In my quest to create smart marketing content for this blog, I’ve had the pleasure of crossing paths with several professionals and thought leaders in relationship-focused marketing who have loads to say about connecting with customers in real and successful ways.
These professionals don’t know one another, but they have the uncanny tendency to echo each other’s philosophies on topics of transparency, intimacy of communication, and authenticity. Notably, each of our experts have repeated what the others had to say, almost verbatim, on one important topic: internal culture. Read on for our newest discussion on market culture within an office, and how to achieve a consumer-focused culture that fosters better marketing.
You can’t project something you don’t possess
“Market culture” is not simply about customer orientation within a team. A marketing team that is truly customer focused is obsessed with the long-term relationships they’re building with their customers. Where one-off promotions or messages might consider the customer on the other end in that one instance, marketers who adopt a long term strategy to grow the customer relationship over time will do better.
This all requires authenticity in marketing messaging. To convey the values we want our customers to perceive in our brand, we have to cultivate those values in a real way, internally. Authenticity in your marketing messaging requires strong, confident, attuned leadership within the office.
We reached out again to David Schulman, M.S., LMHC to speak to this challenge. He’s a developmental partner to leaders and works with CEOs and managers to energize their teams; to bring order, function, and vitality to communications within troubled departments and partnerships.
Schulman says, “On the whole, marketers aren’t that different from anyone else when it comes to their interrelationships. But, internal synergy might be especially important for the marketer, because you can’t project something you don’t possess.”
If a marketing message is born from an unhealthy team, where one person dominates and the majority feel unheard; or, where the mood is divisive, selfish, or fractured… the customer is bound to perceive that in some way. Customers have a proven tendency to gravitate toward businesses they believe they can trust.
So how do you become a business your customers can trust, starting with your workplace culture? How can you ensure that the brand philosophies you try to convey externally are reflected in inwardly?
How to nurture happy, productive teams
David Schulman says, “To be a strong leader, you must be willing to take the helicopter view, and look at how your own behavior and energetic output impacts those around you. To find your way to fostering cohesive marketing teams that feel fully supported, leadership has to be attuned, and there needs to be directional alignment. With those components in place, you’ll find yourself at the helm of a ship where teams are deeply engaged and hyper-productive.”
Let’s look at each of those elements.
What is attuned leadership?
To attune means to adjust something to something else. In this case, it means to adjust yourself as leader to the individuals on your team. “Attuned leadership requires a willingness to look at yourself,” says Schulman.
He suggests that you ask your team about what your impact is on them. Is your participation day-to-day useful? Is it interruptive? Do you generate inspiration or anxiety? Schulman says the best way to garner this feedback is to enroll a coach—some neutral non-HR outside party who doesn’t have a stake in the outcome either way. This is the best way to put your team at ease, and help them to open up as honestly as possible
If this option isn’t available, you could request an anonymous survey with support from HR, or you could just be forthright. Take individuals out for walks or for coffee. Ask them honestly about how you’re doing. Just know that your subordinates might not always feel safe to be totally honest one-on-one if they have something difficult to say.
Once you have some feedback from your team, integrate it into your own behavioral repertoire. Learn and adjust based on the needs of your team.
Be deliberate in creating a people first environment
CRM software helps marketers reach people based on who they are as individuals, and makes it possible for the modern marketer to understand where a customer is in their day, when it’s optimal to communicate or lay off, what they like best and least, and so on. Marketers who use CRM tools seek to understand each customer with increasing granularity. Marketing leaders can seek to understand their teams in the same way—they’ll just have to do it the old fashioned way with face-to-face interactions in the office.
“The purpose of creating a people first environment is so that everyone feels enrolled, and feels the devotion of their team leader,” says Schulman. “Relationships are built one at a time. If you want to create a culture where people are rivetingly loyal, you’ve got to invest in who they are, and know their needs,” at least as well as you know the needs of the customer.
“Begin first with the people you least want to do this with,” Schulman advises. “Take them for coffee and talk about anything besides their project. Find out about their family, what they’re reading.”
The best way to keep it real in these relationship-building endeavors, says Schulman, is by being overt about your intentions. “Be clear that you want to get to know the people you work with because it makes for a better workplace.”
“I think leaders like to maintain the mystery behind the curtain,” says Schulman. “Like, the man behind the mystique thing.” Schulman is clear to point out that mystery and uncertainty do not drive relationships. Connection and “knowing one’s work matters” are the values that drive engagement.
“Expose the moving parts,” advises Schulman. He explains that leaders can sometimes fall into a mindset where keeping some of the operational higher level details from their teams is protecting them from something, but really, it helps your team to have compassion for your position. It helps them hold the bigger picture. “Give them as much information as you can give them without violating confidences.”
Also, share your own uncertainties. “There’s no shame in, ‘I don’t know.’” There’s also no shame in, “my bad.” Own your own mistakes. Apologize and move on. Model the behavior you’d like to see from your team when they make mistakes.
Just because you’ve said something doesn’t mean your team has absorbed it. “In fact,” Schulman says, “you can pretty well bank on the fact that what you intend people to take from your declarations will be misunderstood.” It takes saying something seven times for people to really hear it. A memo or quick email announcing a new policy, procedure, project, or mission will not cut it. Communicate new ideas seven different times. Echo a multi-channel approach, internally.
“Make sure the meaning you’re looking to convey has cleared everyone’s filters and lenses,” and be sure to give people the opportunity to question it, as well. If communication only goes one way, communication has not actually occurred.
Also, listen more than you speak. “Leaders will benefit from adopting a 3:1 listening to speaking ratio. Listen to your teams.”
Find your way to directional alignment
“What people want most,” says Schulman, “more than promotions or acknowledgement, more even than money—although money helps—is a sense of progress. People want to feel like their work is moving the mission forward. That whatever their work is, no matter how arcane, matters to the whole.”
To enable this feeling for your marketing teams, you and your professional peers, your colleagues at the management level, should find your way to alignment on overall organizational direction, milestones, goals, and vision.
“I see leadership teams agree on one direction, and then go back to their teams and do whatever will promote their personal well being and success. So there has to be accountability. I encourage leadership teams to set a number of boundaries in the quest for alignment. They’re probably too many to enumerate here, in brief. But one example is: ‘agree to disagree is prohibited’. Duke it out. Then commit.”
“I also like to encourage companies to implement their bonus structure around how well the company has done, not how well the leader’s unit has done.” Reorganizing bonus structure this way redirects some of those tendencies that have leaders agree when they’re in a room together, and then scatter their energies selfishly later. “Want to see senior level teams kick it into high gear on authentic collaboration? Make a piece of their paycheck dependent on it.”
Grow your marketing values internally
It’s especially important for the modern marketer to put relationships first. Market culture demands that whatever the values are that we wish to convey to the customer, those values have to be built upon a solid foundation in our day to day workplaces.