Convincing companies

By: Jack Sellwood
Posted: May 25, 2023

Strong internal communications is critical for teams of people working together (companies). And by internal communications, I do not mean internal messaging like email or Slack. I mean capital C—Communications—also known as internal marketing.

Everyone from ICs to managers and leaders are responsible for internal marketing. A good litmus test to evaluate if you’re doing internal marketing well is to ask: does everyone know why the work I’m doing matters? It’s less important to make sure everyone’s work is elevated and more important to build a sense of collective contribution.

Executives lay out corporate strategy and middle managers diffuse this into their teams. Often though, something gets lost in translation and teams end up “working” without a clear understanding of the driving purpose behind their work. I think this happens when the distance between what you’re doing day to day and the outcome of that work are too far apart.

For example, engineers developing a new feature may support the sales pipeline. However, sales pipeline is mainly driven by demand generation and the ability of sales people to navigate sales opportunities. There are obvious exceptions to this when specific customers are waiting for specific features but this is an exception (and even then this is poor sales strategy).

The downside to engineers waiting for sales deals is that the feedback loop is too long. Put another way, reinforcement that they’re doing important work lags by months. Can you imagine hustling for a month or two and finding out months later that your work was worth it? Instead, measuring customer adoption of said feature and sharing specific customer stories about the impact of the new feature is far more motivating for the team.

Zooming out, internal marketing efforts, like at an All Hands for instance, should regularly reinforce why the work the company does matters. It’s the tendency of executives to interpret this to mean revenue, or costs, or some other bland business metric. Sharing this is okay but these don’t count as internal marketing. (Okay except for the finance kid who saves the company millions. That’s a fun story.)

These internal marketing efforts should make an impassioned case for the company’s existence and the purpose of the company as it relates to solving customer problems. And most importantly, this is a time for storytelling. Customer quotes, videos, visualizations all help. Simply talking is okay but people tend to lose the thread after a few minutes. A deck or similar format can help you bring people along.

Lastly, don’t expect everyone to give their life to their job but expect them to understand why their work matters. This starts with you though—iterate on how to effectively communicate why your work matters. To often large swathes of the company drift until the next regularly scheduled reorgs happens.

One of my favorite jokes: executives love to reorg like engineers love to refactor. If you only do internal marketing when you reorg, you’re doing it wrong.