From social gatherings to business functions, experienced communications professionals are well-prepared for the inevitable question from a new acquaintance: “What type of work do you do?” Not only can they distill their responses to keep conversation partners engaged, but confident storytellers can often elegantly direct the dialogue to uncover new business opportunities.
Now imagine how daunting the same situation can be for an employee who is neither formally trained as a communicator nor in a leadership role that might afford a broader business perspective. The evolution from employee to brand ambassador may be even more challenging for B2B employees who represent companies with offerings that aren’t within reach on store shelves or a screen click away. For consumer brands, the customer’s personal experience with the product or service is a major influence on future purchases. Yet many B2B customers and channel partners also regularly interact with multiple levels of workers—not just in boardrooms, but at manufacturing plants, in laboratories, at training sessions, out in the field and even on the Web.
Since speaking with a single voice is critical for business-facing organizations, we posed this question to several communications leaders at global B2B corporations: How does your internal communications strategy encourage employees to understand and share your company’s core vision and mission with stakeholders throughout your value chain?
VP, Corporate Communications, Medtronic Inc.
Fifty years ago, our founders wrote the Medtronic Mission: 180 words spelling out exactly the company we wanted to be. Not one word has changed in that mission statement, despite so many other changes in our company and industry. We reinforce core tenets of the mission in all of our communications, internally and externally.
In one of our great traditions, every new employee participates in a mission and medallion ceremony soon after joining the company. They learn about the mission, our history and our innovative medical technologies. Each receives a bronze medallion that has the mission engraved upon it. It constantly reminds us why working at Medtronic is so special: We alleviate pain, restore health and extend the lives of patients around the world. With all key stakeholders, our employees truly act as ambassadors and consistently champion the Medtronic mission and build our brand.
Chief Marketing Officer, Duff & Phelps
As a financial advisory and investment banking firm, Duff & Phelps sells expertise. Our brand and culture are one and the same—and we empower employees to disseminate compelling testimonials about our technical skills and the firm’s breadth of experience. Additionally, we educate colleagues on the firm’s offerings, and incentivize them to sell the full suite of services.
Our Cross-Service Playbook provides a navigable blueprint of all service lines and is easily accessible through the firm’s intranet. Each month, we offer an electronic communication or webcast about a timely or in-demand service offering. These resources provide detailed explanations and higher-level selling points.
Team members who successfully refer business outside of their core area receive a cash bonus determined by the size of the referred engagement, along with visible recognition from our CEO. Quantitative results have improved since the program was instituted, indicating that the program effectively motivates our people to effectively communicate externally about Duff & Phelps’ high-quality work.
VP, Communications & Public Relations, The Timken Company
Timken products are integral to the technologies that tunnel safe passage through mountains, pave smooth new routes between cities and turn driving winds into the purest form of power. Of course, therein lies the problem: Our bearings and steel are typically buried deep within the world’s hardest-working machinery, quietly transforming power into mechanical motion.
Our internal communications strategy largely focuses on engaging Timken people around the world in our relentless focus on improving our customers’ performance. Each day in our internal electronic newspaper, we highlight a case of where and how our products and our engineers help reduce friction and transmit mechanical power in some of the world’s most challenging applications.
More recently, we launched our “Moment of Trust” campaign, a global, multifaceted internal and external program. We engage both customers and employees, giving them a forum where they can share their own stories. Beyond using the print and video in team meetings, on the intranet and in sales meetings, their stories also resonate with plant and trade media and are featured on an interactive Internet site that invites comment and seeks other story ideas.
VP, Corporate Communications, Honeywell Inc.
The key to successful communications with employees, customers or the media is pretty much the same … telling stories with relevance and resonance. We position our portfolio to make our B2B products more interesting and accessible like this: “If Honeywell’s current offerings were universally adopted today, the U.S. and Europe could reduce energy consumption 20% to 25%.” Or: “Our turbochargers allow a four-cylinder engine to perform like a six, improving fuel economy by 20% while reducing emissions.”
We extend these business stories by connecting them with our CSR programming. For instance, we partner with Rebuilding Together to renovate homes and community buildings, extending our century of leadership in home comfort.
We collaborate with NASA to enliven math and science education in middle schools, an important link for a company with technology on every U.S. manned space mission. When you tell stories this way—benefits first—people find them accessible and memorable. Then they can tell them to their friends and family, and help to build the brand.
While the techniques for internal and external communications may be similar, B2B marketing budgets generally dwarf those for employee programs.
But this may be shifting, as more communicators recognize that all customer touch points along the supply chain offer opportunities to influence B2B buyers who are growing more reliant on multiple sources to help with their decision making process.
A 2010 DemandGen survey of more than 100 B2B decision makers found that 30% had more internal team members provide input for a purchase. The survey results also showed that 66% of the respondents pointed to “consistent and relevant communication” as a key influence in selecting an organization as their solution provider.
Perhaps paying more attention to building confidence among employees can help them genuinely embrace the next opportunity to answer the question: “What type of work do you do?” PRN
[Editor’s Note: For more articles on employee communications, visit the PR News Subscriber Resource Center.]
B2B Communications is written and compiled by Mary C. Buhay, VP of marketing and business development at New York-based Gibbs & Soell Public Relations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.