To market culture change, change the way you market

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Sometimes trading an inefficient process for an efficient process can get stymied in the cultural issues that come with change. That's what Ryan Niles, partner at SMS Assist, has learned in his company's quest to help businesses save time, money and manpower on facilities management. Here is our conversation:

What are the biggest challenges you run into when convincing organizations to change the way they do things?

Niles: There are two main challenges. First, most companies don't know what facilities management is costing them. More specifically, they may not know how much they are spending on snow removal across hundreds or even thousands of locations because this service is traditionally managed on a local basis.

This leads to the second challenge, of going from distributed decision-making to centralized decision-making. With the distributed model, data to support a change rationale can be hard to come by, and local management may not initially see the benefit of giving up control. It's very natural for people to resist change. Often it's due to the unknown.

How do you overcome the cultural issues of change?

Niles: There are three drivers of a successful change: quality of plan, acceptance and execution. The likelihood of successful change is a direct outcome of the extent to which people, resources, process and communications are identified and aligned to meet the needs of the initiative.

We place a high degree of focus on influencing those individuals we cannot control and showing them how they will benefit from the new approach. Often times, marketers will forget about those who are not decision-makers, but this is a mistake. Think about those who could become roadblocks and how your solution will actually make their jobs easier. And remember to make them a segment in your marketing plan. Once customers understand the entire value proposition that your solution brings to the table, you will be able to easily overcome the cultural issues.

What key things do you think marketing can do to assist sales in overcoming culture-shift roadblocks, especially when your product or service requires a culture shift before it is implemented?

Niles: Marketing can assist sales in overcoming the cultural resistance factors by addressing the issues before they happen:

  • Fear of the unknown. Let everyone know who you are and what you're doing, and most importantly how the change will benefit them.
  • Proper initiation. The change needs to come from those who have the greatest influence on a successful outcome.
  • Rewards. Those with the greatest influence over success need to understand the rewards that will come from implementing the changes.

Does marketing ever hamper the culture shift sales process?

Niles: If marketing is done correctly, it should only enhance the cultural shift. Often times, marketing is something that's an afterthought rather than leading the sales process. There should be strong emphasis on the three drivers of change to allow for a successful transition.

If you address quality of plan, acceptance and execution, all of which are centered around communications (marketing), marketing will assist rather than hamper the sales process. With a well-thought out and executed marketing plan that considers all of the players in making changes, there will be few if any misunderstandings.

Lisa Dreher is VP-marketing and business development with Logicalis Inc. ( She can be reached at [email protected], or via Twitter at @LisaDreher.

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