I had six weeks of archery training in eighth grade, so you can trust what I have to say next.
Effective business communications are all about delivering value. To deliver value, you have to know your audience, know your value proposition, and be able to deliberately and successfully deliver your message to an audience that is positioned to receive it.
If any one of these communications components is missing, your efforts will result in wasted resources and disappointment.
Identify your target
It goes without saying that an archer must know his target before he pulls back that bowstring. The same goes with communications. Too many times, businesses and professionals throw out a message without being intentional about the audience they hope to influence. You know the saying, “You can’t be everything to everyone.” Well, in business communications, that means that you’re wasting time and resources if you pitch your business value to everyone you meet.
Carefully select your bow
You’ll never hit a bullseye if you don’t choose the right bow, and choosing the right bow in archery requires two pieces of information: what is your dominant eye, and what will it take to bring down your target?
In business communications, your “dominant eye” translates into your value proposition. I like Kissmetric’s definition of a value proposition, adapted here in part:
a collection of the most persuasive reasons people should notice you and believe that you can deliver what they need
Another way of saying it is a “compelling description of the benefits you provide.”
Knowing your value proposition is beyond important, but so is knowing what your audience expects. You can’t deliver buffalo wings to a vegan and expect them to eat just because it is what you served. Think about how your message will (or will not) resonate with your target market. And then decide if your message needs to be adapted, or if you are simply focusing on the wrong audience.
Position yourself in relation to your target
Once you have identified your target, make sure you position yourself for optimal results. And keep your eye on your target at all times. If you get distracted or decide to go after a new target at the last minute, you probably won’t be successful.
The same is true in business communications. Failing to fix your target means that your message will keep shifting to accommodate different audiences. You will lose sight of your value proposition, you will waste time, and you will probably miss your target.
Draw, aim, and release
While draw, aim, and release seem to be three separate steps, the truth is that they are one. That’s because they must be completed in one fluid motion. Otherwise, you will not maintain control or concentration, and your chance of hitting your target will be greatly diminished. (Don’t feel badly if you don’t have this down; it takes lots of practice to perfect your delivery.)
You might not consider the value of “practicing” your business communications, but you should. Now, please don’t jump to the conclusion that this is the same as an “elevator pitch.” The reason I don’t like the reference “elevator pitch” is because it is so you-centered, and too often it is delivered in such a practiced manner that listeners immediately hit the off button.
While I get the theory of downloading all you need to say in the length of time it takes to ride the elevator down a few floors, the analogy is off-target. Let’s face it, your pitch isn’t really intended to be delivered in an elevator to a person you just met who is already uncomfortable being beside you. And think how more uncomfortable that are when you unload your entire business model because they happened to say, “How are you,” or “And where do you work?” The only thing they are thinking is, “I can’t wait to get off of this elevator.”
Your entire communications process should be fluid and second nature. That means that your value proposition must be delivered naturally, in the course of discussion. It has to be more of a give and take than give, give, give.
Caveat: Social skills are a huge factor here. Every interaction is a potential business opportunity, but only if you handle the interaction with class and confidence.
If you’re uncomfortable determining your value proposition, connect with a communications professional who can help you narrow your message and deliver a strong value proposition.
If you recognize that your interpersonal skills are lacking, that you freeze when you do have an opportunity to zero in on a business target, or you know that you deliver a less than best verbal pitch, consider professional groups that help improve communications, such as Toastmasters International. It’s almost a guarantee that you will find a group that meets near you, and your returns will be well worth your time investment.
Remember, your ability to draw, aim, and release is the only way to hear the victory cry, “Bullseye!”