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Jan

04

2013

From Startup to IPO: How Business Communication Changes with Growth

Inbound Marketing

In 2012 an Allison+Partners/PR Week study revealed that 88% of participants were in favor of Creative Destruction when it comes to reinventing online media. If that’s a term you’re unfamiliar with, it’s just what it sounds like—doing away with old models of communication and building a more creative solution from the ground up. Social media, video conferencing, and more robust email tools have irreversibly changed the way businesses interact internally and with their customers.

Changing technology isn’t the only reason for creative destruction of communications. Changes in business models and size can be just as big a factor. It’s challenging for large companies to communicate effectively when their customers are spread out across a region, not just a local community. The personal touch often gets lost, but it doesn’t have to be. We’ve reached a state in communication where we’ve come full circle, and technology now allows us to keep in personal contact no matter what size your business is.

What does all this have to do with online marketing? Everything. Marketing is communication. The effectiveness of that communication plays a big role in determining your success.

If you’re struggling with keeping the personality in your growing company, here are some suggestions that might help as you move from small business to large—and examples of how they’ve worked for others.

There are many ways to define business size, but for the purposes of this article we’ll go with number of employees, as internal size plays a large role in communication:

  • Small business: Less than 50 Employees
  • Medium business: Between 50-499 Employees
  • Large business: 500+ Employees

Small Business

In many ways, small businesses have an advantage when it comes to communicating with their customers. Management is generally more available to personally respond to inquiries and attend networking events, and the overall volume of contacts and communications is smaller. This is the perfect time in your growth state to focus on optimizing communication. As long as you make yourself available—your business contact information is clearly listed, responses are prompt and personal—the technical side of how you communicate is not a huge concern.

Focus instead on making sure communication is targeted. Identify who you are speaking with (is communication internal or external? Are you talking to a high-level thinking decision maker, or a technically minded engineer?) and craft your communications accordingly. Internally, we follow the Return on Energy communication model, which separates Ways of thinking into three categories: Visionary, Strategist, and Tactician. It allows us to communicate more clearly internally, but also when speaking to clients, venders, and creating great marketing materials that really nail buyer persona.

At the risk of appearing a bit conceited, we like to put ourselves forward as an example of good small business communication, as that’s what our CEO Michael Rose has founded the business on: clear communication. Around the website and elsewhere you’ll find examples of how we make ourselves available. You’ll find our Linkedin information on our individual staff pages, our phone number is displayed in the banner, and we try to answer all inquiries as promptly as possible.

Medium Business

When you have more than 50 employees the internal and external communication lines can be come a bit muddied, but they don’t have to be. All the tactics of small business communication can be used at the level of a medium sized business, and are in face more important than ever.

Still, as a medium sized business, replying promptly and personally to inquiries can be difficult. This is where automated email nurturing comes into play. Email nurturing is primarily used as a friendly and helpful way to move a prospect through the sales funnel. Every few days, a touch point is sent that builds off the previous email and links to useful information or marketing materials. These can be as personalized as you make them, and as an agency we put nurturing systems at the core of our deliverable value.

Nurturing can also be used in support of other inquiries to buy a little bit of time so that someone can respond internally. Nurturing doesn’t take the place of one on one sales or support interaction, but it can be used to streamline the sales process so that your sales staff only communicates to leads that qualify themselves during the nurturing process. That saves time and makes everyone happy.

It’s important for the business to have a publically available face however. For Saddleback Leather, this is founder Dave Munson, who reaches out frequently to answer questions via email and social media. For Valve, one of the world’s most successful game studios responsible for some of the most popular series (Including Half Life, Portal, and Left 4 Dead) that face is Gabe Newell, co-founder and Managing Director, who personally responds to almost all the emails he receives from fans, even if those emails are less than serious.

Big Business

Above 500 employees, efficient communication becomes a challenge. This is where having streamlined internal systems like Return on Energy become the most useful in reducing costs and keeping customers (and staff) satisfied with the qualify of company interaction. It may no longer be practical at this stage to put a business leader at the forefront of customer interaction, but it is still important to maintain open interaction through Social Media, webinars, and other channels. Microsoft’s famous X-Box Live personality Major Nelson acts as a liaison between Xbox Live and customers, sharing over social media his own experiences and reviews of video games, answering questions and support inquiries, and generally handling public relations when appropriate. This keeps the personality in big business—and with personality comes a devoted customer base.

What are your biggest communication challenges and innovations in your company? Let us know by leaving a comment, or replying to us on Twitter @mojomedialabs.

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