Before jumping into the secret sauce with you in this post, please join me in thanking everyone who read the previous posts and sent “likes” plus comments, plus emails and clicked into the subscribe link. What I write about next is totally coming from you—the ones who have a voice and participate actively in this conversation.
Here’s what I’m hearing from many of the owners and boards of directors of certification enterprises. You have built one or more certification programs and you believe so passionately in the mission and profession you serve. You have data that shows there are so many more who could qualify and take your test than the numbers showing up on your doorstep to inquire or even step into your certification process. Why aren’t they loving this certification like you do? Why are they making excuses to do anything but get your certification?
Let me say this as plainly as I can. The smartest and most successful certification business owners spend considerable time and thought on their brand promise: Why do they exist and what experience do they provide that makes people commit to getting their certification, no matter what? Communication is the secret sauce and it’s the most overlooked, misunderstood and barely budgeted element of the certification world. “Build it and they will come” only happens in Hollywood.
Let’s keep talking about this until you get it right. Communication is not like a vaccine where you get one shot of communications help and that makes you effective all year long. The programs that grow and hit or exceed projections each year are the ones that spend more time and money on communications and customer pipelines than they do on creating and delivering tests and preparation courses. Let that sink in. The greater return is on communication and connecting with customers and supporters than on internal exercises such as building another test or going through the accreditation process. It’s so basic and such a strong truth: The funds to fuel all of those internal and operational exercises with committees and meetings (overhead expenses) comes from customers and the fees they pay you (revenue).
Are you ready to commit more to communications, or are you hunkered down in denial?
Get out that shiny, new communications plan you wrote for 2018 and let’s walk along this path of success, together, checking to see if you have the right stuff—the secret sauce, to build your credentials business.
- What if you have no communications plan–in writing, with tasks, time, resources and agreed upon by everyone named in that plan? Then stop here. Nobody can help you if you don’t know what you’re doing or, worse, believing your own lies, such as “it’s all in my head” or “I’m doing all I can.”
- Still with us? Notice if your communications plans and daily actions all start with the customer. Make sure your primary communication strategy is listening. That means multiple processes and practices for capturing every word, behavior and pattern of the way each customer gives information to you and the way they want to get information from you.
- Are you still walking with us or did you just run ahead and jump off a cliff into thinking about content, messages and tools? Get back here and let’s check to see if you have data and plenty of feedback from customers and almost-customers about the way they would like you to treat them. Will you listen to them? Or will you insist they listen to you? If this is something you need to figure out or do better? If so, contact me. This is what we do and why we’re called The Communicators.
- If you got this far, it means you know customers are the core of the secret sauce and it means you have matured as a business to the stage where you know mass marketing and blast emails are things of the past. You and other successful credentials organizations know that different communication channels are only preferences on how people get and give information. Each person has a communication DNA. The combination of these elements is different for each person and guess what? It can become a different formula each month:
- Online efforts
- Direct mail, including invoicing
- Individually addressed, customized email
- Outbound calls
- Conversations of customer service people with inbound callers
- Orientation and training of everyone in the organization who “touches” the customer, which means listens to and records the history of the relationship with each customer.
- Is there still a place for advertising and one image or one message to simply get attention or ask someone to take the next step, such as, click here or call this number or go to this store or dealership? Yes, as long as you understand that is not communication. It’s just an invitation for them to tell you something you need to learn in order for them to know, like and trust you.
- What about your website? Finding success is really the matter of pivoting your ideas not copying others. This is where we are seeing the most growth and opportunity. Certification businesses are rapidly getting smarter about their websites and see them as places for a conversation, rather than an electronic brochure or storage unit for pile of PDFs. No longer is the certification website the tail; rather, it’s the dog. It’s the Starship Enterprise and central command center that takes total responsibility for the ownership of the relationship with customers, trainers, test companies—everyone named in the business plan.
- The fastest growing certification programs tell us they are taking ownership of their business more. No longer are they the red headed stepchild of the association with an office for one person at the end of the row of cubicles. Instead they are using communication for leadership, growth and becoming a profitable business. The trend is the “child” of the association or industry collaborative grows up, smarter, faster, more able than the parents and remembers who helped them evolve. When this works out right, the child grows up, grows rich and sends the parents on a cruise, plus the relationship grows to a new level.
How did you do? Still with us and scoring high on all seven ingredients of the secret sauce called communication? If you’re not too happy with some aspect of your current communication path, perhaps it is time for an overhaul of your communications core. That core system shapes your perception — that is your interpretation of events — and the way you choose to react ends up dictating the course of your year. Send an email to me if you think we make sense for your communications plans or if you want to show me how you did on your seven ingredients.