The scene: I’m an Executive Visitor at the Iacocca Institute’s Global Village, a special international program for up-and-coming leaders.
The topic: Marketing — an open discussion that ranges from dealing with difficult customers (yes, it’s OK to terminate a relationship with customers when there’s no longer a good fit between them & the company; that’s what ING Direct does with customers who use too much customer service) … to internal marketing (how managers can apply marketing to effectively communicate with, educate & motivate employees to deliver on the brand promise).
The question: “Excuse me, but I think you have it backwards. You talk about ‘firing’ customers as if they are employees, and you also talk about marketing to employees as if they are customers? How can this be?”
[An excellent question … and one that takes me somewhat by surprise because I’d never thought of it that way before.] The answer is not so simple, or is it? What’s the different between customers and employees?
My response: Let’s see – customers pay for your goods/services, which means they contribute the revenue that’s used to pay employee salaries. No customers = no operating income = no business = no employees. On the other hand, without employees to produce & deliver your goods/services, there’s nothing to offer customers. No employees = no business to compete in the market = no customers.
The bottom line is the organization depends on both groups. As such, it needs to develop positive and loyal relationships with its employees AND customers. So the marketing and management strategies aren’t that different when you consider an organization needs to attract and retain the right employees (who are competent and capable) to establish and retain relationships with the right customers (whose needs will be best and profitably served by the organization).
The take-away: Yes, you can market to employees and you can manage customers … done effectively, you’ll have the best of both serving as brand ambassadors.