Communication Skills for IT Leaders: Ease Off the Branding, Marketing, and Selling of IT (Part 1)
This refrain is repeated in industry publications, in IT meeting rooms, and—of course—in informal griping between IT leaders.
In this effort to get the business side of their organizations to understand the value of IT and its contributions, IT departments frequently employ these three tactics:
- Brand IT to the business.
- Market IT to the business.
- Sell IT to the business.
In conversation, these sound like perfect strategies for demonstrating and communicating the value of IT.
But once you take these tactics out of the theoretical realm and put them to work to communicate value, you often end up with results that are contrary to your purpose:
- Efforts to brand IT to the business often result in business people wondering, “Is this a brochure from an external vendor or from our own people?” In an age where every vendor embeds your logo within their first PowerPoint pitch, the over-logoing of IT often creates the impression that the IT group is some separate entity.
- You try to market IT to the business, often in the position of trusted advisor or consultant of choice, and the business begins to treat you as competition to the Big 6, instead of as their close colleague.
- Finally, when you attempt to sell one particular aspect of IT to your own company, the business side of your organization then starts talking to you like you’re just another vendor pushing your projects and expenses on them for self-serving purposes.
Although these efforts spring from the best intentions—to bring the IT side and the business side of your company closer—when you perform them they often inadvertently create separation.
And why is this?
Chances are you probably didn’t do anything wrong. You probably did a reasonable job of branding, marketing, and selling your department and your services. The problem is that, in implementing this particular toolkit, you ended up positioning yourself as an outsider trying to get your foot in the door or trying to maintain a relationship, as opposed to communicating your true position as an insider with a uniquely vested interest in your shared success.
As a leader of IT within a company, you’re not trying to convince a stranger to give you a shot, or to grab more business from an existing customer. You’re connecting with your colleagues. You’re demonstrating and communicating the ongoing value of your joint projects and programs, and how they’re impacting the business you are both a part of.
This is a subtle point, but one with very significant implications. Positioning yourself as an outsider versus as an insider creates separation, which is exactly what you don’t want.
Here’s a real-world example to show how even the most benign attempt to brand, market, and sell IT to the business can backfire.
How This Subtle Communication Problem Manifests in Real Life
Recently, I went visiting with a client and I came across this notebook cover. (Alterations were made to the original materials to protect the innocent.)
This notebook cover was produced with the new global IT organization’s branding, along with the name of the new global ERP program.
So why is this piece problematic?
1. It Just Plain Looks Like an External Vendor’s Sales Materials
If you were a business stakeholder and you saw this notebook, would you know it came from internal IT, or would you think it came from an external vendor? There’s no way to tell—the letters IT don’t even appear on here.
2. It Uses a Generic Slogan and Image
Both the slogan “the power to push your business forward” and the image used on the cover are generic and could be used by any industrial company trying to sell to the business. The words don’t communicate the unique connection between this IT group and its business colleagues. They don’t even mention any internal project, activity, initiative, or area of intimacy.
3. It Explicitly Separates IT from the Business
And within the slogan, you find the key problem of the IT/business relationship. The slogan is “the power to push your business forward” when it should be “the power to push our business forward.”
The IT professionals who produced this notebook cover had a genuine desire to create a sense that they and their business colleagues had shared objectives. In making these materials, they wanted to create a sense that they all carry the same notebook, and that they’re all in this together. They created this material to demonstrate that they are all part of the same business.
But their original intention to demonstrate their togetherness unfortunately missed the mark. Instead, this notebook cover communicated that IT was a separate division working for a client.
Stay Tuned for the Correct Solution to This Problem
So far, all I’ve told you is what you shouldn’t do in your efforts to demonstrate and communicate the value of IT to your business colleagues.
But the question of how you should do it remains—especially relevant now, as we’re coming down to the fourth quarter, and you’re getting ready to sum up the year and demonstrate the value IT brought.
I’ll give my answer to this question next time in Part 2.
In the meantime, check out or new report, “What IT Pros Most Want”.
If you want to jump-start your engagement efforts, grab our new report “What IT Pros Most Want”. It goes deep into this question of what your people really want from their careers. Give them that, and they’ll never leave.
And if you want to jump-start your employee engagement efforts, grab our new report “What IT Pros Most Want”. It goes deep into this question of what your people really want from their careers. Give them that, and they’ll never leave.