The art of marketing facilitation

“Wow, this was the most effective meeting I’ve been to since I joined this organization!” My client enthused. “We should work with facilitation more often if we want to get things done.”

The benefits of working with a facilitator are obvious to those who have just experienced a well-facilitated session. But why is it that facilitators often struggle making the case to new and potential clients?

One challenge might be the versatility of the craft. Defined as “the act of making something easier”, facilitation helps organizations in an astounding variety of situations, including strategy development, learning, conflict resolution and project planning. Potential clients range from local volunteer groups to large multinational corporations, from government institutions to schools and campaigning networks.

This can make it hard for clients to envision how a facilitated meeting or process would help them in their particular situation. As facilitators, our challenge is to move beyond “have flipchart, will travel” and to start speaking the language of the client: whom do we help – and what do we help them to do?

While part of our craft is to adapt our tools to the challenge at hand, potential clients want to know beforehand that you understand them, and that you can help. Examples are a great way for them to see that you work with people like them, in their specific situation. We need to think beyond our list of tools: It’s the result that counts, not the process.

If potential clients cannot see the benefits upfront, they are likely to choose the biggest competition of professional facilitation: business as usual. Choosing to work with an external facilitator for the very first time can feel risky: it requires not just a monetary commitment, but also the willingness to get deeply involved in the preparation and outcomes of the process. It also might stir up vulnerabilities around power, conflict and shame in the organization.

As facilitators, we know how to work with these questions in ongoing client relations. But here’s the challenge: How can we talk about our work in a way that helps prospective clients take courageous decisions and commit to change in their organizations – before we’ve even met them?

This is where marketing comes in. It’s time we made it easier for our clients to say ‘hell yeah’ to hiring us so that we can do more of our best work in the world.

Join us for a workshop on the Art of Marketing Facilitation at the IAF Conference next month in Copenhagen to explore how you can step up your marketing game – especially if you are feeling conflicted about ‘selling yourself’.

The art of marketing facilitation
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