Call it the law of proximity. Customers often see sales reps as the brand—period. And there are obvious advantages to a strong relationship between sales reps and customers: greater revenue, longer-term purchasing cycles, and increased referral rates.
Brands can't afford to circumvent the connection that successful sales and relationship managers have with their customers. But this can, and often does, set up a scenario in which customers are more loyal to your sales reps than to the company they represent. Smart companies are aware of this dynamic and use it to gain a competitive advantage.
Make Reps Part of Your Brand Strategy
Tactics for doing so vary with industries and goals, but the underlying strategy is the same: Enable your sales force to build personal customer relationships while simultaneously reinforcing your brand. The personal element is why clients will follow sales teams or product managers to a competitor even if they've been doing business under your brand for decades. So:
How do you transfer some of that relationship value from the rep to the brand? How do you ensure that clients see enterprise value beyond the individual relationship? Most importantly, how do you drive retentive value to the brand itself, and not just to the individual?
Solid brand relationships tend to emerge from three crucial elements:
- The product or service is perceived to solve a need better or more cost effectively than that of the competition.
- Customer relationship management onboarding, support, and life cycle programs are thoughtful and nonintrusive.
- Brand positioning moves beyond traditional marketing and advertising practices and builds direct relationships with the customer base.
Many firms leave the bulk of the day-to-day management to their sales and service departments. And much of the time, that makes sense and can be cost effective. But firms that do this are setting themselves up for trouble down the road: Clients will turn to what they know first, even if their main contact is the wrong person to answer the question or address a need.
How to Build Better Brand Relationships
The solution is to provide your sales teams and account managers with tools that enhance both your brand and their relationship with clients. Valuable branded content that is distributed by those same sales and management personnel will burnish their reputation with clients while simultaneously reinforcing the role of the brand.
In effect, your company and your sales teams or relationship managers will "brandshare"—you will benefit from the personal brand they have built up with their customers, and they will benefit from the thought leadership, intellectual capital, and industry reputation the company cultivates to support those relationships.
The key is to ensure that the content is excellent and the delivery personalized. Marketing must find a way to work through the point of contact rather than around it. This approach gives clients what they need, helps your account managers shine in front of them, and associates your brand with valuable, actionable insights and information.
How do you accomplish this?
- Centralize where it makes sense (delivery platforms, compliance, best-in-market content development, collateral and data analysis)
- Provide flexibility where it can give your sales and management an advantage (timing, customization/personalization, and channels for self-promotion)
This will let your local marketers and sales and management teams select the best targets for the content and deliver it with a personal touch while retaining brand association and guidelines.
No one is better positioned to promote your brand than your front-line sales, management, and marketing personnel. With the personal relationships already in hand, they just need the right tools to do so efficiently and effectively.
Carol Eversen is managing director of client services for HNW, a marketing and technology firm that serves organizations with a distributed sales force.