Organizations invest heavily in internal systems to improve productivity and facilitate business processes, but often struggle to achieve the projected benefits in a timely manner. There are several factors that contribute to this challenge, but developing and deploying an effective marketing message is key to overcoming adoption challenges and delays.
Change is always difficult and uncomfortable within an organization, and rolling out a new application or capability creates disruption and may even trigger a defensive reaction from users. While a mandatory roll-out may feel like it covers all the bases, it can also extend the period of adoption and delay valuable feedback from users, if not accompanied with a well-designed promotion strategy that recognizes any new system will have both positive and negative impacts on users.
Classic marketing doctrine tells us that product promotion helps inform, persuade and remind users of important product characteristics, benefits, as well as the roll-out logistics. This is well known and used by marketing teams for external promotions, and all the same fundamentals can be applied to internal audiences, with the appropriate adjustments.
While it may seem counterintuitive to expend time and energy to promote an application that is mandatory, there are several benefits:
- Shared objectives and accelerated learning: understanding both the user features and the broader benefits of new applications, will help the team have a shared sense of “why”, while promoting key features of the application will encourage accelerated learning as teams seek to understand how it will help their particular role.
- Sense of ownership: utilizing techniques such as gamification, management teams can build energy and excitement about application adoption and usage, helping shift teams from a “have-to” view to a “want-to” view.
- Collaborative improvement: actively encouraging teams to identify and suggest improvements to the new platform encourages use and quickly identifies potential issues.
- Accelerated return-on-investment: the accelerated adoption and issue identification and resolution will allow projected returns to be achieved more quickly, and build a sustainable user base that collaborates to ensure the success of the application.
Product promotion can be accomplished using a variety of means including personal selling, advertising, publicity, and sales promotion techniques. For internal products, these methods are tailored for the internal audience and should include:
- Personal selling: product managers, operations managers, or application champions conducting in-person demonstrations or workshops to outline the product capabilities, features, and benefits.
- Advertising: internal memos or announcements that outline the product features and roll-out details.
- Publicity: executives announcing the product or roll-out details at company events or during senior staff meetings.
- Sales promotion: prizes, or gamification awards, for early adopters and feedback from the user community.
A well-executed marketing program will generate excitement for a new application and help reduce the typical resistance and skepticism, accelerating its adoption and financial benefits. Time honored marketing techniques should be employed to promote the application, but a few key points should be considered.
Know Your Audience
In some ways, the audiences for internal products may be more complex than audiences for external products, as each may receive a different set of benefits. For example, users may see new features that make their jobs easier, while managers may receive better reporting, and executives my see lower costs. Each audience must be made into a champion of the product, requiring messages tailored for each.
Focus on Benefits
New applications should always provide benefits to an organization and these should be highlighted, specific to the audience, to encourage support and adoption. Here it is important to recognize that not all benefits will appeal to all audiences. Many of the attributes that appeal to executive sponsors, like cost and support, will have less impact on the users, that want ease-of-use and features that simplify their jobs.
Creating multiple views of the benefits will help each audience group understand the features and characteristics that are applicable to their role and increase their personal sponsorship of the roll-out and usage.
Some applications automate or facilitate a specific function, and others are platforms that are intended to be tailored to a variety of functions. In both cases, it is helpful to ensure users want the application as opposed to it simply being a required activity in their daily routine.
The second aspect of demand is ensuring the implementation team can meet the demand and fulfill the expectations that have been established. Demand can be created in phases to match delivery capacity and investment strategy. A common approach is to roll out applications to teams in a prioritized manner that allows investment return to be achieved in the early phases.
Accelerate Your Benefits
A successful promotion approach will allow the application to achieve benefits more quickly by encouraging:
- Adoption: accelerating onboarding and usage will accelerate benefit realization, and allow legacy platforms to be retired more quickly, reducing trailing costs.
- Champions: early adopters that have been appropriately trained and informed about features and benefits will become the personal selling team for the next wave of users.
- Feedback: in addition to promoting benefits and features, product teams should encourage user feedback and provide a simple mechanism to report issues and recommend enhancements. This also provides an incentive for early users, as it gives them an opportunity to shape future releases.
Thinking about internal systems and products as if they were being offered to external customers rather than simply provided to employees will help boost adoption and the long-term benefits, by creating champions and advocates, rather than simply users.
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