The external-internal ratio is a simple method of thinking about how you allocate your focus. The basic idea is that if you're in any kind of marketing, sales, or customer service role, you want to maximize the percentage of your time and effort that directly influences people outside the company. Better to spend an hour working on web copy than an hour working on a memo for your VP. Better to drive out and visit a large account than spend a morning in a cross-functional meeting. Better to focus on influencing a journalist who covers your beat than a manager in another department.
If you've taken any Pragmatic Marketing courses you're probably familiar with the term NIHITO.
NIHITO: Nothing important happens in the office.That's a variation on the same idea. A bit of an overstatement, perhaps, but it makes the point.
Obviously it wouldn't make sense to be purely external facing. For one thing, oftentimes we can use internal communications, meetings, and influence directly in the service of better external facing activities. But with a little common sense the external-internal ratio still applies. Building a slide deck that teaches your creative agency how to communicate better with your customers is much more external than building a slide deck explaining the business to the CFO, at least in most organizations. Interacting with the sales team or the customer support team oftentimes counts as a highly external-facing task because these individuals are either passing on information about the market or learning ways of becoming more effective in dealing with the market.
I challenge myself and my team to be as external facing as we conceivably can. Do you have to have this meeting? Can we make this meeting shorter? Do all these people have to be here? Are you spending a lot of time carefully crafting e-mails when you could just give it to me unadorned? Are you making fancy presentations when you could just be sharing a few facts? I also try to walk the walk by being a manager who doesn't require lots of internal management. I encourage those around me to be the same way.