"CEOs don’t care about SharePoint." I say that with a little tong and cheek. But seriously, we don’t care…! SharePoint is just a tool. CEOs, the rest of your executive team, and business people in general – we don’t care about tools. We don’t care about cool features or technical functionality either. Telling a CEO about features and functionality in SharePoint is like Michelangelo trying to sell the Pope on painting the Sistine Chapel by describing all of the wonderful advancements in brush and paint technology. We simply don’t care…!
So what do we care about..?! We care about sales pipeline, revenue growth, profitability, gross margin, cash flow, interest rate, efficiency, cost per employee, revenue per store, inventory turn, worker productivity, accounts receivable, customer satisfaction, employee turnover, liability coverage, conversion rate, market penetration, average bill rate, time to market, utilization, loss ratio, bad debt, return on invested capital, etc. That’s what we care about… and so should you – at least at a high level.
Now let me make this easier for you. I am going to let you in on a little secret…! I am probably going to get kicked out of the "CEO Guild" for sharing this secret with you, but I’ll take my chances. Everything I just mentioned boils down to one thing: money..! How we make it, and how we keep it. That’s it…! That’s what CEOs are paid to think about – money. Every decision a CEO makes can be boiled down to a financial decision. What’s it going to cost, and how much am I getting in return…?!
Yes, yes, of course we are human beings too and we also have to care about the "mushy stuff": How is it going to make you feel? Is it the right thing to do? Will they like it? Are they going to be comfortable? Is it the right color? But seriously, who are we kidding?! It’s all about the money..!!
So if you’re in IT, why should you care…?! After all, IT doesn’t make money..!! Well you should care for two reasons:
- Your value to the organization will go up the more you understand about how your business makes money.
- You will get more of what you want to fund all of your cool IT initiatives if you understand what the executive team cares about. It’s that simple.
Unfortunately, most technology folks don’t understand the language of business and don’t know how to talk to executives. So I would like to give you a quick 101 crash course on "How to talk to an executive." There are 7 steps in this process, and I am going to go over each one in detail and give you a few examples.
1. Use our language, not yours
Use our words, our metrics, and our KPIs. Use terms that we are familiar with – not the ones that you use all the time. And don’t use acronyms or other fancy techno-jargon that we don’t understand. That’s really annoying.
Here is an example of what not to say to an executive: "By moving our SharePoint server farm to a co-location center with fiber access to our building as opposed to our current T1, we can achieve 100 megabit download speed."
How about this instead: "Since most of our architecture drawings are over 100mb in size (which is pretty large), it takes our users about 8 minutes to open each file on our current network. If we move our servers to a co-location center with fiber access to our building, we would be able to open those same files in less than 10 seconds."
2. Be confident, but not arrogant
You have to be confident if you are going to speak to an executive. We can smell fear a mile away, and if you don’t ooze confidence, then we are not going to buy what you’re selling. It’s that simple. So you have to be confident. But there is very fine line between confidence and arrogance. And if you cross it, it’s over..!
As soon as you start talking down to an executive, using fancy acronyms, talking to us like we don’t know what we’re talking about (even if you know exponentially more than we do on a given technical subject), then you are going to lose us.
Here is an example what not to say: "Listen, it’s pretty obvious that we need to move to SharePoint 2010, if for no other reason than scalability. After all, the Shared Services Provider model is going away in 2010, and is being replaced by a Service Application Architecture model. I mean even an idiot knows that, right!" That’s probably not going to get you what you want.
3. Think in terms of dollars
Most executives really like numbers, especially those that can be translated into dollars. We want to know what this is going to cost us, and what’s the ROI? So to the extent that you can, use specific numbers that can be boiled down into dollars.
Here is an example: "I would like to make a strong case for moving away from our current document management systems and file servers to a centralized implementation of SharePoint for all of our electronic documents. Our main objective will be to improve the "findability" of our documents through the built-in search and metadata capabilities in SharePoint. Our research shows the following:
- 85% of existing documents in our company are never retrieved
- 50% of existing documents are duplicated in some way
- 60% of those stored documents are obsolete
- Our average information worker does 20 document queries per day
- They spend an average of 9.5 hours per week just finding information
- And an average of 6 hours per week re-creating information they know exists, but we cannot find.
- So, if someone is paid $75,000/year, then the cost per week to find information is $337.50, and the cost per week to re-create information is $225.00.
- So if you add all that up, the cost of poor findability in our company is $28,125/person/year"
Now you’ve got our attention…!!
4. Get to the point, quickly
Executives are typically "big picture" people, and we’re usually very busy. On top of that, we have very short attention spans. So please do not bore us with all the excruciating details. You have to be well prepared, succinct, and get to the point quickly.
Let me give you an example close to home. My best friend who I’ve known for over twenty years is David Jacobson. David is a hardcore über-geek. He lives and breathes technology. He still wears his "UNIX will never die" T-shirt. When he comes into my office all excited about some new technological innovation he’s found or when he’s trying to make a decision about something, I just know it’s going to be long, agonizing, and painful. He will feel compelled to go over every single alternative he’s considering in unbearable detail, and just goes on and on and on. And all I can think about is: "Please just get to the point. I don’t need to know all the details. I trust that you have done all of the underlying research…!"
5. Don’t tell us, show us
Executives are often very visual people. We like to see things, touch things, and play with things. So show us, or better yet let us play around with it. But if you are going to give us a demo or give us access to a demo environment, you have to show us something relevant to our business, with our data, our workflows, and preferably a familiar corporate "look & feel". Otherwise it’s not going to be nearly as impactful.
For example, you can spend a lot of time trying to explain Web publishing in SharePoint, and the benefits of browser-based WYSIWYG authoring. You can also try to explain how workflow, content approval, and scheduled publication work. But why waste your time telling them when you can show them? Setup a proof of concept (POC) environment for your business users and executive team, and let them try it out for themselves.
Let me give you another example. At Catapult Systems, we are selling a lot of Microsoft Unified Communications (UC) solutions right now. Honestly, I believe that’s one of those truly disruptive technologies. We found that we weren’t having any success trying to sell UC with brochures and PowerPoint presentations. As soon as we started showing up at our clients’ office with a laptop and a handset and just showed them how it worked, let them make a phone call, conference in a few colleagues, play with video conferencing, and try out desktop sharing… that’s when it clicked…!
6. Explain it in a way we can understand
"Explanation" is one of the three fundamental pillars of influence. If you want to be influential in your organization, you will need three things:
I have bad news for you: Life is just like High School, it is a popularity contest…! If you are not a likable person, you are not going to wield a lot of influence with people around you, much less the executive team. You may be incredibly brilliant and have a lot of influence in "Geeks Ville" and "Nerd City", but you are not to get very far with the executive team. That might seem unfair, but it’s life.
Trust speaks for itself. Unless you have demonstrated a consistent history of trustworthy behavior within an organization, it’s very difficult to wield any kind of influence, whether it’s with the executive team or anybody else. By the way, trust usually boils down to accountability – which is doing what you say you are going to do every single time. If you are accountable, you will develop a lot of trust.
Explanation is the ability to take very complex topics and present them in a way that your audience can understand them, can relate to them, and can appreciate them without having to understand all of the underlying complexities. Your ability to do that – to explain difficult concepts to your audience, especially the executive team – is absolutely crucial to your ability to influence their decision making process. So you need to be able to boil things down. You are going to have to use short sentences and small words. And you are going to have to dumb down all the technology jargon.
For example, try explaining global hierarchical taxonomy or enterprise social computing in SharePoint 2010. If you start talking about the centralized management of structured taxonomy, or the ability for people to describe themselves, contribute their own content, post notes, and manage their store… then you are quickly going to lose your executive audience.
On the other hand, if you use an analogy, you might have a better chance. Think of searching for a movie on Netflix. You can search by genre (action adventure, comedy, thriller, etc.), you can search by director, actor, the year the movie came out, format (BlueRay, DVD, or online), and rating. On Netflix, these are just search refinements.
Now imagine being able to do that with every single document in our company. What if we could search for documents by type (contract, proposal, SOW, memo, etc.), by author, by department, by retention policy, by client, by vendor, and by anything else we want…?! These search refinements are implemented through metadata. And that metadata is attached to a document. And with SharePoint we can manage that metadata in a centralized way to make sure that it is applied consistently throughout the organization. And if we want to, we can also allow certain departments to define their own metadata so that they can organize all of their information in the most relevant way to them.
And we can even take that a step further. We can even attach metadata to people in our organization.
And now people have the opportunity to describe themselves (just like on LinkedIn) as experts in different areas, or as having certain interests or hobbies. And so now we have the ability to find not only documents but people based on any attribute we want.
7. Tell us a story
If you really want to capture our imagination and get our attention, you have to become master "story tellers". You have got to be able to paint a beautiful picture of what you want to accomplish so we can close our eyes and share your vision.
Let me share a story that I often tell our clients to describe the intersection of SharePoint and Unified Communications. I use our own company, Catapult Systems, as an example. Catapult has offices and consultants spread out all over the country. Our consultants are grouped by discipline – we have an information worker (IW) practice, a business intelligence (BI) practice, an application development practice, and so on. Eric is one of our BI consultants in Tampa. One day, Eric runs into a Performance Point problem that he’s never encountered before. The first thing he does is login to our SharePoint Intranet and searches our BI knowledge base, which contains every document, white paper, wiki, blog, and discussion that we have ever had about BI in our company.
Unfortunately, Eric doesn’t find what he’s looking for, so he goes to our BI discussion board on our SharePoint Intranet and posts his question. Immediately, all of Catapult’s BI experts who have subscribed to this discussion board get an email with the question. One of our other BI consultants in Houston, Mark, recognizes the problem and posts an answer on the discussion board. By the way, this question and answer are now part of our BI knowledge base for ever. Eric in Tampa gets an email notifying him that a reply has been posted.
Eric reviews Mark’s answer to his question and sees a green dot next to his name. This is a "presence" indicator and means that Mark is online. With a single click, Eric initiates an instant message (IM) session with Mark. Realizing that they have more to discuss, he clicks another button, and now Eric and Mark are having a Voice over IP (VoIP) phone conversation using their laptops. Eric then clicks another button to open a desktop sharing session with Mark, and now they are both looking at the same screen and discussing the same lines of code together. Mark remembers that one of our Austin BI consultants, Matt, is an expert in this particular area and notices that Matt is online (the green dot). Mark simply drags and drops Matt’s name into their Communicator window, and now the three of them are having a conference call, looking at the same lines of code, and solving Eric’s problem together – all within 15 minutes of Eric posting his question…!!
Do you think that story gives executives an idea of what is possible with SharePoint and Unified Communications?! This is usually when the light bulb goes off and they realize that they may have finally found a viable solution to tap into the collective intelligence of their organization – something they’ve been trying to accomplish for decades.
So remember, the seven steps to successfully communicating with an executive in order to get what you want are:
- Use our language, not yours
- Be confident, but not arrogant
- Think in terms of dollars
- Get to the point, quickly
- Don’t tell us, show us
- Explain it in a way we can understand
- Tell us a story
SharePoint can be a truly transformational technology, but you are not going to be successful at introducing all of its capabilities into your organization unless you can communicate effectively to your executive team.