The Importance of Employees Getting It

May 11, 2010 | General

How important is it for your employees to understand and participate in the marketing plans you are implementing in your business?  Critically important!  Let me illustrate what I mean with this story.


Fourteen years ago, after I had left Hallmark Cards to start my own company, I was making one of my first on-site consultations with a client.  I’d forgotten to pack toothpaste, so my client drove me to their local Wal-Mart to buy some.  As we were going through the checkout line, the checkout employee unenthusiastically greeted us and scanned my purchase. 


Having just left Hallmark Cards, I couldn’t help noticing a button she wore on her blue Wal-Mart vest, advertising a card line that Hallmark had created for the mass channel chains, that Wal-Mart had just begun selling.  The button said:



Hallmark warm wishes


Why Not?



I don’t know why I did it (except maybe to exhibit my knowledge to my first client), but I asked the employee, “What’s that button mean?” I wanted to hear her response, knowing that Hallmark and Wal-Mart’s partnership in this venture was a huge financial investment for both companies.  Just outfitting every employee at Wal-Mart with a single button probably cost thousands of dollars, (and that’s not counting the time, money, beer and late-night pizza it took some ad agency to come up with that witty little marketing phrase).  I wondered if the woman knew how significant it was that her store was finally carrying this exclusive brand of cards.


She looked at me.  Expressionless.  I’m not sure any customer had spoken to her all day.  Comotose Clerk Standing.  Lifeless, bored, and staring at me, perturbed that I was engaging her in a question that forced her to think.  She looked down at her vest, grabbed it, twisted the button up towards her eyes, and looked at it.  It was like she was seeing the button for the first time, and she only focused on the 99¢.


She looked back at me and said, “That’s how much I’m worth to this place.”


It was one of those amazing Wal-Mart moments I’ll always remember!  The world’s largest retailer defined by the world’s lowliest employee. 


So, I said, “Well, can I have your button then?”


She stared at me some more.   No change of expression.  Then, “Sure,” she said, and she popped it off her vest and handed it to me.


My client standing next to me, realizing we were witnessing one of those classic employee Wal-Mart moments, then chimed in and said, “Do you have another button that I could have?”


We were really pushing her with these two whole questions!  She was being forced to respond!  Her eyebrows raised, perhaps irritated, but more intrigued by our questions.  You could see her remembering how to speak.  After hours of mind-numbing product scanning, she was now recalling how to engage in human interaction.


“Sure,” she said.  And she turned to her fellow cashier at the next register and yelled, “Mabel, give me that yellow button on your vest.”


Mabel dutifully removed the Hallmark button from her vest, and handed it to our cashier.  Without a word, she handed it to us, along with my toothpaste in the bag.


That singular moment with that emotionally-absent Wal-Mart cashier drove home a point I’ve never forgotten: The lowest level employee can sabotage any marketing plan you design with one poor customer interaction.  In this case, this disconnected employee trashed months of marketing in one moment.  My guess is she hadn’t been trained on the new Hallmark products, and if she was trained, that training hadn’t stuck, which probably meant that the behavior she was supposed to be exhibiting wasn’t being reinforced with any rewards or repetition.


Don’t make the same mistake with your employees and your business marketing.  Every employee interaction with every customer counts.