What You Shouldn’t Have Is a Failure To Communicate


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There’s a line from the old Paul Newman movie, Cool Hand Luke, "What we have here is a failure to communicate." It was an extremely popular part of American culture for a short while, though it has gone the way of pet rocks. But the point still resonates.

You could develop the greatest CRM strategy in the history of the species, but if you fail to communicate it, it don’t matterto me or anyone else.

Communicating CRM strategy isn’t so easy. What do you communicate? To whom? How frequently do you communicate it? How much of the strategy do you communicate? With what tools and via what media do you transmit whatever it is you’re communicating? Is the communication "approach" or is it "feel"? Is it formal, informal or something of both? Is training part of communicating? Should it be?

OK, I presume I’ve made the point. It’s a pain in the neck and yet one that needs to be felt all the time.

Here’s a brief tutorial on the right way to communicate a change in strategy.

What do you communicate to whom?
A change in strategy will have specific impacts on different departments. For example, sales compensation might be affected by the CRM strategy. Sales will now be compensated on an account basis, rather than a contract-by-contract basis because of the importance of working directly with the customer over a long period of time. Well, obviously sales has to know about the compensation change and why the compensation change and what the context for it is and how this benefits the salespeople directly. That means not how it benefits the company or the amorphous future but an unambiguous explanation as to why it benefits the salesperson.

You are dramatically changing that salesperson’s way of deriving the income that feeds and clothes his or her family. You’d better be able to communicate the strategy in the salesperson’s terms and for his or her benefit. I call it communicating what is basically a "commonwealth of self-interest." But that also is none of marketing’s or support’s business and not something anyone in either of those departments generally needs to know about.

    How frequently do you communicate it?
    Communication never ceases. The CRM strategy is the basis for an ongoing CRM program. The key word here is "ongoing." For it to succeed, culture change will be necessary throughout the enterprise implementing the strategy. There will be resistance, fear and all those other emotions that lead to behavior that says, "I’m not doing this. You shove it." Most of the problems come because of a lack of understanding or a lack of a voice in what’s going on. The simplest way to deal with this is to continuously communicate what is going on in something that is ongoing. Ergo, ongoing CRM strategy and program equals ongoing communication. Not occasional hellos.

    How much of the strategy do you communicate?
    Ultimately, all of it. What makes this not quite so simple as it first seems goes back to the first question. All of it is communicatedbut not all to everyone. What is appropriate is communicated to those it is appropriate for.

    How do you send out your message?
    It depends … On whom you’re aiming the message at. On your time and budget constraints. On the most appealing way to get the message to the right people. There are multiple media that you can use. A corporate intranet that continuously follows the program and is available to whoever you decide it should be. Email updates. A blog that tracks the ongoing program and some of its warts (this is particularly appealing, if you have a lot of Gen Xers in your employee and partner pools). A party once a quarter with a theme that says: "Whoopee! We’re doing something with CRM here!" Face-to-face meetings to update key "natural leaders" or department heads. A newsletter that goes out to employees and partners and includes a list of articles they should read.
    How formal should the communication be?

    It depends … on your workforce and your inclination. Regardless of the formality, the approach should be open and honest, because you have to develop trust to make the strategy work effectively.

    Should training be part of communicating?
    Absolutely. If training is seen as an iterative processmeaning that the trainees are able to question and even attack the purpose of the strategythen the training is as much communication as education. The trainers can learn something, too, and there might even be modifications to the strategy that come from the education.

One final point. The communication of CRM strategy is not unilateral. CRM strategy needs to be evolving continuously, as the business ecosystem changes and new generations move into the workplace. Feedback is as important a part of communication as is the transmission of the strategy and its effects. Listen to your workforce, partners and suppliers and see if the strategy works for them. They are experts in their domains, and they should be allowed to contribute.

Remember: There’s a wrong way to go on one-way streets. When it comes to CRM strategy, a failure to communicate is not allowed, Paul Newman notwithstanding.

Paul Greenberg
The 56 Group, LLC
Paul Greenberg, the president of the 56 Group, LLC, is the author of the best-selling CRM at the Speed of Light: Essential Customer Strategies for the 21st Century, 3rd edition. Greenberg is co-chairman of Rutgers University's CRM Research Center and executive vice president of the CRM Association. His blog PGreenblog won both of the only two awards ever given to CRM blogs.


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