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Instructions and Idiots – how to give clear instructions

Sep 11, 2016 | tips | 0 comments

How to give instructions without being condescending

When you expect everyone to get what you do and they don’t, the first thought is ‘they’re an idiot’! Instructions and idiots – what do you do? If you explain it too simply you end up offending prospects. You fear you’re being condescending and if you think that, you probably are. They feel stupid which puts them off buying from you. This article is about how to explain things without making them feel like an idiot.

In my past corporate life when I worked at the head office of a manufacturing group, our ‘clients’ were our subsidiaries and more particularly, the management teams.

Instructions and Idiots

One of my annual projects at head office was to collate all the data for insurance renewal. I had to streamline the process of how we collected the data to make it easy to collate, which in turn made it easy for our brokers to get competitive insurance quotes. So in the first instance, I created an Excel spreadsheet with instructions for the finance directors what figures needed to go where. The data to be collected was quite detailed and comprehensive. The challenge was getting all the finance directors to report the same data despite different ways of reporting their data.

The instructions had to be so foolproof and clear that our lowest denominator could understand them. Our lowest denominator was Trevor Broadberry. We coined a head-office phrase ‘The Trevor Broadberry Test’. Before any set of instructions was sent out to the finance directors it had to pass The Trevor Broadberry Test.

Who was Trevor Broadberry*

Trevor Broadberry* was the finance director of one of the thirty subsidiaries we were head office to. They were a huge manufacturing plant in the north of England, providing a lot of jobs for the locals. As a finance director he was responsible for millions of pounds flowing in and out of the subsidiary’s bank account. He was a pretty senior guy. Just like all the other finance directors that headed up the other 29 manufacturing subsidiaries under our ownership.

If you’re a Corrie fan, think Kirk. If you’re an Emmerdale fan, think Sam Dingle. You get the picture?

I’m not saying that Trevor Broadberry was stupid, lacked common sense or was just a bit/lot thick.

If any instructions could, even slightly, be misunderstood or misinterpreted or just completely got wrong, then Trevor Broadberry would be the guy who did. He gave you unexpected (and sometimes ridiculous) answers to the questions you asked about. When this happened, the initial thought was ‘he’s an idiot’. In actual fact it was because the instructions weren’t clear enough for him to understand what to do.

The Trevor Broadberry* Test

So was born the Trevor Broadberry Test. We had to put ourselves in Trevor’s brain and see if those instructions could at all be misunderstood or misinterpreted. If there was the slightest risk of misinterpretation, then it would not pass. You’d have to tweak and rephrase the instructions so that even Trevor Broadberry couldn’t get them wrong.

The ultimate test was sending the instructions out to the finance directors. Then see what came back from Trevor Broadberry. Your instructions passed the Trevor Broadberry Test if he managed to send back answers that made sense.

Trevor Broadberrys are everywhere!

You might think that Trevor was unique. After all, none of the other finance directors got it wrong like Trevor. However, despite having left the corporate world over 10 years I’ve noticed there are Trevor Broadberrys everywhere. They are not just fictional characters that only exist in soaps, books and films.

They are the people who don’t get what you do and therefore need your help so they ‘get’ what you do. When they ‘get’ what you do, it’s easier for them to either become a client. Even if they don’t become a client themselves, because they ‘get’ what you do, they can refer you to others who do need your help.

Why is this important?

Trevor Broadberry was our client. He was a finance director. He didn’t ‘get’ complex instructions. We, at head office, never understood how he ever got the position of finance director. That didn’t matter. It was our job to help him understand without making him feel like an idiot. When he understood what we required of him, we could then serve him better (with competitive insurance quotes!).

This has become my underpinning principle for everything I do. Provide clear instructions on what I want people to do. I’ve learnt not to expect anyone to be able to ready my mind!

Keep It Simple

It started with instructions for filling in forms. Then I realised it applies to so much more: marketing messages, sales conversations, client on-boarding, client liaison. There’s so many things I create where I think ‘would Trevor Broadberry understand what needs to be done’. For the work I do with clients; my marketing messages, both online and offline; and of course, the instructions in my online programs.

So when a marketing message goes out and it doesn’t have the outcome I expect, then I know I probably didn’t keep it simple enough and it’s time to review with Trevor’s brain on.

Take aways

It’s a mistake to assume that everyone ‘gets’ what you do. It’s also detrimental to right-off those who don’t as not potential customers. It’s more likely you haven’t explained clearly what you do and the benefits people get from working with you.

Take a fresh look at the processes in your business and view them through Trevor’s eyes. How easy is it for people visiting your site to become a prospect and then a client? Does your web tech stand up to The Trevor Broadberry Test?

If you would like me to look over your online marketing processes to make sure it’s super simple for a Trevor Broadberry to understand, then book a free web tech strategy call with me by clicking here.

* I’ve changed the name to protect the innocent.


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