Marketing IT: Sell your services internally, win more respect

It's not about hype. It's about conveying IT's value.

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Employ 'hallway marketing'

A marketing mind-set can't stop at the top levels of IT; the entire staff needs to understand and accept that marketing is now part of their everyday jobs, since every word they utter fosters a negative or positive perception in the client's mind. "You need to embed a 24/7 marketing mind-set throughout the organization, not just in one or two people," Roberts says. "They should speak positively of IT every chance they get, whether in a meeting, the elevator or the parking lot."

This often means changing the very language the IT staff uses. At GWU, Bonig launched an initiative to train IT groups throughout the university to improve their customer service and communication skills. Among other things, participants in the two-hour sessions learned what to say and how to say it. The training emphasized that every communication -- whether written, spoken or conveyed through another form of interpersonal contact -- needs to be positive and should relate to IT's annual goals, which were provided to each staffer in writing.

A big change was learning not to say no, Bonig says. Instead, he says, staff learned to "put a price on 'Yes.' " In other words, instead of saying something can't be done, explain that it's an extra service that will cost more. At GWU, that sometimes means involving an account manager, who consults with the service catalog to create the formal terms of providing the service.

Improvement was encouraged through friendly competition in the form of awards presented to groups that showed the most progress, says Bonig. But success took time. "It was easier to get managers to change the way they communicated than some of the staff members," he notes.

See yourself through the client's eyes

Berry also undertook a yearlong effort to educate all 700-plus employees in ODOT's central service organization -- which included IT, finance and HR -- to become a customer service organization. Embedded in the training was the notion of marketing the group's services.

Part of the training was to help employees learn how they're initially perceived by customers, he says. That led to a review of all customer touch points, which raised a number of questions: Are clients asked to fill out too many forms or follow too many processes? Is the Web site too onerous to maneuver through? Are the responses to common help desk questions readily accessible? Do voice-mail messages sound friendly? The review also covered the physical setup of the office. Now the desks face the door, so employees can greet visitors more easily.

Create slogans

It might feel corny to adopt a marketing slogan or catchphrase. But doing so can help unify IT around a meaningful purpose and keep the group "on message."

"It's very akin to the elevator speech -- why are you in business, and what have you done for me lately?" Berry says. ODOT, for instance, is introducing the slogan "IT delivers information," which is supported by a graphic of a train moving through a modern cityscape.

Of course, you don't want to get too flashy, particularly in these days of cost sensitivity. "No one wants to feel they're being marketed to," Roberts says. "If you're too professional-looking in your marketing materials, clients start to ask, 'Why are we wasting money on this?' "

Brandel is a Computerworld contributing writer. Contact her at marybrandel@verizon.net.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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