Diversity and the Bottom Line.

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A Real Story of How Diversity Affects Business

Some years ago, I was listening to a client who made class rings lament their declining sales.

“We’ve listened to our customers and broadened our line. We’re offering more price points than ever before and created more personalized rings to meet student’s changing tastes. Yet, sales continue to decline,” he told me with an exasperated sigh.

“Have you looked at your sales force lately?” I asked. “I mean looked at them through the eyes of your prospective customers, the students in those high schools.”

When he asked what I meant, I told him every one of their sales reps I had met were white men. Most  were between 40 and 60. They were dressed in very nice suits, lived in upscale suburb neighborhoods and were very comfortable displaying their rings in suburban schools.

At the time, reps held ring days in the schools to promote sales and let students get a good look at their products. In their suburban schools, the reps were very comfortable opening their cases and letting the students really examine the rings. The students would eagerly try them on and smile watching the gem brilliantly reflect light. The rep would bring one or two of their support staff and often their spouse to a suburban school ring day. More personnel meant quick, attentive service and a satisfying experience for the prospective ring owners.

But, ring day in an urban or more ethnically-diverse school was a very different experience for the students. Reps were reluctant to open their display cases. Students struggled to see the rings through thick plexiglass covers. When they did take a ring out to show a student, the rep almost never let go of it.  Reps tended to take fewer staff to these schools often conducting the ring day alone. With less people to show the rings, fewer students received personalized attention and there was little time spent answering student’s questions.

Class Rings - Diverse Hands

My client looked shocked and told me they had been watching a five-year trend of fewer suburban school students purchasing rings.  They were also seeing lower average unit prices from those who did buy. Their analysis had determined this was because of the relatively high percentage of college-bound students.  The students and their parents, who contributed to the purchase, knew a high school graduation ring would almost never be worn once the student left for college.

Urban school students, on the other hand, were opting to purchase much higher quality rings with a higher average unit price than their suburban counterparts. But the overall percentage of students buying in the urban schools was much lower. Originally, they thought the lower purchases in urban schools related to lower graduation rates, but the numbers didn’t bear that out. They should have been seeing much higher penetration in the urban schools.  Additionally, these student’s parents were more willing to fund a higher quality ring to recognize their high school accomplishments as many might not be college-bound immediately after graduating.

“We hadn’t thought about how the purchase experience would affect sales,” he said. “Our reps aren’t spending enough time to cultivate their best prospects.”

“No,” I said, “that’s the symptom of your real problem. You have a rep diversity problem. Your reps should reflect the population they serve.  That means you need a big push to recruit African-American and Hispanic reps.”

Over time my client did diversify their sales force and drastically improve their sales performance.  It wasn’t easy though.  They had to radically re-think their recruiting methods, restructure their territories and change some of their compensation models.  But along the way they discovered the real benefits of diversity.  By better reflecting the society and customers they serve, their reps had a much deeper understanding of the wants and needs of their customers and could more readily drive increased sales.

America is becoming more and more diverse.  By 2050, the US workforce will be a plurality meaning no single race or ethnicity will be make up a majority of the population.  Are you ready for the changing face of America?  Check out this InfoGraphic – The Changing Face of the American Workforce for a glimpse of diversity in the future.

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Does Organization Culture Really Matter?

What Henry Ford Teaches us about Corporate Culture.  Henry Ford & Model T

For most of us today, asking if organization culture matter seems like a ridiculous question. Executives openly ask if the company culture is right to meet their goals. Hiring managers ponder whether or not an interviewee will fit their culture. Merger and acquisition analysts spend countless hours looking at how a new purchase will affect the corporate culture. A Google search on “organizational culture” results in over 12 million hits. Type in “corporate culture” and 48 million will pop up.

…organization culture first appeared in print in 1979 in an academic paper studying a British boarding school.

But the fact is, the term “organization culture” first appeared in print in 1979 in an academic paper studying a British boarding school. So, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller built the world’s largest companies without ever hearing that phrase. It’s probably a safe bet to say they never spent time agonizing with their board members about the company culture. So, why are we?  Perhaps they knew something intuitively it took us over a hundred years to figure out.

In 1908, Henry Ford was determined to build a simple, reliable and affordable automobile. His goal was to create a car the average American worker could buy. Now, Ford didn’t invent the car. His innovation was to build his new Model T on an assembly line to lower cost. But, he didn’t invent the assembly line either.

What Ford did was clearly communicate his mission and vision to his employees. Each line worker could see how their job contributed to making an affordable car and watch them roll off the factory floor. Within four years, his people had gotten so good at perfecting his vision, he could drop the price of a car by a third from $875 to $575. Ford then demonstrated the value of their contributions by rewarding his employees with the first 40-hour work week and raising their pay to nearly twice the hourly rate of the average American worker at the time.

Assembly Line Model T

Henry Ford’s simple idea gave his employees a shared vision and purpose. They were all committed to making the world a better place by building a car anyone could own. The idea of an affordable car was so inspiring they improved the assembly line making the Model T even more affordable. They were, in turn, rewarded with a shorter work week and more pay which quickly made Ford Motor Company one of the best places to work in the country further reinforcing their belief in their purpose.

So, while Mr. Ford may have never heard the phrase “organizational culture”, he obviously knew something about the power of a shared vision and the motivational impact of a common purpose.  These are the very elements at the heart of a corporate culture. Employees can achieve incredible results when they’re inspired to action. Inspiration comes from clearly seeing how your company changes the world and understanding how your individual efforts make a difference.  A century after first telling his employees they were going to build a car anyone could buy; Ford is still one of the best known and largest companies on the planet.  The simple vision Henry Ford shared with the line workers in his factory literally reshaped the American landscape. Today, there are nearly 4,000,000 miles of paved roads in the US that never existed when the folks at Ford were just trying to make a simple, affordable car.  That’s the world-changing power of a shared vision and purpose in creating an inspiring organization culture.

7 Hallmarks of Great Internal Communication

Creating an effective B2B story is more than just targeting customers and segments. It means developing a story to engage your employees. After all, they are the front line with your customers. Paul Barton, an internal communication expert who has worked with companies like Hawaiian Airlines, Pet Smart and America West share (7) hallmarks for creating an effective internal communication strategy.

Internal Communications Consultant

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Great internal communication is about:

  1. Communication (without an “s”) where the emphasis is on an ongoing strategic process, not about communications where the focus is on individual tactics.
  2. Influencing, including and listening to achieve employee engagement, not commanding and controlling to obtain task compliance.
  3. Communicating the “what” and the “why” like a business partner, not just the “what.”
  4. Speaking to hearts and heads to encourage action, not just speaking to heads to inform.
  5. Integrating and coordinating messaging with feedback built into the process, not one-off and fragmented communications.
  6. Having established “rules and tools” that serve as a foundation for flawless communication, not undocumented processes and off-the-cuff rules.
  7. Getting through to internal audiences to achieve meaningful outcomes, not just focusing on measurable outputs.

What other characteristics do you think belong on this list of hallmarks of great internal communication?

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How To Capture and Hold Anyone’s Attention

Kid with Megaphone

Many, including some TIME Magazine articles, have argued people’s attention spans are becoming shorter and shorter.  But, in fact, I’d argue the explosion of media competing for our attention simply makes it more difficult to capture a person’s attention.

This post by Daniel Goleman, author of FOCUS:  The Hidden Driver of Excellence explores capturing attention by triggering the the orienting response in the brain and how some Vine posts are taking advantage of it to capture millions of followers and become web sensations.

Additionally, he discusses how important it suddenly becomes once you do capture someone’s attention to have a “story” to tell to engage them.  There are valuable for marketers trying to stand out from the crowd and to engage prospects.  So, take a look.

Re-blogged from LinkIn:  How to Capture and Hold Anyone’s Attention.

Learn more about the “Orienting Response” on Wikipedia.  It’s something that could help you stand out from the crowd.

How Emotions Impact B2B.

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Proving the Value of Emotion in B2B Marketing Communications

Most B2B marketing seems to be targeting robots. Packed with product features, advantages and benefits, it avoids “emotional entanglements” and strictly focuses on the rationale aspect of purchasing.

But business people are human first.  And humans are emotional. The way someone “feels” about your brand or even the “mood” they’re in when approached makes all the difference on how likely they are to purchase .  

Upshot, a marketing agency in Chicago, released this study demonstrating rationally and with qualitative research that affecting emotions is a more effective way to influence B2B decisions.  

Their major takeaways:

1.  The widely held belief that B2B decision making is rational and pragmatic is wrong.

Just as in consumer marketing, the research proved that emotion is a powerful tool and deeply affects the way business decision makers react to marketing communications.

2.  Effective B2B marketing should affect the target’s emotions while delivering its selling message.

Creators of marketing communications should work to inspire their audience with their creativity, be it a conference event, a web site, a sales presentation or advertising.

So, remember to engage them emotionally when your planning your next B2B marketing campaign.  

Brand stories cut to the “heart” of the matter.

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Core values are the beating heart of every business. Genuine core values will capture the imagination and passions of employees. Customers should feel those values in every interaction with the company, its personnel and its products. But how do you tell the story of a core value?

When Liberty Mutual’s “Half an Acre” ad first appeared about 7 years ago, I’d actually stop whatever I was doing to watch it. I’d  even watch the entire show in hopes of seeing it again. Not because of the music (which, by the way, is great for this) or the production value or the fact that it was a 60 second ad in a world of thirty and fifteen second spots. I watched because the STORY simply mesmerized me and tied so well to a core value of the company.

Liberty Mutual’s Culture and Value Statement includes: “WE BEHAVE WITH INTEGRITY. We are in the business of trust. Our most important promise is that we will strive to do the right thing, always.

Now, this ad is nothing more than nine vignettes of common people helping others. But it tells the  story of how “doing the right thing” is contagious and has a karmic way of coming back to you. A story that resonates in the heart of anyone who’s ever held a door for a stranger loaded down with groceries or stopped to help collect someone’s fallen papers.  And this simple story speaks volumes to the values of the company.

Many people think a brand story has to begin with “Once upon a time” or “Our founder believed”. But, in fact, a brand story can be as close as the value statement hanging in your lobby and is told in the actions of the people who share and demonstrate that value every single day to your customers. There’s an engaging brand story you should think about telling.

Template for Storytelling

Storytelling can be a powerful tool for institutionalizing best practices, communicating cultural values and even building a stronger brand image for your organization.  The American Society for Training & Development has  a simple “Storytelling Job Aid” to help companies capture stories.  I really enjoyed this blog including that storytelling template and hope you will find it useful.

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Storytelling is a compelling and effective way to engage employees. The attached template published by the American Society for Training & Development can help you identify, create and track your organization’s stories. Once you uncover and document key stories, you can use them to support your communication strategy.

Storytelling Job Aid

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A Brand Needs a Story

Once Upon a Time

Stories are important to brands. And, years ago, I learned just how important.

I worked for a company whose name was always being mispronounced. Every new prospect would mispronounce our name and even many of our longtime clients would get it wrong. We were in the business of putting together communications campaigns and promotions branded in the client’s name. So, just how important was it for them to get our name right?  Most people at the company just laughed about it and didn’t seem to care what they called us as long as the checks cleared. But for some reason it always annoyed me.

So, I took to telling a little story about the company when I’d meet people for the first time. The firm actually started as a watch shop.  The family was Swiss and would import watch parts into the US from the old country.   They would assemble the watches and sell them in their shop. They’d been doing this for about 35 years when the depression came along and practically no one could afford their watches.  In desperation, one of the founder’s sons starting taking his watches from company to company and sold them as employee retirement gifts. That’s how the tradition of giving an expensive watch as a retirement gift began… a desperate man trying to figure out a way to sell his wares.

In telling the story, I’d say the family name three times.  Afterwards, something amazing happened.  The people who heard the story would always pronounce the company name correctly, and they always remembered the story practically verbatim.  It even got the point where people would introduce me to their colleagues and tell the retirement watch story for me.

That’s what taught me just how important a story is to a brand.  If you’re just a name, why get it right?  But, if there’s an engaging story behind the name, it elevates the brand to almost mythical proportions.

What’s your brand’s engaging story?

Story Sells

Stories at Work

Re-blogged from LinkedIn:   Story Sells 

In the virtual world, we may search for a product, but remember we stay for the stories.

I’m always looking for insightful ways business engage their customers. and thought this insight from Mr. Hiroshi Mikitani, Chairman & CEO of Rakuten holds a lesson for all B2B Marketers.

He recently blogged about  a Japanese fabric company experiencing enormous success by telling the company story rather than simply focusing on products.   I encourage you to check it out.

Rakuten is the largest e-commerce company in Japan, and third largest e-commerce marketplace company worldwide.

Storytelling engages and sells all around the globe!!!!

Storytelling … the Lost Art of Engagement

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When you talk about storytelling in business, you get some strange looks. Most people automatically think of fables, fantasy and fiction when you say storytelling. But storytelling is deeply rooted in the human experience not only as a way to entertain, but to communicate truths, lessons and experience from one person to another.

But what makes it important in today’s business? Simply this, storytelling is an intimate art form that engages groups of people with common concerns, interests and values.  Listening to stories is deeply embedded in the human psyche.  We’re not wired to remember obscure facts and details.  But we are wired to remember stories.

So, let me tell you a story…

My family is from eastern Kentucky deep within the Appalachian mountains. This is a very isolated area and most of the families there could trace their history back for generations. The mountains and valleys made it difficult to access and modern conveniences like electricity and running water were slow to arrive. Even when I was a child in the sixties, my grandparents home had no running water.

I spent a lot of time there when I was a kid, and one of my jobs was to draw water. That meant taking buckets to a small, cramped shed called the well house, lowering a long, skinny tube down a small hole in the ground and hauling the water back up to fill the buckets for the day’s drinking and cooking needs.  This was coal country. And while the well water was sparkling clean, it always shimmered with a golden hue from the sulphur it collected deep underground.  A color that stained the inside of the water pails and dippers and that I vividly remember even today.

With the exception of the bible, there were few books in each home.  The small local newspaper was a weekly and contained few stories from outside the county line.   But, there was a rich oral storytelling tradition and each evening people of all ages would gather on dimly lit porches to tell and listen to stories.

The stories ran the gamut from epic adventures of man vs. the wild to everyday tales of hardships and struggles . There were ghost stories that captured the imagination. Histories of feuding families and mountain romances to rival Romeo and Juliet. Tragedies of illness and the triumphs of overcoming handicaps. Cautionary tales of greed leading to arguments and violence between friends and family.  And the roar of laughter filled the darkness when the comic adventures of long dead loved ones were told again and again.

Over forty years have passed since I sat on those porches, yet I can still tell most of the stories exactly as I heard them.  While you might easily discount this as the fond memories of childhood, I believe those stories are memorable because they were always woven into a specific context and richly accented with details to create an unforgettable picture in my mind. Brands spend millions to create these images, yet these people created them with simple stories.

As B2B marketers, we should embrace storytelling.  

Today’s world of social media, websites and blog pages are really just online dimly lit porches beckoning to weary surfers.  Their visitors are actively hoping to learn more, find answers or feel some type of empathy and understanding. But far too often, they find mind-numbing lists of product features, contrived customer benefits, cryptic case studies and an endless string of the latest overused “buzz” words that may sound impressive but convey no meaningful message.

Try a quick test with me.

In my story, do you remember

  • The color of the water?
  • The book in every home?
  • The state my family is from?

These were all very small details, but important to help paint a picture and create a context.

A story creates paints a picture visitors remember.

Stories need context to convey a point and enough details to create texture and paint a picture for your audience. They don’t have to be long, but they do have to be relevant. It’s much easier to list out product features, advantages and benefits than to weave a story about your product.  But in our electronic age of storytelling, hearing your story is the first step in making a personal connection with your next prospect.

So, tell me your story.