Productive Business Conversations

The quality of information you provide can be the real driver of productive conversation - by Adrian Hargreaves

Decision-makers are generally short on time. They prefer information provided in a concise format that is clear and to the point.

We make life harder for decision-makers when we take up their valuable time unnecessarily. Examples include: when we deliver a presentation with information that is not relevant, when we send copies of our slides that mean nothing without a presenter to explain the points and when we provide general content when really we should send the specific information that is needed.

This attention to detail is essential. In tight negotiations, marginal differences count. We can increase our odds of success by walking in the shoes of the decision-maker. 

We can do this by asking ourselves, "If I was them, what information would I need?"

Alternatively, during phone calls, web meetings and face-to-face meetings test the water by asking, "If I was to produce such and such information, would you and your colleagues find this useful?"

If the answer is cold or lukewarm, then perhaps it is not worth going to too much trouble. If however, the response is very positive, then it is worth putting the time and effort into producing content of value.

An example of a very positive response could be, "Yes! That would be really helpful! In fact, if you go to the trouble of doing that, I'll make sure your information gets circulated around the firm to those who need to see it..." then you know it is worth investing some time and resources.

This approach is sophisticated business communication and it gets results. It is practised by people who understand that strong business relationships are built by providing high-quality support.

It is an approach that differs from what is often the norm which is general content marketing. To compare, general content marketing is about "putting content out there" through websites and social media. It is written with a buyer persona in mind. In contrast, content that is produced to initiate, develop, maintain and invigorate a conversation, is written for the specific person or the specific people who are influencing or making a decision.

Various methods or combinations of methods can be used including presentations, leave-behinds, meeting briefs and white papers. The example below of a sales playbook combines an eBook linked to a knowledge hub.

The more both your approach and your content match the needs of the person or people who will be consuming the content, the greater the value both to them and to you.

Adrian Hargreaves is the owner of Hargreaves Marketing Ltd a sales and marketing communications company.

For more information contact Adrian Hargreaves at 07866-795858.

When you are a stranger in a strange land you need an expert guide with local knowledge - by Adrian Hargreaves

Everybody eventually 'hits a wall.' Hitting the wall is where we finally understand that what we have been doing doesn't work anymore.

Anyone who has pushed themselves academically, professionally or privately will have experienced this situation many times.

Often our quest to find a better alternative route is anything but straightforward. As a drawing, it would appear more like a long and winding road than a straight line. Whilst this is normal, the demands we place on ourselves and the needs others put on us make the long and winding road an uncomfortable place to be on for too long.

So how can we get away from the cul-de-sacs, country lanes and congested roads and onto the highways that will speed our journey? Or in more business language, how can we reach our goals faster?

To answer that question, let us continue with the travel theme and imagine that we are intent on crossing a high-alpine glacier. These environments are in many ways similar to business in that they continually change and, by doing so, create situations such as deep crevasses made all the more dangerous by a light covering of new snow. To navigate such a path safely and within a reasonable time requires specialist knowledge, tools and experience. Whilst we may be experienced travellers, always catching our flights on time, this experience is of little use on a high-alpine route. We need an expert guide with specialist local knowledge when we are strangers in a strange land.

Similarly, in business, we can reach our goals faster with the help of a specialist guide. Sometimes that will be in the form of an industry specialist. On other occasions, it will be through more of a functional specialist.

My collaboration with Mike Mason is an example of this. Mike has decades of specialist experience gained working in the paper industry. By contrast, I have worked in several industries and would not claim to be an expert in any of them. However, I have always worked in sales and marketing communications. Working for multiple companies within different industries has enabled me to develop the services that I now offer to my clients.

Sales and marketing communication is a vast area. As a small business, it is impossible to cover everything. It is far better to focus on one thing and do it well.

My value proposition is straightforward. I help people get carefully planned and curated information in front of external buyers and internal stakeholders that can start, develop and maintain productive business conversations.

How does this deliver value for my clients? We all know that wanting to get meetings with key decision-makers and presenting to them are two different things.

Even with the best intentions from all concerned, aligning dairies, travel issues and cost create complications. Now we have more people working remotely, and when they are in the office, they need to prioritise their time with colleagues.

Of course, for every problem, there is an opportunity. Rather than fight battles, we cannot win. Does it not make good business sense to find a better way?

Instead of risking annoying people by chasing to get impossible appointments, imagine if we could produce highly relevant information that is so useful that the team of people making the decisions choose to share and discuss it between themselves.

The fact is that people prefer to make their own decisions as opposed to being sold to. The power is with the buyer, not the seller. Whether we are selling our company, products and services to external buyers or our ideas, plans and recommendations to internal stakeholders, our success is increasingly dependent on the quality of information we provide.

We go through the process of understanding what information people need by asking them. Sometimes directly, but usually more subtly through conversation. It is in fact the quality of the conversations that we have which is the key factor. Big decisions need to be taken with care. Making the wrong decision can have both major business and career implications. Decision-makers need to be helped to reach their decisions. Having open conversations and providing accurate tailored information which can be shared, discussed and debated builds both momentum and relationships.

My job is to work with you and your team to help you articulate what you want to say to who you want to say it within a digital media format that can be directed to specific people and shared as required. This is the modern way to start, build and maintain productive business conversations through which you can generate the momentum to move forward.

Adrian Hargreaves is the Managing Director of Hargreaves Marketing Ltd, a sales and marketing communication company.

Previously Adrian worked in the telecommunications, the drinks trade, publications and technology industries. Companies that employed Adrian in sales, marketing and recruitment roles included: BT, Daniel Thwaites PLC, Marstons PLC, Thomson Local, Haymarket Media Group, Faversham House Media Group, Newsquest Media Group and ReachLocal.