Is Your Message Open to Interpretation?

By Steven E. Sacks, CPA, CGMA, ABC

Whether you are a professional services firm, business, or trade or professional member association, it does not serve your constituents well if you allow complacency to settle in your efforts to meet their needs. Messaging is important; empty messaging is lethal. When your priorities, programs and services are geared toward what you want your practice or association to do rather than what clients or members need, you will create an irreparable disconnect.

The result? There is a vast divide between management’s message and the clients’ or members’ interpretation.

Here are some examples of disconnects:

Management’s message: We are not reaching out enough to our members. Our existing mail system is not effectively targeting our messages to key special interest groups. We should be regularly touching our members and remind them about how valuable our services (or benefits) are.

Members’ interpretation: Our communications strategy is the main focus rather than addressing what the real issues are. We’ll take a chance on a scattershot approach and hope that we hit some of our targets. Rather than customizing the message, in one fell swoop we can simply list all the great things we do and hope that we draw the attention of at least a few members because we are not actually sure what each member desires.

Management’s message: Our firm will be implementing a new branding initiative, accompanied by new marketing approaches.

Clients’ interpretation: We will be focusing on a logo and tagline. Our current efforts to gain more wallet share from existing clients and obtain new clients has resulted in nothing. We interviewed various clients and they were not aware we did half the services we plan to promote. It will just be a matter of coming up with a clever message so they will be more inquisitive and likely to call us.

Management’s message: We are making sure that staff conducts our engagements more efficiently with reduced hours spent at the client’s premises so we can deliver our reports on time. We have set up a client portal to handle the usual questions.

Clients’ interpretation: We don’t have time to look for other opportunities that may help you, the client, improve your business opportunities over the next year. Rather than the interpersonal touch, our staff needs to move on to more profitable clients who also have deadlines.

Management’s message: The breadth of our services matches up and exceeds other firms of our size. We will continue to operate the way we do because why mess with success?

Client’s interpretation: We have a template approach that minimizes the amount of resources we have to invest to be innovative. As long as our clients continue to use us, why do we need to confuse them by mentioning some of the other services that are not as profitable?

Management’s message: We offer our members great programs, lots of information and content and great discounts. It is not necessary we reevaluate our offerings because we have high member retention. We just need to remind them.

Members’ interpretation: Our long-term approach to bundling services has worked. We cannot force members to use the programs or see their benefits. Maybe if we just send out email blasts on a frequent basis, it will be a reminder of what we offer and hopefully they will see the value.

Management’s message: We will be working on a new strategic direction for the association.

Members’ interpretation: We are not sure what our goals, priorities and actions will be and whether they will work, or and if they will meet our members’ needs, because we are not sure what they are, and we don’t even know where to begin.

Fact: It does not matter how often you communicate, but that you understand what your clients’ or members’ needs are. Then and only then can you act on what they value.

It’s all about the doing rather than the saying.


About Steve

Steven Sacks is the CEO of Solutions to Results, LLC, a consultancy that specializes in helping individuals, firms and organizations meet the challenges of communicating with clarity and purpose. Visit his website at