Tips for a successful merger or acquisition

A merger or acquisition is a sensitive process for all parties involved. Misinformation can abound, egos can be bruised and business relationships can be damaged.

One major cause of problems for companies are rumors and misconceptions that can run rampant through all levels of employees and stakeholders, as well as communities surrounding the businesses. Preventing inaccurate information from spreading is vital to all parties involved.

Communications planning should happen well in advance of an announcement, even though actual communication may occur a week, a few days or even hours before or proceeding a closed deal.

Implementing a transparent communications program ensures that employees and the marketplace understand exactly how the deal affects them. Without transparency, employees and stakeholders begin to lose confidence in the new company.

Both groups want all their questions answered, and they want them answered yesterday. Flawless response time and communication routes are crucial to effectively ease the concerns of employees, investors, vendors, customers and even the media.

Quick, precise response

Companies must prepare to beat fast-paced social media and text rumors, as soon as a merger or acquisition seems imminent. Management should immediately identify “key messages” that contain useful and comprehensive information.

Initiating a proactive strategy — including face-to-face meetings with those most affected by the deal, a schedule of updates and a plan for 11th-hour changes — is essential to create a smooth transition process.

Nothing is worse than having your employees find out about a major change in the company from acquaintances. Why didn’t anyone at work inform them? Will they lose their jobs? Will their co-workers lose their jobs? What about benefits packages? These concerns should be addressed before the rumor mill kicks into action.

Internal communications

When announcing a merger or acquisition, it’s imperative to provide accurate information and avoid making promises that cannot be kept. If management takes the time to discuss the deal’s benefits and drawbacks, employees are more likely to respond positively, instead of resisting change.

Employees expect straightforward and honest information about what the deal means for them. Anticipate questions that may arise and have a solid answer for each. Regular updates should be communicated through management, question-and-answer sessions, staff meetings and company newsletters and emails.

External communications

Alerting employees should be the top priority, but other stakeholders — customers, vendors, community members and other key audiences — are equally important. Communicating with key media outlets allows a company to better control the message by providing information directly to the media, rather than allowing misinformed sources to speculate about the deal.

 
The perfect mix for internal and external communication plans involves early and comprehensive communications planning, implementing communications quickly when ready, utilizing all available communication routes and delivering clear and accurate messages.

Companies that make communications plans a priority during a merger or acquisition will emerge from the process as an organization that stakeholders, employees and the media can trust.

 

Kelly Borth is the CEO and chief strategy officer of GREENCREST, a 25-year-old brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into industry leaders™. Kelly is one of 35 certified brand strategists in North America and works with companies to establish brands and build brand value for their businesses.

Growing revenue by nurturing leads

Generating leads — for most companies — is a relatively straightforward process of attracting website visits, trade show contacts, buying lists, outbound email campaigns or telemarketing, among other things.

The problem is that most of these leads (73 percent, according to MarketingSherpa) are not yet ready to buy — or to even talk to a salesperson. But it’s a mistake to ignore those leads. Studies report that 80 percent of leads not ready to buy today will go on to buy from you or a competitor within the next 24 months.

This is where lead nurturing fits in.

Lead nurturing defined

Lead nurturing is the process of creating a relevant and consistent dialogue with potential customers through regularly scheduled, customized communications.

Lead nurturing is typically focused on converting leads that are already in your database, with a goal of earning their business when they are ready to buy — next month, next quarter or next year.

How it works

Envision your sales process as an upside down funnel. Leads enter at the wide end of the funnel. Once leads are in the funnel, you need to nurture them with helpful, relevant information that moves potential buyers through each stage of consideration at a natural pace until they’re ready to be passed on to sales.

It starts with building a number of different customer tracks to address various products of interest, pain points and common objections during each stage of the sales cycle. Leads are placed on a track based on what you know about them.

Here is an example of three tracks based on key customer questions:

  • Early stage — education: Do I have a problem? Does it impact my business? How are others solving it?
  • Middle stage — solution: Will this solve my problem? Is this the best way to improve my business?
  • Late stage – selection: Can I justify this expense? Is this vendor a trusted partner?

A common mistake marketers make is to think of lead nurturing as email communication. Instead, think of it as a workflow or series of communications in which every step has a clear and concise objective, whether it is moving someone to the next stage, or driving another desirable action.

The end result

Nurturing has the power to significantly speed up your sales cycle, with plenty of research to back up this assertion:

  • Nurtured leads produce, on average, a 20 percent increase in sales opportunities versus non-nurtured leads. (DemandGen Report, 2014)
  • Companies that excel in lead nurturing generate 50 percent more sales-ready leads at 33 percent lower cost per lead. (Forrester Research, 2014)
  • Successful lead nurturing breeds educated, gratified customers who channel their satisfaction into their purchase sizes, making 47 percent larger purchases than non-nurtured leads. (Kapost, 2014)

A planned lead nurturing process actively builds new relationships with prospective customers and keeps a company top of mind.

With a nurturing program in place, prospects are no longer getting barraged with generic sales emails — instead they are receiving targeted communications based on their inquiries, interests and more. Perhaps that is why the sales results are dramatically better.

 

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for GREENCREST, a 25-year-old brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into industry leaders™. Kelly is one of 35 certified brand strategists in North America and works with companies to establish brands and build brand value for their businesses.

Engaging employees to live the brand

The Chief Marketing Officers Council and Executive Networks Inc. collaborated in 2015 to produce a report titled, “Making the Workplace a Brand-Defining Space.” The report explored ways in which marketing and human resource leaders could engage employees to bring a company’s values, ethics, commitments and qualities to life within the organization.

What I loved about the report is that it explored social media platforms being used by leading consumer brands to retain and recruit, build customer-centric cultures, recognize and reward innovation and output, and drive productivity, performance and motivation by “gamifying” the workplace.

Start the conversation

According to the report, areas of conversation included such questions as:

  • Does your company have a formal brand platform with shared values, ethics and collective buy-in?
  • How important is your brand persona to employee recruitment and customer gratification?
  • What value does management place on organizational branding and employee engagement?
  • Do you have a well-defined corporate culture that is universally embraced by the organization? If so, how has this been achieved? If not, what is lacking?
  • How well do your employees reinforce and deliver on brand promises and claims?
  • How are you encouraging, rewarding, measuring and amplifying this?
  • To what degree is your brand personality reflected in your people and workplace?
  • In what ways are you engaging, motivating and recognizing employees to underscore brand qualities?
  • How are work styles changing and what are you doing to adjust to the millennial mindset?
  • Which platforms, methodologies, mobile applications or protocols are you using to do this?
  • Which business events, milestones or commitments require active employee participation and partner support?
  • How does your organization use social media, and how are employees and partners contributing to this?

These questions are a good starting point for assessing where your organization stands and may provide some insight to ways you could better align the company’s brand clues within your organization.

Finding the disconnect

Here are some of the report’s findings, as gleaned from the executive summary.

Nearly 70 percent of marketing and human resource leaders believe their management teams are strongly committed to their company’s image, identify, culture and collective ethos, as well as shared values and employee participation in organizational branding. Yet, just 37 percent say they have a well-defined corporate culture that is universally embraced by the organization.

Brand persona is seen by almost 90 percent as essential, very or moderately important to attracting new hires and building a lasting relationship with customers. Only 62 percent, however, reported having a formal brand platform that defines shared values, ethics and collective buy-in to a singular value proposition.

Leaders first

In order for marketing and human resources to succeed in making the workplace a brand-defining space, a company must first uncover its brand. This is a top-down, CEO-driven initiative with the company’s leadership team as the main brand ambassadors.

The leadership must first embrace the value of the brand and its impact on the company’s future growth, customer loyalty and employee satisfaction, as well as its ability to drive greater profitability and competitive advantage.

From this foundation, a brand that is enculturated into an organization is a game-changing, transformational market advantage.

 

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for GREENCREST, a 25-year-old brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into industry leaders™. Kelly is one of 35 certified brand strategists in North America and works with companies to establish brands and build brand value for their businesses.

Crisis communications: Plan for the unexpected

As CEOs, it is our responsibility to manage the unexpected. My industry labels this as crisis communications or reputation management.

Organizations can successfully plan how to respond to worst-case scenarios, and — in doing so — make us CEOs less reactive to situations where personal emotions and immediate response don’t allow us to think as clearly and rationally as we normally might.

I have counseled numerous companies through crisis situations — everything from illegal immigrants and negativity around organized labor contract negotiations to unfavorable actions of key executives to job-related deaths and injuries, including suicides. With the advent of social media and 24/7 news reporting, we’ve all witnessed stories about companies who have done a poor job (or a good job as in the case of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams) of handling communications during a crisis.

Most of us know we are not immune to a crisis, but few of us are prepared should an unexpected event happen.

When minutes turn into seconds

Warren Buffett said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” This couldn’t be more relevant today. With access to social media, those five minutes are more like seconds.

Be prepared and have a plan

A good plan considers all possible crisis situations the company could encounter — anything from a disgruntled employee who uses social media as a platform to air complaints to a tragic occurrence — and everything in between.

Establish a company policy to guide employees on what to do should any of the potential situations arise. With easy access to a checklist or plan of action, employees can react and respond quickly.

Consider a company code of ethics as an additional guide in the event an employee should have to step in due to unforeseen circumstances.

A company’s first response is to attend to the safety and health of any employee, or any persons involved. Your plan and checklist should identify emergency response issues such as injury, death and how and when to contact family members.

A company’s second response is to dig into the cause of the problem or situation. Get the facts. This should be done with the company’s leadership and its legal and communications counsel.

A third response is to develop a communications strategy and to provide a statement to its public audiences — employees, customers, vendors, the media and whoever else needs to be informed.

Depending on the situation, this may all need to come together in a matter of a few hours — sometimes less. Having a plan will help you get the job done. It will also help if you maintain an updated company fact sheet and have good media relationships already in place.

In all cases, a company should determine at least two senior company representatives and arm them with facts about the situation and comments of how the company is responding to the situation. This doesn’t mean that they have to have all the answers, but it does mean they are available, responsive and working openly and honestly with everyone.

It is important to approach a crisis situation with genuine concern and the facts. Remember: The world is watching.

 

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for GREENCREST, a 25-year-old brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into industry leaders™. Kelly is one of 35 certified brand strategists in North America and works with companies to establish brands and build brand value for their businesses.

Six ways to lead with strategy

Strategy is a game changer. It’s what separates the players from the industry leaders. If you want to change the game and take the lead, here are six keys to success.

Brand is your competitive strategy. Brand is a statement of why the business matters and the gaping hole that would emerge if your company didn’t exist. It’s the passion that drives the organization.

Is your business making the world a better place or transforming your industry? Make sure your company matters in order to achieve or sustain a position as market-share leader.

Company culture is your people strategy. Culture is a part of your brand. If your people aren’t delivering your brand promise to the marketplace at every presale, sale and post-sale touch point, then your brand doesn’t have a leg to stand on. You don’t want customers to experience less than what they expect or inconsistency.

A strong culture values people and provides support, training and management structure so employees can succeed in delivering the company’s promise.

Marketing strategy paves the way for you to grow, build a reputation, become known and understood. A solid marketing strategy starts with a clear vision of company goals and what needs to happen to make those numbers a reality.

By looking longer term with a three- to five-year vision, it addresses the necessary posturing and planning needed to lead the company to its next level of growth.

A marketing strategy isn’t developed in a vacuum; it takes the entire leadership team to chart the enterprise in the right direction.

With a clear marketing vision, the sales strategy can kick into high gear. Start with understanding how many new relationships will drive growth and what industries or product segments are targets.

Establishing a strategy for targeting prospects and driving leads is complex in today’s online, voice mail and mobile world, yet we know that products and services are being consumed at unprecedented levels. Are you getting your share?

If you have a strong company brand and culture, you probably already focus on customer service. If you knew that 80 percent of your customers were at risk, would that motivate you to develop a stronger customer-retention strategy?

Most companies’ customers are merely satisfied with the service they receive. That means they’re willing to look at other options. Only when you exceed expectations do they become loyal customers.

Having a strong marketing strategy to grow the business is meaningless if your customer attrition is too high. You work hard and spend a lot to attract new business. Strategize to keep them by exceeding expectations.

Good planning and strategy deserves to be implemented — with gusto! Any other implementation strategy will affect results.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t walk before you run, but too often companies handicap their organizations by underfunding implementation (you know who you are). It’s like having a shiny new Ferrari in your garage but you never gas it up to drive it. Be committed and focused to stay on track and hit the established milestones.

 

Kelly Borth is the CEO and chief strategy officer of GREENCREST, a 25-year-old brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into industry leaders™. Kelly is one of 35 certified brand strategists in North America and works with companies to establish brands and build brand value for their businesses.

New year: new goals, behaviors, tasks

This time of year business owners are busy establishing goals for the New Year. Most can look at historical data to determine what sales goal is possible for their companies to achieve, as they want to grow at a pace equal to or better than the previous year. Some ask their sales team for input. Others just communicate the goal the team needs to achieve. Some will get lucky, while others will be disappointed when their sales team trends behind goal.

So, how do you get your sales team to be accountable? It starts with leadership understanding exactly where growth will come from.

Reaching a goal takes clear vision and a plan for how to get there.

Define where new growth comes from

Most businesses sell products and services across multiple industries. Not all product lines are growing or profitable. Not all industries are emerging — some may be stagnant or shrinking. Sometimes there is market saturation that prevents a company from growing a particular product or in a specific geographic region. An aggressive competitor may be eroding market share.

A sales and marketing strategy for winning market share from competitors is different than acquiring untapped market share.

Will new business come from your current customers or new relationships? It’s also important to look at your historical customer attrition rate and factor that into the equation.

Armed with this information, an organization can begin to lay the foundation of a plan of action.

Establish the plan

My experience has been that most companies need to develop new customer relationships to realize the majority of their growth goal. Let’s focus there.

Look at the average annual sales volume by customer type so you know how many new customers the company needs to reach its sales goal. When you understand, for example, that $1 million in new business equates to 10 new customers, it’s easier to understand what activity it will take to secure those relationships. Knowing this provides a key piece in the planning puzzle.

Next, determine what has to be accomplished in order to win these new clients. How many prospects? How many calls? How many leads? How many new prospect meetings? How many proposals?

Establish milestones and metrics to track how accomplishments are trending compared to goal.

Managing behaviors, tasks

With the exception of February, there are about 22 workdays in a month. What your sales team needs to do every day should be planned, understood and measured — but not necessarily micro-managed.

At the end of the day, you need to know that the right level of activity occurred to assure the sales goal is on track for the day, week, month, quarter and year. We assume our sales people know this, but the majority don’t.

If you have a sales manager, this is his or her role. If you don’t, assign it to someone who can ensure your sales team is moving toward the company’s growth goal.

 

Kelly Borth is the CEO and Chief Strategy Officer of GREENCREST, a 25-year-old brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into market leaders.

Which social media networks should my company use?

Social media can be a great tool to help drive traffic to a company website, engage and develop relationships, and offer an online experience that helps communicate a brand.

Many business owners believe they need a presence on every social media network, while others don’t see the value in any. The truth is, not every social media network will benefit every business.
Typically, it’s best to focus on maintaining two to five social networks. The tricky part, however, is knowing which social networks are most beneficial for your business.

What is your social media goal?

Some companies want to engage employees on social media to help foster a culture. Some may wish to engage with customers and potential customers to increase brand recognition and drive website traffic. Defining a social media goal and audience will help determine which social networks to use.

For example, Facebook is typically great for engaging with employees and some vendors. LinkedIn can also be ideal for vendors and possibly potential customers.

Many reporters and journalists are on Twitter, so it is a perfect channel to build rapport with the media.

If you are targeting customers and potential customers, some businesses have had success with Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Google+ is almost necessary for search engine optimization.

What do you sell?

If you sell a product or service that is very visual, focus on a social media network that is also visual such as Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.

If your company is more B2B, LinkedIn is typically the most strategic, as many decision-makers are active on LinkedIn. It is also a great tool for sales people to use for networking and HR to use for employee recruitment.

Is your product or service slightly complicated? Host a YouTube channel with videos that show how it works. Share the videos on other social networks and on your website.

What types of content do you already have?

Has your company already developed case studies or white papers? Share them on LinkedIn and receive a large amount of clicks. Do you have a number of photos that capture your employees working or having fun? Behind-the-scenes photos perform well on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Do you have captivating images of your work or products? Share them on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook. Also, include an engaging caption and use relevant hashtags.

Articles perform well on LinkedIn and Twitter. It’s a best practice to share your blog articles on all of your social networks to help increase blog traffic. Company press releases also perform well on these channels.

Does your industry use niche social platforms?

Many industries have their own dedicated social media channels. If yours is one of them, seriously consider becoming active on it.

 

There are hundreds of social media networks that can help a business’s online marketing efforts. When choosing which one to use, keep your goal, audience, content and industry in mind. Strategic choices reap the most rewards.

 

Kelly Borth is the CEO and Chief Strategy Officer of GREENCREST, a 25-year-old brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into market leaders. Kelly is one of 35 certified brand strategists in North America and offers a Build Your Brand DIY Workshop® in Central Ohio for executives who want to learn how to better brand their businesses.

Visualize where your brand stands

The Brand Value Pyramid™ is a tool for CEOs to visualize their company brand value. It illustrates some of the most common brand assets.

To assess your company’s brand, you start at the bottom of the pyramid and continue upward, going from lowest to highest value.

Low value: brand features/attributes

Most brands offer a suitable price point. This value is in the worth a customer places on it. Product offering is essential in most cases, but not all; it depends on your competitors. You may present hundreds of SKUs or a limited number. Stellar customer service, friendly return policies and Internet sales make doing business with your company easy in the eyes of the customer.

High value: brand visuals

Visual elements are the first opportunity to distinguish your brand. Your logo, collateral materials, website, etc., are mandatory for increased value. But, don’t think for a minute that this is brand development. Until your brand’s unique distinction has been discovered, don’t start the visual identity process.

Higher value: brand esteem

To grow the value of your brand, define a sales experience that is second-to-none. What will make doing business with your company memorable? Most people will put price aside if the experience is enjoyable.

Reputation can be the vanguard of a good, highly valued brand.

Every company has a culture — a personality. A grumpy old mechanic’s behavior may be acceptable because you know under that crusty facade is a good heart, but that’s not a terrific brand asset. A brand that is quirky, brash or even savoir-faire can have strength, but only if its audience is attracted to or relates with its ways.

Highest value: brand merit

What does the relationship with your brand and its customers have to do with brand value? Everything. When customers enjoy or find value in your brand, they tell others. They wear your logo as a badge of loyalty, which results in repeat and referral sales.

Almost everything a company does that is unique can be trademarked — proprietary processes, unique approaches, specialized tools and so on. When these trademarked processes and procedures (brand points) are added to other proprietary practices, you create a brand bundle — a collection of assets or portfolio of services competitors cannot provide.

Anywhere an audience encounters your brand in a place other than the point of sale is a connection. So how does your brand connect? Where are customers and prospects encountering your business beyond paid marketing efforts? There is great value in this connection.

A company’s purpose, cause and belief are as important as its brand offerings. Toms® shoes has a lot of competitors but it’s distinguished by its purpose. Why does your company exist? How are you changing your industry, your customers’ businesses and/or the world in which we live?

 

Kelly Borth is the CEO and Chief Strategy Officer of GREENCREST is a 25-year-old brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into market leaders

Get in the online media game with these tools

Over the past decade, three significant things have redefined what CEOs need to achieve marketing success. Online and smartphone technology has evolved, and the millennial generation has moved into influential roles within business. This has caused a shift from traditional media to online media.

Here is what you need to do to be part of the online game. Don’t, however, toss traditional media aside — marketing success will come to companies that balance both.

Website

You don’t need to start over, but your site needs to be up to date with Web standards from a usability, search optimization and mobile responsive perspective. Since the objective of online marketing is to drive all traffic to the website and engage users once they are there, investing in a top-notch website is foundational for businesses to compete.

Organic and paid search

A link to your company website needs to display on page one or two when someone searches for products and services you offer. Otherwise, your website is not being found. Organic search engine optimization is complex and driven by keywords and phrases placed within the code of your website and optimized content marketing.

Paid search is Google or Bing/Yahoo AdWords campaigns that can put your company website on page one of a search based on keywords typed into the search bar and a bidding strategy that displays your ad based on criteria you can determine when setting up a campaign.

A best practice is to do both organic and paid search.

Online advertising

If you have not considered digital display or social media advertising, you need to. The fact that 57 percent of the time a buyer has already conducted online research and short-listed potential vendors means your company needs to be visible online.

Email campaigns

Email campaigns are used to nurture relationships your company already has with prospective buyers and current customers. Email marketing rules require opt-in email relationships with your company.

Marketing automation

Marketing automation is a lead nurturing process that keeps an interested buyer engaged. It is a strategic campaign that combines email, content and website marketing to provide the best opportunity to generate a marketing lead.

Sales automation

Sales automation is an online version of telemarketing that is similar but not the same as marketing automation. It automates the prospect qualification process and necessary follow-up to engage a prospect.

Mobile marketing

Website analytics are proving that more people are getting to company websites via their mobile device than desktop or tablets. The use of smartphones has reached market saturation.

Social media

If you have a social media strategy, it can make a huge difference to the success you have driving traffic to your website from your social media posts. So do it with purpose.

 

Kelly Borth is the CEO and Chief Strategy Officer of GREENCREST, a 25-year-old brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into market leaders.

Think of social media as an online newsletter

I still run across companies that struggle with understanding the value of social media and the strategy needed to make it an effective communications channel.

They lack an understanding of what type of content is meaningful and the discipline to post, monitor and measure frequently enough to build a loyal following and produce solid results.

In attempting to help CEOs better understand the role social media plays in the overall communications mix, I have found myself describing it as the new-age newsletter. This analogy seems to have cleared the haze for most and provided a better understanding of how to tackle this untamed frontier.

Defined themes for content

Smart businesses need to understand this medium and learn how to do it effectively.

Some of us early adopters have been using social media for more than eight years now — but while most business owners have social media pages, they openly admit they don’t have a clue how to leverage social media for commerce.

Ten years ago, my company helped businesses break down the “blank paper phobia” by defining a content strategy for printed newsletters. We would break the content into themes, usually something like:

  • From the Top — president’s message.
  • Team Talk — focus on a staff member profile, staff achievements or authored column.
  • Success Story — focus on a customer profile, solution.
  • Industry Update — sharing and educating customers, showcasing specialized knowledge and expertise.
  • Project Gallery — photos of completed jobs, statistics of results.
  • Making a Difference — company community or industry service.

Each time we put together the next newsletter we knew exactly what stories were needed to fit within the defined themes. As a result, creating copy and getting the newsletter produced and in the mail was easier and more efficient.

Social media is no different.

Plan your strategy

Think about your social media content strategy as an online newsletter. Consider the audience and determine what information would be of interest. Don’t bombard them with a monotonous message. Create bite-size themes.

Just like newsletters, social media is a visual medium. Provide graphics and pictures that help communicate the company’s message. Keep your messaging short and to the point, and include links or embed videos that provide more information.

If you remember the newsletters of yesterday you might also recall that the headlines were catchy and the copy was engaging and interesting. The same techniques are effective today in engaging viewers with your social media posts.

And by all means, let your company’s personality shine through. Viewers will pause and read your material if it is interesting or entertaining.

 

Kelly Borth is the CEO and chief strategy officer of GREENCREST, a 25-year-old brand development, strategic and interactive marketing and public relations firm that turns market players into market leaders.