Give corporate culture the old college try

The freedom of stepping away from home and experiencing adulthood for the first time is a hallmark of college life. But university years offer much more than autonomous living; a good college experience also challenges your current worldview, way of thinking and way of working. Company leaders who want to build a lasting and meaningful corporate culture would do well to reflect on their college years and consider incorporating practices that build upon the following principles from Donovan Roche, vice president, strategic services at PR agency Havas Formula:

• Encourage Education.
Employees who aren’t learning aren’t growing, and if they feel stagnant, they’ll move on. It’s fine if your company bills itself as a launch pad for careers and has installed a revolving door for this purpose, but in-house training and professional development are key to retaining staff.

• Nurture Outside Interests.
All work and no play makes for a stale workplace. You don’t have to become the “party school” of companies to shake up the workday. All it takes are a few well-planned staff social events to revive tired spirits and remind employees that yours is a welcoming workplace.

• Build A Ladder To Advancement.
While not all companies offer multiple tiers for employees to advance through, even a flat organization can offer steps to help staffers prepare for and even create opportunities for greater responsibility in their roles, or to serve as project or team leaders for temporary projects. Ask employees what, and how, they want to advance, and provide resources to suit.


Vice President of Marketing at Gill Studios

Dual Devotion
Carl Gerlach, MAS, vice president of marketing for supplier Gill Studios, talks about his two decades of volunteer service with the Overland Park, Kansas, city council, including three terms as mayor. (He’s currently running for reelection.)

PPB Why did you choose to serve on the Overland Park, Kansas, city council?
It was for the same desire as everybody has to give back to the community. Most people give back one way or another, and my goal originally was to give back through the Chamber of Commerce, because it tied into the business (Gill Studios, where he has worked for 35 years). I was asked to chair a committee that would involve local government issues, so I began attending council meetings to learn. Ten years ago, the mayor at the time asked me if I would run for office, since he was stepping down. I won my first race, and I’ve been doing it ever since. And now [if Gerlach wins reelection] this will be my fourth term.

PPB What parallels have you found between government leadership and professional leadership roles?
Gerlach There are several parallels, particularly in how you motivate and communicate with people. Whether it’s communication with distributors or communication with constituents, it’s about bringing everyone up to speed on all the facts.

PPB What skills or practices have you brought from your work at Gill to your role as mayor, and vice versa?
Gerlach There’s a philosophy I learned at Gill Studios—customer satisfaction is the priority. And there’s a lot of crossover; I went to L.E.A.D. [PPAI Legislative Education And Action Day] last year and there were a lot of discussions about the economy. The economy is something we discuss a lot on the council, of course. And at Gill, we produce a lot of political products. Serving on the council has given me insights into changes in the political process. Those changes help determine how we address the needs of a candidate [through promotional products].

PPB What advice do you have for someone in a business leadership role who also wants to take on a volunteer leadership role in the community? How can they balance both?
Gerlach Find the type of volunteer work you’re passionate about. Do something that you have a passion for. And learn to manage your time. You don’t schedule day by day; you have to schedule minute by minute. Also, setting goals and plans is very important.



Pour On The Profit
Try these tips for motivating non-commissioned salespeople

Are you considering a move away from commission-based sales? Do you fear a lack of motivation will set in if your sales team is salary-based? Here are a few ways to help bump up your bottom line, and keep the revenue rolling in, from Thomas Phelps, owner and president of consulting firm PWS, Inc.

1. Don't just sell. Assist.
Changing your focus from selling to supporting helps build better relationships with customers. Better relationships translate to repeat sales, loyal customers and even referrals. The key is to offer help without giving away time and talent for free; helpful salespeople catch mistakes before clients make them, and they avoid selling on price alone.

2. Sharpen sales skills.
Never mind the old-dog-new-tricks saying; learning how to sell is a lifelong journey, one that every dedicated salesperson should remain on as long as they’re in business. Professional development introduces new ideas and better ways to build profit.

3. Upsell with options.
Once you’ve sold the basic package, introduce options and extra benefits. It’s much easier to convince a client that sunscreen is a perfect add-on when they’ve already placed an order for beach towels.



Binary Branding
Meet consumers' need for instant gratification and a lasting experience with a dual-purpose brand presence

Consumers increasingly want things that are paradoxical in nature—quick service that’s also attentive to detail, data-rich content that doesn’t overwhelm the senses, and countless options that can be parsed and whittled down to one or two choices in mere minutes.

How can brands compete with buyers’ binary desires? By creating a brand presence that represents the best of both worlds. Companies such as Mastercard and KFC offer examples of simplified, refined, yet impactful brand makeovers. Their brand evolutions allow them to stand out among competitors while delivering a message that’s quickly processed and understood.

That’s not to say that the opportunity for enrichment has been abandoned. KFC’s Canadian operations have installed a cooking school that both enhances and supports the fast-food operations, teaching guests how to make the restaurant’s signature chicken. Does this mean KFC and others like it are putting the nail in their own coffin? Not likely—the beauty of binary branding seems to be that everyone’s needs are met in the time and manner they choose, and the brand benefits either way.



How Can I Help You Today?
Chatbots elevate ecommerce with conversation

Shopping online is awash with benefits: quick, easy, seemingly infinite options. But the personal touch that enhances the transaction can be tough to apply. Enter conversational commerce: the real-time communication that takes place through chatbots and messenger applications. With one in seven internet users interacting through Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, traditional sellers don’t need to fear losing their customers to the faceless web.

Amazon’s Echo service, retailer H&M’s chatbot on the Kik platform, and Slack—a messaging platform that’s birthed dozens of custom bots—are just a few services embracing the conversational commerce approach. But as with all new sales trends, conversational commerce comes with its own caveats: namely, how much is too much? By taking the traditional AIDA model for marketing and applying it to the ecommerce channel, you can develop a strategy for remaining accessible to customers, without intruding on their purchasing experience.

The AIDA model is straightforward: Awareness, the first stage of the buying process, where the customer recognizes a need for a product or service; Information, where customers search for the product or service most suited to their needs; Desire, where the customer begins to transition from liking an option to actually wanting it; and Action; when the customer makes the decision to purchase or engage.

Conversational commerce can engage the customer at each stage of the AIDA process by offering instant access to knowledgeable agents, providing countless options based on a customer’s stated parameters, and offering a means to purchase within the messaging platform. Additionally, conversational commerce allows for instant feedback and measurable results, allowing online vendors to quickly make changes and modifications where needed, ensuring repeat business and referrals.