BRM Communication: The Right Tool for the Job

Posted | Category: Professional Development | Contributed

We would just as soon use a hammer to drill a hole as we would use instant messaging (IM) to close out a strategic decision on commissions policies.

Many BRMs are part of global organizations in which face-to-face communication is not always an option. And while email is great to communicate with hundreds of people at once (particularly when getting a response is irrelevant), we have to get creative to reach all of our stakeholders.

After all, a key component of business relationship management relies on our ability to connect with people of different backgrounds, business functions, and yes—communication styles, too.

When it comes to choosing between the communications options available to BRMs, it’s important to apply the appropriate tool to each situation.

Know the Facts

Make Your Email Stand Out

250 billion emails are sent each day, 90% of which are spam or email that intends to do harm. In a world in which we’re flooded with emails every single day, can your business-critical message stand out?

While this topic has not been the target of scientific research, surveys indicate that the average person looks at an email between 6-20 seconds before making a decision. Each person has a system for reading email, especially when their inbox is full of messages that range from time-sensitive to useless spam.

How will you capture the recipient’s interest in just a few seconds?

  • Send your email in the middle of the day—specifically, at around 2 pm. This is typically after lunch, as most people have already gone through their morning emails. Don’t let your email get lost in the morning round!
  • Start with a one- to two-sentence executive summary. If you can’t deliver your message succinctly, your readership will suffer. Once you’ve got this down, take it a step further and summarize your email in five to 10 words in the subject line.

The average person looks at an email between 6-20 seconds before making a decision. How will you capture their interest?

  • Draft and check. BRMs (particularly ones who just started in the role) may need an executive’s help at first. When drafting an important message, ask your manager’s manager to send it. This is more relevant when sending to a large audience.
  • Use bullet points. Big blocks of unbroken text elicit the “Ugh… I have to read all this?” response

In a world where BRMs and other business professionals receive hundreds of emails a day, your message should be simple and to-the-point in order to receive a reply, forward, or read further.

Live Calls for Full Investment

Phone calls are the middle ground between face-to-face conversations and email/IM. In an effort to respect both your time and the time of others, phone calls should be used when there is an urgent need for a qualitative response.

It’s important to differentiate between quantitative and qualitative here. “What was the gross margin on left-handed hammers last quarter?” is a great question for instant message, since the answer is quantitative in nature. On the other hand, the question “What’s the plan to grow our share in the enterprise market over the next nine months?” is qualitative and probably best answered in a live discussion.

If you and the other party have the time, adding video to a call can only boost its chance of success. The other party will recognize that you are fully invested in the conversation, and you both can communicate and listen more efficiently with the added benefit of recognizing facial expressions.

Preparing for Face-to-Face Conversations

For BRMs in global organizations, having in-person conversations can be a luxury and should be treated with care.

While face-to-face discussions are appropriate for qualitative conversations, they are even better suited for emotional discussions. It can be difficult to secure meetings with C-suite executives—particularly several of them at the same time—and face-to-face discussions are often impromptu.

How do you handle these opportunities when they arise?

For BRMs in global organizations, having in-person conversations can be a luxury and should be treated with care.

  • Get up and walk with them if they are walking down the hallway or across the parking lot.
  • Be prepared with at least one topic to discuss with each C-suite executive at all times. This sounds like a lot of work because it is! Don’t just talk to them about the weather—discuss the pain point at the top of their minds. When you’re prepared with these topics, they will pay dividends.
  • Don’t spend the entire time speaking. Your discussion will likely last less than 30 seconds, but this is a great chance to engage in active listening. The executive is less likely to pay attention to you when you are speaking, so ask a thought-provoking question that requires them to think through their response.
  • Follow up your discussion with an email using bullet points and paraphrase what they told you. Outline any action items you took away, and schedule a meeting to discuss in more detail.

While email and instant message are convenient, relying on them too heavily will create distance between you and your business partners. Instead, these mediums of communication become more powerful when used in conjunction with live calls or in-person discussions.

Use live calls when context is important, and follow up your calls with an email to make sure you interpreted the discussion just right. It’s cumbersome to gather key partners in a room (as they are typically time-constrained resources), so take advantage of opportunities as they present them. You never know when you’ll be gifted 30 seconds with the COO.

Jeff Hileman has over 10 years of experience in IT. After building his organization’s BRM capability from the ground up, he is now responsible for leading the BRM team and was successful in positioning IT as a trusted strategic partner to the business. In the past, some other major successes of his include designing and managing a successful global IT service desk, developing a marketable service desk structure and model that grossed over $5 million per year, and reducing IT operating expenses within one company by $200,000 per month. Jeff is an active member of the helpdesk community, HDI and IT Leadership Exchange, and Business Relationship Management Institute.

When he’s not hammering away on a process improvement project or working to launch a new IT service, you can find him running through the trails in Southern California, preparing dinner for his family, or asking the question “Why?” to just about anything.

You can read more from Jeff here. 

2 Responses

  1. Arnie Wetherill says:


    Great article! You are preaching to the choir in my BRM Team. I have always found email to be a convenient crutch for avoiding the effort associated with effective communications. It’s great to see the re-emergence of dialog and real-time bi-directional methods of “quality over convenience” in communications. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  2. Nice article Jeff. The importance of communication and the precious time Relationship Managers have to engage is critical. Your perspective is spot on.


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