Is poor communication costing your business?

Read on for the full panel Q&A 

Meet the panel

What are the elements of effective communication?

Yeah, okay. So I think Mark Twain said that “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” So this isn’t something that you can quickly bang up, it takes time and effort. And I think brevity and concise, and being clear, comes from repetition. The first time we go and talk to a client, or have a tricky conversation around money, it’s so much harder than the second time, third time, fourth time, fifth time. And there’s a reason for that. So don’t be afraid to experiment, don’t be afraid to try things out.

 But at the end of the day, effective communication starts with listening, and listening doesn’t start with your ears. It actually starts with your brain, you’ve got to be prepared to listen, you’ve got to not be thinking about your shopping list or be preparing your answer to what they’re saying or whatever. You’ve got to stop. You’ve got to have your brain ready to listen. You’ve got to have your eyes open. 82% of communication is non verbal, and that’s why when I encourage people to do things face to face, that’s why. It’s not because I want you to spend time out of the office, but 82%. 7% is words, so if you’re sending emails and getting misconstrued, hello? 7% of communication is words, that’s why.

So people miss out in the modern day when we’re trying to economise on our time. I’ll just flick off that email, or whatever. If there’s a problem, pick up the phone. If there’s really a big problem go face to face, because you’re getting so much. You can deliver a clearer message, and you’re getting so much more in feedback. And it’s harder for someone to squirm and to not answer when you’re sitting in front of them.

But lastly, clear communication ends with your mouth. And that’s not part of the talking process, it’s part of the listening process. When we hear things, we filter. We have life experiences, we have stuff in our brains. So we have to use our mouth to feed back and go, “thank you so much. What I’ve heard you say today, is that right? I’ve made this assumption; what I heard was this, what I thought about was this, is that right?”. Go back and check with your client, because chances are you’ve heard correctly, but often we mishear things for a hundred, million, different reasons.

Frances Pratt

CEO and Founder , Metisan

How do you use brand personality to improve communication?

Just stepping back a bit, I think building on what’s been said, I think we’re living in a really strange times right now, where all of us are trying to advertise our brands and we don’t know how to, all right. Social media is meant to be there for us to post online, on Facebook and LinkedIn, and that’s all getting pretty icky because all you is really sell in some sort of unsubtle way, and that’s what most people are doing. So cutting through and doing things quite well, is an art. Now all of the great brands are doing this, we know that Apple or Uber, great brands put money behind it, and they can subtly influence buying decisions.

Then there’s us, all of the smaller medium micro brands, whatever, we’re competing on the same platform, the Internet. Yet, we’re not playing the same game. So one of the games that good brands play is having a brand personality defined by archetypes, for instance. And they influence that personality that way… To put it simply, they talk to our subconscious, and they influence us to some degree by the brand personality they take on. So I argue that everyone out here today has to be thinking around those lines, that’s what I try to teach people to do. So brand archetypes are overarching stories that we’ve seen, that we understand innately, that we’ve grown up with.

 We all know the funny uncle, well that’s sort of like Virgin, for instance. We all know boy meets girl, and someone’s happy in the end. We all know the hero’s journey. These are in the movies we see, the plays we go to see, the books we go to see, and brands that align themselves with those archetypes tend to subconsciously be remembered by us. So I just think treating a photo as ‘oh look they’re just going to blap another photo on the website because they’ve got to bang some content out’, is the wrong way to think. You’ve got to go back, what’s your target customer? What are you trying to impress them with? What values do you have that you want to get through to them, and can that come across in the photos and the language you’re using et cetera. And that comes from understanding a personality.

Stewart Clark:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative). So what you’re saying there is that it not only requires some good quality photography, but quite a bit of discerning views in regard to what’s used, what’s not, to ensure that you are providing that congruent sort of approach.

  It’s up to the company to brief the web designer, the photographer, brief us as creatives, the writer, as to what you see your business as, and this is a big thing most businesses miss out on. They assume a web company is going to do a great job. A web company can put some photos up, but really it’s up to you. You have to provide the inspiration. And everyone’s got a business strategy, most people have a marketing strategy.  And so what we’re talking about here is brand strategy, what is my brand, and most people don’t get involved in that. And that’s what the big boys do, and because we’re playing on the same platform, everyone should be thinking along these lines today.

Peter Engelhardt

CEO and Founder , Plan2Brand

  Yeah I think Pete is absolutely right, we have to hold the reins of our company and share the inside out. And I think sometimes when we think about Apple and Uber and Virgin and those big budgets and those sort of things, it can feel so far away. But in reality, what all of those companies know, is what their clients think and feel and do. And all of you have the opportunity to do that. It doesn’t take a massive budget to sit down with three or four clients and hear their story. What’s their experience of you? Why did they say yes to you? Why do they stay? What was it? And not in your words, we’re too close to our own businesses.

 Think about how you can get those client experiences and then translate that. That’s your brand story. Your brand is not what you dream up at 2:00 A.M. Your brand is the experience of your customers, and if you can better understand, deeply understand their experience, then you will have the most beautiful story, the most amazing words and emotions, and you will really understand how people buy from you. To me that’s where the power is.

Frances Pratt

CEO and Founder , Metisan

What sort of imagery has the best communication value?

When I studied 25, 30 odd years ago, it was a Diploma of Illustrative Photography, that’s what it was called. I think that still holds true today, as being illustrative in what you’re actually trying to communicate. So any image that is illustrative of what you do, and it’s done in a professional manner with regards to sharpest clarity, all those kind of approaches, I think that’s the key with regards to that.

Images that portray your people, yourself, your customers, your environment, your staff, your branding, anything that paints the bigger picture of what you’re doing, who you are, and what you stand for. A lot of my clients are PR in communication departments, and that’s basically what they look for day in, day out. So I try and take that approach with anything I photograph these days, regardless of what it is. Just to communicate an emotion, try get a reaction from the people that are actually viewing the image. The website, the page, the printed page, whatever it is, you need to communicate an emotion and a reaction based upon what it is you’re actually offering.

   I think it just comes down to conversation, communicating one on one in conversation. Finding out a bit more about what Peter would do or what Fran would do, about branding their purpose, their all encompassing… why they exist.

And based upon that. Then you can actually dig a little bit deeper into their staff, their clients, and get them involved.

 I think the key is to be descriptive, just to eliminate distraction from your photographs. If the photographs have got a clear purpose and a clear point of interest, and there’s no distractions, you’ll get that message across. There’s a number of ways of doing that, but just decluttering backgrounds. Even if you’re taking photos of yourself be conscious of what’s in the background. What’s the focal point, what are you trying to communicate. Yeah using shallow depth of feel, blurring out the background, simple techniques like that can emphasise a person, emphasise an emotion, a reaction. And you need to go into a job 100% and keep that in mind-

And that’s of course all part of the photographic brief as well, okay. We might touch on that a little bit later. But having a very, very clear path to take, when you’re actually got a vision if you like. 

As far as the target market is concerned, basically visualise yourself obviously in their position. And just try and think of what would resonate with them. What kind of imagery, what kind of emotion, what kind of circumstance and environment they’re likely to be in when they’re actually viewing. I think activity based imagery works well with the target market. If it’s trade, if it’s construction, if it’s professional services or whatever it may be, if you can actually photograph in that environment that relates to that person directly, and have a body of work that demonstrates your efficiency, your expertise and professionalism-

Build up a small little image library of images that you can output every now and again, just to back it up and keep it constant throughout a period of time, is a great step.

 It’s all well and good to have a killer banner image on the website, that’s great. That needs to flow to other aspects of social media, other landing pages. You’ll see a great banner image on a landing page, you’ll dig deeper into the website, and just start seeing more and more stock images appear. So that’s given me initiative in a lot of ways. So if you want to try and shoot with the bigger picture in mind, so you’ve got a library of images that you can actually pull on for various uses throughout. And that’s not as hard as you might think. If you’re on site for an hour, or even two, you can pull out 40, 50, maybe 60, 70, great images that you can utilise over time.

Stewart Clark:                   You touched on stock images there. I think probably everybody has used a stock image at one stage, and many probably still do. Why don’t stock images work?

They used to work quite well, I think. Now, if you’re trying to portray experience, expertise… personally the best way to do it is to showcase yourself. It’s pretending, almost. It’s just not real.

And I think I’ve made a point of it somewhere in here, you can purchase a website template, you can populate it with stock images, you can add some text and you’re up and running. So you really need to separate yourself from people that aren’t as experienced, that don’t have the knowledge, the communication skills to actually come through with the results that you need. Yeah it’s basically just getting people to dig deeper into your website, if they see some surreal images basically.

There’s a lot of industries that are renowned for it. Dentists are one, you’ll see the same smiling faces on four or five different dentist websites, and so forth. 

Frank Amato

CEO and Founder , Frank Amato Photography

A lot of business’s marketing these days has moved away from talking about what they sell to the ‘why’, or the purpose. How do you communicate WHY effectively?

yWell ou’ve got to have a ‘why’ first. You’ve got to have a purpose first. And it’s how I see a business or brand, it’s like an organism. It’s got many moving parts. And let’s step back, everyone knows what we mean by purpose, or ‘why’, et cetera. Who has a purpose in their business, or a solid ‘why’.

 To show you how that plays out, let’s look at a big brand, Nike. Their purpose is to innovate and inspire their athletes and all this. Their purpose isn’t to make another pair of runners, and that runs the whole business. So, anyone that works for Nike, their job is to innovate and inspire. It’s easy because they’re a big brand, but they can go to a big advertising agency, and they can go all right, I need to create some imagery, an ad that innovates and inspires because that’s we’re about. They’ve got the budgets, so they’ll talk to the biggest athletes in the world, and it’s easier to come up with that imagery.

  But take that down to a smaller business, what can a smaller business do, firstly with a purpose. And then, how is that interpreted through communication. We’re all told that we’re meant to produce content, whether it’s video, whether it’s blog posts, whatever. We’ve got to have a website, we’ve got to put content out there, we’ve got to comment on Facebook and LinkedIn, what are we going to say? Well if you have a purpose, it takes you away from selling, and talking about the change you’re hoping to make in the world, or the problem you see in the industry and how you’re fixing it.

  So let’s say you’re a small organic chain of groceries, like all the others. What’s your point of difference? Let’s say your purpose was ‘help people live longer’, and the owner was fanatical about helping people live longer. And they actually wrote about it, blogged about it, they changed their labels to talk about the food, the researched it, they became a bit of an authority on it. All of a sudden all of their content, all of their communications is more about helping people live longer, oh and by the way, I’ve got an organic set of shops. But it takes you away from selling, and talking about the change you want to see in the world or in your industry, because purpose is often about a problem you see in an industry such as, I don’t know if you know Kogan… and lots of people started a purpose from a problem they saw.

 So it drives a business more than you can believe, because like minded people want to work for you, and people will talk about you, and it turns into the brand story that people can write about. And then that, joined up with brand personality et cetera, you’re starting to build a company that stands apart from the competitors, and doesn’t always have to talk about selling.

 I think it’s going to be harder to make a dollar in the future, in the world we’re heading into, if you don’t have a ‘why’. We’re already challenged, advertising doesn’t work. The selling model, advertising model is broken. How we cut through is getting harder and harder, and I think we’ve got to go to purpose, I think people are starting a business because they can. That’s what we all did many years ago. I think those days are numbered.

 If your physiotherapist wants to start a business today, I think they have to question how can I do things just that little bit differently? How could I niche? What would the onboarding of a new client look like in a new… let’s try and innovate that little bit. How should I get a teenager to come to me as a physiotherapist, and maybe educate him in an email before he arrived in the morning, so he knew what we were going to talk about and I gave him some background information.

  For instance, you’re starting to use a bit of technology to change the way you’re communicating or letting them know about your purpose or what you believe, or why you’re different. So just starting to think different, and communicate differently, I just think you have to do that today or… and that gets down to the other customer service but-

I believe until what you say is more important than what you sell, you’re always going to be competing on price.

Peter Engelhardt

CEO and Founder , Plan2Brand

What’s the best way to move a client on to another provider because you want to part ways?

Yeah I think it was really interesting, I saw that question come through and I thought oh that’s a great question, and I love good meaty questions like that. So I think the first thing is to have a really clear understanding of what a good relationship with your business looks like. Really understand, and do an audit of your customers. Customers are like children, you need to have really clear expectations and you need to be consistent with what you’re saying to them.

So if you sit down and you review all of your customers, not just the naughty one, and go look, what’s good about them? What’s bad about them? What’s working? What’s not working? Then you can have clear and honest conversations with all of them. Because even the ones who are a little bit naughty, not the really bad one that you want to sack, but even the little bit naughty one, is costing you. It’s costing you because maybe they upset your staff, or that they don’t follow the processes that you want them to follow, or whatever it is. You need to have a communication with all of them.

 If you really want to sack a client, then have that under your belt first. Where possible, do it face to face. Be honest, be clear. Talk to them about the process you’ve been through. We’ve reviewed all of our clients and here’s the key criteria that make a good client for us, and unfortunately, where we’re at right now is, you just don’t fit that model. Tell them the outcome of that review, don’t be wishy washy about it. Be clear. And then tell them your decision, we’ve decided that we can’t help you anymore. Don’t mince words, they need to hear it straight from you. You need to be honest with them.

And then help them move to another provider, help them. And I’m not talking about this from theory. One of the businesses that I was involved in, actually why I started my own business, was because we helped a business that was worth two million dollars to us, we told them that we couldn’t work with them anymore. So we took a six million dollar business, and we removed two million dollars of it. And it was my job to off board that client. And it was a good process, it’s got to be a good process. You’ve got to have thought about it. So that’s my process.

Frances Pratt

CEO and Founder , Metisan

Well everything you say and do, the reaction is part of the gut feeling that becomes the brand experience, and it matters immensely, so everything Fran said I 100% agree with. So easy to avoid awkward conversations, but very, very important. And I don’t think people realise how much a not appropriate client costs a business. We’ve got to all run a very tight ship, we’re all trying to niche and niche and be very good at something, and if someone’s dragging us down a bit, get rid of them.

Stewart Clark:                   So would it also be fair to say that, there’s also then quite a cost to doing nothing, just keeping that customer.

Jeanine Purdie:                 Absolutely.

Peter Engelhard:              Yeah. 

Peter Engelhardt

CEO and Founder , Plan2Brand

How does poor communication impact debt collection?

Well, it puts thing off on a very bad start. So, when things could be done a whole lot better, you can look at it and think, what were the processes? How did this happen? We get a lot of history, it really does escalate a situation and can make it very difficult. So if things were done better at the start, if things were communicated better, then sometimes you might not get that matter, or it might be sorted quickly. So very bad communication can be very detrimental.

It does go way back to when the engagement actually happened.  To the time of the sale.

People don’t realise it, they don’t realise how far back your sales people can affect the process. It’s not just your paperwork, where obviously you need to have something in place, whether it be an email, an agreement, purchase orders, delivery orders, all those things that we know we should be getting. Often people don’t get those things, so those things really do help the process, if you do have those written things.

 It can also be oral as well. Verbal communication. You’ve got to be very careful with the way you speak to people, and don’t be afraid to be too nice about things. You’ve got to ask for money, you’ve got to make people aware that from the start, that you mean business. You’ve provided a service, you’ve provided goods, and that within a certain timeframe you expect to be paid.

So it’s all about written communication, verbal communication, and having relationships.

Be nice and clear and honest and concise up front because there is a massive cost if you’re not.

  And it certainly is costly. And if you look at the statistics where dollar, people used as a bank, then sort of a $1000 debt can, at 120 days, can cost you $300, and people just don’t realise that. So holding on to a debt is very costly, and should be handed over, and you should have clear processes to hand it over at a particular timeframe, whether it be 30 days, 60 days, disputed, just don’t be afraid to hand it over.

And it’s not just the financial cost, there’s stress as well,  lots of sleepless nights, particularly big debts. And people that have never experienced a debt before, they don’t know what to do, who to turn to. As I said, it affects their health, their blood pressure. They may be engaging the wrong people at the start, if you’re passing a debt over to a nineteen year old receptionist isn’t a great idea. Who doesn’t know how to ask the question, doesn’t want to ask for money at all. They’re not experienced in it, it’s just not their forte. Perhaps if they had sent it across to people that are experts in the field, then they’d get a better outcome earlier.

Jeanine Purdie

CEO and Founder , Business Credit Solutions

Meet the host

Stewart Clark, Founder and Principal coach of SCS Performance

SCS performance is a specialist consultancy firm delivering a specially designed range of coaching programs to the small to medium business market - to drive bottom line return.

Stewart is an energetic and experienced business adviser with many years of experience coaching, advising and supporting small and medium sized businesses across Australia.

Leveraging a lengthy career in finance and corporate business, Stewart has worked "in" or "on" a range of businesses and industries Australia wide.

Possessing a people-oriented style and a keen eye for detail, Stewart is well versed in strategic planning, financial analysis, sales delivery and business improvement. Stewart is also a published author of “It’s not what you make, but what you keep” and is a regular speaker.

Unlike a traditional business coach, Stewart focuses on enhancing the mechanics of a business – its people, its process and its systems – to achieve long-term business success.

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