Do your clients truly understand what you do? Does the business recognise the value that IT provides or does it simply view you as mere code changers, network fixers, and PC installers?
Now is the time to change the perception of IT. It's up to IT to correct this perception as it is critical for technology groups to continue moving toward a more strategic organisational role. The way we do this is to build our skill in marketing ourselves.
Marketing is not often thought of as a function of IT and you may even be thinking, "I'm in IT not marketing."
So let's start by getting rid of those preconceived notions of what marketing is: when I say marketing I don't mean being a used car salesman.
Marketing is not about hype or empty promises, it is about creating an awareness of IT's value. It's about creating a true and accurate perception of IT with a clear and consistent message.
I was recently with a senior IT executive of a major aviation company and in discussing IT's value he said, "We recently completed 2 projects, one that saved the company $50 million on the bottom line and another that saved $15 million, but all I ever hear about is 'why did the network go down?'"
If this sounds all too familiar to you, it's time to put on your marketing hat, but if that term is still too strong for you, feel free to call it your 'communicating IT values' hat.
When marketing IT's value, essential factors to keep in mind are:
Talk about outcomes, not features.
One of the most common errors that I see day to day in working with IT departments in organisations of all sizes is that as a community, when we communicate about technology, we talk about features.
The business, however, is not interested in features and in many cases doesn't even understand what the features are or even do. We must first understand the distinction between 3 different elements in marketing communication: features/attributes, benefits, and outcomes.
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The best way to illustrate this is with an analogy. Imagine you went into a hardware store to purchase a hand drill. The drill itself, what it is made of, what speeds it runs at, whether it can drill through wood, metal or concrete, etc., are all examples of features.
Very few people buy a drill simply because they want to own a drill. Of course there are exceptions to this rule. Tim "the tool man" Taylor from the TV series Home Improvement, is an exception.
Next, if we look at the benefits of having a drill, we look at what do drills make? They make holes and that is the benefit of owning a drill but people don't buy a drill simply because they want holes.
You don't get home from the hardware store with your new drill and start drilling holes for the sake of it.
The third and most critical item to communicate is the outcomes. Owning a drill would provide many possible outcomes, one of which could be to hang a picture of your family and when you look at it every day it makes you happy.
Use clear and consistent messaging.
Understanding these three differences is critical because the next step is to develop clear and consistent messages that are outcome-focussed.
I've found that more often than not IT communicates backwards. Because we love our technology and our features, we think others do as well, so when we start communicating that's where we start.
We never get a chance to move to the next levels of benefits and outcomes because we have confused or bored our audience. The rule to follow is to start with communicating outcomes first, benefits second and then features third.
In doing this often you will find that many senior level communications with the business will make it only slightly into stage two (benefits) once the outcomes are understood and there is little or no interest in the features. As much as we are interested and excited about our bells and whistles, it tends to bore others.
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As an exercise, I would recommend that you get a piece of paper and divide it into three columns. Label the three columns features, benefits, and outcomes.
Then under each column, list the services and products you offer and break them down into the three categories. Once you have done this, you can start to develop outcome-focused messaging. I also invite you to do this at a team and IT department level.
We recently worked with a team in an IT division of a major airline and four different teams all had to present their budget proposal to the CFO for approval for the following year.
The major concern of all the teams was maintaining headcount. The first three teams went in and started the typical presentation about all the IT features and attributes and projects, etc. and they all lost headcount.
The fourth team was the team we had the opportunity to work with. They did their homework and understood the outcomes which would be of most interest to the CFO.
Their presentation did not mention any features or attributes but instead clearly and concisely illustrated how each member of their team contributed a $250,000 outcome to the organisation's bottom line each year. That team's headcount was raised by 10!
Conduct internal market research
The above example illustrates the clear need to do your homework. Take the time to fully understand the needs, outcomes and objectives that your clients are looking for and then tailor your message to show how you can assist them in generating those outcomes.
Internal IT departments are competing against outsources, consultants, vendors, and system integrators who are very skilled at getting in front of and establishing their value with c-level decision makers.
So now is the time to start creating the perception and expanding the awareness of the true value that your IT department provides.
Lou Markstrom is the co-author of "Unleashing The Power of IT: Bringing People, Business, and Technology Together", published by Wiley as part of its CIO series. He is also a professional development specialist at DDLS.
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