Tuesday 19 August 2014

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Though Christmas is months away, I wanted to get your attention. 

Having done that, the actual title of this week’s entry is “Do you hear what your clients are saying?"

Recently, I was talking with a KM colleague and we were joking about how we can’t describe to our parents what we do in a way that makes sense to them.  We both laughed, and I thought that it’s a good thing that our parents aren’t our clients.  But what if they were? What if we’re letting a whole lot of potential work fall by the wayside because we can’t articulate what we do in a way that potential clients can understand and connect with? 

Step one in providing value is knowing what value to provide.   As much as providing value has been a topic of conversation all over the place in the business press and on the web, I think that the last part of my sentence tends to go missing. There are piles of stories in inc. and Profit Magazine about start ups and businesses who had brilliant ideas but floundered or couldn’t get off the ground because they couldn’t find a market or sell into the market they found.  I believe that anyone can describe the value of the thing they’ve created, but if the words you use to describe that value don’t connect to what your clients are saying is causing them grief, then I believe the journey to closing up shop has begun. It just might take a while.

So what are your clients saying? What are my clients saying? I think those of us in the KM and Strategy worlds get caught up in our jargon and what we’re saying to each other.  It is comfortable and reassuring to find like minded people you can talk to, especially if you’re a solo-preneur like me.  I’ve had a number of 'preaching to the converted' type of conversations where we talk about DMS and intranets and collaboration and innovation and we all feel like we have so much to offer the world.  Afterwards, when my attention turns out, away from the familiar and towards potential clients, I hear an erie kind of silence because my clients and prospective clients are not speaking the same language.

By and large, what people aren’t saying is that they need a better system of taxonomy or a better DMS or a need to convert tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge so they can leverage it.  What they’re most likely saying is that they can’t find that (insert expletive here ) form or document that they need right now. ( I heard this from across the hall from a lawyer at a recent client.  She said it at full volume as she came flying out of her office door looking for her assistant. ) Other clients might have several new people they’ve had to hire that need to get up to speed fast and only two or three senior people to teach them and those people can’t be taken out of the front lines for very long because the productivity can’t lag while the new people get on stream.  Other clients might have a whole bunch of senior people who’ve begun scheduling their retirement parties and there is no one around who can do what those people can do and they are scared for their business.

I spoke in an earlier post about knowledge management needing to fight to get back into the strategic conversation.   We can do that by proving our operational value by learning to hear what our clients are saying, then speaking in our clients’ language about the solutions we can provide. Every KM practitioner reading this knows exactly how they would address each of the pain points I used as examples. But there’s a gap. I feel that the gap is a semantic one.  We all can talk a really good game.  But almost none of what we say when we use the usual KM terms and explanations reflects back what our clients, regardless of market vertical, are saying.  

David and Tom Kelly, founders of IDEO, talk about empathy: going out to where end-users live with an intense curiosity and a willingness to let go of assumptions to find out about how a product might actually get used. They say that the source of innovative solutions is the surprises that pop up when you learn about end-users in their environment.  Linda Ferguson teaches about making connections and influencing people by starting with meeting people where they live.  Linda says that influence and change can only happen once genuine agreement between people has been achieved.  That agreement starts when you’re aware of where you’re at and where the other person’s at.

In order to prove our value, and this applies to anyone selling anything, we first have to hear what our customers or clients are saying and how they’re saying it.  Only then can productive sales conversations happen. Only then does a real answer to ‘How can I help?’ start to take shape.

See you next week!

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