A client of ours has started a new initiative but is struggling to get anyone to sign up. I asked what the initiative is about and was told it’s a savings model that benefits members if they meet certain quality and cost metrics. What do they save, I inquired. Well, they don’t really save anything I was told but they can reduce costs for their customers.
That sounds good I offered, but how does it work? Well, they explained, they go to a website, sign up and receive a free membership. What does the membership get them I asked to which the reply was “what do you mean?”
So I restated the question. Why would someone want to join? Looking annoyed the key spokesperson said “because we’ll share a savings model with them and if they use it correctly, based on performance, we can offer a cost reduction portion measured as a reduction in the total cost expressed as cost per member per month from the baseline year to the contract year.”
That sounds complicated I said. Sounding more irritated than she appeared before, she informed me that while this may be confusing to me because I’m not in her business, the people she’s reaching out to understand what she’s talking about.
Yes, she insisted. She says this initiative is about facilitating relationships between her organization and members they want to attract.
But how can you facilitate a relationship if they don’t understand why they need what you’re providing for them I asked.
You sent me an email saying no one is signing up. You sent me another email saying you can’t close any deals because no one will implement your recommendations. And when we spoke by phone, you said every time you meet with people they ask a lot of dumb questions. So perhaps the problem, I wondered out loud, isn’t them but maybe your approach?
What this client and many people who are too close to their information unintentionally do is fail to help listeners understand what’s in it for them. How will they benefit if they join? What will they get that they aren’t receiving now? If you were them and not you, what would attract you to spend money? If you had to explain this to a smart person who didn’t understand your business, what would you say?
You might be a reputable organization but that doesn’t mean people will come running to partner with you. If you want them to opt in, then you need to stand out. You also need to welcome questions regardless of how ‘dumb’ they may sound.
As a former journalist, I learned that there is no such thing as a ‘dumb’ question. If someone asks it, then it’s an opportunity for you to further explain, engage and peak their interest. If you classify my question as ‘dumb’ that might signal you think I’m ‘stupid’ or ‘ignorant’. ‘Dumb’ is not a nice word.
Too often because we understand what we’re talking about, we assume that other people should understand too. But your job as a communicator is to facilitate understanding. That means speaking as plainly as possible to help your listener understand how the information can impact, benefit or affect them. If you want to be certain you’re getting through, ask a friend or family member who has nothing to do with your business to read what you’ve written or listen to what you’re saying. If they’re confused, consider making some adjustments.
Here are five ways to help you communicate clearly.
Make them care
Simply saying this is a great program and you need to sign up doesn’t mean anything to your listener. Help them understand what’s in it for them. Often, you can do that by immediately addressing the challenge or problem they face. Then you’re better poised to help them understand how your program can solve those problems.
Let’s say you have three minutes to brief a key decision maker on a complicated issue. How can you tell them what they need to know in three minutes? Pick the two or three most important points they need to hear to help condense information.
Audiences are not created equal
What seems simple to you might be confusing to someone else so it’s important to assess audience concerns before you start talking. For example, let’s say you have to update the boss on the progress of a product launch. Even though he or she might be familiar, do they really need to know everything you know? Your colleagues might be interested in all the details while the boss is more concerned with costs, time to market, competition, access to partners and stock price.
Don’t assume they know what you know
In the case of the client with the new initiative, they assumed that because everyone they speak to is concerned about health-care costs and the membership was free, they’d all jump on board. What they neglected to do was explain what the new initiative was, how it could help save money and how a more streamlined standardized process might improve outcomes.
Talk with them not at them
Just because you have an opportunity to share information doesn’t mean you should keep talking. Pause. Ask and answer questions so the conversation is a dialogue and not a monologue.
Remember, communicators are made, not born. It takes work to get your point across clearly and concisely. After all, what good is putting endless hours into research, cost saving initiatives or new programs and products if you can’t clearly communicate how it will help the people you hope will benefit.