We’re big fans of marketing and PR firms. We think every growing company should hire one…preferably ours. But before investing in professional services like ours, there are five things to do first. In fact, without these prerequisites, no amount of marketing or promotions will create sustained success:
1. Deliver a truly superior product or service. Don’t work on your image until you have something great to deliver. Repeat sales and referrals add to your bottom line more than any marketing budget. Over-delivering, wowing people, providing positive experiences day in and day out—that’s what’s most important. Sure, mistakes will happen, but it’s how you recover that counts. Good service recovery wins lifetime customers. Unless some heroic act of customer service costs you dearly every so often, you’re probably not paying attention.
2. Surround yourself with honest feedback. Think Emperor’s New Clothes here. Whether it’s your board of directors, a client advisory panel, customer surveys or trusted colleagues, make the effort to gather feedback that will be brutally honest about your customer service and product quality. No sacred cows…anything is fair game for improvement. This takes a serious dose of humility at all levels of the organization. One of the hardest places to get such feedback is from your employees. If given the chance to confidentially share their ideas and concerns, CEOs can learn a lot. Some of it might be hard to hear, but it can make a positive difference in the long run.
3. Hire only positive, friendly, helpful people to interact with your customers. You can’t make positive people out of negative ones. People are either born with the right stuff or develop it early in childhood. In fact, everyone you really want on your team had their character formed before they learned to tie their shoes. The trick is finding them–like a baseball scout always on the lookout for great people. Introduce them to your company, even when you’re not hiring. That way, the relationships begin before you need to go out and hire. I’m not sure how they do it, but Chipotle Mexican Grill has managed to hire and inspire the nicest people in the restaurant business—the line cooks, the managers, everybody. Most four-star restaurants could learn a thing or two about customer relations by buying a six-dollar burrito…a really large, foil-wrapped one.
4. Get your prospect database together. Direct marketing almost always offers a better ROI than mass media. The ability to reach a highly targeted prospect list with customized messaging is a powerful asset for any company. It all begins with gathering the right data, including email addresses, and maintaining it. This usually requires that someone in your company “own” this effort, and dedicate the substantial effort involved to keep it current as new leads come in from the sales team. This is harder than it sounds, but using SalesForce.com or other lead generation / lead management software tools can help.
5. Invest in employee loyalty. We did some research for a chain of community banks—an industry that is increasingly becoming an undifferentiated commodity. We learned that the key to customer loyalty was employee loyalty. Loyal bank workers inspired loyalty in the customers with whom they interacted. If your employees are unhappy, for whatever reason, it will impact the experience and perception of your customers. If, on the other hand, people love their jobs, it’s infectious. I had the most brand-evangelistic conversation ever with a young man at REI’s flagship store in Denver. In the short time it took to go through the checkout line, he explained the value of membership in their rewards program. He himself was a customer-turned-employee with a passion for the company’s mission. Needless to say, I’m now a member.
Once you begin addressing the “big five” above, the stage is set for marketing ROI. A flywheel effect takes place, which means it requires less effort to generate the same result. In fact, get these five elements together and you’ll probably end up spending less on marketing as customer loyalty and referrals create sustainable profits.