“Ultimately communicating a company’s message is not just recitation of a few facts. It’s about attaching it to the company mission in a meaningful way so that on a day-to-day level every employee – no matter their function – can tie what they’re doing back to the success of the company. People hunger for connecting their day-to-day job with how that work eventually affects customers,” says Anurag Wadehra, chief marketing officer at Baynote. “That bridging has to happen. Without that, the marketing proposition and claims are like shelfware – they just look pretty.”
Many companies today have a big enough challenge just trying to align their sales and marketing teams, let alone aligning the entire company around messaging. On top of that, many also must deal at the same time with the issues of changing their business model or entering new markets. Employee training is time-consuming and can be costly.
So I was naturally curious when I learned that Baynote’s approach to a program for training all employees on company messaging is lean, innovative and so engaging that some employees voluntarily spend their time after work to stay and help shape the program.
Founded in 2005, Silicon Valley-based Baynote specializes in providing personalized customer experience solutions for its clients. Traditionally those clients have been some of the biggest retail brands in the world. Baynote’s SaaS offering bundled with related services powers 350 e-commerce websites in 13 countries. Baynote has been applied in a number of areas, including retail, telco and high tech to solve problems from product cross-selling to helping manage support sites.
Starting in 2011, the company began to focus more attention on commerce solutions. While more competitive than other areas where the company has dabbled, personalization experiences have become increasingly important to e-commerce players, spurring innovation, increased budgets and broader acceptance in the space.
The web personalization industry is booming, and Baynote is experiencing record growth. Sixty percent of its employees joined the company in the last 12 months. However, CEO Doug Merritt comments that it’s “easy even for the people who have been here for a while to forget or never to have double-clicked on what we do and the impact we make. Keeping that front and center with all employees generates pride.”
“While employees might intellectually understand the business objectives, 2012 sales goals or company mission, that doesn’t mean they will truly embrace them,” says Merritt. “There are a lot of hours, uncertainties and risks in a startup. Reminders of how pervasive we’re becoming and how we’re helping customers helps employees stay committed to Baynote.”
Last month Baynote began rolling out its innovative company-wide program to train all staff and even execs in how to represent the company when talking with not only sales prospects but also friends, family, investors and industry peers in the Valley and at conferences. Using innovative workshops, gaming techniques and multimedia tools, the program is a lean approach for growing the company through messaging around its “story.”
Here is an inside look at the Baynote communications program along with advice regarding the foundation necessary for other companies that may want to implement a similar program.
Step One: Understand your differentiation and value
About six months ago, the Baynote marketing team went through a systematic process of identifying and interviewing the company’s top customers and prospects on what they felt Baynote’s value is. Through gathering this market data, the team discovered a clear, compelling – and market validated – message.
For example, Merritt says the data reflected that one of Baynote’s differentiators is the way they craft their algorithms so that companies can capitalize on online customers’ in-the-moment behavior and the way that Baynote integrates with multiple different touch points across a client’s channels.
These algorithms aid in delivering value, as Baynote’s clients can then better understand the needs and intent of their customers on the other end of e-commerce encounters, and tailor customer interactions to be personalized in the biggest impact areas. Instead of farming content from customers’ past transactions and personal data and using it to try to extrapolate what a customer might be doing today or in the future, Baynote’s product guides retailers through a primary interface that adapts to a customer’s in-the-moment behavior.
“Because of this architecture and the fact that we work across all of a client’s channels, we provide more of a ubiquitous personalization framework for them rather than a very narrowly targeted solution that only hits a small portion of their customers’ experiences,” says Merritt.
But that’s a lot more than a short “elevator pitch” when responding to questions such as “what does your company do?” How can employees at all levels socialize that message quickly and engagingly so it sticks?
Step Two: Decide how to socialize the message
Wadehra explains they first needed to figure out how to socialize the differentiation and value messaging internally so it sticks before they could socialize it externally. He asked his marketing team (people with every diverse backgrounds, from traditional software, Internet software and services companies) to come up with out-of-the-box ideas. He then gave them permission to experiment and see whether any of the ideas would engage willing employees.
The team recognized that companies and B2B interactions are no different these days than consumer behaviors, and they decided to adapt to those preferences. Their idea: use a short, fun video to convey that Baynote is about shaping personal experiences in the shopping space.
From there, the idea expanded to storytelling. They used message maps to tie together various talking points in conversations with friends, family, industry colleagues at conferences and potential customers. They created four skits for the videos – some funny, some serious – that simulate encounters employees might have in the marketplace.
“The four vignettes are where we think it’s really important for us to be able to tell the Baynote story,” Wadehra explains. The scripts show employees not only what to say but also why it’s so important to have a memorized message.
Step Three: Memorizing customer anecdotes
“My team then realized that storytelling is only as good as the anecdotes of facts that follow the stories,” recalls Wadehra. So they talked to people in the company as well as customers and partners, collecting compelling facts and anecdotes about Baynote, its technology, and the kind of impacts the company has had in its clients’ businesses, such as:
- Clients seeing 100-700 percent increases in the effectiveness of their customer interactions
- Big increases in actual conversion rates and in shopping cart size or average order value
Thinking out of the box about ways to make it engaging and fun to memorize the statistical facts about millions of catalog orders and personalized recommendations as well as customer anecdotes, they printed fun Baynote facts on a deck of cards and used them to play Blackjack in the first workshop in the new communications program. Anyone who won at 21 had to recite the facts that were on the cards that enabled the employee to win.
The cards are only one of the lighthearted ways of helping with memorizing facts. They also created placemats with engaging colors and animated figures that display facts as well as various infographics that people can keep on their cubicle walls or at their fingertips. “We try to give employees the stories and facts through many different media and senses so that it’s not a burden to understand the messaging and so there is cohesion in not only what to say but also how to say it,” says Merritt.
Step Four: Integrate the messaging with a social media strategy
Baynote’s marketing team, including Dan Darnell, senior director of product marketing and Marti Tedesco, director of field marketing, are responsible for orchestrating the messaging on Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs. But a key point is the employees’ voice in the social media messaging. Wadehra explains that they involve their sales team and customer support team and ask them to please tweet, forward an article, or write a blog post – if they want to. “We give them the content but leave it to them to put their voice on it,” he says.
Cultural foundation is crucial for success
It seems simple for any company to implement a communications program like Baynote, which is engaging and sticky for all employees. But Wadehra points out a hindrance for many companies.
“What we’re doing is very simple and yet hard. It’s fairly simple for people to create content (media clips, tweets or cartoons) that are fun and a lot of people can use. The hard part, and a roadblock for many companies, is that it requires a certain level of cultural mindset and giving employees permission to play. That’s a mindset that a lot of companies don’t have,” says Wadehra.
As he explains, Baynote didn’t lay out the communications program and architect it. They gave the marketing team, employees and PR partners permission to play a little bit and see what would come back and then use their instincts to determine what was useful and relevant.
“That’s hard to do because you don’t know what might come back,” says Wadehra. “What comes back could be chaotic, messy or even inappropriate. That level of letting go is really hard for many companies.”
Baynote executives recognized the risk of letting go and handled it by starting small. Therefore, the cost of failure would be low. Wadehra says a company starting down this path must commit to a process. “Most of the ideas that comes back will be not very good. At some point if you decide there is no value in an idea that comes back, you let it go. But there also will be nuggets in what comes back.”
The type of corporate culture that enables such a program is creatable, Wadehra points out. Shaping such a culture does not depend solely on hiring creative, original thinkers. It comes down to the company’s top execs leading by example and also giving permission for creativity.
Merritt believes that people “generally want to create, contribute and be heard. All you have to do is create a frame for them to create their expression. In most cases, people will jump at the chance.”
Baynote demonstrated this belief last year with a frame for encouraging innovation. Employees earn Bay Notes (like dollars) for various positive contributions they make in the company. The Bay Notes then sponsor a portion of the cost of interesting, innovative projects that employees come up with.
“It’s all an attempt to let our staff know that they matter, they can shape their environment, that we care and that our company is a community that we build together,” says Merritt.
He adds that it’s important for company leaders to trust their employee base. “They dedicate so much of their minds and hearts to the organization every day. As we’ve seen with the incredible growth of Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social tools, people are dying to be heard. Trust them by giving them something to work on – such as we did with our messaging videos and tools – that enables them to express their passion. Nine times out of 10 when I’ve done this, I’ve been delighted with the results.”
Doug Merritt is President and CEO of Baynote and is leading the company through a period of significant investment and rapid growth. With more than 25 years’ software industry experience, Doug was most recently SAP’s EVP Global On Demand Applications. He led PeopleSoft’s $1 billion Human Capital Management division as Group Vice President/General Manager. Before that, he was founder, president and CEO of Icarian.
Anurag Wadehra, is Chief Marketing Officer. Before Baynote, he was the SVP of Product and Marketing at Adchemy. Prior to that, he led marketing and product management at Siperian. He was founder and CEO of Chingari and held product management positions at supply chain software firm i2 Technologies. Anurag was also brand manager at Procter & Gamble and Kraft Foods.