Word around the water cooler is that at least three of your employees are sending out their resumes to other companies. Two of your customer service reps are currently at each other’s throats; no one wants to work with Mark, who is a control freak; and Larissa is constantly leaving work early without an explanation.
Sound familiar? For a lot of employers, the dynamics of keeping their employees happy can feel emotionally draining, if not impossible. You’re giving these people a steady job. What else on earth could they want?
To some degree, you’re right. Your employees will show up to work to get that paycheck. But are they going to actually show up? Or just coast through the day (or worse, grouch through the day), pulling the rest of your employees down with them? And what will you do when one of your key employees decides to leave the company?
Hang in there. There is a way to address your employees’ needs without giving in to their every request or complaint. It’s called internal marketing.
Marketing Within Your Company
Most companies tend to think of marketing as something that is done outward, to prospective or current customers.
But what about your vendors, your investors, your suppliers, your business partners? Or even more importantly, what about your own employees? Your business needs their buy-in.
This series will shine a light on an often-missed opportunity for marketing, one that can make or break your company’s success: marketing in as effectively as you market out. Let’s start by focusing on marketing to your employees.
The Power of Internal Marketing
A company is only as strong as its weakest employee. To be clear, I’m not speaking only about management positions. A checked-out employee at any level can do irreparable damage to your company. A passive-aggressive player in AR can harm your cash position; a checked-out salesperson can allow your ripest leads to go sour; a bad apple in the warehouse can cripple your shipping; a disgruntled customer service rep can kill the client relationship that took years to build. In short, almost any employee can have an outsized impact on your company.
Employees who feel engaged and positive are more likely to create a positive experience for the customers that they serve. They’re also more likely to stick with your company in the long run.
The last thing you want is an employee who would rather be anywhere but in the office, like… well, like this guy.
Marketing Internally in Real Life
Let’s give an example based upon a real client situation:
Phil is a mid-level employee who has been slowly burning out. He’s been working 60 hour weeks, trying desperately to hold his team together throughout several company crises, and you can’t help but notice his silent cries for help. His work is slipping, and he knows it.
But you need Phil. So rather than sit him down and point out how his current work is falling short, you change your approach. You decide to market to him instead, almost as if he were a customer. Here’s how you do it.
You sit down and write a list of Phil’s needs, of his goals, of his deepest desires – just like you would for a customer. You remember that Phil has a long commute that he hates. And that he despises working for a specific client because of the amount of criticism he ends up fielding from them.
So you sit down with Phil, and you put on your marketing hat. You tell him, “Look, Phil. You’ve held your team together through a lot, and you are an inspiration to the people who work with you. I know that you’d like to find a way to work remotely more often so that you won’t have to brave such a long commute every day. Let’s work together to come up with a plan that will move you in that direction. It might take a few months, maybe even a year, to get you where you want to be. But let’s figure out how we can make it happen.” You also offer him a socially savvy assistant – one with a tough outer layer – who can take over a lot of the communication with the critical client without being ruffled by it.
See the difference? Phil is not a problem child who needs to be reprimanded; he’s a prized asset who needs to be won over.
Sure, it’s more work on your part, at least initially. But how much more work would it take – in time, money, and emotional investment – if Phil would leave the company? You know you’d have to pay a headhunter, risk a mediocre or worse replacement, invest in training, get through the new person’s learning curve… why not invest in Phil instead?
Marketing and Hiring: Innately Connected?
But internal marketing can start even earlier in the employer-employee relationship. After all, does your marketing team try to “sell” your service to potential new clients? Then you should attempt to “sell” your company to potential new employees as well.
Most ads seem to be written to the employer, rather than to the prospective employee. They list the educational requirements, job responsibilities, and other expectations that the employer has.
“Job opportunity: Receptionist position available for local plumbing company. Requires 1-2 years relevant work, strong communication skills, ability to adapt to needs of various employees and clients. Must be proficient in MS Office Suite (Excel, Calendar, Word, and PowerPoint).”
Sure, it’s important to let prospective employees know about specific job requirements. But to attract the right employees, a powerful job post will also market your company, explaining to the ideal employees why this job would be the perfect opportunity for them.
“Receptionist position avail: Do you love bringing organization to chaos? Are you a people-person and a great communicator with a positive attitude? This may be the perfect job for you. Located right in the heart of Georgetown, in a warm environment where we treat each other like family. Responsibilities include communicating with clients, arranging weekly schedules, keeping all paperwork organized. Must be able to take feedback well. Full-time position with opportunity to flex after the first year.”
Companies like IKEA and Home Depot, which are constantly hiring, do an excellent job of marketing to prospective employees. In fact, they have entire websites dedicated to job opportunities, focusing on the positive aspects of working for them.
Here’s an example of a typical IKEA job posting, aimed at pulling in prospective employees:
“At IKEA it’s all about our customers, and in Customer Relations we build and retain long-lasting relationships with new and existing customers in a multichannel retail environment. We’re a diverse team that work together to ensure a positive and joyful experience for all IKEA visitors and customers: we set up services, gather feedback and make things right! Our modus operandi is to connect to people by listening to their personal needs and to create genuine interactions. We’re a bunch of people who are truly passionate about people! — Cashier and Customer Service – up to 20 hours per week”
Creating an Internal Marketing Plan
In short, marketing to your employees should be a top priority for the success of your business. Take these steps to create an internal marketing plan that works for your company:
- Think about what makes your employees feel that their work is meaningful. There is an enormous amount of pain experienced by an employee who feels “My work doesn’t matter,” or even worse, “I don’t matter.” Show your employees that their work does matter – whether it means getting them involved in beta testing your products, sharing positive information about your company’s growth, or building up the communication between management and those lower on the totem pole.
- Consider work-life balance. Keep in mind that employees are people too. Allowing the flexibility for enjoyable non-work lives, where possible, is essential to their staying engaged at work. Particularly when an employee goes above and beyond, make sure to recognize their contributions with a small perk – such as letting them off early one day. This can be a huge win with the employee and their spouse and family.
- Provide positive feedback. Do you reward longtime customers? Do the same for your longtime employees. Recognition, tangible reinforcement, and positive feedback give employees further incentives to succeed.
Overall, it’s important to recognize that marketing isn’t just about selling “stuff.” It’s about selling your business. And when it comes to your employees, selling your business can mean the difference between a disengaged employee who would rather be anywhere else, and an energetic team member who would do anything to help your business succeed. Make internal marketing a top priority, and you will see your employees rise to the challenges that await them.
This is part 1 in a series that examines how companies should look beyond the consumer when considering the use of marketing techniques. This post focuses on how using internal marketing skills can be helpful in recruiting, training, and retaining quality employees. Part 2 will discuss how the use of internal marketing can trickle down through your employees to your customers. See all the articles in the series here.