Friday, January 18, 2013

"Selling" Your Tech Comm Project

by Mary Whalen
For our SMEs (Subject Matter Experts), time is a currency that usually is in short supply.  Though a technical communication project might have dollar funding in place, getting our coworkers' or clients' time allocated to that project can be a daily challenge for us.

I find that the biggest part of my job is actively selling my tech comm projects to SMEs, so I look to the world of sales for advice. 

Sell Benefits
From the beginning of a project, I try to investigate and discuss with SMEs how spending time helping me will help them.  Will a manual help the implementation of a new service be accepted in a more positive way?  Will release notes help my SME spend less time answering questions and emails about a product?

Repeat Your Message
Most of our SMEs are overloaded with emails and phone calls, so I try to get noticed by doing a "campaign" for their time.  After an initial email, I might leave a voicemail, set up a meeting, or stop by my SME's office or cube to make sure my needs stand out.

Change Methods to Change Results
For me, the most efficient way to get feedback on a document draft is to send it to the reviewer and have them mark up the document electronically.  My reviewer, however, might prefer processing information in an auditory rather than visual way and feel overwhelmed about reading through a document.  So my backup plan would be to meet in person and discuss the document.  Or my reviewer might have a hard time allocating enough time to review 30 page draft, so I might break down the document into smaller chunks. 

The Customer is Always Right
Especially if we are working as a consultants or contractors, our SMEs are like customers to us.  So although I know that early reviews help prevent major last minute changes and rework, I also know that SMEs cannot always follow the review schedule.  I do my best to warn clients of how missed reviews can impact a project, but I'm ready to be "less efficient" if it fits a client's needs.

I know that I'm just skimming the surface of the complex writer-SME relationship.  But simply adopting a salesperson mindset can have a huge impact on the success of your technical communication projects. 

What are some creative "sales" tactics you've used to get your busiest SMEs to spend time on your tech comm projects?

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