Brad Brooks, the director of communications for Primus, a Boston-based company with a nationwide financial sales distribution system, was busy working on an important speech for Sheila Burke, the company’s newly-appointed president. Burke’s appointment had come on the heels of her predecessor’s abrupt termination two months earlier. The entire organization was feeling uncertain. Would heads roll? What direction would Burke take?
So it was with a sense of foreboding that Brooks, answering the phone, heard the new president’s voice. “Brad, as you know we’re working on the company’s strategic direction and I’m deep into the annual budget. I’m frankly concerned about the millions we’re spending on communication. I’m also concerned that we don’t have any kind of social media presence. Your department is behind the times. Put together a high-level summary of the resource allocation, people, and money, and meet me on Wednesday to discuss. I’m thinking of having consultants come in and do a communication audit.”
Brooks stared out his office window, the Charles River shrouded in fog. Where to begin? It was difficult, he believed, to measure the ROI of communication. Moreover, there never seemed enough time – or the skill set – for his team to focus on measuring and assessing results. Everyone was scrambling to ‘put out fires,’ especially with the change in leadership. And just the thought of outsiders coming in to conduct an audit gave him an anxiety attack. That evening, Brad reviewed the company’s communication portfolio, the annual budget, and how members of the communication team were deployed.
Brooks also knew that the company’s annual sales force survey would be deployed the following week. His plan was to suggest that Burke wait for the survey results before taking any steps to revamp the communications function.
The company’s communication portfolio:
Public Website: Brooks had to admit the company’s public website was a clunker. The platform was outdated and relied heavily on IT support, which was costly. Content changes needed to be passed along to the IT team, which implemented ‘mods’ on a biweekly basis. Discussions were underway to transition the site to a self-publishing platform by Q1 2018 so that the Communication team could publish content with no IT involvement.
Perhaps more seriously, the site’s purpose was unclear. It contained educational content accumulated over several years, some of which was embarrassingly outdated, but there was no focus to the content and no calls to action. Traffic data
showed that customers often used the site to access their online account information, but other sections of the site had little usage. In fact, the number of total visits was steadily falling. At the same time, the site was not generating any sales.
Company Intranet: The prior year, the corporate intranet, PrimusNet, was transitioned to a self-publishing platform, eliminating the need for IT support. That was a good thing. However, maintaining the site was absorbing more and more of the staff’s time. The volume of content provided by other departments was staggering. Brooks had to admit that the site was difficult to navigate and that it was difficult to prioritize content in terms of its importance to the sales process. One person coordinated the daily publication of news, while two others managed content on the site.
One troubling sign was that only 25% of the sales force accessed PrimusNet on a regular basis. Another was the negative feedback given the site in the yearly sales force survey – the major complaints:
• “Information about the advanced markets (business owners, affluent) is almost impossible to find.” • “It’s too difficult to find the information I’m looking for.” • “Much of the information isn’t relevant – I’m inundated with useless information.”
Monthly Magazine: The company’s monthly publication for the sales force had not changed much in recent years. The editorial mix consisted of interviews with senior advisors (who were almost exclusively white males), sales ideas, product descriptions. Anecdotal feedback from opinion leaders in the sales force was that they liked the magazine, but there was no evidence that it increased sales or that the majority of readers really cared about the publication.
Newsletters: Over the years, the number of newsletters published by the group had proliferated. It seemed that every field management constituency “needed” a dedicated communication vehicle: Managing Partners, Sales Managers, Marketing Directors, Brokerage Managers, Operations Managers. Producing these newsletters tied up both staff and resources.
Public Relations: One member of the staff handled public relations, both focusing on industry media and attracting new advisors to the company. Public relations consisted of pitching stories to trade publications, with modest success.
Executive Communication: Brad and another member of the team developed Powerpoint presentations for use by the President at periodic sales office meetings. Sheila Burke had expressed frustration at not being able to get her message out to the entire sales force in a more timely way. Powerpoint presentations and the monthly column in Power Selling just did not, as she commented sarcastically, “cut the mustard.”
Advertising: Primus did not have wide name recognition among consumers, and executives were not interested in spending millions to raise the brand’s profile. National ad spend was directed at recruiting new sales reps in national industry publications. Consumer advertising dollars were allocated to local sales offices, which could decide how and where to spend the money. The team had just begun to investigate digital marketing opportunities.
Primus Sales Force Survey
Sales Representatives – all levels of experience and tenure with the company. At the time this online survey was conducted, Primus had 2,355 sales representatives in 82 sales offices across the United States.
The response rate for Sales Representatives was 65%.
Sales Managers – people with sales management responsibilities – recruiting, training and supervising sales reps, overseeing sales activity, providing organizational leadership, etc. At the time the survey was conducted, Primus had 344 sales managers in 82 sales offices across the United States.
The response rate for Sales Managers was 91%.
Response categories (1-7 scale, with 1 being lowest and 7 being highest in terms of agreement, importance, or satisfaction)
Rate your level of agreement with the following statements on a scale of 1 to 7
1.The monthly sales magazine provides useful information in helping me do my job.
2. The intranet portal provides useful information in helping me do my job.
3. I receive the right amount of communication.
4. The company provides information in a way that allows me to quickly find what I need.
Rate the level of importance on a scale of 1 to 7
5. Importance of communication to sales success
Rate your level of satisfaction with the following on a scale of 1 to 7
6. Satisfaction with communication received.
7. I have a clear sense of company direction.
Response categories (1-7 scale, with 1 being lowest and 7 being highest in terms of agreement, importance, or satisfaction):
• Positive (6, 7) • On the fence (4, 5) • Negative (1-3)
NOTE: Percent change from prior year’s survey is shown in ( ) — two questions were not asked in the prior year survey
Level of Agreement Sales Representatives Sales Managers
The following communication vehicles “provides useful information to my job”:
Monthly sales magazine (NEW QUESTION FROM LAST YEAR – NO YoY %)
38% On the Fence
31% On the Fence
Intranet portal 34% (-15%) Positive
50% (+2%) On the Fence
16% (+13%) Negative
40% (-6%) Positive
50% (+3%) On the Fence
10% (+3%) Negative
I receive the right amount of communication
19% (+4%) Positive
68% (-8%) On the Fence
13% (+4%) Negative
18% (-1%) Positive
73% (+1%) On the Fence
9% (0%) Negative
The company provides information in a way
that allows me to quickly find what I need
10% (-5%) Positive
49% (-2%) On the Fence
41% (+7%) Negative
14% (0%) Positive
52% (-6%) On the Fence
34% (+6%) Negative
Level of importance
Importance of communication to sales success 27% (-3%) Positive
48% (-2%) On the Fence
25% (+5%) Negative
33% (+2%) Positive
52% (0%) On the Fence
15% (-2%) Negative
Level of satisfaction
Satisfaction with communication received 19% (-5%) Positive
52% (-2%) On the Fence
29% (+7%) Negative
21% (-5%) Positive
49% (-5%) On the Fence
30% (+10%) Negative
I have a clear sense of company direction (NEW QUESTION FROM LAST YEAR – NO YoY %)
30% On the Fence
50% On the Fence
Feedback Sales Force Survey Assignment This show how this assignment will be reviewed
Section Comments Key Points of Reference Part 1 (33%) Critique the quality of the survey questions Quality of the survey: • This survey is a prime example of what happens when we don’t relate specific questions to KPIs – how do the questions relate to communication effectiveness? • Several questions include terms that are vague or can be interpreted in multiple ways (e.g., the meaning of the word ‘right,’ satisfaction with what ‘communication,’ etc.). • All of these questions use a seven point scale – could the survey have included other types of questions such as rank order? • The responses to most of these questions are not actionable – they are indications of vague attitudes • How would Hutton critique the survey? “Good questions reveal what’s going on. Bad questions obscure it. Good questions point to solutions, bad questions do not. Good questions resonate with staff. Bad questions bemuse them.” (p. 32)
Part 2 (33%) Analyze the results
Key findings: 1. In general, when reviewing results, focus attention on the largest positive and negative scores. 2. Overall, satisfaction with communication has slipped since last year. 3. Managers tend to be more satisfied, Sales Reps less satisfied – what are the implications of this? Role of sales managers as conduits of information between HQ and sales reps – we would therefore hope to see much more positive responses from sales managers. 4. A large proportion of respondents seems to be ‘on the fence’ 5. Among the communication vehicles, the intranet scores the best, but the large negative scores for allowing “me to quickly find what I need” – a critical finding since we know that sales people have little patience. 6. The new CEO is launching a new strategy – but the sales force seems clueless about company direction – a serious issue! 7. How does material in Chapter 12 of Paine help us understand some of these results?
Part 3 (33%) What issues would you like to explore in more depth
Potential approaches: • The challenge is to identify a few critical areas to assess – where can we “move the needle” in a positive direction with respect to communication effectiveness in two ways: reduce the big negatives, accentuate the big positives • Sending out another, re-worded survey at this stage might not be productive – but we should consider a redesign of the survey with questions tied to KPIs – even though we will lose some benchmarking
• Deploy focus groups especially with sales reps to probe about what’s working and what’s not – we need to dig deeper with this audience • Conduct usability analysis of the intranet to enable quicker and more intuitive navigation and organization of content – we can implement changes with immediate impact • Explore: how the sales force currently receives information and how they would prefer to receive it, where are the gaps? • Big red flag is the strategic understanding results – we have a new leader and a new strategy! This has to be a top priority for further investigation!
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