Notice the company's highest aspiration is not about selling world-class lawn fertilizer. Instead, it places a premium on communicating why it is in business. Putting its purpose as a company front and center, Scotts Miracle-Gro has grown to nearly $3 billion in revenue and continues to be an impressive brand leader in the lawn products and services marketplace.
Consider the company's strategic perspective on business communications. When it invested in a new hosted platform encompassing voice, messaging, mobility and a full spectrum of audio, video and web conferencing services, it realized rich, collaborative capabilities for both its in-house and remote workers at 60 locations worldwide. And while the executive team was impressed with the promise of unified communications, it wasn't the technology itself that attracted them. It was the opportunity to pursue their vision by enhancing interactions throughout and beyond the enterprise. It was the why, not the what.
In his best-selling book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek provides some insight into the power of putting your purpose first. "People don't buy what you do," he contends. "They buy why you do it." Whether Sinek is explaining the triumphs of Steve Jobs, Orville and Wilbur Wright or Martin Luther King, Jr., he emphasizes that what makes you exceptional is your ability to connect with others in terms of greater goals, objectives and aspirations.READ ENTIRE ARTICLE »
Unfortunately, the communications technology industry is letting its prospective customers down on this front. At present, the industry is mired in excessive product hype. It's engaged in an arms race to pump out cool tools, features and functions, which sellers will celebrate in glitzy demos if you'll just enter their trade-show booths. Too often, product vendors are selling "shiny objects" as opposed to clearly defined outcomes. They are selling the what, not the why.
At the heart of all this hype, you'll find that product vendors play a diminishing role as markets mature. Buyers want relevant business solutions, not new invitations to technological turmoil.
Buyers want to maximize the value of every communications touch point. They spend a great deal to recruit and retain the best talent. They invest time and effort in lining up the right partners. And they work diligently to build client relationships for a lifetime. They want enriched communications and collaboration, and the communications infrastructure necessary to facilitate those objectives so they can deliver measurable gains to their bottom lines.
In turn, they want partners who can help them achieve business success by optimizing their IT assets through a variety of cloud and on-premise delivery options. Ultimately, they want to take advantage of every aspect of their core assets—people, information and processes. Product vendors, by contrast, must move product. They don't have the time or inclination to uncover the deeper objectives and concerns—much less the distinctions and idiosyncrasies—of your increasingly complex business. They can't guide you through difficult and demanding transitions. And, significantly, they can't speak to the wider business implications of your communications technology investments.
What's needed now is a more strategic and expansive perspective, one that can make business leaders more effective and elevate IT leaders above the fray of fragmented technology. To make business communications technology truly strategic, you have to ask why: Why might we rethink our approach to communications and collaboration? Why might a new approach set us apart in the marketplace? Why might our employees, partners and customers value this approach? By diligently addressing these questions, you make communications a catalyst for enduring growth.
Today's business communications issues play out against a backdrop of several overarching trends and market drivers. It's important to understand these factors because they tend to both drive organizational change and influence your perceived options.
As market pressures mount and the communications environment becomes increasingly complex, the perceived value of IT is at risk. Indeed, IT leaders are particularly vulnerable to getting dragged down into activities that are less than core, critical or competitively differentiating.
That may explain why just 43% of CIOs said they were engaged in strategic decision-making when recently surveyed by Ernst & Young. It may also explain why the status quo for many enterprises is increasingly troubling and unacceptable, particularly as it relates to their communications.
Enterprises today struggle with both communications interfaces and infrastructures. Existing communications technology costs too much and does too little. And, at a time of rising demands and expectations, such factors are contributing to IT's diminishing esteem in many organizations.
So what's behind today's business communications challenges, and what are the factors that will render certain companies obsolete while others will flourish?
One key issue is that many enterprises are tied to legacy infrastructure that holds them back. They may have a diverse array of on-premise PBXs or network servers—often attained in a series of acquisitions over the years. In the absence of VoIP technology, they may have severely limited phone or conferencing capabilities. And they may expend extraordinary sums simply maintaining obsolete systems—some of which may have been produced by manufacturers that are no longer in business.
And even when they attempt to adopt new technology, enterprises can find themselves unable to leverage it for substantial business impact. Too many products and even cloud-based services are not designed to support far-reaching rollouts that are interoperable with other communications and business applications. Too much attention is paid to the many features in a product suite and too little is paid to the value of those features or the means by which they might be consumed.
This is where the product vendors' focus on the "what" becomes most problematic. When there is no real assessment of business needs and objectives (the why) or alignment with network demands and architecture, the likelihood of disappointment is massively compounded. Cool as their products might seem, product vendors are rarely in a position to guide you on how to maximize business performance. In the absence of strategic guidance, the benefits product vendors deliver are often isolated and limited.
Where do these constraints and limitations play out? In poor performance tied to poor collaboration; in misunderstood objectives and strategies that aren't conveyed consistently or clearly; and in low engagement and participation, all the result of a belief that the means of communication is less important than the message.
When technology (audio, video, web, VoIP, cloud, webRTC, etc.) becomes the focus of a business communications initiative, something important is at risk. That something might be the performance of your people. The participation of your partners. The experience of your clients. To ensure these factors are fully addressed, it's critical to step back and approach business communications strategically.
Thinking strategically about business communications is about considering the total value equation of a decision. It starts by understanding the performance objectives the business is trying to obtain. And it recognizes there are no all-encompassing, inter-galactic, product suites—no "silver bullets"—that will fully address these goals. Products must be interoperable, and they must be integrated within a larger framework and network environment.
It's also critical to ensure you are considering performance gains that can multiply over time as opposed to just the "hard" cost savings that deliver only short-term gains. When communications becomes a mere "commodity" in the minds of IT decision makers, it confers no competitive advantage. But it can. Total value equations should account for the vast, ongoing returns associated with productive meetings and interactions among professionals.
Strategic approaches to business communications encompass and enable your lines of business. They involve a clear-eyed view of how business gets done—and how business performance can be taken to new levels. Think of your communications systems and services as strategic enablers at every touch point—for every opportunity you have to come into contact with employees, customers and partners—and consider leveraging these systems and services to achieve growth in activities such as:
The underlying communications tools supporting these strategic initiatives, by necessity, must address the trends and market drivers discussed earlier—the very things that impact the way organizations operate and make decisions. Only by fully leveraging these tools as catalysts for growth opportunities can businesses realize their business goals.
One company that understands the value of a strategic approach to business communications is Monsanto, the $11.8 billion bio- and agriculture-technology leader. With 21,000 employees spread out across 404 facilities in 66 countries, the company invested strategically to obtain a robust conferencing and communications solution. The company can now deepen interactions with its customers, for instance, by vividly and visually demonstrating how its advanced seeds and weed control products can increase agricultural yields.
Such capabilities not only enable effective meetings within the company, they help it actively engage farmers and other agricultural professionals around the planet. With the assistance of West, Monsanto has even ensured it can richly communicate with customers in fast-growing regions, including parts of Asia and Africa, that have limited telecom infrastructure and challenging tariff policies. Such moves have contributed to strong profits on strong sales.
Another company, Planview, a software firm specializing in IT portfolio management, capitalized on the power of strategic business communications to launch its own virtual user conference. Due to budget and travel restrictions among its customers, the company sought an alternative to its annual on-site conference.
Impressively, the firm was able to increase attendance by 250%, generate nearly 3,000 content downloads and enable more than 3,000 visits to 18 virtual booths. What's more, it facilitated 634 one-to-one chat sessions and 250 meet-the-expert sessions. With a keynote address by Guy Kawasaki, 50 videos and 35 customer and company presentations, the event far exceeded projected results and demonstrated that thoughtful business communications can deliver a powerful experience that deepens customer relationships and drives growth.
Lastly, D+M Group, a $1 billion manufacturer and distributor of high-end audio products for commercial, home and vehicle-based applications, outlined its goals and how strategic business communications could help attain them. The company was focused on increasing its competitive agility, engaging its clients more productively and enhancing interactions with all its other constituents.
With 2,500 employees and 30 offices around the world, the company had obtained a wide array of on-premise PBX systems through acquisitions. To meet its strategic objectives, the company would need to unify its voice communications and collaboration platform. Ultimately, it invested in a cloud-based IP PBX and unified communications solution.
Drawing on the technical resources of West, D+M was able to make the transition—allowing its people to focus on strategic concerns. The result? The company has reduced its total cost of ownership for communications infrastructure by 70%. But, more importantly, it has united its professionals all over the world—enabling them to collaborate through a rich mix of media to develop innovative products and roll them out to demanding customers everywhere.
The future points to business communications as a source of strategic value and competitive differentiation. How you communicate determines how you perform. That's the reason there is now so much riding on the richness of your enterprise's interactions—whether they occur internally or externally. It's why so much is at stake in terms of the quality of your communications, particularly as your platforms and applications are tested by the intensifying demands of mobile, remote and global participants.
You can't, however, truly capitalize on advanced communications technology until you think beyond it. Investing in business communications is all about the vision and the mission.
Which brings us back to Scotts Miracle-Gro—a company that's committed to helping consumers "create beautiful and healthy lawns and gardens," while providing "a dynamic workplace for our associates to succeed and grow their careers." It realizes these commitments will be "rewarded with an improved market presence and profitable growth that enhances shareholder value." Indeed, the company has produced steady growth in recent years by clarifying and communicating its purpose.
To start with "why" is to downplay the "what"—focusing on the wider impact you intend to make. And, by taking a strategic approach to business communications, you seize the future.
In any endeavor that involves more than one person, the ability to collaborate and communicate successfully is critical. West Corporation is dedicated to helping organizations of all sizes transform their businesses in order to fulfill their mission and vision by bringing tools to the market that simplify the process of collaboration and communication.
West's Unified Communications (UC) segment, comprised of InterCall, West IP Communications and West Notifications, transforms the way organizations connect, collaborate and engage with employees, customers, partners and devices. We are a leading provider of cloud-based hosted and managed voice, data and video services that drive business results and inspire people to take action. West UC helps organizations manage risk by delivering best-of-breed communications services that integrate flawlessly with any organization's business processes and applications, and by delivering world-class operational and service excellence.
InterCall Conferencing and Collaboration transforms the meeting experience with powerful mobile and desktop tools designed to generate business results by making people more productive. InterCall's proprietary collaboration platform provides unique IP conferencing capabilities that integrate cloud technologies and applications from key strategic partners. Our conferencing and collaboration tools make people more productive because participants can interact easily without needing to learn complex technologies.
InterCall Event Services creates a transformational and engaging experience through professionally managed audio conference calls, powerful rich media presentations on the web and fully integrated virtual environments. Our innovative solutions provide the ability to track attendee interaction and deliver a comprehensive view of audience engagement.
West IP Communications transforms organizations by delivering collaboration and communications solutions that increase business efficiency, execution and agility. With our proprietary next-generation, application-aware network, professional services and market-leading partner technologies, West IP Communications delivers award-winning, cloud-based hosted and managed enterprise communications applications and services that empower organizations to connect, collaborate and communicate effectively from anywhere in the world.
West Notifications delivers multi-channel solutions that enable companies to deliver simultaneous, real-time and interactive notifications to millions of clients, employees and partners anywhere in the world via voice, email, text, social media, web or fax.
Independently, these services allow organizations to improve specific aspects of their businesses. Together, they help organizations transform their business processes to create the type of collaboration that drives innovation and helps enterprises gain or maintain a competitive advantage.
The lead contributor on this white paper is Scott Etzler, President of InterCall.