RESEARCH & RESOURCES

Marketing IT In-House: Using Secrets is Better than Keeping Them

Knowing how to release strategic information will help an IT department market more effectively to its in-house customers and raise its value to the enterprise.

By Max T. Russell, Max and Max Communications

Secret can be defined as advantageous information that your prospect or customer doesn't know . Your professional bag of tricks can be guarded and revealed in ways that motivate a department to seek out and partner with you on BI projects.

Because the IT department is competing with an increasingly wide range of alternative BI providers -- many of whom claim secret sauces -- you need to have your own secrets ready to give your in-house customers while exposing limitations of BI alternatives.

This article looks at two individuals who guard information so closely that they hinder BI progress for themselves and their companies, and shows two ways you can reveal secrets strategically when marketing IT in-house.

Two Secret-holders

Raul: This BI team leader at a banking enterprise feels threatened by consultants who were hired to help design data systems. He doesn't want his bosses to think he needs help, and besides, Raul saw the consultants' resumes and says they don't look any better than his.

Raul is withholding information from the consultants which he would freely share if they were on his BI team. For instance, he's not telling the consultants who the key influencers in the company are and how they maneuver, or that certain BI programs have already been tried and cut short for good reason.

He's making the consultants work for every little fact they manage to get out him because he fears that any success they have will make him and his BI team look stupid. The truth is that cooperation would make the IT staff forever indispensable.

Raul's fears are likely costing his company dearly.

Virginia: This software development director has been watching competitors start up BI practices. She wants her IT department to develop BI teams that can service the firm's software customers before a third party (such as a contractor) does.

Virginia says her company has proprietary secrets that set it apart from the competition. She doesn't understand that the secrets are just best practices for organizing data, but she's not letting anyone outside the company know about them out of fear they'll be stolen. Because these secrets are exactly what her customers need in order to understand how BI services can benefit them, her caution is going to cost her company a considerable amount in lost revenue.

Secrets: Friend and Foe to Success

Raul sees the consultants as competitors instead of as resources to be leveraged for his goals as well as those of the enterprise. After the consultants fulfill their 60 days with the company, he'll tell his managers, "I just needed to see what they were trying to do. Let me take this over and I can save the company a lot of money in fees."

That brings up another of Raul's secrets: he doesn't know where to begin taking over.

By choosing to defend his ego, Raul is choosing to learn nothing from the consultants, who are eager to add their profitable secrets to his and to make themselves (temporarily) and him (forever) all the more essential to the health of the enterprise.

Raul is now in a weakened position to market BI in-house. He's ignoring the chance to add to his collection of secrets -- his professional bag of tricks. When the 60 days are up, Raul still won't be able to lead the company into a proper data architecture or a strategy for assembling a collaborative team to do so.

The consultants are not fooled. They know the CEO will wake up one morning and panic at the realization that he still can't get his hands on the information he needs. Heads will roll, though not necessarily toward a solution. Raul isn't alone in keeping secrets -- in fact, there are simply too many secrets of the bad kind. Human Resources doesn't want anyone to know how bad their information problem is. Neither does Operations, nor does Finance. It's just too frightening to think about the hundreds of thousands of dollars leaking through the cracks every several weeks.

Meanwhile, Virginia has made the all-too-common mistake of valuing the technology above the ability to execute it. She ought to be giving her secrets away! The BI team she has begun assembling should be ordered to share the secrets and taught when and to whom to share them.

Relax -- Give Your Secrets Away

Any IT department can learn how to give secrets away. There is no grave danger in releasing helpful information because what your customers need most is skillful help, and skill is based on two things: knowledge and procedures.

Imparting knowledge may take no more than a list of dos and don'ts, but guiding people through the procedures that lead to lasting business solutions is far more difficult. It requires deep understanding.

That's why you are so valuable to other departments when you open your mind to them. You have "specific skill" -- special knowledge plus special procedures. That's not something someone can take away from a mere conversation with you. It takes a long time to grasp specific skills at the depth you possess.

Two Ways to Release Information Strategically

Every imaginable kind of product and service can be sold by releasing information strategically. Here are two examples for promoting BI initiatives.

Tantalize with truly important, useful insight, and evaluate the response. Virginia's IT team could deepen her software customers' interest in BI by saying, "Very few of our competitors understand how this software is supposed to run, so they just dump their data into it and click here and there and start interpreting the results. What they don't understand -- and you and I don't need to tell them -- is that there are three things to do in order to properly use all the analytics and visualization capabilities. Let me show you just one of these secrets."

If the response is positive, continue the dialogue and prepare to provide another insight.

Similarly, an IT department might approach the sales department as follows:

"Very few of your competitors understand how their sales department should collect and analyze data nowadays. Let us show you just one secret that you will never, ever get with outsourced cloud BI."

The sales department will want to know more – or you're not even talking to a prospect.

Show why you are the one to execute the (secret) information. Remember that a secret can be information unknown to your customer. Show very clearly why it's not enough to know the information. Build rapport by sharing the secret while casting yourself in the proper light as the needed expert.

This is such a difficult thing for many people to do because they fear they risk sidelining themselves. There is, in fact, some risk. It's like when someone goes to Best Buy to see a product, and then turns around and buys it on the Web from another company at a lower price. Risk is unavoidable, but I have given away secrets to people who were not interested enough to use my communications services. Did they take advantage of my free information? I doubt it. They don't have the expertise to implement the information or even to remember it all.

Using Secrets is Better than Keeping Them

Make good use of your secrets by:

  • Sharing your best information with consultants who can be leveraged to reach the goals of your department as well as those of the enterprise.

  • Giving your best information away, step by step. Each time prospects respond positively to one piece of information, be ready with another revelation.

  • Giving great reasons that distinguish you as the needed expert.

  • Knowing your secrets and their benefits. You may not have any secrets unknown to BI experts, but you know things your prospects don't know. That is all that matters.
  • Max T. Russell is the owner of Max and Max Communications. He works behind the scenes to promote individuals and projects in a variety of industries. He and his identical twin, Max S., have been discussing and dissecting the challenges of IT in the workplace for the past 18 years. You can reach him at maxt@maxtrussell.com.

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