Product, Call Internal Comms. Like, Yesterday.

In the B2B software world, well structured user adoption programs include well structured internal communications plans. This means:

Ample lead time + repetition

(People are busy and need 3-7 exposures to a message before they hear it.)

Bold transparency

(Clear, honest articulation around "why" outperforms gamification over the long run.)

A compelling answer to an employee's question "What's in it for me?"

("Because it's your job" may be true but it's not compelling. How does the technology help the individual?)

A face, via championship by a trusted leader

(Give the roll out a face who is trusted and respected.)

Clarity around "what comes next"

(Eliminate ambiguity!)

This all takes work. Yet too often, I see product teams waiting until the very end of the roll out process before engaging internal comms. Internal communications is non-trivial; there's a reason it has its own department. So it shouldn't be a surprise that even the James Bond—or Lorraine Boughton—of internal communications would struggle mightily to execute on all these facets if brought into a software roll out plan at the last minute.

The way many enterprises are organized, unless the technology being rolled out is a company-wide, transformation initiative, internal comms is leveraged at the end, after the needs assessment has been conducted, the vendors have been selected, the pilot group has been identified, and the countdown for results has already begun to tick.

This is a big problem, and not just for enterprises. Technology vendors are the ones who truly suffer... and they do so twice over:

First, vendors are set up to underperform. Despite what the VC community would have us believe, user adoption curves in the B2B space don't happen without help. (Maybe with Slack, but that's 1 of something like 100,000 tech companies in the US.) Competing priorities, limited attention, compatibility, compliance policies, and that all-powerful change killer, inertia, all work against adoption. "Slow and low" might be a great Beastie Boys song, but it's a terrible adoption curve. Yet that's exactly what underdeveloped communications plan yield. Fast forward to the end of the pilot phase, and you can almost smell the salesperson's fear as they realize that their program is at risk of getting cut, not because the software didn't work, but because the client half-assed the roll out.

Next, vendors suffer from a lack of meaningful user feedback. When internal communications are slapped together at the last minute, the feedback that comes back is a mix of product feedback and noise from the botched roll out. (Did usage drop off because there is a UX flaw in the software? Or because expectations weren't set right?) The inability to isolate the why behind usage patterns means the vendor gets neither any sense of true ROI nor meaningful user feedback.

Double boo.

To get the product right, you have to get adoption right. And that can really only happen when comms is drawn into the planning process early.

For vendors, this means pressing to have clients' internal comms teams at the table early on in the process—possibly even during the sale process. (More on turning comms from risk to advocate in a future post.) For tech-buying enterprises, it means rethinking the hand-offs from procurement to project management to comms in favor of a more integrated approach.

So why is this post aimed at product and not internal comms? Because the way many companies are structured, it's the product managers right now who have the voice to push their organizations to make that happen. They have line of sight into what's coming, what will be necessary to ensure a successful roll out, and best of all, they have the ear of senior leaders.

So product, call your (clients') internal comms teams and say "hi." Like, yesterday.