HARVEY MACKAY: Everyone on the payroll is a marketing person

Companies spend billions of dollars each year marketing their products and services. If you go to the refrigerator for 30 seconds during a commercial break at this year’s Super Bowl, you will miss the ad for which Pepsi Cola spent $2.4 million.

For that kind of money, every company wants its ads to be bigger, better and more spectacular than those of the competition. In the same vein, sales people are often the most highly compensated in a company. Yet most businesses overlook their most important marketing asset: their operations employees.

Most businesses view marketing as being solely the domain of their sales people and their marketing department. But what happens once the client is on board? Will they come back? Will they refer you to others? Depending on the industry, marketing employees may have very little to do with the product a company actually delivers. That makes it difficult for them to maintain the relationships your company has spent so much money developing. And, if you are not careful, when your key marketing people jump ship, your customers may leap overboard with them.

Glitzy ad campaigns, expensive lunches or tickets to sporting events don’t earn customer loyalty and referrals. These things will get you your first date, but not necessarily your second.

Re-evaluate your marketing plan to take your operations employees into account. Every single employee is a “marketing person,” and they have the power to generate business and to retain existing clients. But what is even more important, they also have the ability to scare clients away.

In reviewing your current operations employees and their role in the company’s marketing plan, you will need to dissect every contact that your staff has with your potential clients and referral sources. Small improvements in any of these contacts will go a long way toward bringing clients back to the company.

How are your telephones answered? Is it an endless computer-generated menu, or even worse, a receptionist who is just going through the motions? You should hear “the smile in their voice” when they answer the phone. That voice answering the telephone can either undo the positive goodwill of several client dinners, or it can build on it. It can construct a solid foundation after your marketing staff has done the excavation work.

This goes for every contact a client has with the operations staff. Nothing turns people off more than surliness or disinterest, and nothing is more appreciated than speaking to a friendly person who is eager to help you.

All employees should be encouraged to extend themselves beyond their pure job descriptions … in other words to be proactive. The “little things” add up to a big impact. Clients are impressed with a proactive approach to their business: Call them before they feel the need to call you. Your staff should follow up when they don’t receive information a client has promised.

Call customers when key events occur. Provide them with copies of every piece of correspondence related to their account. If there are delays in your company’s work, notify the client in advance, apologize profusely and offer a token, such as a minor discount, to make up for the inconvenience. Finally, your staff should send hand-written thank-you notes to their clients when work is completed.

All people should be trained to identify and take advantage of key marketing opportunities that arise during the course of their work. They should get to know customers through friendly, informal conversation. Maybe they have friends or relatives that need the service your company provides. Maybe these friends work in an industry related to yours and have the ability to refer their clients. Your staff will never know unless they engage them in conversation instead of just accumulating the information they need to work on the client’s specific account.

More importantly, your staff needs to be trained to process this information. They shouldn’t be ashamed to politely ask the customer to refer your company. Additionally, you may want them to send the referral information to your sales people, who may be more adept at closing the deal.

Opportunities for marketing and sales will always come up during the course of your company’s contact with clients. Analyze your company, identify these opportunities and, most of all, train employees to capitalize on them.

Mackay’s Moral: Marketing: It’s not just ads and dinners.

Harvey Mackay is author of the New York Times best-seller “Pushing the Envelope” (Ballantine Books). He can be reached through his Web site: www.mackay.com; or Mackay Envelope Corp., 2100 Elm St., Minneapolis, MN 55414.

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