Evolution has already happened to B2B marketing, the expectations of customers, their behaviours and their requirements have all been influenced by the experience they have had in consumer markets. B2B buyers now behave much more like their consumer counterparts, researching first and contacting businesses afterward, in fact, research shows as much as 57% of the pre-purchase effort may happen without any direct contact with your company at all.
Switched on B2B CMO’s are well aware of this and have been engaging in brand clarification, content strategy and upgrades to the communication channels they use, as well as reviewing the quality of the comms pushed down those channels. Across the business world the importance of the brand promise has never been more apparent, as well as the realisation that the brand promise is held in the actual experiences of your customers. In less pretentious language it’s not what you say, or how you say it, it’s what you do and what they experience that matters. Delivering a high quality customer experience, aligning the marketing effort with the delivery at the ‘frontline’ has, rightly, become a core focus for B2B marketers.
More and more businesses are undertaking structured internal activity to ensure that there is alignment between what is promised to customers and what the company can actually deliver. Clarifying the brand helps articulate purpose to customers, communication strategies are developed, normally by a small internal team and the brand promise is pushed out across the channels that customer and prospect audiences are known to be engaged with. From Direct Marketing, to events, Adwords to online platforms the days of tactical messaging being deployed on a piecemeal basis are, fortunately, becoming less common.
However, within this activity there is an often overlooked component. Where is it that your brand promise is most fully brought to life? People are great bullshit detectors, they know that what you put in print or online is the pitch, there is a certain amount of cynicism that purchasers bring to the table, and whatever you say and however you say it, they will want to see proof, they will look to peers for evidence but the strongest proof is always in the interactions they have with your company.
This is where there is a crucial oversight in a lot of the comms strategies. Don’t think it’s being overlooked? Only 42% of employees can describe to others what their employer does and only 37% can articulate what its goals are. It’s arguable that your most important audience is not your existing customers, or your prospects, but your employees. They are the first people who need to hear, understand and believe your refined messaging. They are the most important audience for any messaging you want to put in the world.
Why? because the proof of the brand promise is in the experience and that experience is delivered by them. A Harvard University study showed that70% of a customer’s brand perception is determined by experiences with the organisation’s employees.
Even where the engagement is primarily mediated by digital tools, your people are always sitting just behind. They are the first point of contact when customers run into trouble with calls to support, they are the sales person responding to an enquiry, they are the engineer installing on site, they are the representative of your business on the ground.
Your people are responsible for delivering the experience that you are promising your customers. It is essential that they know and are able to act in concert with the position that you are taking in the world. This isn’t just touchy-feely stuff, effective communication and financial performance are strongly related: companies that are highly effective at internal communication are 1.7 times more likely to outperform their peers (PDF download).
Employees need to not just know that it is happening but understand it well enough to ‘live it’. They should have confidence to make decisions based on their knowledge of the experience the organisation wants to give their customers. They will be dealing with complex scenarios, in the real world, not the straightforward ones described in the marketing literature, and it is in those moments that good experiences can make true evangelists out of customers.
So when a plan has been devised, the purpose and vision for your business clarified and a communications strategy defined, along with the campaign outline and the core messaging, the first people you should be pitching it to are not the clients, but your employees. People are essential to the success of any organisation, let them be part of it.