Emotional Stories Exists in Every B2B Company (finding them is the challenge)

storytellingBrands from every B2B and B2C industry sector have embraced the power of storytelling — whether it be branded storytelling or “true” storytelling — in their efforts to stand out and make a human connection with their audiences.  Public relations and advertising agencies, and viral digital firms everywhere, talk about the power of storytelling throughout their websites and the importance of a brand’s emotional value.

For the most part, social media is to thank for enabling brands, both B2B and B2C, to make a more transparent and genuine connection with people.  In fact, Bryan Kramer, a social media strategist and CEO of PureMatter, goes as far to say that it’s no longer about B2C or B2B marketing. Instead, he says, it’s all about human-to-human. That is #H2H.

Simply by virtue of what they sell, some organizations have had an easier time than others in making a genuine connection with their target customers.  Most of us are familiar with emotional story telling from big consumer brands like Coca-Cola, Apple and Kellogg’s, to name just a few.  B2B companies have to work harder at it, though.

Historically, emotional storytelling hasn’t come as naturally to B2B companies like Analog Devices, Inc., a semiconductor manufacturer, or Abbott Rubber Company, a manufacturer of industrial hoses and rubber products.  The emotional stories exists for these brands, but to find them they need to dig deeper and include every employee, and not just their marketing and sales organizations, in their search.

The good news is that more and more B2B companies are recognizing the power of stories and are using social media, as well as traditional channels, to share them. They are using new channels to share new angles about their organizations and are even having a little fun along the way in their quest to emotionally connect with stakeholders.

If a supply chain management company, a provider of correction fluid and a maker of networking equipment can do it, then so can yours.

Advertisements

Preventing “Death by A Thousand Cuts” in the Agency-Client Relationship

There’s a reason many corporations prefer hiring communications professionals who The Business Lab ending toxic Client Relationships on a positive note - representative and consultant Katherine Hennessy-resized-600have experience working on both sides of the table: as a client and for an agency.

Perspective.

If you have ever been the client, you know what great and lousy client service looks and feels like.  And if you later made the switch to the other side of the table, to a public relations or other type of agency, you then had the opportunity to serve clients with the same level of customer service excellence you expected (and perhaps actually received) from your agency when you were the customer.

Also, it pays to be familiar with the pressures and challenges of working on the inside and you can only get that from working on the inside.  Too many agency employees have an inaccurate picture of what their clients are up against because they have never walked in their shoes.  Perhaps the subject of a future post.

As for me (thanks for asking!), I’ve split my career down the middle with half of my experience as a client and the more recent half serving clients from big, medium and small agencies.  During the client years, I saw agency-client relationships disintegrate in slow increments.  Typically, it was death by a thousand cuts vs. the result of a single infraction. And sad to say, I witnessed the same phenomenon while on the agency side.

In almost every case, it was the little things that built up over time that led to divorce.

If you are currently working at an agency and have never worked on the client side, here are a few timeless tips — in addition to outstanding results, of course — that will help keep the relationship with your customers on the right path:

  • Acknowledge that you received your client’s email or text with a simple “got it” or “will touch base with you on this” or anything that sends the message you are available. A client’s imagination can run wild when their attempts to communicate with you aren’t reciprocated in a timely manner.
  • On the other hand, don’t get upset if your client doesn’t get back to your emails or calls in a timely fashion. The agency-client relationship isn’t always a two-way street and that has to be OK with you or you will make yourself crazy.  Clients spend lots of time away from their desks, confined in conference rooms for meetings that go on and on and on.  And they have their own internal clients to serve and politics to play. Cut them some slack.
  • Call your client.  Email and team conference calls are great and have their purpose. But some of the best engagements and ideas come about when the account team lead and client chat live. Clients enjoy hearing from their agency, even if it’s just a call to check in.  So pick up the phone.
  • Remember that the client hired the agency, not you.  Show leadership by encouraging all members of your account team to be heard on the weekly group client call. Clients want to hear how every member of the team is contributing.  For a client, there’s nothing more uplifting than when on one of these calls a junior person begins to “get it” and shares a brilliant idea.
  • Get the agency’s most experienced people involved with your client’s account.  Invite them to an occasional brainstorm, especially around the bigger initiatives, and then tell your client about it. Most clients recognize that agency management isn’t involved with their account on a daily basis, but many have the fair expectation that senior agency leaders are making a contribution beyond invoicing.
  • Share bad news with your client sooner rather than later.  Whether it’s a missed media opportunity, the resignation of a key team member, etc., clients have the right to hear about it as soon as possible because it impacts their business.  Too many agencies procrastinate when it comes to sharing negative developments with a client.  Most clients, however, realize that despite best efforts, not everything is always going to go as planned. Work together on solutions.
  • Encourage your client to occasionally recognize the account team’s good work. They need and most often will appreciate the heads up. And your team will do their best work for the clients who appreciate them.

PR As a Top 10 Most Stressful Job…Oh Pahlease

stress-pencil-croppedThe annual list of most stressful jobs is making the rounds and some of my public relations colleagues are carrying the fact that “public relations executive” was ranked by CareerCast as the 6th most stressful job as a of badge of honor.

Here’s the full list, beginning with most stressful job:

Enlisted military, military general,  firefighter, airline pilot,  event coordinator, public relations executive, senior corporate executive, newspaper reporter, police officer, taxi driver.

Outside of the entertainment factor, the annual listing isn’t very meaningful, really.  You can read more about the methodology CareerCast uses for its ranking here. To me, the comparisons are apples and oranges.  For example, an airline pilot charged with transporting 300 souls in a metal vessel travelling at 600 MPH and at 38,000 feet, or an urban firefighter sprinting into a burning apartment building while everyone else is running in the opposite direction, have stress level factors PR people can only imagine.

And it’s ridiculous to think that a big city police officer, who’s pre-work routine includes donning a bullet proof vest and a loaded pistol, has a job that’s less stressful than the PR guy who’s pre-work routine includes reviewing email, checking the charge on his smartphone or taking one last look in the mirror before dashing off to a meeting at Starbucks.

Not to downplay the PR profession by any means.  It’s a fantastic occupation, one that has been my bread and butter for more than 25 years and like any job where demanding, paying customers and deadlines and rejection are involved, it has its fair share of stresses. But it doesn’t belong on the same list as enlisted military, firefighters or police officers.  While we’re at it, add nurses and school teachers to the list but remove event coordinator, corporate executive and newspaper reporter (I was one early in my career and while I was almost punched out by an intoxicated town councilor, I was never put in a position to save lives like our heroic first responders are).

Let’s leave taxi driver on the top 10, though.  Cabbies put themselves in harm’s way every time a new client steps into their ride, especially when it’s an overly caffeinated PR person who just got word that his story idea was just rejected by the WSJ and his smartphone is about to die.

8 Questions To Jump-Start Your Team in 2014

ImageI had been on the hunt for a little inspiration for a team strategy meeting I was hosting at the public relations firm where I was employed at the time.

Since I was still new to the firm and to the client services team there, I wanted to kick off the meeting with something a bit more provocative than some of the traditional ice breakers. Some managers like to kick off a team planning session with ice breakers such as, “tell the group something about yourself that it already doesn’t know about you.”  And let’s not forget the “if you were a dog (or a car, or a fruit, or ???), what breed would you be?”

Jump starters like these certainly can help a group loosen up a bit before getting down to business.  But in this case, I was looking for a different kind of warm up.

In the days leading up to the meeting, I visited too many websites to name here in my quest for a provocative way to get the team engaged and the session off to a fast start. Finally, however, I settled on the following eight questions as a way to stimulate conversation among the team members (my gratitude and apologies to the author of these as I lost track of the original source).

  1. What needs to happen today to make this meeting worthwhile to everyone?
  2. What can I change to help this team function more smoothly?
  3. What is keeping us from keeping the main thing the main thing?
  4. Who needs to communicate more clearly or frequently?
  5. What is waiting around the corner that we need to prepare for?
  6. What can/should we do differently that our customers can’t get elsewhere?
  7. Why would somebody want to join this team?
  8. Why would someone leave?

All of any number or combination of these questions will get most any group talking, in my experience.  What’s really great about them is that they can be applied to most any type of organization — from a family run business with only a handful of employees, to an emerging company with a few dozen on staff as well as to the biggest of teams at a global firm.

And these questions are timeless.  But I think the greatest benefit of this list is the questions are structured to help get a team thinking as a team.

Many organizations are gearing up for their 2014 kick off meetings.  In one format or another, it might be a good idea to consider posing a few of these questions to help get the year off to a faster start by getting everyone engaged and on the same page.

What core questions would you add to this list?

“Willing To Risk Death Daily:” What a Help Wanted Ad Says About a Company

ponyexpIt’s the end of the year and thus, ’tis the season for the annual avalanche of help wanted ads — though the avalanche certainly isn’t what it used to be.

Oftentimes, a help wanted ad will be the first impression a prospect will have of a potential employer. Professional recruiters and expert networkers typically steer job searchers away from applying for positions at companies they’re unfamiliar with and/or at companies where they don’t have any inside contacts. But the fact is, given the continued weakness in the employment market, lots of job seekers believe they have little choice but to cast a wide net.

And that’s why a well-written, transparent, enthusiastic but honest help wanted ad can give the uninitiated candidate a positive first impression. Or reinforce the positive reputation the company has already earned in the mind of the candidate previously acquainted with the hiring entity.

On the other hand, a poorly written help wanted ad, e.g., one that is too vague (what are they hiding?), one where the responsibilities are too broad (unrealistic) or one that over uses phrases like “rock star” and “super star” run the risk of turning off qualified candidates.

I wonder how many corporate HR departments consult with their corporate communications team before publishing a help wanted ad.  It’s clear to me that not enough do.  After all, a help wanted ad is no less a public disclosure of a company’s organizational and investment priorities, or needs, than is a news release.   It gets posted on the company website, makes it way to online job sites like Indeed.com and gets shared from friend-to-friend and from one networking group to the next.  A help wanted ad is visible to investors, business partners and the media.

Two companies, HubSpot, and Vistaprint, really get it.

“We’re trying to build a culture specifically to attract and retain Gen Y’ers,” said Brian Halligan, CEO of marketing software company HubSpot in a recent New York Times interview.

It doesn’t get any more transparent than that.  Halligan’s comment may have turned off a few Gen X’ers and lots of Baby Boomers for sure, though his intent wasn’t to offend.  It was simply to be transparent and honest – better than leading people on.

Halligan is a rarity in the corporate world. Much of the time, organizations leave it up to candidates to wade through job descriptions and a company’s website to hunt for clues they hope will help them determine if they’d be a good fit or not.

Another great example of communications transparency is this job description from Vistaprint, an online supplier of printed promotional material and marketing services to small businesses:

Far from someone who has found a mid-level corporate hiding place, you will be someone ready to lead delivery and take an opportunity to step out of the ‘big company shadow’. … You should have a real or virtual portfolio of examples of work that are away from the norm of ‘managed a newsletter’, or ‘was responsible for the company intranet’.

Vistaprint’s message to candidates is loud and clear: if you looking for the back nine, you won’t find it here.

2014 is on top of us, and that means more help wanted ads will be posted in the next few weeks than any other time of the year.  Companies should borrow a page from HubSpot and Vistaprint’s recruiting handbook and communicate honestly about who they are and who they are trying to attract.  An employer and its reputation, as well as the job candidate, are sure to benefit in the end.

Customer Retention Is King: Four Steps to Secure the Throne

This post originally appeared on MarketingProfs.com and is authored by Jerry Jao, a co-founder and the CEO of Retention Science, which provides customer retention solutions to some of the country’s largest online retailers. Twitter: @jerryjao LinkedIn: Jerry Jao 

Blogs and communities are always buzzing about one form of marketing or another. And if you listen closely, you’ll notice that most of the marketing conversations going on—whether they’re about inbound marketing, SEM, affiliates, or mobile—emphasize the importance of getting new or more customers, as opposed to keeping the ones you already have.

The same trend can be seen in the way companies reward their sales and marketing staff. Those who acquire new customers are rewarded with generous commissions and recognition, whereas the ones working to retain current customers get a lukewarm pat on the back.

Now, to be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong customer acquisition. However, it’s unfortunate that customer retention isn’t getting the same (if not more) attention from marketers—because retention usually brings in more revenue, at lower cost.

New Business Is Great, but Repeat Business Is Even Better

It’s time for marketers to shift their focus to customer retention and loyalty, instead of putting all their eggs in the acquisition basket. The good news: doing so may actually be easier and far less costly than you think.

Not only is it more expensive to acquire new customers than to keep existing ones (acquisition costs five times more than retention, according to Lee Resource Inc.), but current customers actually tend to spend more than new ones.

And if that weren’t staggering enough for you, consider the Harvard Business School study that found “increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%.”

Why not crunch the numbers in your own business and see for yourself just how important repeat customers are for your company? Quantify your customer acquisition spend vis-à-vis retention, and take note of the revenue that new customers bring in versus how much your existing customers are spending.

First Step in Retention Marketing: Calculate CLV

Now that you’ve established the significance of retention marketing, it’s time to get started on what you can do to retain more customers. Before you start rolling out customer retention campaigns, though, you need to figure out how much you should spend on your customers to maximize your profits.

The first step in setting a budget for your marketing campaigns is measuring customer lifetime value (CLV). You need to find out how much value each customer brings into your business so you can determine exactly how much you should be spending on them.

You can use a variety of CLV equations to calculate the value of your customers. Management Accounting Quarterly, for instance, shares this formula (PDF), where it incorporates contribution margin, marketing cost, and probability of purchase to calculate CLV.

KISSmetrics, on the other hand, uses three CLV equations and averages the amounts to arrive at a final CLV.

Note that CLV depends on various factors, including business type, the nature of its customers, as well as the industry that the company belongs to; accordingly, there isn’t one universal formula that you can adopt. That’s why you should look into various equations and use the ones that incorporate metrics relevant to your business and industry.

You can also seek the help of companies that specialize in data and marketing and let them create a customized CLV approach for you.

Action Steps to Retain Existing Customers

Once you’ve established your budget, the next step is to decide where and how to spend it. Here are a few ideas to get you going.

1. Personalize

The best way to build loyalty with your customers is to make them feel valued. Don’t treat customers like numbers on a spreadsheet. Regard them as individuals by personalizing your correspondence with them (e.g., emails or website greetings that mention their name), or by adding thoughtful touches to your communications with them (e.g., handwritten notes and birthday cards).

You can also customize the offers or website experiences that you provide. Gather as much data as you can about your customers. Track their site behavior, purchase history, demographic information, etc., and use that data to create personalized experiences for them.

For instance, if you know that the person browsing your site is a female who bought shoes from your store in the past, then you should display relevant product recommendations on your site instead of a generic one-size-fits-all page.

The same goes for the discounts and offers you give out. If the data tells you that Person A has a higher chance of purchasing when given a free-shipping coupon, and Person B will appreciate a 20% discount more, then send out a different offer to each customer to increase your conversion rates.

Consider optimizing the timing of your offers as well. Segment your customers according to the time of day that they made a purchase, and reach out to them when they’re most likely to buy.

2. Track and Test

Remember to monitor the performance of your retention campaigns. If you’re sending personalized offers, be sure to take note of the sales that those offers brought in. When you’re personalizing the timing of your offers or messages, track open rates and clicks, then compare them with those of previous campaigns.

Not seeing the best results? Perhaps you need to resegment your customers, change your messaging, or incorporate more data. It could also be a sign that you need to move on to another type of campaign. In any case, the only way to find out is by tracking and testing.

When you’re at this stage, you also need to make sure that you’re setting the right metrics. Getting 10,000 signups in one day may sound sexy, but if those users don’t amount to actual sales, then it probably isn’t worth tracking.

Always be clear on the metrics that count (it could be sales per customer, or rate of repeat purchases, or something else) and monitor only the numbers that matter.

3. Reward loyal customers

The great thing about loyal patrons is that they don’t just give you repeat business, they can bring you new customers as well. Extremely satisfied customers are more than likely to recommend companies to their friends. Encourage this practice by rewarding the people who send new business your way.

You don’t have to create an elaborate referrals program or offer huge monetary rewards to customers if you don’t have the resources to do so. A relevant offer or a token/freebie that you know they’ll love will go a long way.

Be genuine, and remember that simple, yet thoughtful, gestures toward your customers will be recognized.

4. Ramp up your customer service

Providing excellent customer service should be a no-brainer, but some companies don’t seem to spend enough of their resources on their customer support department, instead pouring everything into Sales and Marketing.

Remember, your sales and marketing team can perform a stellar job in bringing in new people, but if your support reps aren’t doing enough to keep those customers, you’re just wasting your resources.

Again, it boils down to showing your customers just how much you value them. Be respectful, treat them well, and go above and beyond to solve their problems. And if you think about it, the bar for customer service is set really low. People don’t expect much from support teams these days, so if you step up and blow them away with amazing customer service, it won’t be ignored.

Agencies Make Their Internal Counterparts Better, And Vice Versa

collaborationMore corporations are taking some of the responsibilities previously handled by their public relations and advertising agencies back in-house. Regarding PR agencies, it’s no longer breaking news that many clients have taken their social media activities inside. But a recent report by The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) says that the expansion of in-house marketing and marketing communications capabilities includes bringing creative strategy in-house as well – a red flag for ad agencies.

A few highlights from the report (courtesy of Michael Lee and his Forbes.com article, “Can In-House Agencies Ever Be Great?”):

  • About 60 percent of the clients who participated in the ANA study say they are using in-house marketing capabilities vs. five years ago when 42 percent reported the same;
  • More than half of the clients polled say they have taken assignments that were traditionally the responsibility of their agencies back in-house;
  • 40 percent brought creative strategy in-house, which as Lee points out “has been a key agency capability and attraction to clients,” and
  • Almost 70 percent run their social marketing programs in-house.

For those of us experienced enough to have seen the rise and fall of in-house agencies, and now their apparent resurgence … well, it’s been an interesting ride.  During my years with once great computer manufacturer Apollo Computer, Inc. (acquired by HP in 1989), I was part of a dynamic in-house marketing communications team that had a level of enthusiasm, sense of purpose, work ethic and urgency as impressive as any agency I’ve seen since.

The team was as big as some small to mid-size agencies and included:

– Up to nine PR pros handling all corporate communications, all media and industry analysts relations and support at events and trade shows.  We didn’t call it “content development” then, but the PR team was largely responsible for developing a significant amount of the marketing content, from by-lined articles to white papers and speeches to press releases and customer success stories.

– another half-dozen or so copy writers, designers and other creative people.  All sales literature, customer brochures and product sheets, other promotions, themes for trades shows and employee conferences, etc., all done in-house. While there was an advertising agency on retainer, that agency acted as an extension of the internal team.

– a significant events team produced and set up every trade show, from negotiating trade show booth space to overseeing the unions setting up the booths on the showroom floor.

All were part of the same team and reported into the same management. It was a great model that worked at the time. Despite its great run, however, a similar model today would have more disadvantages than it does advantages.

Lee makes the point that an in-house agency works “right at the heart of a brand” vs. agency staffers who are outside looking in.  Somewhat sarcastically, he calls power, influence and control the “eternal Corporate Aphrodisiacs.”  And he’s right.  

But at the same time, in-house agencies can be at risk of becoming too internally focused. For those of us who have spent any amount of time on the client side, we know that the eternal meetings, time spent building consensus, bureaucracy and politics can chew the days and weeks away and relegate the creative process to the back burner.

One of the greatest advantages of working with an outside agency is the broader, external view and opportunity to learn from the campaigns of the agency’s other clients — best practices and also the campaigns that went bust, so what not to do.  In addition, agency people make it part of their business to know what’s coming around the next corner, marketing trends and new technology platforms that can help propel a client’s campaign.

And finally, an agency team makes the internal team stronger and vice versa.  An ambitious and competitive agency team can push an in-house team to stretch outside its comfort zone, and the best in-house teams will respond in kind.

What do you think? Do external agencies make internal teams do their best work?