No matter how excellent your team is, if they can’t share information quickly and easily, they’ll miss out on a lot of potential opportunities.
Sales teams often spend so much time focusing on external communication channels they forget about the importance of internal communication.
It’s time to spend some time planning and implementing a new strategy.
What Is Internal Communications?
Simply put, internal communication is exactly what it sounds like — communication within the business rather than with people outside it. It covers both the content and the methods — whether that’s email, teleconference, or in-person meetings.
Ideally, these strategies should be applied company-wide, but we’ll focus on applying them to your sales department to improve teamwork. Hopefully, you can be the catalyst for change throughout the rest of the org.
Internal communication for a sales team includes a wide variety of things:
- Updates on sales campaigns
- Company-wide news
- Details on industry trends
- Feedback from the team
- Information about what’s being sold
- Motivational content
According to McKinsey, the average worker spends nearly 30% of their workweek managing their email and 20% looking for specific information. That’s a lot of time spent away from selling. The more effective your communications strategy, the less time they’ll need to spend doing this.
Assess Your Current Strategy
Before you start trying to implement something new, you first need to assess your current situation. Even if you don’t think you have an official internal communications strategy, you’ll have certain unofficial methods in place.
There are a few steps you can follow to build up a picture of how things currently work for you.
First, what platforms do you use for communication? For instance, do you rely on telephones? And if so, do you provide a VoIP service to remote workers or do they use their own phones? How much communication happens through email compared to an instant messaging service? How often do you have in-person meetings, and how easy are they to attend?
RELATED: Supporting Remote Teams: 5 Steps to Keep Your Team Thriving
Getting the answers to these questions will give you a good image of how your strategy normally works.
Gather numerical data where possible — having hard data to work from can make it easier to compare results later on.
This is where quantitative data really starts to shine. If you have access to analytics on your communications, you can start to see where problem areas are. For instance, if you know that 50% of your emails go unread, that’s a problem!
Good metrics to consider include:
- How many emails per week a sales rep receives?
- How many of these emails go unopened?
- What percentage of their time is spent in meetings?
- What is the average time for staff to respond to communication?
You should also break these metrics down by demographics. This is especially important if you have multiple locations or some sales reps that are office-based and others who are remote.
You may find that remote workers read more emails, as they can’t seek clarification in person. Or the opposite could happen — especially if they rely on mobile devices.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to communication. So, having data to help you target different departments and demographics is very valuable.
This is probably the most important thing to gather. Nothing will give you quite as much insight as direct employee feedback.
You can gather this in a variety of ways, including surveys, one-on-ones, or feedback groups.
Go into these feedback sessions with specific questions in mind, but leave space for your team to tell you their particular concerns. There may be things that come up that you haven’t considered, and they might have solutions already in mind!
Once you have an idea of where you’re at, it’s time to plan for where you want to be. Having quantitative data is helpful here as well, so you can track direct improvements. For instance, if 50% of emails go unread, you might want to aim to lower that to 20% (in an ideal world, it would be 0, but focus on achievable targets). This way, you track your progress towards your goal.
Of course, not everything can be made clear this way, so you’ll also want some qualitative data. Keep notes from your employee feedback, and decide what responses you might want in the future to declare your new strategy a success.
Let’s look at an example. If you’re working on improving communication in your remote team, you may have had responses like these:
“Emails often refer to in-person meetings, which I wasn’t at, so I’m missing the context.”
“I miss being able to check-in with my manager at the end of the week.”
These give you clear, actionable targets. Emails need to be clearer and not rely on external context, and managers should be making time for check-ins. Your goals, therefore, should be to receive feedback like:
“Emails are clear and easy to understand.”
“Having fifteen-minute check-ins at the end of the week helps me plan my next week.”
A good method to follow for building goals is to be SMART — Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.
Build A Plan
Now that you have an idea of where you are and where you want to be, it’s time to lay out the roadmap of how to get from one location to the other. You want this to be clear, easy to follow, and (perhaps most importantly) easy to budget for.
First, let’s deal with the technical side of things. Are you happy to stay on your current platforms, or do you need to implement new ones? While this will mostly apply to internally used platforms, you may find that your external communication platforms can affect your internal communication as well.
For instance, are your current contact center solutions equipped to leave notes on client’s files? If not, that may be leading to a large number of emails within your team to clarify issues. Switching this external communication platform will, therefore, improve your internal communications, too!
Some things to consider here are:
- Do you have an instant messaging service/organizational platform?
- Are you using VoIP, mobile phones, landlines, or something else?
- Is your current video conferencing host working for you?
- Does your email provider have good organizational solutions such as folders, marking as important, or auto-responses?
Choose platforms that allow you to achieve your goals. You might find you already have the right collaboration tools for you, but need to improve how they’re used, or you may find that a change is necessary.
Who’s In Charge?
When implementing a communications strategy, it’s vital to understand who is responsible for what types of communication. Often, employees will be bombarded by emails from different sources, often with conflicting information. Clearly assigned roles can reduce this and make it much easier to make sure everything is being communicated accurately.
The person who wants to communicate something is not always the person who will end up doing so. For instance, if the marketing team has put together some new information about a product, they might not send it directly to the sales reps. Instead, the sales managers may share it during a weekly meeting.
It’s worth separating out certain topics and assigning them to certain people. For example:
- Updates on sales campaigns — sales managers/team leaders
- Company-wide news — HR department
- Details on industry trends — a dedicated specialist
- Information about what’s being sold — marketing/tech team through the sales managers
- Motivational content — HR department
Gatekeeping your information like this may seem like it adds an unnecessary complication to your communication plan, but in many cases it will massively clean up your inbox.
As well as assigning certain people to certain topics, it’s worth specifying certain formats or templates to be used for communications as well. One major problem with a lot of internal communication is that it can come in a very text-heavy, dense format.
Most people are visual learners, so breaking up text with images — or even just headers and white space — really helps.
Some topics can be condensed into a single weekly email, rather than multiple short ones. Company-wide news could become a newsletter rather than being sent out as it comes in. You could even combine it with some motivational content!
Others may need immediate attention — especially if there’s been an update on a product you’re selling. Having an urgent template that’s used sparingly increases the chances of people reading this immediately, as it will be clearly marked in their inbox.
Just don’t overdo it!
You could even move away from email or instant messaging entirely for some topics. If you have an organizational platform available, you could have dedicated channels. Imagine logging on and being able to click through to certain channels as needed, rather than have everything filling up your inbox.
Example channels could include ecommerce trends, company updates, or what’s on offer this week. Being able to browse these at your leisure and as you need, rather than sorting through inboxes makes it easier for your sales team to engage on their own terms.
We mentioned earlier that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. Here is where you should make use of feedback you got from your team. Some of your sales reps might prefer to receive a quick phone call to talk through new targets. Others might prefer an email. Knowing who prefers what will make your internal communication as effective as it can be.
The implementation process will vary depending on what budget you’ve persuaded the company to give you. Startup resources are often stretched more thinly than established businesses, so you may find that you can’t quite achieve everything you want — at least initially.
The one resource you will always have available is people. Create a working group of key team members. This can be high-status roles like management, but it should also include people who are more generally influential.
Perhaps there’s a member of your team who knows everyone’s birthdays, is well-loved, and generally sought out for advice? Add them to the team.
Equally, who might resist change? If you’ve got someone you know tends to push back against updates, add them too!
You want to aim for around ten people. These are the people who are going to help you implement your plan. The management/HR people are there to apply it from the top down, your well-loved team members can help it catch on internally, and the resistant one to help you tease out their complaints and problems so you can quickly address them.
Explain your reasoning as well, not just what’s happening. The more involved your team feels, the easier it will be to implement your strategy.
Remember, if you can’t communicate this clearly, you have a lot more work to do! Think of this like you’re selling a new product to your team.
Having effective internal communications is a process, not an end-goal. Treat it as something you can always improve.
After a month or two of applying your new plan, re-assess your current situation. Have you met your goals? Where have you been doing well? And where could you improve?
Regular evaluation will ensure your communication remains effective and evolves with your organization.
By regularly checking and updating it, you won’t need to repeat this process. Instead, you can just refine certain aspects of your strategy. Trust me. This is far easier and far less resource consuming, than having to start from scratch again in a year or two!
And that’s it! Simply follow these steps, and you’ll be well on your way to having an effective internal communications strategy.
This is great John! Would a sales tracking app help with this?