The 3 “Impossible” Conversations for Corporations

I advise some of the top brands in the world about how to use social media tools to connect with customers. While many are getting it right, many will get it wrong –with great embarrassment to their brand, and personal careers.

Shel Israel write a very compelling piece on why many corporations are going to get social media wrong. The best possible use case of social media is customers talking with employees of a company in an open and transparent way. Not hiring Mr. T in a “Viral Video” to show how you think you can relate to CIOs.

I’ve told several executives that the most important –yet most difficult –conversations they can have are the following:

The 3 Impossible Conversations for Corporations

#1: Asking for Feedback
It’s so hard for companies to ask for feedback. Take a look around, how many ‘corporate’ blogs ask for raw, unfiltered product feedback. It’s scary for a few reasons: 1) Most companies want to talk about how great they are, not expose themselves to weaknesses. 2) Most companies don’t have the appetite to listen to the feedback, then do anything with it. 3) Most companies don’t know how to respond to the feedback, they don’t want to promise it will happen, nor acknowledge a weakness.

#2: Saying positive things about your competitors
Customers aren’t stupid. In fact, they know who your competition is, and they talk about amongst each other. Yet, for some reason, this is very, very difficult for companies to swallow. There’s some unwritten law that companies shouldn’t talk about their competition (unless you’re criticizing them), it’s welded deeply into nearly every corporate culture. The thing is, customers and prospects talk about your competition, and they will often be analyzing you, and them, and not everything said will be negatives. Companies that recognize that their worthy competition has some strengths have the hardest time admitting it in public –yet those that do, become more relevant, trusted, and authentic than ever before.

#3: Admitting you were wrong
Corporations should always show their happiest face to the market –at least that’s what corporate communications team tells us. Yet in reality, no company, (none, nil, zilch) are perfect. Why pretend to be the absolute best in everything that you do when the rest of the market (including those who are buying and deciding on services) know better. Companies have a hard time admitting they’re wrong, instead, choose to spin, redirect, or ignore what most are saying.

Sure these conversations are difficult to have, but they are the same conversations your customer are having with your prospects –so why the veil? Here’s a few ways to think about these challenging conversations because in reality, these aren’t that “impossible”.

It really isn’t that hard to ask for feedback, say nice things about the competition, or to admit your wrong. #1 will come even if you don’t try, that’s life. #2 Will happen at every conference, online chatroom, or social network in your industry. And hey, #3, well if you’ve ever been married, you should already be an expert at admitting you’re wrong. Being married to the most wonderful person in the world is the same as loving your customers. So learn how to say “Sorry honey, will you please forgive me?” I do, just about every day.

Some folks are more advanced than most I deal with, such as David who says this post is stating the obvious. He provides some good analysis, be sure to read him.