Clarity is a Vital Step in Leading Change

I was honored to be the keynote speaker yesterday for the annual meeting of the Virginia Chapter of the Society for Marketing Professional Services. SMPS VA members are responsible for selling the services of architects, engineers and interior designers.

It was dreary, rainy day in Charlottesvile, but I had a delightful time. I saw friends I’ve made at previous gatherings and made new friends. I learned something from the other speakers and frankly from every conversation.

I walked away impressed by how knowledgeable the participants were. At the same time I was saddened by a pervasive sense that the members do not feel respected by their employers. On more than one occasion I heard the sentiment expressed that because the marketing department’s activities were not directly billable to clients they were seen as an expense versus revenue generators.

I’d like to say this is an unusual perspective, but it’s one I’ve heard over and over again from the professions. Doctors, Lawyers, Accountants and the professionals represented by SMPS’ members are frequently guilty of the belief that somehow their work sells itself. This myth is even perpetuated by advertising executives.

It’s sad, because in my experience nothing sells itself. Every product and service has to be packaged in a manner to appeal to its prospective audience and then they still have to be sold.

As irrational as this perception may be it is still held by many professionals. And telling your boss he or she’s wrong can be a career limiting decision.

So what’s a body to do? It’s enough to make you cry in frustration.

I’ve a suggestion. Engage them in conversation. Ask your boss or bosses out one at a time for a cup of coffee or a beer.

Ask them to talk to you about your business.

Ask them to share their perceptions about how they think your clients consider your firm, choose your firm or choose your competitors.

Ask them how they think your efforts impact your clients’ decision making.

I offered participants at the conference 10 questions; I'm sure once you start you'll think of lots more.

When you’re done each time, write up your conversation to reflect what you heard and send it to your boss as a way to further your conversations.

Engaging your bosses in conversation with the intent of understanding before you seek to be understood is the first step toward clarity for the entire organization.

And that’s one of the tried and true tactics for catching your limit.