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Marketing IT In-House: Define the BI Conversation for User Management

IT teams can influence how executive managers think and talk about their business intelligence needs.

By Max T. Russell, Max and Max Communications

You can be a powerful factor in how executive managers think and talk about their business intelligence needs. When you take time to study these managers and consult with those who are accessible, you will be in position to develop and provide the very words that enable them to discuss their needs -- and to eventually realize that you (and your team) are the solution.

Your influence will be exerted in large measure by the thoughts you put in the minds of middle managers and non-managers whose opinions matter to upper management.

When I am asked to manipulate the thinking of senior managers, I think in terms of defining the conversation. We can't force people to talk a certain way, but we can make it easier for them to prefer our wording, our concepts, our illustrations and -- finally -- our solutions. Here are some steps to get you into the managers' minds so you can do exactly that.

Step 1: Understand the Social Circle

Let's suppose your BI team wants to heighten its profile in your enterprise, a large home improvement wholesaler. The company's goal right now is generally to figure out how BI could help streamline its logistics operations in the face of strong competition. Senior managers are just beginning to wonder out loud how big that BI initiative would be and how much it would cost.

Furthermore, they want to know whether they already have the personnel to handle the project. You intend to assure them indirectly that they do. Your team doesn't want to stand silently by and let a vendor or contractor take the job. That's happened twice in the past, and this time you and your team are ready to "step up to the plate."

My preferred approach to defining the conversation is to first understand management's social circle. In this case, the vice-president of operations -- let's call him Jerome -- swings the most weight in regard to logistics, and is close to the CEO.

Jerome in turn favors the IT director Anne's opinion when making technology-related decisions, because she worked for the CEO at another company. She's new to the home improvements business, has little experience in BI, and has shown an obvious dependence on her assistant director, Ricardo, for BI guidance.

We have three main players: VP of operations (Jerome), the IT director (Anne), and her assistant director (Ricardo). We've sufficiently reconstructed the social circle to start influencing, defining, and controlling the conversation for everyone's benefit. Now we need to think about what we'll say to each of them.

Step 2: Create Messages That Get Passed Around

In this step we want to say something thatRicardo will feel compelled to tell his boss, Anne, who will feel compelled to tell VP Jerome. We are targeting a small social circle, knowing it will grow as we proceed.

Write a concise, one-page mini white paper about the logistics "secrets" of the most successful materials distributors in the world. Focus on the role of BI in streamlining the process from procurement to warehousing to shipping and delivery. We must include a few sentences that tie the thesis to your company's needs:

One of the striking advantages enjoyed by the best logistics operations in the world is the superior ability to know where acceptable substitutes for a product are when your regular suppliers cannot fill your order. This wildly profitable advantage is built on a 360-degree view of all available suppliers and their current and expected stock. Cutting-edge business intelligence is at the heart of this knowledge.

This short paper should have:

  • A standard, regular-sized font; nothing fancy
  • Ample margins to avoid a congested appearance that would scare readers away and provides space for a reader's notes
  • Non-technical language, so that anyone can pass the message along accurately to another person
  • A good headline, such as, "How the Best Logistics Managers Outsmart the Competition"
  • The name of the person(s) on your team who wrote the paper

Step 3: Share Your White Paper

You must make it super-easy for people to share your informative paper. Turn it into a PDF, and attach it to a short e-mail message (brief memos are read more often than lengthy ones). Your e-mail might be addressed to the assistant director of IT:


Shirley and Luke have written a short explanation of "How the Best Logistics Managers Outsmart the Competition." Our company can do this! We have a BI team that has prepared for just such an occasion as this.

I've attached the short paper for your review.

If Ricardo is typical (and we should assume he is), he will share the email with Anne without our telling him to. The plain, concrete, interesting language of the paper will soon become the substance -- the very content -- of their discussions. In essence, we're seeding the paper so it can go up the chain of influence.

I further suggest that a BI manager or the authors deliver the paper in person to Ricardo. In this way, we are making it easy for the hard copy and the digital copy to be distributed among the small social circle we identified.

That circle grows as people are copied on the e-mail message. The hard copy will very likely be copied and handed out in meetings. We are in the people's minds and in their conversations. We have supplied the language that allows them to talk to each other about the important topics we've chosen in order to lead them to the solution you will ultimately offer.

Step 4: Keep Up the Good Work

Continue articulating great ideas and feeding them to the social circle. It won't be long before Jerome, the VP of operations, catches wind of your communications and calls meetings with people of his own choosing. Do not be quick to offer your team as the solution when you are invited to the meetings. Jerome and other business users need time to understand exactly what it is that must be solved.

You have every reason to be patient. Your own outside competitors -- BI vendors and consultants of every stripe -- don't have the inside connections you have or the daily right to be inside the company. Pace yourself. Don't try to close the sale yet.

Listen, observe, and keep feeding the insights to anyone in the circle who can appropriately share with the others, whether that be up or down the chain of command. Demonstrate your qualifications by being a constant -- but not overbearing -- source of insight. Space your wisdom out by speaking up every three days or so.

You will eventually be asked for advice. Avoid technical jargon and presentations filled with circles, triangles and other geeky shapes. Keep speaking and writing so clearly, concretely and plainly that Jerome can confidently carry your ideas to the CEO. Keep up the good work and you will position yourself as the in-house authority on using BI to guide the logistics operations to higher ground.

Max T. Russell helps business and IT address communication problems and improve their in-house marketing. You can contact the author at [email protected].

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