and community? All of these are things every field executive values and communications is what makes it all possible.