I am a regular volunteer at a children’s hospital near where I live. The kids I work with have disabilities, including physical, emotional and mental that vary from mild cases to the most severe.
Their determination to do as much for themselves as possible, their delight in small victories in things that most of us take for granted, and their compassion for one another has gifted me with inspiration like I have never experienced before. The hospital staff fosters a “can-do” attitude that is meant to prepare the kids as best as possible for later life, while empowering them with a fearlessness to attempt anything that interests them.
Volunteers are trained to engage with the kids, but not to do things for them unless absolutely necessary. We are there as supporters and enablers instead.
Part of my approach is to show the kids that it’s not about what they can get out of the program, but rather, what the program can get out of them. It’s about continuous improvement and what makes them uniquely special.
My investor relations consulting practice is focused on helping technology companies communicate effectively with analysts and investors. I work with CEOs, CFOs and in-house IR leadership, mostly the latter two, on effective messaging to “the Street”.
These companies struggle to articulate a clear value proposition – even the faster-growing ones. Their inability to connect with investors varies in cause and severity.
- Some get tongued-tied in techno-speak about the elegance of their solution. If they “get” it, then why aren’t investors?
- Others are misunderstood – either because their technology or business model is complex. They tend to over-explain, often ending up at tangents.
- Then there are the fallen angels, previously fast growers that have stumbled due to market changes or execution issues that they are unable to adapt to, sometimes because they are in denial.
- Companies undergoing turnarounds or transformations, usually due to a major acquisition or shift in strategy may get lost in the word forest. They struggle to shed light on how the pieces all fit together and how they will build shareholder value over time.
My clients all want to get better at messaging. The benefits are clear: what they say and how they say it has almost as much impact on their stock price and valuation as the results they post. I show them how they can build trust – both internally and among investors – by managing expectations with open and honest communication.
It is not about what they can get out of investors. Instead, it is about educating, demonstrating and validating what investors can get out of them. When I was an analyst, I used to privately thank companies that consistently delivered on what they said they would because they made me look good for recommending their stock.
Investors feel the same way. When a management clearly articulates their value prop and executes against it, portfolio performance is enhanced. Conversely, stocks are punished most violently not because of an execution hiccup, but rather because management did not communicate effectively and/or truthfully to manage expectations.
A Can-Do Approach for Continuous Improvement
I can’t sell more products or services for my clients. I also can’t manage their finances. But I do get at how their solution helps their customers achieve strategic objectives and improve financial outcomes. I then translate and synthesize this for the investment community so they understand how this will drive financial performance and market valuation.
The end goal for my clients’ customers and investors is the same: to make each feel good about the purchase. That’s why I am a proponent of linking marketing content to investor content, just nuanced for each audience to understand two things:
- What’s in it for them; and,
- Why you (as opposed to a competitor’s solution or stock)?
To achieve this, I work with executives and investor relations officers (IROs) to extract the salient points that go into messaging. This is an ongoing process of continuous improvement because messaging is dynamic and changes with company and market fundamentals.
We spend a lot of time as well on nuance, pitch and tone because analysts’ and investors’ ears are highly-tuned instruments. As in poker, these are the “tells”. So messaging must be done confidently. Lastly, I help clients understand what’s happening in their space and what happening with their space in the capital markets so they can give more informed answers during Q&A.
While I’ve always done many of these things for clients, one thing did change: rather than me just telling them what to say, I work with them to draw what they want to say out of them. Then I hone the message and keep reinforcing it with them so that they can deliver it fearlessly.
The common thread between my volunteering and consulting practice is that in giving of myself unconditionally, the return is the reward I see in my kids’ and clients’ progress. With the kids, my reward comes in the form of high-fives, hugs and smiles. With my clients, it’s a higher stock price and valuation, while protecting downside risk – although I do get the occasional high-five, hug or smile.
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.