Selling content strategy: Karen McGrane

Selling content strategy: Karen McGrane

This was one of my favorite sessions of the conference, I think because Karen is just so very frank (and funny) when speaking about the realities of making change happen as the user advocate and strategist in an organization that is often resistant to change. I think we all tend to be such idealists when it comes to talking about our work, cheerfully encouraging others to believe that we’re going to come in and make a difference — the reality is that what we do is a much harder sell, and we have to package it for a world that’s not necessarily open to doing things a new way.

A few takeaways (and brilliant soundbites) from Karen’s talk:

  • Content editing is easy. Organizational change is hard: it’s a life’s work. As strategists, we are focused on the latter.
  • Wherever you work, you are being paid to do a job, and fix things when they go wrong. People don’t readily recognize that you need to come in earlier to prevent things from going wrong in the first place. “If you want a seat at the table, it can’t just because you’re making YOUR job easier — it has to be b/c you’re making THEIR job easier.” (I loved this statement.)
  • Make sure you know exactly what you’re asking for; be the nicest person in the room; make them see that you’re a star who is going to create value and offer unique perspective that helps them do what they couldn’t do before.
  • Really strive to understand the processes and culture of the organization. Do they use agile or waterfall development? What do they value? It’s important to speak their language and figure out where they’re coming from.
  • When you do get a seat at the table, be prepared to say exactly what you need to do. Saying “I don’t know, I have to get in there” isn’t going to sell it. (This was another brilliant insight — something I’m too guilty of.)
  • Our goal is to create business value. Businesses want to make money — period. Arguing that you are going to increase sales, is so much more valuable that you’re going to reduce costs.
  • Karen quoted a colleague: “The project was delayed, we lost the client, I don’t have trouble selling content strategy anymore.” Do a post-mortem after each project and document how many hours were spent as a result of not doing the content the right way. Make a strong case for: hey, we can’t do this anymore – we are losing money as a result.
  • Do usability testing, which is a profound way to persuade people. Analytics are less effective. People believe “if I can prove it to them they’ll believe me,” but instead it means that you’re using stats to show them what a bad job they’re doing. Use measurement that actually shows something, and be tough on yourself to make sure you actually believe what you’re showing as proof.
  • “When somebody comes to you and knows what they’re asking for, that’s when the conversation takes off.”

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