Managing Your Message with Jim Karrh
Your Message to the world is a combination of the Message, the Messenger, and Management Habits. What is your message to the world?
Jim Karrh offers clients his experience as a consumer researcher, award-winning corporate marketing leader, and now consultant, speaker, and coach to businesses ranging from startups to members of the Fortune 500. He is the author of The Science of Customer Connections: Manage Your Message to Grow Your Business (published by Career Press). He is also host of The Manage Your Message Podcast.
Jim has an MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, along with bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees from the University of Florida. But Jim also knows you don’t have to be a Ph.D., a professional speaker, an extrovert, or a brilliant conversationalist to bring your own business story to life. You just need to follow a process he calls Managing Your Message.
LinkedIn: Jim Karrh
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Read Along as Karla and Jim discuss Managing your Message
Karla Nelson: And welcome to The People Catalysts Podcast, Jim Karrh.
Jim Karrh: Karla, it is a pleasure to be here with you, wherever here is, of course, these days and your listeners.
Karla Nelson: Yeah, here is definitely a different meaning these days. There’s no doubt about it.
Jim Karrh: Well, I’m speaking to you from the American heartland in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Karla Nelson: Oh, of course, Little Rock. Oh, my gosh, everybody loves Little Rock, Arkansas. So Jim, tell us a little bit about how you started out. You’ve had an incredible history in regards of working with companies and then working on companies. So share with us your journey, your entrepreneurial journey.
Jim Karrh: Well, Karla. I suspect, and like a lot of professionals these days maybe it makes more sense in hindsight than it even did at the time.
Karla Nelson: Well, of course it always does. Hindsight’s always 20/20. And I had to put my glasses on last night to watch the movie I was watching.
Jim Karrh: In my case, and we talked about this just a bit, my background, the three real big buckets professionally for me was, I began as a professor and researcher. I worked at three different universities and even made tenure. And my area was about audience research and consumer research and understanding what people responded to and didn’t, and what difference that can make for a business or for an individual.
The second phase was as the Chief Marketing Officer for a medium-sized private company. We had several different businesses, and the CEO had been a consulting client of mine when I was teaching, and he lured me back into the private sector. And I really enjoyed that part, the practical aspects of “how do you build a business through good marketing and sales practices.”
For the past decade plus, I had been a consultant, a trainer and advisor working all the way from…with startups and entrepreneurs to private companies to associations. And a lot of it has been with sales teams and customer service teams to help them learn messaging, which is a big topic that we can get more specific about, but-
Karla Nelson: Well, everybody’s talking about story time. We’d love it.
Jim Karrh: Exactly. And so, there are lots of ways. Some people can think about it in terms of, it’s our mission or vision statement, or it’s our tagline, our promotions. It’s storytelling. And yes, it’s all of those, but where I focus a lot of my work now is in everyday business conversations. So, whether it be with a sales team or an entrepreneur or delivery teams, whatever that may be, knowing how to talk about the business. What are the questions to ask? What are the stories to tell? What are the insights that you can bring? How do you show your empathy as well as your understanding?
Karla Nelson: Oh, I love that empathy and understanding. That’s fantastic there, Jim. You’ve got a… I’ll let you finish your story, but we’ve got to come back to this empathy and understanding. We’re on the same side. How can I help you get out of where you’re at?
Jim Karrh: It’s a very key component. Now, I’ll transition into that. But Karla, so all of these things together have, although they’re in some ways disparate professional background areas, I put them together. And so, it’s given me a nice view across a lot of different organizations and industries about what is it that your audience, your customer or prospect will respond to? And by the way, those can be internal customers as well.
Karla Nelson: Of course, we have to get our team on board, our internal customers, before we move to the external customers, which is the actual person who’s buying the product or service.
Jim Karrh: Exactly. My background as a corporate marketing leader helps a lot to really gain an understanding of the practical aspects of how you deal with your sales force and distributors and partners and budgets and metrics and tracking all of that. It’s difficult in practice.
And then my consulting and teaching and training and advising, it scratches the teaching itch. I still really feel that I’m a teacher in many ways but being able to work with people in areas that they can apply to their work in their organizations right away. And get the results back from it and build their confidence and their skill over time. I think at this point, all of the pieces fit together nicely.
And Karla, if I may just real quickly, because I want to address something you brought up a moment ago. You talked about empathy. And this gets into an area that is very important. Now it really has been for quite some time. I think everyone, whether they run a business or run a team, or they’re a subject matter expert working inside of an organization, everyone I talk to, Karla, wants to be trusted. They want to be a trusted advisor. They want to be trustworthy, consultative so that their ideas come through.
What I found, a very simple shorthand here is that trustworthiness as a professional is really a combination of a couple of things. The first is your expertise. It’s what you know, it’s the problems you know how to solve. And that’s pretty easy to talk about. It’s in our credentials and our experience and our degrees. It’s the kind of thing that we put in our bios. The other half of this, though, aside from the expertise is your empathy. It really gets to your understanding of the other person’s situation. Where you’re a good fit, what they’re dealing with.
And so, what I find a lot, and this is at the person level and this is at the company level, Karla, is most folks tend to over index and then to overemphasize one side versus the other. They talk a lot more about their expertise than they do demonstrate their empathy. And a way to show your empathy and to really gain understanding is through conversation, through asking questions and listening well and being able to relate things.
So that’s the world that I’m helping, I guess, as much as anything now, Karla, is taking people and taking companies that have something to offer, helping them be able to build trustworthiness, build deeper relationships and more relationships. But also accelerate their selling cycle, build a better customer experience all through conversation and how they talk about the business.
Karla Nelson: Yeah. Oh, that’s awesome. And that’s just a great message. And that’s your first part of what you’re talking about is not only how to communicate that message to your team but also your customers. And so, chat with us a little bit about this whole messenger piece. So we’ve got it. We know what the message is. Who should be the messenger to deliver this to the customer and/or the client?
Jim Karrh: Well, the messenger part is very important and often gets, I think, overlooked. And within the larger sphere here, Karla, and for your listeners, what I found is that if you look at either people who seem to do this really well, or especially organizations, who are the ones that seem to have a clear message and everybody’s on the same page, and they really generate this flywheel of growth for the business versus the rest of us who struggle with it? We sound like everybody else. And a lot of pressure is on the leader to build the business or close the deal or share the vision. And it seems to get inconsistent over time.
So, what is it that seems to mark those who do this well, versus those who struggle with it and are frustrated by it? And I find it has three components, the message, the messengers and management habits. We can talk about each those a little bit as well.
So, we spoke a little bit about message. You ask about messengers. So, think of those as the actual human beings that you want to share whatever that message is. What I find, Karla, is when you ask about who should be a messenger, well, anyone who knows about you and your business and has some stake, financial, emotional, stake and success-
Karla Nelson: So essentially your messenger could be internally or externally?
Jim Karrh: It should be, yes, and for it to be consistent and for you to have the widest fan base possible. And what I find is that unfortunately, when it comes to messengers that a lot of leaders inside the organization, they’ll underestimate themselves and their ability to do this. And they’ll really underestimate their teams or the base of people who could be messengers.
There’s been for a couple of generations, and I have a very strong point of view on this and it’s backed by some recent research as well, we have had for a couple of generations in business, the supposition, the assumption that extroverts, for example, are the best salespeople.
Karla Nelson: Well, my good friend just wrote a book. It’s called The Introvert’s Edge, actually.
Jim Karrh: Yes.
Karla Nelson: It talks about how you actually have an edge if you have a sales process by being an introvert versus an extrovert. It’s really interesting research.
Jim Karrh: It is. And I’ve seen some of that same research about introverts. Adam Grant, seven or eight years ago, did some work as well, and he was among the first to test this proposition empirically. So he went to a real sales team. There were a couple of hundred people who were an inside sales team. I forget actually the product or the solution it was, but he had given them first a personality test which measured introversion to extroversion on a scale. And then he measured how well they did over a period of time. And you could control for a lot of factors. How hard they worked. Did they cut the price? How much experience did they have? Controlling for all the other factors. And what he found was something really interesting on two levels.
First, the introverted salespeople and the extroverted salespeople were equally effective. There was no advantage one way or the other. Statistically it was the same. But what was really interesting were people in the middle were the most effective. And the fact is a lot of personality characteristics it’s really a bell curve in the population. Most people are not really introverted or really extroverted, they’re in the middle.
Karla Nelson: Somewhere in the middle.
Jim Karrh: We’re in the middle. And so the research and the guest that you’ve had on and the research that’s been done, whether you think of the introverts and the extroverts and the people in the middle, everybody has inherent wiring and skills that they can bring to this.
And I even talked to Adam Grant about his research not long ago when I was getting ready to write my own book. And I said, “Is it safe to say that most people are naturally wired for good conversation?” He said, “Yes, actually that’s true.”
And so, if you’re the leader, or if you’re the person who is looking across your team and your existing relationships and thinking, “Oh, well, I’m not a big talker. And most of them aren’t… This is probably not for all of us.” I’d say, “No, no, no, don’t sell yourself short. Don’t sell them short.” So, while you’ll want to tailor what you do according to people and their comfort level, everyone has something to offer.
Karla Nelson: Oh, that’s so true.
Jim Karrh: Yes.
Karla Nelson: Everyone has something to offer. We always say here that we need you all, we just need you at different times of the work.
Jim Karrh: Yes, and sometimes in different roles.
Karla Nelson: Yes. Okay. So then let’s roll that into, Jim, the management aspects. So we’ve identified the message. And then the messengers who are raving fans, internal and external. So share with us a little bit about the management aspect of what happens with that moving forward.
Jim Karrh: You bet. And what often happens and really, it’s management habits and structured practices.
Karla Nelson: Oh, I love that, habits.
Jim Karrh: Yeah. It’s not the people. The managers probably aren’t broken. Everyone’s trying to do the best they can, but they’re carrying baggage of how they meet and how they train and what they’ve tried and the bureaucracy, and all of that.
So, if you think, “Well, we really do need to change how everyone in the business talks about the business. What are we going to do?” Well, I would say you’re less likely to have long-term effects if everyone treats this as some promotional campaign or the flavor of the month. So, what you want to do is bake in participation in creating the message. You want to bake this in to how people are taught and how they learn in the organization. So, how they’re onboarded and the training that they get, and that sort of thing.
But also, just the everyday habits. How is it that people meet? What do they talk about? Do they share stories? Are we sharing what’s working in our messaging? And give people some confidence and some competence in terms of doing it. So, what we want to do is a few simple things but make this a permanent part of how we think about ourselves, how we learn, how we teach and how we coach and how we meet.
Karla Nelson: Yeah. I love that. The confidence and competence, because one of the things that I’ve learned, Jim, over the years is certain things that comes natural to some doesn’t come natural to all. We’re different. We lead in different ways at different times. And really understanding the competence of an individual, so meet them where they’re at. But then giving them the confidence to be able to work with those people. So, if you could talk a little bit to that, that would be amazing. And having those onboarding habits. Instead of, “Oh, you’re on board. Here’s the fire. Good luck. Here we go.”
Jim Karrh: Yeah, here’s our 12-point vision statement, go for it.
Karla Nelson: Good luck.
Jim Karrh: There are a lot of stories and encouraging stories to tell. One that comes to mind immediately, and I won’t give you the name of the company, but the situation went well.
So, this was a company I worked with just a few years ago and their world is in, they make forklifts and warehouse systems and they do driver training. And so you think about warehouse and supply chain, that’s their world. And there are just a few companies that really dominate that world.
We were working with their subject matter experts and their salespeople and their leadership, because what they were noticing over time, Karla, is that things were getting harder. It’s getting harder to sell. It was harder, even though they had really good relationships and a really good reputation in the industry, things were declining for them or stagnant. Here’s what we found.
So, you talk a lot about relationships, obviously, the core of the work that you do. And they had relationships, but I thought of, for example, the typical salesperson for this company, their relationships with their clients, their customers were at warehouse managers and people who worked in that world. Well, over time is the things that they were selling, their solutions, got more and more complex and more and more expensive. They started to have implications, not just in supply chain, but for finance and risk management and HR.
And what was happening is those existing customer relationships at the warehouse manager level, that person, that buyer would say, “Look, Karla, we like you. I just can’t buy from you anymore. I don’t have authority. We’ve got to get this through finance. We’ve got to get this through whatever”. And so from the people that I was working with it, my client, all of a sudden their confidence level went way down because they would say, “Jim, I don’t know how to talk to a chief financial officer. I know my world. What am I supposed to say? I’m going to look like a fool.”
Karla Nelson: Yeah. The truth.
Jim Karrh: The truth.
Karla Nelson: The truth, right, Jim?
Jim Karrh: Right.
Karla Nelson: Tell him exactly what’s up.
Jim Karrh: And so there’s where the confidence was lacking, and they’d say, “Jim, if I go in, and even if my relationship with the warehouse manager, if they can get me a meeting with the CFO, if I go in there and I look bad, they ask me questions I don’t know how to answer. I don’t speak that language well. Not only will I not get that deal, but I’ll look bad in front of my… My relationship with the warehouse manager won’t be as strong anymore. I made them look bad.”
So, they wouldn’t have the conversation. So, we had to go in and help build, again, the right questions to ask, the right insights to bring. The fact is they already knew a lot of stuff that really would be very interesting to a Chief Financial Officer. But having to work with them and tell them the exact things to say and role play it and coach it and encourage one another. And so, there was a permanent change in what they were talking about and the confidence that they had. And so, then that’s built upon itself.
They got a five-point market share increase in the year after we came in and basically built a new playbook for them. And so, but that confidence is this X factor, Karla, that’s below the surface but it’s really, really important about whether your message becomes a growth engine for your business, or it never gets shared in the first place.
Karla Nelson: I love that. And you think from the highest levels of business that that would be expected, but people are people and human nature is human nature, right, Jim?
Jim Karrh: It is very much so. And oftentimes the leader, whether it be up at the CEO level or a team leader, I often think, I think I’ve heard you say, Karla, that we can make this mistake. We can have this blind spot of thinking that everybody else is like us.
Karla Nelson: Oh my goodness. It was my mentor that taught me that. I’d stay up till wee hours of the morning creating something in the night. And deliver it to my team, and I’m like, “Why didn’t they adopt it?” Because people aren’t like you and people support what they build. And so bringing them in, have them help and support what it is that you’re trying to accomplish, and having them put their thumbprint on it is critical. And it’s about inspiring others and teaching others and helping others because that’s what you need to make it happen with your message-
Jim Karrh: Absolutely.
Karla Nelson: … creating your messengers. And then identifying the management around that piece is critical. So, you’re right on point, Jim.
Jim Karrh: It is critical. And that blind spot is very common. I’m as subject to it as anyone else. And it comes to the core of oftentimes I will hear a leader, a sales manager, a service manager, whomever, and in moments of frustration they may say something honest like, “I don’t understand why they don’t get it.” Or, “We have to educate the marketplace.” They’re really frustrated by that. And if they get it, they get the vision, they understand the strategy, they have depth of knowledge. And they have a hard time figuring why doesn’t everyone have the same level of confidence or skill in that.
And if there’s one overriding thing that I can share with you and with your listeners is that this whole messaging piece, as squishy as it seems, as much of a problem as it can be, it’s a manageable business issue. You just need some principles and-
Karla Nelson: And it truly is the glue, because think about it.
Jim Karrh: It’s the glue.
Karla Nelson: It’s the glue that pulls the vision, that pulls the mission that pulls the why, that pulls the extension to the customers that… It is the glue. It’s the glue that pulls everything together, and all that messy stuff that we have to do day in and day out with business, and that’s the glue. And that’s the thing by which we make all other decisions as well. So, it’s pretty fantastic, Jim. So, okay, how can our listeners get ahold of you?
Jim Karrh: Well, the easiest way is to go to my website or follow me on LinkedIn and listen to my podcast. The hardest thing, Karla, and maybe you can help me here in the show now, is the spelling of my last name.
Karla Nelson: It’s easy to say and then differently in spelling.
Jim Karrh: That’s right. If you can get even close to it in Google search, you’ll find me. It is K-A-R-R-H. Karrh with a K, search manage your message or anything along those lines, you’ll find it. On my website I do have lots of free resources and a sample of a new book that I have called The Science of Customer Connections: Manage Your Message to Grow Your Business. The book is available in paperback in Kindle and audio book versions in all the typical places where you buy and consume business books.
Karla Nelson: And we’ll make sure that’s in the show notes as well, Jim.
Jim Karrh: Absolutely. And I also have this thing called a podcast, which is really-
Karla Nelson: Oh really, a podcast.
Jim Karrh: Mine is called The Manage Your Message Podcast and it’s all tips and things that we offer with experts and deep dives in the areas about crafting your message and building your messenger base and the management habits that keep it all together.
Karla Nelson: Well, absolutely fantastic, Jim. It’s been just a pleasure having you on the show today. Thank you so much for sharing in regard to managing your message, having an understanding of your messengers and the management around those individuals. So, I appreciate it and we’ll have to have you on the show again. This is fantastic. We’ll have to do a deeper dive.
Jim Karrh: I’d look forward to that. Karla, it’s a pleasure to connect with you and it’s really an honor to be able to talk to your base of listeners who are living this out every day.
Karla Nelson: Thank you, sir.