You know that feeling of awe discussed during the opening keynote? I had that feeling in spades while attending the "Building the Business Case to Defend and Grow Your Program" session by Rachel Happe in the "Managing and Measuring Mature Communities" track hosted by Claire Flanagan. This session encompassed two social collaboration giants/idols and I absolutely fan-girled all over the place. Moreover, I'm utterly inspired to travel back to the office and implement this strategy!
As the leader of the advanced JiveWorld track, Claire Flanagan boasts four years as a Jive customer plus four years as a prominent and integral Jiver. The "Managing and Measuring Mature Communities" track targets communities which are more than a year into the journey and are seeking more advanced information.Since 2009, Claire self-admittedly has been "stalking" Rachel and her work as a Co-Founder of The Community Roundtable (TheCR has an exhibit booth in partner showcase area - please check it out!). The Community Roundtable has a knack (read: incredible track record) for connecting industry professionals, advancing the business of communities and develop proven, practical strategies for better engagement.
In this session, Rachel poignantly shares her insight into sales. Specifically, sales skills and techniques for non sales-oriented folks (like most of us Community Managers) who constantly defend our communities and their value on a annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily basis. The basis of this is that if you want to be successful as program owners, then you need to get comfortable selling your point of view. It will limit if your community growth (and your own growth) if you don’t find your own way to accomplish this.
As Rachel stated, most of us are not comfortable with "selling" - it can feel very contentious and anxiety producing. Part of what holds us back is our traditional narrative of businesses organization and traditional pecking order. There’s an anxiety that there’s someone higher up that we must convince, but we are terrified to talk to them because of their status within the company. Given this unwillingness to be vulnerable forgoes the fact that we are all just people and people work best together when they are fully collaborative and open. This session strategically delineates a plan of action to take home and activate for your community!
When Rachel says selling, she doesn't mean to be like a car salesman - we are not selling, defending, convincing or evangelizing - we are influencing change. Rachel notes that Community Managers may be thinking about it all wrong. Our natural instinct is to resist new ideas and being told what to do. She brought up a sweet anecdote about her daughter (ADORABLE baby photo below!), given that at this point she is not able to be told what to do. We live in denial that we can tell others what to do - no one wants to be told what to do. Even when we believe in something, change is hard.
Rachel possesses a unique understanding of how to change belief. In TheCR community, every Monday they have a work out loud thread in which each team member shares three things that they are working on each week. The direct objective is a good productivity exercise, but the intent of the orchestration intent is to create serendipity - collaboration in the effort of saving time and creating an advanced starting point for all team members. This shows value of community and while belief is changing, the community reinforces that belief. Intentionally fragmenting a complex thing/idea/project to string it all together in the end in a digestible format. Sales can be exhausting and we are not all aligned immediately. In this spirit, the idea that presenting change to a large group of people and hoping everyone is on the same page seems impossible, however, if you meet with people off one at a time to understand them and then bring them together to solve this issue, then the change is much easier to implement.
Rachel has found that by applying community management engagement skills to the Social Executive Framework then you can impact change and defend your program. The secret sauce is to start with emotion versus logic.
Breaking down Rachel's process to defend your program is as easy as (I hope!) 1, 2, 3!
- Understand Your Audience
- Develop the Narrative
- Execution Requirements
Rachel, as always, clearly explained these three steps in depth. She most definitely gave the session attendees much to think about and inspire them to implement these steps in their communities.
Understand Your Audience
According to Rachel, there's an obvious secret to understanding your audience – A.B.C. Always Be Connecting (not Always Be Closing). The mind trick is to interview people who can help to influence change. People love to talk about themselves. If you ask them insightful questions, very few people decline. You find out so much information about how they feel about things – things that makes them tick. Figure out who to interview – budget holders, Vice Presidents with ownership of community and stakeholders. Now, who influences them? Those are your secondary influencers.
Once or twice a week, interview someone who may be able to help identify issues and ask them about themselves. Unless you are 100% adopted and shutdown email and phone systems, there is always someone you can find doing it the old way that you can interview. What you’ll eventually hear is what they believe to be a problem that needs to be solved. This helps to build a relationship and aids in creating a pleasant interaction. The primary and secondary influencers will have a better perspective of you and the community, rather than a pest perspective of you coming to them with a problem about the community. Understand from a humanistic perspective how they feel about things - have some empathy for them as you're both incredibly busy but in different ways.
Develop the Narrative
Three part narratives are visceral, simple and memorable. One that is most successful is the Past, Present and Future narrative.
Rachel realized that she was starting in the wrong place, she was starting with with the answer (community) instead of the problem (engagement problems, retention issues, conversion lags, etc). Most influencers don't have a concept of community, but they do know the problems and in order to connect with them you need to align with the problem. Her favorite narrative is Past, Present and Future. It's memorable and simple for others to repeat. This is key - you need to do it simply and concisely – in two or three sentences explain what you’re trying to achieve so that stakeholders can explain it to their peers and colleagues. You need it to make sense for them otherwise they will not evangelize for you. Explain the Past to them - utilize the concept from Simon Sinek's Why. Take them through the Present - where you are now and what the community is doing. Then review with them the Future narrative and how to overcome the existing challenges. The more specific you can get with the Future narrative, the better your metrics will be and easier to understand. Moreover, figure out how your executives make decisions - different organizations are wildly unique in how they accomplish this, as some are very strategic and gut-oriented while others need a ton of data.
Define the problem before you begin and always speak to the specific person you are trying to convince. Start with an emotional perspective to ensure you're sitting on the same side of the table. We often ignore emotions, but we shouldn’t – that’s an elephant in the room and until it’s resolved, there won’t be a solution. The trick is to talk about emotions neutrally which sounds completely ironic. Be self-aware about emotions. Figure out your emotion and then tell the influencer “I feel really ______ about this challenge in the community.” No one can argue with that. They can disagree, but they cannot tell you you’re wrong because it’s hard to argue against feeling. This practice removes the contention from the conversation and creates a unified front. You can identify the issue together and the negotiate the solution. If you just start with the problem, then the ping ponging ensues and you’ll never get where you want to go. Our emotions change our behavior all the time. Finding a way to say it is possible without being overly emotional. Rachel is a big fan of being direct and saying what you feel so that you can resolve the issue as quickly as possible.
Go be an analyst and research the workflow that you’re trying to impact by adding up the time it takes to describe a problem and then solve it. What’s the cost and then the value? From there you can define the issues. Know what you’re talking about – be specific. Without details, the monster in the closet is so much bigger. People’s imaginations make them super anxious. Being detailed and focused mitigates that. Iterate, Iterate, Iterate – get influencers to understand that there’s a problem and convince them to want to solve it with you.
Remove bottlenecks using a community workflow is significant. Leaders and influencers get so many emails and phone calls, and the kicker is that they don’t actually want to be the bottleneck. If you have a community, they no longer have to spend time answering questions a million times - all of the information team members need to do their jobs on a daily basis can exist in the community. To present this to your leader, know that you are trying to get a rough workflow and it will never be perfect. Then look at the time savings and opportunity cost – by reducing workflow time it's likely that you'll be able to do other tasks more efficiently.
What does success look like? Rachel notes that ROI models and dollar figures are how we capture and communicate value in our society. A dollar is how we define a dollar worth of value. If you can’t translate your community value into financial value, it will always be a bit unclear. This helps people see how communities generate value. It's akin to a geometric curve - in the beginning there is not a lot of value, but then compounding change happens. Below is a self-evident slide – you can go to an executive with this type of slide and ask what they want. It's an obvious answer - C - completing a task in four hours is far and beyond better than completing it in ten days. Then you can explain to your executive that you can’t do C without B. This will aid in executive buy in to go with the solution you propose to remove bottlenecks. Collaborate with stakeholders to get assumptions they are comfortable with, then they’ll be comfortable with the results. We always feel we need the perfect answers in these types of situations; however it's more effective to iterate with them. Show your executives the value of the community and communicate in financial terms what the community brings to the organization.
Rachel advises to create a Caterpillar Chart to document all community management initiatives and miletones you‘ve hit along the way to consolidate the community journey. This can help you to see if it’s really lopsided, for example all tech millstones, if this is the case then you can backpedal to make it more balanced.
More importantly, ROI shows you where you’ve been and then you can conservatively project out your growth. These types of confident projections will make influencers and executives more comfortable in conversations about the community. Showing three different projections (Conservative, Confident and Aggressive) puts control of decisions onto the executives. "Here are three paths – which do you think we should take?" Create a road map of the budget required per type of path. The executive may ask "Why do we need $50K for advocacy programs?" you can then easily answer, "If we do this, we won't have to hire three more Community Managers - which do you prefer to go forward with?"
Last but not least, be extremely specific in goals. If you can concisely deliver all of this data in five to ten slides then it's more digestible for the executive and it shows that you have a firm grasp of the issue and possible solutions. If you have a deck of 40 or more slides, that is too much and can cause an overwhelming and stressful feeling during your meeting.
Thanks for joining me in this fun recap! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!