Strategic Outreach

Managing Change Via Communications

When the change initiative changes

About our Epic Implementation at Providence Health & Services: 27 hospitals (ranging from small rural hospitals to 700-plus-bed medical centers) and 350 clinics across five state are moving to a single-build Epic Electronic Health Record system (2012-2014).

A seismic change to an organization or to its core operations is hard enough to accomplish, but from a communications standpoint, it’s even more challenging when the change initiative itself changes along the way. After going live on Epic at six hospitals and dozens of clinics within four months last year, our leadership realized that the initial, highly aggressive go-live schedule could not be maintained. Problematic areas included: building unique lab interfaces for every hospital and clinic group; getting revenue cycle processes up and running (ex: charge capture); and getting physicians across the system to agree to standardized order sets.

After having trumpeted “full steam ahead” for many months, we suddenly needed to explain the need for a 6-month pause in hospital go-lives so that the Epic team could fix, complete, or improve a whole bunch of things. Ambulatory go-live waves of clinics, however, continued during this period.

Our intention was not only committing to getting it right, but also to reinforce that we are a “learning” organization that expects mistakes, and expects to learn from them.

What didn’t change: the executive sponsors’ involvement and commitment to the objective and the program. Strategically we remained consistent; tactically we were flexible. During the inpatient go-live pause, twelve high-priority workgroups hammered out specific deliverables. Communications were open, transparent, positive, and frequent.

May 29, 2013 Posted by | B2B messaging, Change Management, Corporate Communications, IT Process Change, Tech Sector Thought Leadership | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One ERP Vendor Product Page Scores High

B2B home page rating scaleBy its nature, ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) installations are complicated and broad in scope.   Below, I rate the product home pages of three top ERP vendors, using my Core Score method (see point criteria at right).

NetSuite (an ERP package combining CRM, ERP and web activity) is the winner, awarded all the points except for “News headline and link,” totaling  11.  But they also get 4 bonus points, with 3 of them for effectively differentiating their product/service from competitors.  So the grand total is 15.

I love the use of many customer logos that are links to Customer Success Stories – although it would be better if the stories were on web pages rather than downloadable PDFs.

By comparison, Microsoft Dynamics ERP and SAP Business All-in-One product home pages both score 9.  Sage MAS 500 did poorest among those examined, with 4 points out of 12.

All companies got one bonus point for not using “leader” or “leading” in the text, although NetSuite succumbed on their “About” page. All are clearly leaders in the ERP game and can prove it – nothing would be gained by proclaiming it.

November 8, 2010 Posted by | B2B home page, B2B messaging, Brand and Reputation, Issues That Worked, Tech Sector Thought Leadership | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Describe Customer Challenges Right on your B2B Home Page

Stating two or more customer challenges that can be solved by a product/service, right on your home page, earns your website 3 points in my Core Score rating.

B2B home page rating scale

Telogis (Aliso Viejo, CA) scores with their sequence of specific customer problems on their banner sequence at the top of their home page.  Telogis provides a Software-as-a-Service platform that helps fleet managers manage their global workforce better through GPS location technology. It includes tracking and scheduling applications for both mobile and office-based assets.

One example from their sequence: “Do you need to find the closest crew and dispatch them to an emergency work order?”  The prominent “Solutions” button takes you to the Telogis answer.  These type of specific problems draw in the site visitor, whether it’s a first-time visit to check out the company, or if it’s a return visit from someone who knows Telogis.

More tasks improved by the Telogis platform are previewed in text blocks on the page, with links. Very clean layout, no clutter. They also get one Core Score point for  their text links to specific problem-solving ideas (see point system at right).

I couldn’t give Telogis a full 3 points for the “Home page succinctly states what the company actually does” slot.  I’ll give them one of the three points for the Business Intelligence graphic with the key areas (listed in quadrants), but there is no text that confirms that they are indeed a SaaS platform provider.  You have to navigate two more levels (past the “Company” and “Why Telogis” pages) to find this, although you could argue that it’s assumed.

Telogis just barely scores the final 3-pointer, quantifying benefits (on the home page), with this text: “When the benefits of driving with Telogis – better fuel use, routing, deployment, response times, safety, hours, maintenance and customer goodwill – can pay for your system in a quarter, don’t drive blind.”   Stating payback is powerful … so why do so many marketers bury it deeper in the site?

Telogis doesn’t get a point for news headlines on the home page, nor for a link to a customer testimonial.

Leader Schmeader

Telogis does however get a Bonus Point for not using the word “leader” in the home page text.  Hallelujah.  It amazes me that companies as prominent as software giant SAS bother to proclaim that they are “a leader.”  My first thought when I see this: “Congratulations, touting yourself as a ‘leader’ just put you in the company of thousands of others including every little fly-by-night outfit in your industry.” If you’re SAS, you should be above this clichéd adjective.

Total Score

The Telogis home page scores 9 out of 12 total.  Impressive.

More critiques to come.

October 25, 2010 Posted by | B2B home page, B2B messaging, Brand and Reputation, Business cliches, Website content | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sharing PR Expertise with Nonprofits on a Speed Date

One thing I have realized over the years is that seasoned PR pros are prolific idea people.  Lots of creativity, with a persistent “can do” attitude.   They know what interests and motivates a given audience, and what channels to use to get to them.

This was evident at an exhilarating one-day event to help out local nonprofits in the L.A. area last Saturday, called Quality Time with PR Minds, sponsored by PRSA-LA, Kaiser Permanente, RAND Corporation, Allison & Partners, PainePR and others. Teams of PR volunteers provided free brainstorming for nonprofits that have limited funds and resources for retaining professional PR counsel.  Speed-date consultation, if you will.

The mix at this event included folks that could add a good dose of marketing communication savvy, making each group of 3 or 4 volunteer consultants a potent little brainstorming forum.  The non-profit beneficiaries kept their pens scribbling, their heads nodding, their responses juiced. They were smiling.

My team sessions were for Volunteers of the Burbank Animal Shelter, and L.A. Cada (Los Angeles Centers for Alcohol and Drug Abuse) and they were revved up, with ideas ranging from maximizing the awareness-building effects of a 40th anniversary event to viral video strategies featuring personal benefit-success stories. Lots of practical thoughts about efficiency and reach, also.

Someone working with or for a nonprofit who is very close to a given equation for too long needs fresh perspectives.  The nonprofit representatives not only got ideas they hadn’t thought of, they got obstacle-dodging strategies for many of the avenues they had previously explored and dismissed.

It feels good, no, feels great, doing this.  My hats off to the insightful colleagues that I met, or reconnected with, during this event.

October 4, 2010 Posted by | B-to-B Case Studies, B-to-B Social Media Technology, Brand and Reputation, Business Storytelling, Buying Influences, Nonprofit PR | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Application Stories Fueled B2B Manufacturing-Tech Leadership

Early in my career in the years “B.I” (Before Internet), I began experiencing first-hand the marketing power of pumping out useful, insightful content to the marketplace.  My colleagues and I proved that we could magnify the perception of a very small company as a leader, by demonstrating what they know.

Our Detroit-area agency did the marcomm and PR for a Bridgeport, Connecticut manufacturing-tech specialist and system builder,  Bodine Assembly & Test Systems.  Bodine had one basic carousel system format that they applied to the assembly of products in dozens of industries, from consumer padlocks and batteries to fuel injectors, to little telecommunication connectors.  Fascinating to watch.

My on-going program focused on demonstrating the depth of their custom engineering genius, applied successfully for so many different product manufacturers.  We created a direct mail mini-magazine, videos, advertising, PR, trade shows – a comprehensive mix. Lots of testing technology news. And we helped top executives to speak out, on subjects such as quality assurance to lean manufacturing.

The biggest element was the application stories. The trick was beating the proprietary-technology roadblocks that so many of Bodine’s customers would put up, many times for good reasons since the assembly process contributed significantly to their competitive edge.  But we worked with them, or around them.

Door Hardware Application in Bodine's Direct Mail Mini-Publication

Showing the “nuts and bolts” of applications helped prospects visualize themselves as users of the technology.  We also had our version of the Human Interest angle … let’s call it “Engineer Interest.”  For instance, we told the story of how an older Bodine synchronous assembly machine that had been making garter belt clips, of all things, was sold and converted into a machine to make electrical products. Women’s fashions had changed, markets shifted, and the technology got re-applied.

Over five years time,  we proved that our awareness-building programs worked, with metrics from publication-sponsored research, and from Bodine’s successful entry into new markets, fueled on the front-end by marketing communications.

Also see my May post on persuading top management.

August 26, 2010 Posted by | Authenticity, B-to-B Case Studies, B-toB Advertising, Brand and Reputation, BtoB Marcomm Creative, Business Storytelling, My Career, Tech Sector Thought Leadership | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exposing Business Cliche Over-Exposure

I had the pleasure of contributing some informal research to David Meerman Scott’s book The New Rules of PR and Marketing back in 2007. Since then, it has become a business-book bestseller, and now a revised and updated 2nd edition is being sold on-line and by major book retailers such as Borders. Some colleges are using it as a textbook – it is a comprehensive overview of the tactics available to reach buyers directly with useful information as opposed to hype.

David Meerman Scott

David Meerman Scott's business bestseller

My research, summarized in Chapter 12 (see pages 156-157), has to do with over-used words and phrases that have lost any meaning; clichés that are spewed daily in news releases and other content in the BtoB world. I surveyed publication editors to gage their complaints.

I have talked plenty about the ubiquitous word “solutions”  (see “Guess What, We Make Products”).   There’s plenty of new lists and sources, including Seth Godin’s amusing Encylopedia of Business Cliches on Squidoo, where you can vote for your favorites. “Synergy” and “paradigm shift” are both in the top 10.

The indictment of business cliches has moved from deeming the practice of using them as mere laziness of the writer, to slamming it as intentional subterfuge.  I think it’s a mixture.  Another factor is ignorance of the news-release writer due to lack of experience within the industry discussed.

My suggestion for freshening up your business vocabulary:  read Business Week, Wired, Discover, Scientific American or other technology-trends publications.  Borrow an appropriate term, give it a new context, and make it your own.

June 13, 2010 Posted by | B-to-B Marketing Vocabulary, B-to-B Social Media Technology, B-toB Advertising, Brand and Reputation, Business cliches, Tech Sector Thought Leadership | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

B2B Marketer’s Challenge: Cutting Through the Clutter to Persuade Top Management

I am now in the 4th stage of my career.  This post begins a series on these stages, with some insights I have gained along the way.  Stage  I (below) was my “heavy-duty” period.

The struggle of manufacturers during this deep recession to get support from banks for investments in new technology and capital improvements reminds me of the challenges of the first stage in my career.

One of the toughest industrial marketing communication assignments is the job of trying to get top management to consider investing in new manufacturing capital equipment.  In the 1980s and early 1990s, it was my mission, my daily toil. I did it for a dozen and half different companies who engineered and built robotic cells, lasers, controls and all kinds of bizarre-looking automation.  These companies had to succinctly demonstrate the ROI of their systems to their market, which was the manufacturing industry, or else shrivel up  as just another “clever idea.”

The trick on the front end of the sales cycle was to promote these technologies with messages that would actually get noticed and absorbed. The recipe was a mixture of persuasiveness, tersely-stated bottom-line benefits, and creative clarification of how the improved process / technology worked. The audience was extremely skeptical.  We were asking these potential customers to consider risking millions of dollars, or tens of millions, based on our claims.

The Tools

Case studies were big, and this put me in the thick of things – crawling around violently-noisy machine tools, climbing high into towers of automation, getting intimate with lightening-fast assembly systems – all to get accompanying images, and also to get a real feel for the technology in use.  I talked regularly with production supervisors, engineering management and mahogany-row execs.  Being in the trenches was fascinating and at times, extremely strenuous.  I’ve been yelled at by shop union stewards, and spent evenings scouring dense process charts.

What was being made by the industries served? Airplanes, appliances, sporting goods, cars and trucks, computer products and telecommunications widgets, padlocks, Barbie Dolls, even breakfast cakes.  I worked for some software and integration companies also.

We would rifle-shot our ammunition on more than one battlefield. The channels were simpler then – primarily business and trade publications, supplemented by targeted direct mail. Content was the key.

What I Learned

Most promotional information that is spewed from companies with a complex technical offering is in one of two categories: it either consists of large quantities of engineering detail that can’t be deciphered by top management, or it goes in the opposite direction – it’s AdSpeak fluff that bores and/or patronizes the reader.

We designed outreach programs that avoided both mistakes. I learned how to write and produce brief, meaningful content that clarifies a compelling value proposition, and included enough concisely-stated substantiation to be credible to a CEO.

Messaging was on three levels:

1)      Brief, poignant and ROI-oriented messages for the highest-echelon execs

2)      Case studies and perspective papers to convince manufacturing management

3)      Video programs for production supervisors and process engineers…seeing it at work increased their comfort level with the technology.

It’s some of the hardest work I’ve done.  For the target audience, there’s scarce capital and valuable floor space at stake.  Persistence was essential – most of these programs were multi-year, and several were between 5 and 10 years in duration.  Staying on message was a priority, yet we had to constantly find fresh ways to say it and to disseminate it.

I have applied many of these skills to describing and promoting IT systems in recent years. Most importantly, I learned a lot about a number of industries and what makes them tick.

May 4, 2010 Posted by | B-to-B Case Studies, B-toB Advertising, Brand and Reputation, Business Storytelling, Perspective Paper Strategies, Tech Sector Thought Leadership, Website content | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Let Engineers Tell their Stories

During the late 1980s and 90s, I spent a great deal of time writing case studies on behalf of manufacturing technology specialists, the companies that innovated new controls, automation and processes used to make durable goods.   The work took me to plants throughout North America and parts of Europe.

There were numerous obstacles.  General Motors had a policy against endorsing “suppliers” in articles, and would not allow their engineers to be quoted or GM’s name to be used. This is back before they needed supplier’s good will and cooperation as much as they need it today.

Sometimes, we found ways to bend the rules.  Once or twice, we just plain broke them.

I always remember being in a Maytag manufacturing plant in the early 90s.  The appliance industry is notoriously stingy in terms of investing in new automation technology, due to cost and risk in light of razor-thin margins.  The “let Mikey try it” attitude pervaded,  “Mikey” being the automotive industry, historically with deeper pockets.  And, since manufacturing-efficiency advantages were critical to an advantageous price,  Maytag and Whirlpool and others typically forbid case studies sponsored by their equipment suppliers.

So, here I am, looking at innovative die change automation on Maytag’s production floor, figuring that I will only walk away with some caption-less photos and a little information attributed to an unnamed appliance maker. But the manufacturing engineer, a company veteran about to retire within a few months, said “to hell with it.”  In essence, he said: “I don’t care about the company policy.  I worked hard to champion these changes for many years, and stuck my neck out for them.  I want to tell the story.  And yes, use my name. Turn on your tape recorder, and quote me.”

I guess the “easier to ask forgiveness than for permission” axiom prevailed.  He happily retired, on schedule…i.e. not early.  The profession of manufacturing engineering is virtually invisible to the general public, and under-valued by corporate management, so recognition and appreciation is scarce. Those engineers dedicated to it want to tell their stories, and not just to a few coworkers at the bar.  They want it to be their legacy.  The balance between helping the manufacturing community with case study information and protecting a company’s competitive edge can be achieved.  I made sure that happened.

March 22, 2010 Posted by | B-to-B Case Studies, B-toB Advertising, Brand and Reputation, Content-Inspired Conversations, Tech Sector Thought Leadership | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Industry Origins are Popular as Business Stories

Although my focus is on the B-to-B world, I summarized three of my favorite B-to-C stories that are well known to many business people, and asked colleagues and cohorts to vote on the one they thought was the most significant to them. My thanks to the thirty pros who responded.  Looks like the oldest story wins.

1st Place: Birthing Big Mac

Ray Kroc is hawking milk shake blenders to diners when he stumbles on the “make it before it’s ordered” assembly-line formula used by a couple of brothers named McDonalds, and the fast-food industry is born.

I got responses from folks in all kinds of industries – 16 votes total

2nd Place: Narrow-Sighted Auto Boss

After spearheading the hugely-successful Ford Mustang, Lee Iacocca is fired by the cantankerous Henry Ford II. Iacocca goes on to turn around Chrysler, inventing the mini-van, a concept that Hank the Deuce rejected at Ford.

10 votes: it appears that my more independent colleagues in the media/communication fields preferred this one.

Lastly: Wal-Mart PR Blunders

The extremely “calculated” management at Wal Mart figure they can manipulate their way to a friendlier, folksier business image using PR efforts that lack authenticity. Among them: paying a couple to blog their way across America in their RV, specifically to write about happy Wal Mart employees. No mention of the Wal Mart sponsorship.

4 votes: Adrian commented that “Walmart is such a smarmy, juicy target” – a newer story related only to communications.

Frequent themes for business stories include business blunders (and the lessons learned), problem/solution scenarios, and opportunities acted upon that others ignored.  Please pass along a favorite (comments, or via email).

March 17, 2010 Posted by | B-to-B Case Studies, B-toB Advertising, Brand and Reputation, Business Storytelling, Content-Inspired Conversations, Website content | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Value of Business Storytelling

The value of storytelling goes back a long ways.  Thousands of years.  An unfolding story holds more interest than a mere stating of facts derived from it.  In B-to-B marketing we are fond of saying that it allows a prospect to visualize himself or herself as a user of a given technology, imaging how the benefits would apply to their operations.

The irony of the current state is that, while users are more willing than ever to allow their stories to be told in order to foster cooperative ties with their technology suppliers, there are fewer trade publication/website pages available for reporting the stories. The Problem/Solution format has traditionally been in great demand by editors, but they have less band-width to publish them.

How-to books have a finite shelf life.  But great business stories are useful, and popular, for much longer. Consider Lee Iacocca’s Autobiography. It out-sold every other non-fiction hardcover for two years straight in the 1980s. Why are we fascinated with all the blow-by-blow details of a business success when we already know what the person or company ultimately accomplished and the impact of its success?  Perhaps because some useful “do’s and don’ts” and “forks in the road” will be revealed, but it’s also because we like a good story.

So what’s with the humongous, bodacious burger?  Is is lunchtime? (Well, yes, but…) To kick off my little series on business storytelling, I asked a big bunch of colleagues last week to vote for one of three famous business stories.  Lee Iacocca is one of them, and the polling is almost complete; it looks like a burger business story wins over the car story; I’ll deliver up the results in the next blog post, tomorrow.

March 15, 2010 Posted by | B-to-B Case Studies, B-to-B Marketing Vocabulary, Brand and Reputation, Business Storytelling, Content-Inspired Conversations, Tech Sector Thought Leadership, Website content | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment