It's imperative to use proper external communications when explaining changes at your middle market company to your clients and customers. Whether it's pricing, supply or distribution, you'll need to tell them the what, when and why of the change while doing as much as possible to help them adapt.

5 Steps to Using External Communications to Tell Your Clients and Customers About Company Changes

Nobody likes change, especially clients, but growing midmarket businesses will have to go through it at times. The key is managing that change by promoting understanding of the related rationale and overall plan. Think of your best clients and customers as your partners, and consider their thoughts as you employ new initiatives at your firm. The cost of failure is high, because bad or insufficient external communications with customers can lead to frustration, confusion, commercial disruption and loss of trust.

Here are five vital steps for effective external communication:

  1. Understand how the change will impact your clients and customers. Particularly when it comes to new costs, the direct effect on your clients and customers is easy to track. If costs are going up, engage with them to help them through the perceived negative impacts and leverage the resulting positives as best you can.
  2. Develop a clear, consistent message concerning the change. It's vital to have a plan of action in place for communication. Be direct in explaining the what, when and why of the change while showing empathy for any resultant adjustments that your client and/or customer will have to make. Show that you realize how the change impacts your partners, who will doubtlessly be more focused on their own needs.
  3. Designate who will be in charge of communication. This step prevents confusion, both internally and externally. For a price increase, for example, your company's sales director might be the natural person to lead the discussion, because he has existing relationships with your key customers. Managing change with your customers and clients requires trust, so whoever possesses that trust should be part of the communications team. The most important and influential customers should receive communication first, in a one-on-one, receptive format.
  4. Determine how and when to communicate. You probably know your clients' and customers' preferred channels of communication, so use them. Whenever possible, though, favor direct interaction, and try to anticipate objections and complaints before doing so. Let customers and clients vent any dissatisfaction before moving on to explain the reasons for the change.
  5. Help clients/customers adapt to change when possible. In the same price-increase example, you might change the terms of payment to allow customers a little more time to pay or offer them improved credit conditions. Always think of ways to soften the blow, as this will help you show that you're receptive to the needs of the people you work with.

In the end, your customers' confidence is your biggest ally in implementing change, as the best business relationships are built on a foundation of trust. Gaining that trust takes time, but without it, any big change and the resultant communications will face an uphill battle. As you go through periods of growth, always keep your customers and clients top of mind. You can't avoid changes, but you can position them in a way that shows your end goals and your good intentions toward your most important partners.

When developing a major new change or initiative at your company, when is the best time to get in touch with key clients and customers? Let us know what you think by commenting below.

Boston-based Chuck Leddy is an NCMM contributor and a freelance reporter who contributes regularly to The Boston Globe and Harvard Gazette. He also trains Fortune 500 executives in business-communication skills as an instructor for EF Education.