Brand Strategy For Sales & Service Teams

Building Brands Ep 8 Mike Bowers Brand Strategy For Sales & Service Teams

Mike talks about the importance of executing brand strategy, not just in external communications, but internally. How brand dilution can happen through the various levels of your sales channels. And why over communicating, might not be a bad thing right now.

Episode Links
Find Mike on LinkedIn
Visit the InnerView Group Website

Episode Transcript
Tim
Welcome Building Brands, listeners. For our eighth episode, I’m joined by Mike Bowers, managing director and InnerView Group. InnerView Group creates brand alignment through internal brand engagement They work with companies to align brand and product stories with customer facing teams. In this episode, our conversation touches on the importance of executing brand strategy not just in external communications, but internally how brand dilution can happen through the various levels of your selling channels and why over communicating might not be a bad thing right now. Enjoy the episode. If you’re an owner or marketer in the building materials manufacturing, distribution or contracting spaces looking to set up your brand for success now and in the future this is the podcast for you. On this show we talk about brand and market strategies used in the real world that grow companies and truly connect with consumer audiences. So sit back, listen in, and let’s get to it.
Tim
All right. Welcome, Mike, to the podcast. Thanks for coming on.
Mike
Hey, Tim. How are you?
Tim
Great. You know, we’re living in crazy times right now, which might come up during this conversation. I met you a couple months ago at IBS so we really struck up a really good conversation I thought the audience would be able to benefit from that with your sales background and understanding of branding and internal cultures and marketing and how it all kind of works together. But before we get to that, why don’t you give us a little background on who you are. And I know you have sales background. If you want to touch on that, you can start there, and we’ll kind of work through how you got to where you are now to give everyone a feel for who you are.
Mike
Awesome. Thanks, Tim. Again, I really appreciate it. Enjoyed our conversation at IsBS and I’ve been looking forward to today.. I’ve worked for primarily the commercial side of branded manufacturers since way back in 1994 and started as, ah as a pretty green ah sales trainee and moved into an international sales position and lived again working for branded manufacturers all the way up until the middle of last year, when I when I joined InnerView Group.
Tim
Cool. You know, you’ve been around through a couple of different phases of marketing and and even customer interactions in sales. 90’s, 2000’s all the way up through the past decade. What were you seeing over your time going through each one of those phases’ decades’ trend lines that sort of brought you to where you are with what you’re doing with InnerView? And then that’ll kind of set the stage for us to talk about how interview works with its clients and sort of how our conversation started.
Mike
Perfect. I again I worked primarily on the commercial side B2B flooring manufacturers as well as furniture in the commercial interior space, and we’ve seen just a sea change in the way companies go to market. Way back when I got started, business was really primarily relationship driven and up product performance, so things have shifted quite a bit. Now we’re the, you know, with with digital and those changes. But relationship still remains key is king, right?
Tim
Yeah, and that’s part of that. First interactions to when someone even discovers company to how they work through the sales process, become a customer. How they’re re-engaged as a customer moving forward. When you worked back in the 90s and early 2000s, how were they prepping you to deal with that type of relationship management?
Mike
It’s a great question. So so, again, primarily companies pivoted to product and pivoted to, I would say much more intensive product training, product discipline, those type things. I think what what you’ve seen, thankfully, is a shift in sales over that period, really leaning much more into a relationship. But what we’re excited to see is that companies were really understanding the strength of brand and alignment of brand. And but again, we’ve got a long way to get there.
Tim
Yeah and usually when we’re starting talk, talk with someone to work with Luminus, here at our company, we’re always poking them about what the current state of their brand is. If they need to look at doing a brand health audit, what they have documentation for. A lot of times documentation doesn’t exist, but things in people’s minds exist. So you know when when you’re going through and you’re talking about sales process, you’ve got so many people that touch, touch the brand and are the face of the brand between leadership, sales, manufacturing team, even all the way going through down distribution channels to the retail centers. Especially if you’re talking, manufacturing and building materials products that we’re we’re sort of in that realm right now.
Mike
Sure.
Tim
So what we do, it typically is help people figure that out from the front end. But where we always see some companies struggle is how to actually take a brand strategy and implement it internally and, you know, when we met talking about what InnerView does you guys actually focus on making sure that people are doing that so that they aren’t just wasting a really good brand strategy on the external communications. But you’re also bringing them into their in-house culture, their processes for customer service, sales management and then even going down in helping the distribution channels. Is that correct? You can dive into that and probably give a better summary than what my assumption was.
Mike
Yeah, no, I think you’re dead on Tim. I mean, InnerView Group is the brainchild of Chris Wallace and Diana Finley, who they identified an overlooked, that say certainly often assumed unavoidable dilution that occurs between brand architects and frontline sales, customer service, sales enablement really anybody that is communicating with with customers. We’ve studied this. We know that there’s a very significant dilution that that occurs. Our study, revealed up to 1/3 of a company’s messages, is diluted by the time it reaches frontline sales in those other groups.
Tim
Yeah, and you know you’re talking about actually losing dollars by not making sure that you have all of the processes and functions in place for people that extend the brand through all those channels are people are aware that this is actually happening. How do you help them identify that this is a problem with their particular organization?
Mike
Absolutely. Many companies measure it, and in fact, we won’t enter into an engagement if it’s not measurable. We actually developed a diagnostic tool that we call the Brand Transfer Study that allows us to be able to really identify exactly where dilution is occurring. And then with that data, we can help companies unleash their brand within their organizations, and we leverage extraordinary tactics that that then drive knowledge, belief, and pride in what a company stands for. And that’s that’s where we make a real shift within organizations.
Tim
Who’s usually the person on the client side that’s either coming to you or whose interest has been piqued by you approaching them to actually go into a process like this? Is it leadership driven? Is it sales driven? Is it? Someone gets bored and they have some extra money is like What else can we do for our company? Is that sometimes a marketing companies saying, Look, we don’t do business consulting as deeply from a brand strategy standpoint as what you do? Can you have bring in your process to our client and mesh that with what our outbound brand strategy is for our communications tactics?
Mike
Sure.
Tim
Who’s the player there?
Mike
That’s right, that’s right? Sure. So So a little bit the latter. We do partner with organizations like yours, but primarily we work with marketers within certain verticals. I know that you your company primarily works with branded manufacturers. We work in other verticals as well. Banking is a big one for us. We also do a variety of other verticals, but again it’s it’s primarily marketing,
Tim
So you’re getting a lot of marketing executives, the CMOs, Marketing Directors that are, they’re really the point people advising their executives that we can do better on our internal brand strategy and channel execution to help solidify sales growth, client retention numbers, things like that.
Mike
Absolutely. And they’re really being required these days. As I’m sure you know, to provide an ROI. We can certainly do that.
Tim
So without getting into the weeds, what does the process of working with InnerView to define or extend that brand strategy to an internal execution, a measurable execution, and a sales driven at execution, what, what does that process look like? In a way where we can understand that in a couple of minutes of the conversation
Mike
Yeah, great, great question. So to keep it real simple, we measure on the front end with the tool that I mentioned a minute ago that Brand Transfer Study. And then we use that that tool to really pinpoint exactly where dilution is occurring, and then and then we provide strategic inside says to how we can improve those areas where we’re seeing dilution. The key there, Tim, is that we leverage frontline teams. We want to hear him get their their feedback not just about what their customers actually demand or want from their brand, but also how they stack up against their competition.
Tim
And are you actually physically working with the teams as well? You mentioned, I think, like the sales team, our customer service team, or how far down the channel do you go? Can you actually work with distributors and retail centers to help them understand how to approach presenting this brand? You know, that’s those are the frontline people, right? They’re making the sales a lot of the times through, at least not in this industry and building materials there, a lot of the front lines, unless the company is actually going to direct, which is becoming a little bit more of a thing, but still not quite how the industry works. How far down the channel do you go? Do you have to work with people in different ways, depending on how deep they go?
Mike
Again, I mean, you’re dead on. We have to be able to get all the way down to the distributor or left level with their teams, and their reps because that’s really whose communicating a company’s brand messaging to your end client ,their end client so we can measure all the way down to that that level in that level really needs to be impacted.
Tim
I’m assuming there’s varying degrees of how you’re measuring this, the deeper down you go, there’s a little bit less than you can control. But what type of KPIs are you looking for? Maybe you can touch on each level that start to show that dilution isn’t happening, that you’re getting returns on on the brand strategy going through each one of these channels and that people are actually grabbing onto what you’re giving them from a consultation stand point.
Mike
Yeah, it’s great. So we focus on leading indicators, and I can touch on that in greater detail. But will will use our Brand Transfer Study to give us insights into where dilution is occurring. And then we go back in with what I’ll call extraordinary tactics that provide a sustained change at the at the front line. And that’s really where we shine as an organization. It allows us to be able to, both get insights and then act on those insights from frontline people, our entire team, our lifelong sellers. We understand what what works, and we try and move way beyond the typical one-sheeters, which are important. But again, we’re we’re trying to make a sea change at the front line and we know with our tactics and some of the very unique things that we’re doing, those always lead to a positive impact on sales.
Tim
So it sounds like sales is one of the main reasons why people are contacting you and the value that you can bring back to them. In addition, to well, I mean, client retention would ultimately improve sales because you’re keeping your base customers level as your outgoing marketing communications of retail centers air growing the new customer base.
Mike
Yeah, I think today, again, now more than ever, retention is gonna continue to be just just incredibly important. We know that and, you know, and we all know that the more communication that happens between a brand and their people, the more communication that happens between a brand and their core distributors, distributor wraps and ultimately, their customers. That’s gonna sustain us as we go forward. So communication continues to be and will be the key to long term success.
Tim
Yeah and with everything that’s going on with COVID-19 right now, you know you’re talking about another aspect of this too. Well, you have to. It’s a strange problem that business owners are facing depending on which essential businesses you’re a part of, right? And you know, when you’re looking at reducing expenses and limiting costs. Sometimes marketing is on the chopping block. Sometimes consultation is on the chopping block. But those activities you’re talking about communication being one of the things that can keep clients glued to you and also have them ready to come back to you if they can’t stay glued to you temporarily. And that’s one of the most important things that you have to remember. There’s a balance, probably the strike between understanding where you need to be able to cut costs but still making sure that you come out the back side of something like what we’re all going through right now in a positive way.
Mike
Yeah, I think I think your recent blog post was really spot on, and it just centering around, which we’re talking about at the moment. Now’s not the time to cut sales. Now’s not the time to make an absolute pivot away from marketing. We all have pipelines right? They’re stagnant at the moment. We’re not selling at the moment. We don’t want to start at zero when we emerge out of this and you know I think the companies that get ahead now the companies that are looking three and four months out instead of which is difficult. Look three and four days out at this point, the pace of change. But I think the companies that can that can remain discipline that can remain kind of focused on where they’re going. In spite of the the overall impacts that none of us are responsible for. I think those are the companies that are going to be as positioned as well as possible when we do get out.
Tim
Yeah, so let’s let’s talk about brand strategy itself. I mean, this is a part of what your processes and that’s part of the key driver to some of the initiatives that you help people within your consulting. What makes brand strategy is so important to that sales process? The sales teams interactions with clients?
Mike
Yeah, I think now more than ever, companies need to be very clear and concise with how they’re communicating with with their frontline people that they also have to have a frequency of communication right now that they maybe have have never done before. So again, it all kind of routes back to communication. But I think now more than ever, companies have got to stay connected. I don’t thinking about anybody, will look back and in a year from now and say while my company just really over communicated during that crisis. So I think to the extent that our companies that support branded manufacturers and building materials manufacturers and certainly other verticals, I think we need to stay very, very focused on that fact and that they’re in again, it’s it, ultimately, alignment means more today than I think it ever has.
Tim
Yeah, and staying, staying true to the brand values in the brand’s messaging in the brand mission too and keeping everyone on the same page. If you have 20 people to 200 people putting out fires 200 different ways, you’re going to spread mass confusion throughout your entire customer base. That, and if you if you ignore what’s going on, you’ve risked the idea that you aren’t aware of how it’s impacting the people that you’re trying to help, you know. So really, no, you’re right. No one’s going to say that we’re over communicating as long as you’re sticking to the brand personality, the voice and tone, your mission, your values and you know your target audience is and how they’re being affected by this. If you’re working with one of your internal staff on external vendor, that consultant, you should be able to craft the right message to make sure that everyone knows how you’re there to help them where you’ll be when this is all over and go from there.
Mike
Well said again, I think, I think companies have. I know that we have. I’m sure you have. You know, we’ve all pivoted to how can we serve? How can we continue to to help companies to be meaningful?
Tim
And to support our own people
Mike
Absolutely. Yeah, that’s that’s really spot on. I mean, that’s that’s where we all need to be right now.
Tim
So let’s let’s pretend that this isn’t happening. Even though I said we shouldn’t do that, but for the sake of the conversation if we didn’t have a crazy one or two black swan event happening right now and you know the economy’s still humming along, brand strategy and sales would be slightly different. We wouldn’t be playing so much transparency and brand meaning role as much as that would be part of it, But we would also probably more likely be driving the positioning and targeting roles and understanding the audiences that we’re working with. Do you have a way that you like to work with those elements of a brand strategy through each one of the customer service, sales and distribution channels that you’re working with?
Mike
Well, I get where you and your company are masters in that realm. Our primary focus is keeping a company aligned with their brand. Now we’ll, we’ll use tactics that we think are pretty extraordinary. Our customers will certainly tell you that we break through the noise out there, but the tools that Luminus is providing today, those are timeless and you’ll always need those resources. We remain real focused on on a company, its brand, and how that brand is being communicated. You know, we rely on companies like like Luminus and others to help a company develop its brand and messaging. We unleash that messaging internally, so we know that when that happens, great things happen on the outside of an organization in terms of results.
Tim
So let’s let’s also talk about the idea that customer attention is another way to keep sales numbers going up, too. What’s the importance of having that brand story and brand interaction with existing customers? How how are you helping people keep those numbers up to allow their new business to be the driver of the growth?
Mike
Um, yeah. I mean, I think what I think what I heard there is, I mean, retention is key turnover in in any B2B or B2B2C or frankly any B2C company reeks reeks just additional chaos on on a company. And in some cases, like with some of the companies that you do not work with, it can very dramatically impact their sales and generally you don’t see those, those numbers uptick for sometimes two or three years, depending on the tenure of the rep that that might have left that marketplace. So again, now, more than ever, retention is is critical. Now, more than ever, culture is important, and that routes back to communication. Where our company’s coming into play is how we can helped bridge that that communication with the company’s front lines
Tim
Yeah and you’re kind of talking about making sure that that you have the quality there the service there and the purpose of the company is all established that everyone is working in unison, kind of beating the same drum and supplying all the right things for the customers.
Mike
I think that ties into customer experience, right? I mean, customers. Experience certainly is not going away now more than ever. Ah thing. I think customer experience is gonna be king.
Tim
Well and you’re talking about developing relationships too right? And you can’t develop a relationship unless you understand someone and you can actually help them. And you just care about helping them and not necessarily selling them too.
Mike
Absolutely. You know, I heard a speaker a few days ago that thought said it very elegantly. You know, take commerce off the table. Help bring resources to your clients today that they need. When we come out of this, on the other hand, on the other end, we’ll all be better for it.
Tim
So let’s dive into the next aspect of this, which is working with the distributors and retail side. How are you advising people right now to help support those channels that are a little bit farther away? It’s not as easy to manage as your own staff and your own team, but like you said, they are the front line, and they are out there at the point of purchase. So what are you helping brands do to bring support to those two channels?
Mike
Clarity of messaging, concise communication and and frequent communication, I think is is, is very, very key. It’s always been important, right, but moving forward, it’s gonna continue to be even even more critical. You know our again. Our our study allows, allows us to be able to see where dilution is occurring, sometimes geographically across channels, if you will, but providing really good support of them. And not it’s not just product support, right? It’s how. How can we help you maintain your business focus right now? How can we bring additional resource is to your accounting teams your credit teams to your people that we would normally interact with? How can we give you really strong business practices a day to help help you move through this? How can we adjust terms? How can we help you again to create that bridge into a little better future?
Tim
And that matches really well with what we’re doing on the communication side. You know what we’re providing is information and education on the positioning of the products, which they obviously need to be able to sell. But then also the creative assets that they usually don’t have access to. You know, something as simple as an image library of the products. You wouldn’t believe how many companies it’s still like pulling teeth to get those assets. If you’re someone further down the chain in there, just like I wish our website look better. But we have no photos of the product. You know those. It’s very simple, easy support, things that manufacturers can do to help bolster the communications in the sales point of sale. Side to mash well with what you’re helping them with was understanding how to communicate and run these systems all the way down the chain so that the sales works its way back up.
Mike
Yeah, I think that’s very well said again. We we now is the time. I think while we’re all kind of emerging out of, you know, into a new world environment, now is the time where I think we can. We can dial back and lean into those things and and again we can. We can assess. We can figure out what’s working, what’s not working. We’ve got that time. Unfortunately, we were. We find ourselves that we’ve got an open window here, so looks leverage it. Let’s let’s strengthen our communication so that when business does come back and it will, we’re all prepared and ready to rock it.
Tim
Yeah coming from a position of strength.
Mike
Absolutely.
Tim
So you have a couple of clients in the building materials industry you’ve mentioned. We’ve talked off off recording about some of those. You’ve worked in industry enough for. You know that what? The current trends are a little bit different now trying to predict the future. But if you were to think about what companies are doing right now in the building materials in building products spaces, how do you think that might change over the next, let’s say, five years moving forward. What can people prepare for from a brand strategy standpoint or a market demand standpoint?
Mike
Yeah, I think that that it differs between B2B companies certainly, and B2C, right? Right now, for obvious reasons, B2B is going to, I believe, ultimately come out of this a bit more solid. B 2C is is, is gonna be a little slower turn as I think we can all imagine. Well will happen. Relationships remain constant. Customer experience remains constant. I think the companies that, you know, you mentioned how we listen, how we how we engage our customers with and and how we approach them with empathy and understanding and how we do that. It’s it’s It’s almost a phrase that I would call institutional emotional intelligence. You know, how can we pivot there, find our our core, stay focused on our mission and communicate that across our entire supply chain, if you will, That’s that. Those are the companies that I believe will will will really thrive once we get back on firm footing.
Tim
Well, let’s look at a house. If you don’t have a strong foundation, you can’t weather the storm, and this is one of those opportunities or not. Inoperable isn’t so. It’s a situation right now where if you have just been pounding the value of a product and selling to people, it’s easy for them to move away from you. If you don’t have all the connection, communication and brand meaning to go along with that value of the product, especially with how innovation happens now. You could release dozens of products and you’d still have the same brand message. And people would want to know what those products are because they like why you do what you do, how you’re doing it, and then how you treat them most of all.
Mike
That’s well said again, Simon Sinek taught us tow to start with why and that that will ring true for companies today. I mean, you certainly product is important. Product performance is important. You know, those those today or absolutes, what ultimately is going to rain True, I believe, are the companies that really surround their people communicate very, very well with their people and those companies that that really empower their teams to go out to their customers with with clarity, with confidence and with with a little belief and pride that those companies are going to support their customers. And again, I think I think if companies focus there and stay focused there, then I’m very confident that that great things will happen.
Tim
I will say that to the communication side of this conversation when it comes to connecting with consumers and customers and giving them what they need outside of just the product. A lot of that is trending into content generation right now, whether it’s installation guides, product comparisons, fireside chats with product developers and key customers, or doing case studies with with high profile customers. Those things air starting to become a little bit more relevant. So you just aren’t always communicating. The product is good for you. It’s a good value buy from us.
Mike
Yeah, well said, Well said. I mean, we’ve got a pivot. And again, it’s holistic customer experience today, and it’s meeting people where they are and coming forward. I think with resource is those are the companies today that are going to be remembered as we go through this period for the right reasons.
Tim
Yeah, and who knows what happens? Moving forward with digital communication now, too, with potentially work processes changing after this experience that we’re all going through right now to you might have more remote workers more distant teams, you might be able to reach customers further than you did before or thought you could before, so having that alignment across those is going to pay off 10 fold.
Mike
Yeah, well said. I mean, I we worry about industries like the restaurant industry is as an example. But, you know, I also worry about the corporate real estate market. You know, I think that in large part, companies and their employees will race back to the marketplace, and their their brick and mortar offices and retail shops. But I would certainly not be surprised if there’s a pretty significant shift in in the corporate real estate world for sure.
Tim
Is there anything else based on the interview ah brand process or customer interactions and benefits that you would want to make sure we touch on before we wrap up?
Mike
Yeah, I think Tim. Again, I just appreciate the opportunity. And, you know, I would offer up a open a prayer that all of your listeners will will remain upbeat and, you know, continue to really look 3 to 4 months out instead of the here and now. That’s, you know, our company put together sort of ah, here and now approach to the current situation that that we find ourselves. But most importantly, it’s, um it’s the next phase of this. It’s the how can we help companies accelerate as we emerge out of this? So, you know, I would just encourage all all companies out there to remain upbeat over communicate with with their with their people, not just their people, that their distribution partners and their reps down to the to the street level. Certainly. And I think if we do that now, I think we’ll come out the other side of this stronger will have better relationships and those of the companies that will remain vibrant.
Tim
Yeah, we have to be good to each other understanding and make sure that we take care of what needs to get done still too.
Mike
Yeah, well said.
Tim
Before we go, where can people find out more about you? And if you want to plug InnerView and let people know where to find that, that’d be great, too.
Mike
Yeah, I’d love to. It’s ah innerviewgroup.com. It’s i n n e r v i e w group interview group dot com And I’m just at m bowers, b like boy o w e r s @innerviewgroup.com. And again, Tim, I really appreciate the opportunity.
Tim
Yeah, no problem. Thanks for coming on.
Mike
Awesome.
Tim
If you’re interested in hearing more stories and strategic insights from industry experts, please subscribe to the building brands podcast on Apple, Spotify or Google. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please post a review and share with others who may be interested as well. Thanks for listening.