If you have employees, even just one or two, they can serve as your own pseudo sales force off hours. The good news? If you treat your employees well (you do, right?), they’re usually more than happy to spread the word about your company, if you show them how. Here are five things you can ask them to do.
Two important notes: We don’t recommend bombarding your employees with all of these ideas at once. Pick and choose what makes sense, or give them a run-down of the ways they can help and let them choose what works for them. And we weren’t joking above when we mentioned the part about treating your employees well. The ideas we outline below will only be embraced by employees who are genuinely happy in their jobs. That’s the foundation you need to build first.
So let’s first talk about ways to build that strong foundation:
- Listen to your employees. We mean really listen to them. Address grumblings, complaints, and dissatisfaction swiftly and fairly.
- Invite their feedback and their participation. If they have a marketing idea, seriously consider it. If it’s a good idea and you implement it, give your employee kudos for the idea (and perhaps a bonus if the idea yields sales).
- Create an open, welcoming culture. From subtle things like incorporating an open floor plan to more direct examples, such as the business owner making an effort of stopping to talk to everyone every day, the company vibe will go a long way in determining whether employees will want to help promote you or not.
- Share the wealth. Bonuses, monetary or otherwise, are not only great incentives, but also great gestures for a job well done. And if your employees are going to promote you outside of their normal business hours and help increase sales, they should receive some sort of perk for doing so.
- Provide regular training. As you roll out new products or services, make sure everyone on your staff, from reception on up, understands the new products/services and their features and benefits.
- Provide resources. Make sure your staff has plenty of resources at their fingertips so that if someone they know has a question or wants more information, they can easily access the info and freely share it.
- Encourage involvement, but don’t mandate it (and don’t penalize people who don’t participate). Let’s say an employee gives 100 percent during working hours. That’s great. While you can encourage more during off hours, you can’t require it, and you shouldn’t make someone feel badly if they don’t do more. Your employees have full lives beyond the 40 hours a week they give to you. Respect that.
Now, onto 5 things your employees can do to promote your business.
1. Encourage them to link their personal social media accounts to your company accounts. You’ve heard the adage: every person knows around 200 people. All of the people your employees know could be potential sales, so it makes sense to ask employees to link their personal accounts to your company accounts.
For example, all of your employees should list your business in their personal LinkedIn profiles AND they should all follow your company page on LinkedIn (and encourage them to participate by commenting on company status updates, sharing, and so forth). Since LinkedIn is a business network, it’s the one social media account that you *could* strongly encourage all employees to participate in as your employee. Beyond that, you can let employees know that you welcome links or mentions in their personal Twitter profiles, Facebook “about” sections, etc.
Tip: Many employees are happy to do this, but some might need help in figuring out how to make these updates to their social media accounts. Make it as easy as possible for employees: provide some sort of tutorial—written or video—that walks them through how to make updates on all the “big” platforms (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+). The same is true when you’d like employees to “talk” about something specific on social media. Let’s say you launch a new product. You could send a company-wide email letting employees know about the launch and that you welcome any outside promotion they’re able to give through their personal social media accounts. Then, make it easy: provide a list of pre-written tweets and posts so that all they need to do is copy and paste the text into their accounts and share with their connections.
2. Have them use promotional products and wear promotional apparel. Again, you can’t make it a requirement (unless you’re in a business that requires a uniform), but if you provide employees with plenty of useful promotional products, from pens with the company name all the way to T-shirts with the company logo, you’ll likely get some off-hours promotions out of them.
3. Remind them to take advantage of company sponsorship opportunities. Let employees know that you welcome sponsoring things like charity walks they’re involved in or their kids’ sports teams. It’s a nice “give back” to the employee and nice exposure for your business.
4. Invite employees to take part in fun marketing programs, with incentives attached. Here’s an idea that’s simple for people to implement. Let’s say you’re willing to offer a 10% discount on Awesome Product ABC to employees’ family and friends. Assign each employee a different coupon code. Promote the code in two ways: pre-write tweets and updates that employees can share across social media (all they’d have to do is add in their personal coupon code). The second way? Have employees add a line to their personal email signatures and smart phone signatures promoting the discount and code (show them how to do this, of course). Run the promotion for a specific timeframe, like two weeks. Have prizes for the employees who bring in the most sales.
5. Encourage off-hours networking and provide “conversation-starter” tips (and regular training and reminders). Think of all the events your employees attend over the course of a year: birthday parties, BBQs, weddings, showers, holiday events, vacations…you get the idea. Every time your employees are around other people, it’s a potential opportunity. No, we’re not suggesting that your employees should talk up business at every event, but let’s face it: the “oh, what do you do for a living” question is a common one. So prep your employees so that a) they know how to answer these questions in an engaging way and b) they know how to start the conversation themselves.
Non-sales people can often be shy about promoting a business, product, or service, so it’s important that you provide training, tips, and tricks for having easy, non-intrusive conversations. Make this part of a quarterly meeting or check-ins where you remind employees that they’re often the best form of advertisement, and here are some questions they can ask people (if they want) and here are some fun answers they can give (e.g. about new product/service releases, recently completed projects, etc). No, not every employee will talk-up your business during off hours, but if you show them how to do it in a comfortable way (and reinforce the concept a few times a year), it’s possible some will do so happily and naturally.
Again, we can’t emphasize enough that the above suggestions will only work—and be well received—if you’ve created a happy working environment for all of your employees.
So, tell us: does your business encourage employees to promote the company during off hours? What strategies do you use? How has this been received by your employees? Share in the comments.