Treat staff like customers by applying a marketing approach to HR

In 2003 I joined the main board of a professional services business employing 1,500 people, in the role of Marketing Director. My first move wasn’t to conduct a market or customer analysis, but a staff engagement survey. I knew the most important weapon in our marketing battle was our people. Any professional service business should generate at least 70% of its business from referral and recommendation, and this can’t happen if staff are not fully engaged.

So let me correct my earlier statement. My first move was to conduct a customer analysis but of a group not usually considered to be customers.

Of course the survey answered the usual HR questions around leadership, remuneration and L&D, but also other research questions which were perhaps unusual at that time.

  • How did staff segment?
  • How did staff perceive the business and each other?
  • What was the correlation between office profitability and staff engagement?

I used many other tools drawn from the marketing world to understand this particular market place, for example focus groups, data analysis and observation.

The analysis was used to develop the marketing mix, the so-called 7Ps, for HR.

For product read job design, for price read remuneration, promotion – internal communication, place – workstyle, physical evidence – office environment, people – HR staff and process – HR procedures.

The key marketing question “Why should customers choose to buy from us rather than anyone else?” also applies. “Why should our people choose to work for us rather than anyone else?” Indeed creating and maintaining an Employee Value Proposition is very similar to creating a Customer Value Proposition.

I’ve described the theory and I’m delighted to report it worked in practice. The firm doubled in size over three years and won the coveted award NCE/ACE Major Consultant of the Year 2006. I left the business that year, not as Marketing Director but Marketing and HR Director – a job title I believe should be more common in board rooms of people businesses.

Do you approach your people strategy with the same discipline as you approach your customer strategy? Do you conduct regular staff engagement surveys or temperature checks? Is staff engagement a key priority in your organisation?


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