This is the third post in a series about the future of technical communication. To read the previous post, click here.

If you are a technical communicator, it’s time for you to get out more. A lot more. Traditionally, techcomm has led a siloed existence, seldom straying far from the tech side of product development teams. However, given the evolving role of technical content noted in the previous post, that isolation needs to change. In the online world of the content era, technical communicators play a key role in building their company’s customer relationships. This means you and your techcomm colleagues actually drive revenue. And that fact makes all of you strong candidates for collaborating with your company’s marketing team, or even joining it.

The reality is that marketers are often starved for content while technical communicators are producing volumes of it. That fact alone suggests the possibility of a good marriage. (For example, Citrix, a leading innovator in mobile workspaces, recently moved its technical documentation team from product development to marketing.) For a great marriage, one where you truly reposition yourself, however, you’ll have to shift not just how you work, but how you think about your strategic role in your company. In other words, you need to start thinking outside of the silo.

To do so, consider these questions:

  • What does alignment between marketing and your techcomm team really mean for both of you?
  • What do you each deliver that contributes to the customer experience? And what do those deliverables have in common?
  • How do you each define success? How can you define success together?
  • Since marketing materials and tech docs should align in terms of language and messaging, what messages and language do you share?

Thinking about these questions can prepare you for the conversations you should engage in with your company’s executives to elevate their perception of technical communication’s importance. To get their attention, however, you’ll need to speak about what resonates with them. For example, you should learn about the company’s key initiatives for growth — and talk to your executives about how you can advance those initiatives. Figure out what matters most in building customer relationships — and let your executives know how you directly affect revenue.

When speaking with your company’s executives, you can often assume they have no idea what your impact is on the company and its customers. To hold their attention, you’ll need to connect with what they care about. As you’ll see in the first table below, that will differ from what you care about day-to-day. And that’s the point. You need to look at the big picture and show your executives where and how you fit into it.

For example, if one of your company’s growth strategies is improving customer satisfaction, you should be prepared with survey data that shows how techcomm quality affects customer perceptions. (Did you take my advice in an earlier post to set up your survey?)

Your executives may not care about content quality itself, but when you speak with the customer’s voice, they’ll hear you.

What You Care About

  • Improving compliance to style guide
  • Eliminating unattractive language (e.g., passive voice)
  • Ensuring consistency: “speaking with one voice”
  • Using correct terminology
  • Improving translatability: reducing time and costs
  • Reducing effort for authors and editors
  • Improving findability to reduce support costs
  • Improving comprehension: simplify words and sentences
  • Supporting content strategy: aligning with your organization’s overall goals for content
What Your Executives Care About

  • Increasing revenue
  • Improving customer experience
  • Consistent high-quality interactions at every touch point
  • Increasing customer satisfaction
  • Expanding to new markets
  • Accelerating time-to-market
  • Reducing exposure to liability
  • Faster integration of acquired companies
  • Cutting costs

Once you understand what matters to your company’s executives, you’re one step closer to being able to offer your help in terms that matter to them.

The other important step is to link your offer to concrete examples of what you do as a technical communicator, as the table below illustrates. As you can see, this table is the reverse of the one above, but you’re now starting with what your senior leaders care about. So, for example, you can support geographical expansion by providing greater content accuracy, faster editing and translation. Or you can improve the customer experience by offering more consistent touch points.

You should offer:

  • Better customer experience
  • Better customer support
  • Greater customer satisfaction
  • Geographical expansion
  • Accelerating time-to-market
  • Lower exposure to liability
  • Lower costs/higher productivity
You can back it up with:

  • More consistent touch points
  • Improved findability & comprehension
  • Higher content quality: more understandable & consistent
  • Lower translation costs
  • Faster editing & translation
  • Greater content accuracy
  • Less work for SMEs, editors, reviewers & translators

Similarly, talk about your results in a way that will be meaningful to your executives, as in the table below. In fact, it’s generally a good idea to ask managers and colleagues around the organization about the kinds of metrics they find useful, and what makes them so. Broadcasting stats about your workload will fall on deaf ears. Instead, frame your data in synch with company goals.

Not this:

  • How many words we write
  • How many pages we 
publish
  • How many rewrites we endure
  • How many releases we support
  • How much more work we’re doing than before
This:

  • Customer satisfaction
  • Customer surveys
  • Customer engagement (e.g., page views, time on site)
  • Comparisons to industry benchmarks
  • How we could serve company’s goals even better

 

If you can shape your conversation this way, you can change how your organization perceives technical content.

Your company’s goals are your goals — and you happen to have excellent skills and ideas to support those goals.