C-level executives have always had some easily observable communication preferences. Their first preference has always been a face-to-face meeting. Their second preference has historically been the telephone (which is why cold calling skills have been—and still are—valuable for anyone wishing to secure a face-to-face meeting).
The C-level executive’s communication preferences are changing. As their communication preferences evolve, it’s important to remember that your preferences don’t count. If you want a C-level executive’s time and their attention, you have to choose the method that they prefer.
The New Communication Preference
It’s true that observing a few CEO’s communication preferences isn’t a scientific study. You might believe that the small number of CEO’s (two, so far) I have used to confirm my findings indicates that, at best, the changes I have been observing are simply anecdotal. But I believe that they are more.
The C-level executive’s first preference for communication is sill face-to-face meetings. Face-to-face meetings are where C-level executives have the conversations and discussions that lead to decisions that move their businesses forward.
The C-level executive’s second preference has changed. While the telephone may still be the second best option for holding a discussion that can’t be held face-to-face, the new preference for many of the necessary short communications where an answer can be given quickly is text messaging–not the telephone.
Who Is Training C-Level Executives to Communicate via Text
Many of the C-level executives I know and with whom I work have teenage (or preteen) children. Their children communicate predominately through text messages. Their children don’t feel the same way about email as those of us a generation or two ahead of them do. This young, born digital generation prefers the instantaneous short message.
And, they are training their parents to prefer it as well.
After making this observation, I confirmed my discovery with one CEO with whom I work. He said his preference was absolutely face-to-face meetings, and he confirmed text messaging was his second choice for many routine communications. He said that email wasn’t his communication preference because it was too much work and takes too much time.
I asked whether or not it was his children that had trained him to prefer texting. He admitted that he hadn’t thought about it before I asked, but he was certain that it was his children who trained him to prefer texting. Before that, he had always preferred the phone for a lot of communications that he now has through text messaging. Now, the phone is too much of a time commitment for things that might easily be handled over text.
Why did I ask him about his preferences? Because he texts me all the time and is slower to respond to email. I asked because I wanted to confirm his preferences.
What Does This Mean?
There are few important learning opportunities here.
First, your preferred method for communicating with your clients and your dream clients has never really mattered. The fact that you hate the telephone means nothing if that is their preferred communication method. You may love email because you are a thoughtful and gifted communicator in the written form. But if it isn’t your client’s preference, then your gift will more than likely go unappreciated (and perhaps may be ignored completely).
Second, as C-level executive’s communication preferences change over time, those of us in sales are going to have to give more and more thought as to which channels we use for some communications. We may want to pick up the phone to confirm appointments because it has always worked well for us, and that may no longer be the best way to gain the commitments we need.
Finally, as this young, born digital generation grows up and enters the business world, they are going to come with some preferences and some expectations of their own. The inability to communicate using their preferences will quickly become a disadvantage for those who refuse to adopt the new methods of communication.
As video conferencing becomes more and more ubiquitous, even face-to-face meetings may lose some of their value, allowing a pretty similar outcome to be had instantaneously and without the time and costs of travel. And the communication preferences we have all had up until this point may become irrelevant.
What are your primary methods for communicating with your clients and dream clients?
Which methods produce the greatest results for which desired outcomes? What communication method works best for opening relationships? Which methods work best for scheduling meetings? Which work for updates on project status?
What observations are you making about the way these preferences are changing?
How much more effective would your communications be if they were delivered using the client’s preferred method or channel?
How much of your communications are based on the method that you prefer and not the most effective method for your client?