Chris Wallace is the President of InnerView, a consulting firm that helps companies align their brand strategies with their frontline teams.
I recently hosted a webinar with two interior designers at the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s “Luxury Summit.” The topic was high-end bathroom renovations and trends that are currently popular with consumers.
As the designers shared client examples, it became clear that their clients look to them for advice a great deal of the time. When asked how they help consumers narrow down their product and design options, one shared, “sometimes you just have to tell them what they should want.”
While the consumer makes the final decision, they often look to an “expert” to help them narrow down their choices and recommend products that will work for their needs. This dynamic extends well beyond designers. Recent research by Synchrony showed that retail salespeople play a major role in helping consumers make decisions. Some of the consumers who made a major purchase for their home said the salesperson they encountered had at least some influence on their final purchase choice. Additionally, consumers indicated that “knowledgeable salespeople” was the third most important factor in deciding where they would make a purchase.
The evidence points to an important conclusion for marketers: Consumers don’t make product or brand decisions on their own. For product categories that are more transactional, the traditional four P’s of marketing might still apply. However, any purchase that involves interaction with a front-line representative adds a layer of complexity for marketers.
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Treating Sales Channels Like Marketing Segments
Brand consultant and thought leader Denise Lee Yohn talks about the importance of “linking” the interests of employees and customers to produce the best experience for both sides. Customer-facing employees are too important to a brand’s success to assume that this link will happen just by having people show up and do their jobs.
Therefore, marketers need to expand the way they think about their roles and the audiences they need to reach. As customer-facing roles become increasingly important, traditional training won’t be sufficient to make sure the link with customers is strong. Marketers need to approach front-line reps as if they are decision makers who are choosing what to say and what to sell. They need to be influenced, compelled and convinced.
Marketing On Two Fronts
The good news for marketers is that influencing decisions is what they do best. While their scope might expand, the steps to reaching your front-line channels are not much different:
• Listen to your channels. Brands can’t assume that a front-line rep likes the products they sell or has confidence talking to a customer about it. The days of “they will sell it because it is their job” are over. Employees want to get customers the right product to meet their needs, so they are happy. This makes it critical that marketers measure front-line attitudes and perceptions on a regular basis.
Knowing the pulse of your representatives on key products, services or other crucial marketing initiatives can help identify obstacles that affect their interaction with customers. If the goal is to link the interests of the employee with the customer, you have to understand the starting mindset for both.
• Tailor the messaging. Just like market research helps marketing teams build messaging that will resonate with customers, listening to your channels will do the same for your front-line messaging strategy. Through our research with nearly 20,000 front-line representatives, we often find that staff is simply not convinced of many of the promises marketers are making through advertising, collateral, etc.—the words ring hollow.
By pinpointing messages front-line teams might be skeptical of, marketers can provide additional information to support their claims. This might be research, testimonials or performance data that provide evidence to front-line teams. The messaging should be tailored to help them do their job and serve customers effectively.
• Reinforce, reinforce, reinforce. Marketers take a multichannel approach to reach their customers. Front-line channels should be no different. Our research shows that emails and product training are the top two methods companies use to build front-line adoption. Would that convince you? It might be enough to check a box, but is it enough to convince your front-lines to “buy” your message?
Once the messaging has been optimized, marketers should find creative ways to surround reps with the story. Build a content campaign that brings in multiple mediums (e.g., collateral/sales aids, videos, testimonials, microsites, podcasts, social sharing) to deliver digestible messages. Remember, attention spans are short, so keep it interesting and grab attention.
Acknowledge The New Challenges
Do you rely on front-line teams to meet your marketing objectives? That is the first and most critical question. If you do, your goal should be to establish and strengthen the link between front-line interests and customer interests.
Think back to the interior designers mentioned earlier. Who are your customers looking to for guidance and advice? Whether they are your employees, a retail partner or reseller or an independent expert like a designer, they all have the power to influence buyers. If your brand puts them in a position to make a customer happy, you can bet they’ll choose to recommend you every time.
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Author: Chris Wallace, Forbes Councils Member