Uncomfortable Truths (Part Two)

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By: Alain Thys

Writing the second part of this post was hard. Not because I didn't know what I wanted to say, but because the need to summarize it into a readable blogpost meant leaving out important nuances…

Still, I've tried to highlight how marketing as a function can help organizations overcome the challenges described last week. And for the impatient ones wanting to impress their CEO still this quarter, I've also added a number of "quick fixes" 😉

So while you won't find silver bullets, here are a few remedies to the "uncomfortable truths."

Truth #1: Most people in your organization haven't got a clue what you're on about.
Delivering on your brand's promise starts with making sure that the people in your organization understand what it is and how it affects their job.

Still, many marketing departments allocate insufficient time and budget to working with HR on making this happen. As a result, internal communication programs seldom get beyond employee newsletters, intranets and the occasional motivational speech.

Ask yourself this question: would you try and convince the consumer in the street of your strategy with the proverbial powerpoint presentation and an email? Well, as it stands that consumer may actually be working for your company, so maybe there is a lesson to be learned.

To stand a chance in the market, marketers should allocate a significant portion of their time and budget to support HR in putting together a communication and capability development plan that truly affects the organization. Only then, things will start moving.

Quick win: do a survey to check in how far the people in your organization actually understand your strategy and think it's a good idea. Turn it into a KPI and track it. Never point fingers when the figures turn out pretty dim, yet involve everyone who can influence the numbers into a supporter of your cause.

Truth #2: Many leaders in the organization behave against the best interest of the company.
But, as I said before, can you blame them? When facing their boards, most CEOs I ever met are prepared to go for the long run, yet simply don't get decent marketing ammunition to actually pull it off.

Marketing departments need to back up their leaders with 'hard number' based business cases. This means getting serious about customer (life-time) value and measuring the impact of different business initiatives. It means integrating with sales and using decent scenario planning and market prediction methods rather than hazy market research. It means talking the language of money rather than that of "propensity to buy."

Boards are greedy and will support a plan that makes them more money in the long run. Yet to be able to sell such a plan (and its quarterly sequels) leaders need ammunition. The marketing department needs to provide this.

Quick win: start building your credibility by connecting your various marketing initiatives to your sales line. If you're in B2C this will typically allow you to cut your budget by 20% or more without affecting sales. If you're in B2B, it will either increase your closing rate or give your sales people more leads. Win brownie points with this initiative and propose to use the money freed up to do "more of the same" working on a larger scale customer value project.

Truth #3: The people in the organization are often paid to do something else than what the strategy says.
Don't worry, I'm not going to propose that you need to go and challenge the pay grades in your organization (even though someone should). Yet what you can do is translate the promise of your company or brand into desired behavior at the "moments of truth" and then work with HR to devise non-financial reward and recognition systems to support each of them. These can be "employee of the month" programs, a mention in the company newsletter or simply a personal thank you. People respond to recognition and if you reward them for "getting it right" this can be a first step in offsetting salary inconsistencies with the strategy.

Quick win: Rather than trying to take on the whole company, start with identifying for each department in the organization the "one thing" that would definitely need to go right to deliver on the promise to the customers. Partner with HR and then promote the hell out of this one thing + back it up with non-financial incentives which are visibly spread throughout the organization. Once you have established the principle of recognition, the following steps will be more easy.

Truth #4: Quite a few people in your organization are at a loss when it comes to the customer.
While many struggle with the concept of "customer insight," I typically find that whenever you hit upon a real one, it tends to be simple and straightforward. As marketing needs to uncover these insights, it's also its role to spread it to every person the company.

After all, understanding how the organization responds to very specific customer types and needs means that your people are able to come up with the right answers and solutions without the need for extensive processes, manuals or control mechanisms. This accellerates the appropriate service reaction and in turn increases customer satisfaction.

Quick win: Rather than taking on the whole company, pick the group which is currently most remote from the customer (e.g. R&D or engineering). Expose them to the insights you have uncovered and have them work through the implications for their job. Make them understand the customer. Then let them loose on the company again. It will work.

Final Thought
As I said, trying to cover all of this in one blogpost was probably chewing off too much. Still, the main message I wanted to give is that many of the disconnects in organizations can be resolved if marketing and HR work together on communicating and incentivizing people to act according to the strategy (staff and leaders alike).

And while you may say that this is also the job of other departments, marketing needs to take the lead. After all, it's not just marketing's job to "come up" with a value or brand proposition, but also to make sure it gets acted upon. This means addressing the above through communication programs, market insights, decision support systems and strong analysis.

And the good news is that these are all things marketing is good at. Right ? 😉

In most companies I know the distance between the marketing and HR department is less than 10 minutes. Perhaps it's time for a walk …