WEB SITE MARKETING: The "Who's on First" Syndrome

by Robert K. McCourty

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This article from The Mender (Issue 45),
Metamend's Web Site Optimization and Marketing Newsletter.

I call this the "Who's on First" Syndrome. Here's how it plays out. One sales person from your organization meets one from mine. They decide to do business together and pass along the good news to the higher-ups within the company structure. The executive folks in turn, do lunch with their counterparts and all is rosy in business land. A deal has been signed. Wahoo! Now what?
The deal is then passed back down the chain of command for actual implementation of the partnership, So... Who gets the job to get the deal going? Suddenly e-mails are coming in from the marketing, design and tech departments because they've heard a rumor that we may have a new partner. What's the deal? Who's the contact person? Anyone know their URL? Do we have anything signed? Are we sharing any joint marketing? Is the accounting system all set up for this? Who's the project manager on this one? Who's the head of their Tech Team? When is the rollout? Where are the pricing structures?
Starting to get the picture? Any of this sound like a familiar scenario around your company? I hope you said yes, because most businesses go through it. Fear not however, as I've discovered the cure for the 'Who's on First" Syndrome. It's called 'communication!' Yup that's right, good old underestimated, communication.

It's really quite ironic considering all the technology we have out there these days. You would think that communicating with each other would be much easier. In part it is easier. You can email, digital photo, cell phone each other until you're blue in the face, and still not get the point across, because technology can only transmit what you send through it.

The problem is not the technology. The problem is in the individual's ability to accurately convey the essence of the message and supply the necessary details. Most people have a habit of storing volumes of information on the subject in question within their heads. They inherently may know many specific details and background information dealing with the subject, yet refuse, or probably better stated, choose to eliminate them, from the conversation. Thus the recipients of the message are left with puzzle pieces and unanswered questions. They might get the gist of what is being conveyed but not everyone's brain is wired the same way. Some people are not good at puzzles. Others refuse to assemble them as they consider them a waste of time. Still others simply dismiss the entire conversation, hoping someone else will explain it to them later on.

When you are explaining something to someone, it only takes a few seconds longer to fill them in on the background details. Explain why the topic is important and how it affects them. That's what people want to know. "Why do I need to know this?" "What do you want me to do about it?" When you eliminate these strategic points from the message, the essence of the communication begins to immediately break down.

In a corporate setting these small breakdowns can grow exponentially, especially between divisions or separate areas of responsibility. So, the sales team now knows what's going on. Great! Has anyone explained the same scenario to marketing and tech and accounting and distribution and etc., etc.? Is everyone on the same page? Are you sure? Do they have ALL the details they need to proceed to the next level? Have you followed up the conversation in writing with all the important information detailed out? Have you had a department or staff meeting on the subject? No! Then don't be surprised when you find out that nothing is moving forward or loose ends are unraveling all over the place. After all, you started the conversation, didn't you?

Once a communication breakdown escalates, it can have much more serious effects. Customer relationships may become unstable. Customers pick up signals very quickly. They can smell uncertainty over the phone. It tends to plant seeds of mistrust in their brains. Once a customer or potential customers, start to sense confusion from within an organization, it's a sure bet they'll be a much tougher sell.

It's doubly important to ensure all personnel who are responsible for customer service (or have access to a phone) are right on top of the newest company plans, thoroughly understand the concept and have all the answers they need to allay any questions prior to implementation. you can't expect them to read minds. When someone contacts your company and asks for a price, they better have it in front of them.

Morale in the workplace also may rear its head if communication is lacking. Staff morale may begin to sag because of the frustration levels it creates. There is nothing more detrimental to a 'team' approach then one person forging boldly ahead in their own direction while the rest of the workplace wonders where they are headed... and why?

They may follow along blindly for a while but sooner or later they are going to stop and ask where they are going and you're going to have to go all the way back to square one and explain the whole thing again right from the beginning. The way it should have been explained in the first place. Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars.

So if you find your company or know someone in your company experiencing the "Who's on First" Syndrome. Put this article in front of them and have them repeat the following line over and over, until it sinks in. Have I given everyone ALL the details!

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