Boring and uninspired networking blabber.
But nonetheless, you need an answer.
Ask your employees what your company does. You'll be amazed at the variety of answers. Most will be bumbling and stumbling. Something along the lines that you provide computer and network support that's the best in the business. Blah, blah, blah.
Someone might mention a thing called "managed services." Ugh. What's that? What does it cover? Listen to your staff. You probably won't like what you hear.
I know you've heard about branding and 30 second elevator speeches. Well, here's a very simple process for defining and enforcing your branding. The hardest part is to define who you are and what you offer in 1-2 sentences each. Ideally, it will be one sentence to answer the question "What do you do?" and one sentence to answer the question "What is covered by managed services?"
First, create your two simple answers. I use the word simple, but it can actually be quite a chore to boil down the essence of your business into one line. The goal here is to give your staff an answer they can memorize so thoroughly that it rolls off their lips.
At the grocery store. At holiday parties. At football games. Wherever. Whenever. Your goal is to craft a simple sentence that will roll off their lips automatically whenever the question arises: What do you do?
Your answer cannot be merely technical. You can't say "We maximize network efficiency to provide optimal strategic advantage for our clients." Yuck. This might be technically accurate, but it doesn't serve your company well. You need to craft a sentence that will 1) Answer the question; 2) Avoid boring or confusing the inquirer; and 3) Lead to additional questions. #1 is much more important than #2, and #2 is far more important than #3.
What you don't want is a company at which every employee has a different definition of what you do and how you do it. So you need to create a one-sentence answer that gives an accurate (and positive) perception of your business, avoids technical jargon, and invites more interesting questions. All of your employees can answer the additional questions that follow from the simple introduction. You need to make sure you provide them with a quick answer that gets the conversation off to a good start.
Here's the line we use at America's Tech Support: "We design, build, and support computer services for small businesses."
We used to say that we design, build, and support Microsoft networks for small businesses. But we're a lot more open to non-Microsoft solutions than we were a few years ago.
We design, build, and support computer services for small businesses.
Everyone who hears this can understand it. Or at least they can understand enough to feel comfortable with it. They have a sense of what you do. They know you're not a plumber, a lawyer, or an accountant. You do something with computers and small businesses.
At this point, additional conversation is possible. There's a seed of something to talk about. What you've done is to create a positive image that is not misleading. You've provided information and avoided potential stumbling and fumbling that can mislead the listener.
There's one other minor advantage to having a clear, succinct branding: Your clients and prospects, if they hear this enough, may actually be able to inform others about what you do. Rather than being "The Computer Guy" you'll be the company that designs, builds, and supports computer services for small businesses.
Note on Networking: Networking is not sales (see an earlier blog post). The goal here is NOT to make a sale. Your employees won't sell a managed service contract at a bar, waiting at the car wash, or at a Christmas party. So that's not the goal. The goal is to give them the right answer, and to avoid a stumbling answer.
Define Managed Services
As with your own company, the definition of managed services is very important. Some people have never heard of it. Some have misperceptions. Some are unsure about what's covered and what's not.
Unlike the description of what your company does, the definition of managed services is something that helps your employees and clients understand your business every day. What's covered and what's not? That's the question you need to answer in a simple sentence.
You can't use a big paragraph here. You need a simple sentence that you (and your employees, and your clients) can take apart and understand. It is literally the foundation of what you deliver under the title Managed Services.
Again, you need a well-crafted one sentence answer. Here's what we've used for years. If you've attended a seminar from me, or bought the recording, then you've heard it:
"Managed Service covers the maintenance of the operating systems and software."
There are four levels of understanding here. This sentence works for all of them.
First, there are people whose eyes have already glossed over. Blah blah blah. Computer. Blah blah blah. This sentence simply allows them to nod and then move on to the cheese bits.
Second, a potential prospect, might engage in a deeper discussion. That allows you/your employee to describe the joys of flat fee pricing, preventive maintenance, etc.
Third, your employees need to be able to use this sentence to re-construct in their head the fine points of what's covered and what's not.
Fourth, this line allows your current customers to re-construct in their head the fine points of what's covered and what's not.
Here's what I mean by the last two items. Take that sentence apart. What's covered by managed services?
1) Maintenance . . . so NOT adds, moves, and changes.
2) Operating systems and software . . . so NOT hardware.
You might have all kinds of deals with hardware as a service, plans that cover network equipment, etc. But the 90% rule should be covered by your one-sentence description.
And, of course, what works for us might not work for you. So fine-tune, test, and create your own killer description.
Our one-sentence answer is not intended to replace a 14-page contract on managed services. But it allows us to start the conversation on the right foot. We can elaborate by saying, "Bascially, if something is working and breaks, we fix it for free. If you want to add software, we'll charge for that. But once it works, then it's covered." Maintenance of the operating system and software.
So now you have two cool little sentences that you want everyone to memorize until they are automatic responses.
What do we do? We design, build, and support computer services for small businesses.
What's covered by managed services? Managed Service covers the maintenance of the operating systems and software.
Now you need to get some memorization out of the way. This is really not too difficult. First, you need to write out these sentences. Then you need to set up a system to test your employees . . . over and over again forever.
When we had a larger staff, we used to "test" on these phrases once a month. I would ask people to write down what we do, then read their answers out loud. It's AMAZING that people couldn't memorize these two sentences . . . sometimes after years with the company.
But that's why it's important to drill. First, if you don't drill, then you have no hope of being successful. You can't enforce what you don't measure. Basic Peter Drucker management stuff here.
So, you need to ask people to memorize. Then you need to "test" how well they're doing. Again and again.
Over time, everyone will get better. In our experience, administrative assistants did the best. They wrote out the phrases and posted them to their monitors. And when it came time for a test, they got it right. Technicians tended to be bumbling and stumbling and say something different each time. And that's why you need to be consistent about this.
I do have to say: It is very gratifying to hear someone answer the phone and, after a brief interchange, casually say "We design, build, and support computer services for small businesses."
- Forms -
There are no specific forms for implementing this SOP. You might write up your two sentences and distribute them to everyone. Post them publicly.
This process requires that everyone on the team
1) Be aware of the branding
2) Practice the branding
3) Correct one another's errors
4) Support one another with reminders
Your Comments Welcome.
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About this Series
SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.
Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at http://www.smallbizthoughts.com/events/SOPFriday.html.
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Next week's topic: Running Regular Financial Reports
Still the best Quick-Start Guide to Managed Services:
by Karl W. Palachuk
Now only $39.95 at SMB Books!