How do you get them to eat sushi?

By July 31, 2012January 3rd, 2022Archive

Lots of my friends think sushi is the ne plus ultra of nosh. Now I must confess I am not a big sushi fan, but I appreciate the presentation, and individually, I’ll eat most of the ingredients. It’s just the seaweed wrapper that’s a bit hard to swallow.

Grappling with the sale of shared services to your internal customers? Frustrated because they “don’t get it” despite earnest presentations supported by reams of PowerPoint slides, and gentle endorsements from the C-suite?

[quote]For the majority of shared services leadership, the concept of marketing is unfamiliar territory.[/quote]

Expanding shared services across the organization is challenging with a mandate; without one it can be an uphill battle. When the executive sponsor knows that a common back office spine, whether insourced or outsourced, is justified but wants the lines of business to come to that conclusion without coercion, the onus for evangelism, marketing, sales and closure is loaded onto the backs of shared services leadership. And it’s a heavy burden.

For the majority of shared services leadership, the concept of marketing is unfamiliar territory. After a few years of design and implementation, of standardizing systems and transitioning centers, of selecting providers and getting into a solid governance routine, the expectation is that the benefits will speak for themselves. But without an explicit mandate for enterprise-wide adoption, marketing becomes a critical driver of scale.

Why don’t shared services leaders focus on marketing? Firstly, the belief amongst most is that the facts should speak for themselves—what’s there not to like about saving substantial cost, or obtaining faster turnaround, or leveraging a corporate platform to free up vital management resources?  Second, the leadership composition typically (and understandably) is missing sales and marketing talent. With a focus on implementation and execution, staffing the team with so-called softer marketing, training and communication skills is not a priority.

However, “build it and they will come” is not a viable approach to achieve shared services scale in most organizations. Business line stakeholders may not perceive a burning platform for change, fear loss of control, believe that their back offices are too integral to the creation of their profit margin, have other options such as outsourcing on their own, or remember a similar initiative way back when that, in their minds, was a dismal failure.

[quote]“Build it and they will come”  is not a viable approach to achieve shared services scale in most organizations.[/quote]

Think of selling shared services as getting friends to eat sushi. While the ingredients, save a few, are familiar to the Western palate, it’s the combination and the presentation that can be a bit scary to a meat and potatoes man. But there are methods to overcome resistance that are easily applied to shared services expansion.

Seduce them first with steak or chicken teriyaki, and then move them on to California rolls

The first step is getting picky eaters in the door of the restaurant, exposing them to the pleasures of the cuisine. However, when shared services are optional, a good strategy for penetration is to first help get them become familiar with the concept. We assume that business leaders are up to date with the latest management approach, but until it’s understood within their particular market context, it can be a foreign concept.  Grounding business leaders through regular education, marketing, not demanding a sale at first, breeds familiarity. Sponsoring industrial tourism, taking them offshore to shared services centers or outsourced delivery centers, makes the concept more real. Letting them see how the function actually works rather than describing benefits in abstract terms goes a long way in the sales cycle.

[quote]The sale of shared services is a process, not an event.[/quote]

Give them small bites at first, but don’t fuss when they immediately switch back to their usual hamburger

Think about how you get a child to try a new food. You put a bit on his plate. He takes a bite, and then goes back to his burger and fries. Over time, he’ll mimic your behavior…but on his own terms when he is ready.  But he’ll see the grown-ups eating it, and over time try again. The sale of shared services is a process, not an event, directly analogous to the typical outsourcing provider’s sales and solution cycle. It requires patience to manage evolution.

Few line organizations are going to immediately sign up to giving up control over a number of end-to-end processes. Fears about transparency, privacy, their own organizational dissonance, and trust drive business lines away from a big bang approach—unless the corporate powers on high force them to do so. But approaching the sale as a pilot with no penalty for reverting back to the old delivery method, working closely with, then delighting the client, fosters shared services growth.

Send them restaurant reviews from leading critics

When the New York Times food critic, or the latest edition of the Michelin Guide extols the virtues of the food and service, you can bet that patrons will be barraging the reservation lines. The same is true for shared services marketing–don’t underestimate the power of disseminating case studies and testimonials from satisfied stakeholders cum key opinion leaders. One of the truisms of change management is that organizations and people will change when they see others they respect and trust cross the divide as well. Reference ability is critical.

Give them free coupons

Think about how we personally try a new product or service. Someone gives us a free or a half-off coupon, or hands us a free sample, and we are enticed to give it a go. Perhaps discounting a pilot program, with a fixed fee for the first year is a good way to start a relationship with a skeptical business line.

Develop a marketing campaign and stick to it

When the first sushi joint in town opens up, putting up a neon sign is not enough to get patrons through the door. The proprietor has to spend some marketing bucks in advertising, sponsoring local events, participating in local merchants associations, not to mention having charming and welcoming hostesses when a prospective patron opens the door. Just as it takes awhile to build up a clientele for a successful restaurant, it takes time to build a groundswell for shared services support. Ensuring that shared services are linked to complimentary corporate initiatives, getting invited to business line strategic planning sessions, developing an Intranet site, conducting on-site visits and sending out newsletters are all part of the process. But there must be a campaign strategy in place.

[quote]The job of the shared services organization is to grow.[/quote]

Understand your target market

Face it, not too many 80 year olds have adventurous palates.  So sampling sushi at senior citizens fair is probably a waste of time. It’s the young and hip, the religiously observant, and those who grew up on sushi that are most likely to buy. The same logic goes for the shared services sell—why spend time cajoling the process owner exclusively when only the business line CFO can make a decision?  Why focus on the head of Asia-Pac when a big acquisition is coming down the line, and implementing shared services is the last thing on his mind?

Participate in the restaurant association

Restaurateurs band together because they leverage the power of marketing and promotion to be seen. Shared services leadership must do the same. If there are complimentary initiatives, join their bandwagons. If there is a suggestion box, vaunt the virtues of a leveraged model. Participate as a key player in the organization, not some back office that is grateful for anyone who deigns to pass by.  

Don’t push sushi at breakfast

Timing is important, too. The decision to embrace shared services is not suddenly made three weeks before the budgets are submitted; it is months, if not a few years in the making. If it’s not force-fed, business lines will embrace shared services only when they are hungry (read ready). Shared services’ marketing leadership trick is to continually tempt the appetite.

Simplify ingredients and preparation on the menu

Overcomplicating the menu can be off-putting. While nori is a term well-known to sushi aficionados, the term diners recognize is seaweed. Lessons for communicating the virtues of shared services to the business lines? Make sure that the value proposition is simply presented. Explain the benefits very succinctly, ensuring that there is complete transparency in process, ways of working, pricing and benefits. Do not overcomplicate a description of each process to a minute level.  And be sure to shape the front end of standard solutions to deal with specific pain points.

Changing the approach to shared services growth is the first step. All things being equal, the job of shared services is to deliver value across as much of the organization as possible, industrializing scale and scope. Fundamentally, this means growing the business of the back office, just as outsourcing providers grow their accounts.  Shared services leadership should think of themselves as internal providers, generally with an exclusive license to hunt for clients. And their metrics should be no different.

But the challenge is first to get those business lines to the table. Sort of like eating sushi…


Many thanks to a Fortune 50 CFO and his intrepid shared services leader for inspiring this article. Next time, California rolls are on me.


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