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Duane Bailey is a regular contributor to The Chief Storyteller® online conversation. He has helped organizations of all sizes drive growth in revenues and market share through the development and delivery of key business messages that resonate with target audiences. He holds an MBA in International Business and a BS in Marketing. He brings 28 years of experience in marketing communications and high technology sales.
I was at the gym the other day and couldn’t help overhearing a conversation between two C-level executives. The exchange went something like this:
“How is that _____ working out for you?”
“We think we’re paying too much so we’re looking for a better deal. I’m talking to a rep from a firm down in ______, who says she can get me a lower rate.”
“Let me know when you find one. We may want to give it a try, too.”
As a seasoned salesperson and an experienced brand manager, alarm bells immediately sounded in my head. Wow, I thought, the incumbent salesperson has no idea his or her customer is out “looking for a better deal” and is about to leave. What makes customers get to this place?
Here are some observations:
• On an individual basis, it would appear neither the incumbent salesperson nor the brand has successfully engaged this customer beyond the initial sale.
• On a larger scale, the incumbent’s marketing team has failed to differentiate its product or service on anything other than price, effectively positioning it as a commodity and needlessly exposing it to price competition.
• Finally, testimonials from other customers can be strong influencers. These C-level executives clearly value each other’s opinions and one of them is likely to influence the other’s future purchase decisions more so than any salesperson might be able to.
And here is what my experience tells me:
• If you are not in front of your customers, somebody else is. The key to a successful engagement plan is regular and interactive communication...beyond the sale.
• With few exceptions, selling on price alone is not a sustainable long-term strategy. Find ways to differentiate your product, service and brand. Make them worth paying more for. Give them a reason to stay. Customers whose only purchase criteria is lowest price will leave when they find a better deal.
• Establish yourself as a thought leader and develop an integrated marketing strategy that allows you to join conversations your customers are having (those conversations aren’t just happening at the gym, by the way…they’re happening online in social media apps like Facebook and LinkedIn, in college classrooms and in other professional forums and events, as well).
For more on the relationship between customer engagement and loyalty, please see:
• What Does Customer Loyalty Look Like for Your Brand?
• The Power of a Personal Connection
• All Customer Relationships Are Personal
Everyone likes a success story.
I picked up a recent issue of Fortune magazine and found one hundred of them, under the story line, “100 Best Companies to Work For.” These stories were compiled on the basis of feedback obtained from what Fortune calls “the most extensive employee survey in corporate America.” The survey asks employees for their feedback on management credibility, job satisfaction and organizational culture.
Not surprisingly, each of the companies chosen for this honor has a unique story of what makes it a great place to work. The stories they tell evoke images of employee wellness, creativity, innovation, shared wealth, trust and respect, community service, passion, transparency and appreciation. Some of my favorites included stories about Wegmans, Recreational Equipment (REI), Men’s Wearhouse and Marriott International – all brands I frequent and ones I have highlighted in previous blogs.
Do you have a favorite success story from this list?
Click here to see the full list of this year’s “100 Best Companies to Work For.”
I walked into the dry cleaners the other day to drop off a new dress shirt and a pair of slacks. I am a regular customer and, as you might expect, am frequently greeted by name when I walk in. By the time I had arrived at the counter, the assistant manager had already pulled up my account in their database. He was able to retrieve my account without my having to provide my phone number (an impressive feat, given the large number of customer transactions they process in a given day). He also knew how I liked my shirts (lightly starched, on hangers) and didn’t have to ask me.
He must have sensed I was in a hurry because, when he discovered I was leaving new items that needed bar-coded labels (they use these to identify and keep track of their customers’ garments), he told me to go on ahead and he would take care of it. When I asked if I needed a receipt, he said, “No, I got it.”
I returned later that evening and, without a receipt, said I was there for a pick-up. The employee behind the counter quickly retrieved my shirt and slacks, I paid for the dry cleaning and was soon on my way.
I share this story about my customer experience with Crest Cleaners because it is a big part of why they have been able to retain me as a loyal customer for many years. The relationship we have built is one of familiarity – I could walk in, leave my dry cleaning on the counter without saying a word (if I really wanted to) and know it would be ready that night. It’s also a relationship of trust – after all, there aren’t too many places where I would feel comfortable leaving over $150 worth of clothes without a receipt or claim check. Most of all, it's convenient. It makes dry cleaning the easiest part of my day.
Are your employees making the extra effort to anticipate your customers' needs? It might mean the difference between customer retention and attrition for your business.
For other insights on the important role people play in customer retention, please see:
• “Refrigerator Rights” and Why Organizations Covet Them
• Be Different – Thank Your Customers
• Service Before Self: Why Strength of Character Compels Others to Do Business With You
I stumbled upon a great read the other day, "Tribes", by international best-selling author Seth Godin. The book is a compendium of short articles on leadership. The basic premise is that anyone with a passion for something can create a movement. All it takes is a deliberate choice. A choice to lead.
With experience as both a manager and a leader in a variety of not-for-profit and corporate organizations, I found this book fascinating. It spoke to the not so subtle differences between a manager and a leader. As described in the book, managers are process-oriented, reactive, defenders of the status quo, predictable, focused on employees and their assignments, and often stuck "playing today's game by yesterday's rules." Leaders are visionary, proactive, agents of change, inspiring, skilled in attracting followers, trusting, forward-looking and passionate.
My experience tells me that organizations who thrive (i.e., as measured by sustained growth in members, member engagement, revenues or profitability) are those whose top spots are occupied by leaders. Leaders use their passion and ideas to build communities of followers, or tribes. They recognize the world is changing and they respond with innovation. They lead with fresh ideas and they empower others to take risks and make good decisions. By trusting and respecting others, they accomplish the extraordinary and they move you forward.
What do you think? Are you a manager or a leader? The choice to lead is yours.
For more on leadership and its impact on an organization, please see:
• What Story Is Your Organizational Culture Telling?
• What Makes Your Company a “Best Place to Work?”
• Accelerate Growth and Innovation – Encourage a Culture of Risk-Taking
Brand repositioning, or rebranding, is a process typically undertaken by organizations whose role in the marketplace has evolved over time. Its purpose is to change perceptions – both internally and externally. Internally, processes are improved and employees are united under a consistent message, or brand promise. Externally, the brand’s delivery of its new brand promise provides customers with a stronger sense of who the brand is and what it stands for.
Organizations who undertake a rebranding do so with the intent of building brand equity, increasing customer acquisitions, improving customer retention, strengthening customer loyalty/advocacy and increasing profitability.
If your organization’s role in the marketplace has evolved and you are looking to improve its performance across these metrics, then perhaps its time to consider a brand repositioning. Here are five tips for a successful makeover:
• Start with a plan that includes targeted milestones and an expected ROI
A specific schedule of who will achieve what by when, along with the expected incremental sales increase for every dollar spent on the rebranding, will ensure timely, actionable and measurable results.
• Test your rebranding recommendations on a small subset of your target audience
The stakes of any rebranding effort are simply too high for anyone to ignore the need for testing. The impact of any repositioning recommendation should be measured among sample test and control groups before full-scale activation. Declining sales after recent rebranding efforts by brands like JC Penney and Tropicana underscore the importance of testing.
• Listen to your customers and non-customers
Organizations who listen only to their best customers learn why those customers stay with them and nothing about why disgruntled customers leave, or why those who are not current customers might be difficult to acquire.
• Leverage the experience and knowledge of your employees
Marketers who lack cross-functional experience (e.g., sales, operations, customer service, etc.) or institutional knowledge (e.g., company, industry, markets, etc.) will find it difficult to make informed rebranding decisions and are less likely to obtain lasting organizational buy-in for the rebranding effort.
• Avoid the temptation to start over
Organizations who have met with success in the past have obviously done some things right. Successful rebranding efforts build on those achievements, and the agencies whose creative talents fueled their progress, instead of discarding them.