Your Secret Weapon for Amplification: Employees!

There are sales enablement programs, partner and channel enablement programs and even influencer enablement programs. Why are there then, so few employee enablement programs—especially when both the knowledge of the company and the CRM/integrated marketing technology is already in use?

There are sales enablement programs, partner and channel enablement programs and even influencer enablement programs. Why are there then, so few employee enablement programs—especially when both the knowledge of the company and the CRM/integrated marketing technology is already in use?

Very few companies fully engage employees in the work of connecting with customers, prospects and new markets, according to a 2014 Altimeter Group survey of HR and marketing executives. Only 41 percent of respondents reported having a strategic approach for employee engagement, and just 43 percent say they have a culture of trust and empowerment. Yet, Altimer finds that company who do engage employees in a purposeful digital outreach enjoy measurable business impact, greater reach and improved customer satisfaction.

One of the biggest factors in this untapped opportunity, according to the report, is that most employees don’t have a clear understanding of what they can or should share on behalf of the brand. As a result, most stay quiet.

A quick way to measure the impact on your business is to assess the variance between the collective reach of your employees on LinkedIn, Twitter or Pinterest and the number of fans and followers on your branded corporate pages. That delta is your opportunity-every professional post or pin by an employee is an opportunity to connect people back to your corporate properties.

Of course a purposeful approach to empowering employees must be respectful of everyone’s personal brand and voice. Forcing people to stiffly spout the company line will not only backfire in terms of employee loyalty, it will be a turn off for readers. The engagement has to be authentic in order to resonate.

The technology is here-in the past decade there has been a plethora of new digital tools for helping employees connect with each other and with their professional communities. Many tools are embedded in the CRM and sales enablement tools already in use for outside engagement. Why aren’t people using them internally? Perhaps because the presence of a tool itself is not enough-to create business value the tools must be accessible, helpful and aligned with the business culture.

Marketers who want employee engagement must develop a repeatable and respectful plan for advocacy:

  • Cross-Functional Reach:
    While sales, marketing and service teams often advocate for the business as part of their job descriptions, employees across the organization can also be incentivized to participate. Making these activities a win-win for the employee and the employer is key to participation.
  • Training:
    Most employees would be happy to support a respectful program, but truly do not know what to say. Setting clear boundaries and sharing sample messaging is a start, but also be explicit about the “how to” aspects. Encourage employees to make the message personal-and thus of higher impact-by translating the corporate message into their own voice.
  • Culture of Mutual Respect:
    Employees who cannot be trusted with confidential information also can’t be expected to fully engage in any innovation or forward-thinking programs. If this is the case for your organization, then your culture may not be a fit for employee engagement.
  • Content:
    Most businesses are publishers today-from blogs to social media to customer service scripts. These are rich sources for content that can be easily shared and amplified through employee engagement.

Creating active and visible employees may give some managers pause. Altimer recommends encouraging personal brand building anyway, claiming the risk is low that top talent will be poached. The opposite is usually true, the report says. Employees build a sense of pride and connectedness, and become invested in the company success.

Beyond email signatures and call center scripts, how is your company tapping the rich network of your employees to build the brand, amplify messaging and generate leads? Are your employees already active participants in sharing your company brand story? If so, how can you bring that forward into a more purposeful program? Share your challenges and ideas in the comments section.

On LinkedIn, Who’s the Boss of You?

I approached my employees and asked them how they’d feel if I asked them to revise their profiles and use “brand language” that I provided. For many, they felt the request was invasive, and it indicated that I was too controlling (there’s a shocker). But if one of my company’s goals is to present a unified brand front in every channel, how much responsibility should an employee take towards supporting that objective?

There’s no doubt that business to business interactions have shifted to the social media marketplace—especially when researching a company, its executive team or an individual you’d like to contact.

On any journey of discovery, you might start by visiting the organization’s website, subscribe to an RSS feed on their press releases, follow them on Twitter and check out their Facebook page. And eventually, like any good voyeur, you’ll review profiles of key executives on LinkedIn.

But many potential buyers/sellers take it one step farther—and start investigating the profiles of other employees of an organization. After all, if you’re trying to get an introduction into the company, it helps to know if you’re connected to someone (or know someone who knows someone) already employed at your target business.

Those in business development functions will tell you that LinkedIn is their new best friend. It’s a virtual cornucopia of names, titles, functional responsibilities and, if you do a little additional sleuthing, one could assemble a virtual org chart for any business.

If LinkedIn is used so heavily, and if brand perceptions are shaped by every interaction with that brand, just how heavy handed could you (or should you) get around your employee’s LinkedIn profile?

I approached my employees and asked them how they’d feel if I asked them to revise their profiles and use “brand language” that I provided. For many, they felt the request was invasive, and it indicated that I was too controlling (there’s a shocker) or was being an overly micro-managing boss. Another commented that any profile written by me wouldn’t sound authentic.

But if one of my company’s strategic positioning goals is to present a unified brand front in every channel, how much responsibility should an employee take towards helping to support that objective? Could it be viewed as a workplace responsibility akin to giving feedback/coaching on how to answer their business phone?

As one employee noted, your Facebook profile is personal, and since you have to “invite” or “approve” friends, you don’t have to worry about who might be looking at it. But LinkedIn is a very public forum, open to anyone who registers an account.

I might argue that, as an employee, if you’re not looking for work, your LinkedIn profile could be crafted with a goal of supporting your company’s strategic goals. If I wanted to demonstrate to potential customers that I had engineers on staff with an immense depth and breadth of experience, for example, should I “coach” my engineers on their LinkedIn profiles? Should I help those engineers craft language in their Summary statements or within their job responsibilities to ensure it will bode well for my firm?

Reid Hoffman, cofounder of LinkedIn, offers an interesting perspective in his book “The Start-up of You.” He suggests that you “establish an identity independent of your employer, city and industry. For example, make the headline of your LinkedIn profile not a specific job title … but personal-brand or asset focused … that way, you’ll have a professional identity that can carry with you as you shift jobs. You own yourself.”

Hmmm … weight that advice from a guy who currently labels himself “Entrepreneur. Product Strategist. Investor.”

Jeff Weiner, on the other hand, labels himself “CEO at LinkedIn,” and his job description sounds like a strategically driven, carefully crafted marketing message: “Connecting the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful. Since joining the company in December, 2008, LinkedIn has increased its membership base from 33 million to over 300 million members, increased revenue by over 20x, and rapidly expanded its global platform to include 23 languages and operate in 27 cities around the world.”

It’s no surprise to me that it closely mirrors the company’s description of itself on the LinkedIn Company page.

And that’s my point exactly.

But if you’re not Jeff Weiner posting your profile on the site that your company owns, should you (could you) influence/demand/suggest that the description of the company you work for, or the summary of your skills at that company, be in words that you dictate/control?

Or would this heavy handedness be just another disingenuous marketing attempt? Like trying to start a conversation in a LinkedIn Group on a particular topic just so you can demonstrate your or your company’s, expertise in that arena?

I could argue either way … but I’m more interested in hearing your thoughts on the subject.

When a Customer Is Not Worthy

As business owners and employees of businesses, we all work diligently to acquire prospects, qualify leads and convert customers, but sometimes we need to stop and consider whether a particular person or company is worthy of our efforts. It makes our constituents feel appreciated and empowered when we treat them well and expend effort to develop the relationship, but

As business owners and employees of businesses, we all work diligently to acquire prospects, qualify leads and convert customers, but sometimes we need to stop and consider whether a particular person or company is worthy of our efforts.

It makes our constituents feel appreciated and empowered when we treat them well and expend effort to develop the relationship, but in some cases that empowerment can go to one of their heads and lead the person to behave in a manner not conducive to a healthy relationship.

There have been a number of instances over the years where I’ve needed to ask prospective or current customers to take their business elsewhere. While this is never a pleasant conversation, it can be critical in ensuring your company remains profitable, your employees remain appreciated and happy, and you remain sane. The best way to approach this conversation is with civility and a calm tone.

More often than not, an unhappy customer will vent their frustration on an underling with the assumption the person is unprepared to manage the onslaught. Annoyed customers will attack in a way they believes will result in a resolution favoring them—sometimes greatly and to the detriment of the employee’s wellbeing and the company’s profitability. We’re all able to take a loss every now and then to satisfy an unhappy customer, but when you have a repeat offender (customer), it’s time to step in.

Every employee and contractor in my organization knows they are never expected to submit to a venting, complaining or abusive customer—period. The employee’s response is mandatory and simple, “Please hold and I will have our manager help you.” From there, I am quick to set the ground rules as I take over the call. I will listen to the customer politely and allow that person to give voice to their entire complaint, but they may not scream, call names or be uncivil in any manner. If they are, I will hang up. I will continue to hang up each time the person calls back until they accept and adhere to the rules of this engagement (to date, it hasn’t gone beyond three hang ups).

Beyond this, I make it clear I am fully responsible for my team’s actions and responses, and we will not engage in a bashing of a personal nature. I will not side with the complainant against my team, but I will be empathetic to the customer’s plight and go to great lengths to find a resolution suitable to the situation—for as long as we can continue to have a professional, if not amicable, discussion.

For plaintiffs who cannot accept and follow the ground rules, it’s even simpler: “I’m sorry we did not meet your expectations, here is the phone number to another company providing this product/service. We’re confident you will be happier elsewhere.”

This type of response shifts the power from the complaining customer to the employee and fosters a better relationship between you and the person with whom you work every day instead of a customer whose value is far less. Yes, some customers have great monetary worth, and for those you will exert additional effort to resolve the situation before sending them on their way, but for most small businesses, individual customers have a smaller overall value than a dedicated employee.

With that said, there are ways for a customer to complain without aggressive discourse—those are the customers we want to please, keep, and reward—and for those, it’s best to keep the employee in the discussion. These are the customers whom I prefer to foster and benefit, even at a monetary loss to the company. They often turn out to be long-term, repeat customers because we have created an atmosphere of loyalty by tending to their concerns as a team. (Why would we allow an abusive customer to receive a more beneficial resolution than a kind, calm customer who truly wishes to resolve the condition?)

Sometimes customers are unworthy in other manners. We recently spent quite some time reviewing a lead’s current drip-marketing campaign, only to come to the conclusion we really couldn’t add enough value to their current process to make hiring our company beneficial to them. In this situation, we fired the customer before we were hired, and we were quite frank about why. I don’t know how this response was truly received by the customer; they did seem to be happy with our honesty. If I were on the receiving end of this conversation, I would rather have a company tell me genuinely they cannot help me than to have them take my money for months/years and be no wiser for the engagement—but not everyone thinks like I do. (Thankfully.)

In many ways, email marketing has cultivated an atmosphere allowing customers to be more unhappy and more quickly. The anonymity of email makes marketers seem less like a company of people here to serve their needs and more like a faceless organization poised to aggravate them. Gone are phone calls that allowed us to connect with at least a modicum human interaction, in their place we have electronic communications sent to thousands of people all at once. This is why personalization can be so important to you and to the recipient. Adding a bit or a lot of personalization warms the tone and the relationship. It reminds the receiver, you are a company of people who care about their success. It will also help lay a foundation of civility if a divorce is imminent.

If you must fire an email customer, don’t fire by email. Pick up the phone, set the ground rules, and be polite and professional. It’s the least you can do. You may not be able to salvage the relationship, but you’re less likely to leave them with a terrible last impression.

8 Recommendations Before Hiring New Digital Direct Marketing Talent

If you’re an employer that recognizes you need new digital direct marketing approaches, you may be apprehensive about hiring new talent. Here is an eight-step plan to install the right digital marketing groundwork before hiring that new employee to make sure you are both successful.

If you’re an employer that recognizes you need new digital direct marketing approaches, you may be apprehensive about hiring new talent. When you hire new people, you risk a cultural misfit between the style and approach of a traditional direct marketer and a digital direct marketer. If it doesn’t work out between the employer and employee after a few months, there is a lot of lose-lose for all parties concerned.

The employer has made a costly mistake with the hire. The employee has possibly given up a good position and relocated. The employer gives up on digital direct marketing, declaring that it’s conceptually not a fit with traditional direct marketing, when it may actually have only been company cultural barriers, skills of the employee, or a lack of commitment to fund digital initiatives by the employer.

Consider, too, that there is the high demand these days for digital talent. Target Marketing’s recent article, 5 Trends in Direct Marketing Job-Hunting and Hiring, by Executive Recruiter Jerry Bernhart, raised excellent points about the state of human resource recruitment for direct marketing companies.

It’s clear, based on Bernhart’s experience, that candidates are getting multiple offers, suggesting that those individuals who are trained in digital marketing, or those who have reinvented themselves, are the folks getting not only offers, but competitive offers with higher pay.

But what if you’re among those “… tens of thousands of companies out there that have little more than a rudimentary Web presence,” referenced in the article? How do you, if you’re faced with the need to reinvent your marketing approaches, recognize the right talent for a new digital direct marketing position and process that’s unproven inside your organization?

Here are eight recommendations, with complete acknowledgement this is a biased perspective coming from my personal experience of having started new departments to lay the groundwork before hiring a new employee.

  1. Retain a Consultant First
    Bring on an independent consultant to work with your organization a few hours or days a week to create your new department, or your new digital direct marketing infrastructure. This individual should be expected to work with you for several months and be made responsible for several initiatives outlined in the following points.
  2. Create a Digital Direct Marketing Plan
    Your consultant should be versed in more than basic websites and email marketing. The plan probably includes development of a content marketing strategy, using multiple cross-channel media, that is designed to bring in leads. Perhaps the role includes the introduction of customer relationship management (CRM) software. The plan might also include acquisition of a marketing automation system that enables sophisticated nurture marketing programs to integrate direct mail, email, personalized microsites, social, mobile, content marketing and more.
  3. Fund It
    You must be ready to invest the money it will require to see results. Be prepared for this transition to take anywhere from six to 12 months of refinement before it’s clear how this can work for you. This can be challenging if your company is seeing slowly declining sales, but the alternative isn’t so rosy. If you wait too long, you won’t need to worry about funding it as your company slowly disappears into non-existence.
  4. Empower
    As a business owner or senior manager, obviously you’re going to want to have input in the digital marketing plan and how your company’s money is invested. But you must accept that to be successful you’ll need to empower people to make decisions on your behalf. Of course, with empowerment comes accountability on the part of the consultant and your staff.
  5. Your Company Culture May Be Stressed
    Chances are that if you’ve brought on a consultant (or fulltime new hire) to make change, your staff will feel threatened. Budget dollars that went to fund existing traditional direct marketing initiatives are likely diverted to new initiatives. That will create anxiety and stress from current long-time staff. And it’s human nature for people to become hostile, passive-aggressive, and even work to discreetly sabotage new efforts.
  6. The Org Chart May Change
    The consultant you contract with should be able to objectively evaluate individual staff’s strengths so they are placed in a role where your current employees come out winners. The organizational chart will probably evolve during this process.
  7. Be Flexible and Agile
    The future belongs to companies that are flexible and agile. If your culture is slow and overly methodical, ask yourself if you’re willing to leave your comfort zone. If not, reread the last sentence in No. 3 above.
  8. Your Plan to Transition From Consultant to Full-Time Staff
    The consultant’s responsibility will be to create a transition plan to hand off the keys to new initiatives and processes that have been created (and proven) for your new fulltime hire. Often, the consultant works with an executive recruiter to identify a replacement, and stays on for a few weeks after the new hire starts to ensure a smooth transition. Sometimes, a consultant is asked to stay on fulltime, but consider that a consultant is most likely energized by “the chase,” so to speak, and will want to move on to help reinvent the next company.

Following these eight steps will set up better odds for a win-win for employer and employee. By the time a new-hire is on board, the organization has had time to absorb and accept cultural change. Assuming the outcome is successful, this process gives confidence to not only the employer, but the new hire and the entire staff. Most importantly, you have broadened your approaches to reach your market through digital channels that are capturing more of their time and attention

Manage Your Team, and Answer Important Questions While You Travel

Did you realize that you have a way to communicate with your team right in your back pocket? True or False: Only wealthy companies use video and film production? Statement: It’s impossible to be two places at once. Did you realize that even while you’re traveling you could answer questions, and keep your team informed? If you travel heavily for your company and are an executive or leader, this article will help you by offering some new communication solutions

Did you realize that you have a way to communicate with your team right in your back pocket? True or False: Only wealthy companies use video and film production? Statement: It’s impossible to be two places at once. Did you realize that even while you’re traveling you could answer questions, and keep your team informed? If you travel heavily for your company and are an executive or leader, this article will help you by offering some new communication solutions.

The types of video production companies use now vary considerably. Anything from sales presentations, corporate communications, customer service, tutorials and internal communications are media treasures.

These types of videos can be there to serve both the client and your employees. The other forms of video production include staff training, employee orientation, safety procedures, promotional video and financial reports. The key point to remember here is they can be viewed on several different devices—iPad, computer, and, of course, mobile phone.

Video can be used as a heavy-duty communication machine even while you’re traveling the tundra. Utilizing video platforms like Skype, Livestream and Google+ Hangouts will put you in front of your employees so you can continue to disperse your companies propaganda, even while miles away. This allows your employees to be not only informed, but to have an emotional connection to you as if you are still present, even when absent.

Some types of video production can cost next to nothing to create. For example, Instagram, Vine, Skype, Facetime and Google + Hangouts. These are simple to use and can be viewed individually or as a group; which allows you to continue to lead your team even if it’s in a busy airport. These platforms give you the ability to promulgate to a tailored crowd. You can choose to speak to one person, several or the entire staff.

The other benefit here is that you can be in several places at once. I bet you wish you could clone yourself so that you can be everywhere at the same time. With telegenic devices, you are able to be in multiple locations, which can save you time and money.

HR Professionals are finding these assets invaluable to effectively inform their troops and train their employees on important factors such as safety, company policies and procedures. The same message is given each time to each individual, allowing more control over the communiqué distributed among the new and existing hires.

While any of these types of television programs would be effective and work, here are some more advanced ideas for the use of video in communicating to your present crowd. Use a thumbnail video in your email signature. This could be a general message from the CEO, President or possibly an HR Supervisor.

One of the best devices that I’ve seen this used with is a USB stick. Placing your corporate mini movie on this type of device is sure to get people interested in what’s on it. We can’t help but be curious when a gadget is in the palm of our hands.

What’s the best way to get started by utilizing these simulcast luxuries? This would be some solid hypothesis; Ask the people that have the most questions directed to them at your company. Have them write up to 10 topics that these videos could address. Do this with the answers to those questions, and Voila!, you have a script created for your first production.

Next, decide who will be your audience. Directly address them individually or within the group. Make the dialogue interesting, as if you were right there in the same room—because technically you are.

Then decide what the best way to distribute this message should be. Should it be Live? Do you want to ensure that they will see it? Do you want this to be measurable and traceable? Consider the style as well. Do you want it to be comical, motivational or serious in nature? A financial report to your stock holders may need to be handled with kid gloves, while a safety video that is going to be viewed by the group and needs to be remembered, and comedy can often be more memorable, even on serious subjects.

I hope that this discussion has sparked a few new ways for you to interface with your peers. If anything, perhaps it’s helped answer the question of how can you communicate with the team while abroad? Either way, I’m sure you will remember that the use of video isn’t always obvious but still effective.

Any further discussion or ideas to be added can be sent to me at egrey@hermanadvertising.com.