Business owners are faced with increasing pressure to generate additional profit and revenues while balancing marketing expenditures. How can I bring in more sales leads to keep my sales force busy? My phone isn’t ringing like it used to; is my marketing working? Are people visiting my website? Should I take advantage of cost-effective social media advertising? Do I spend money to print and mail brochures?

These are just a few questions owners are asking of themselves, their sales and marketing department heads, or their advertising agency reps. The best answers can be found with a little investigative reporting from perhaps the most important market segment: your employees. Employees who feel part of what their company is doing have “buy-in” and can provide a unique perspective upon which your marketing team can act.

Here’s a 5- step primer for maximizing the success of your marketing activities by tapping into your employee team – no matter what the size of your business:

1.  Ask questions of your front-line people: Make it a point to get intelligence from your employees who interact the most with your customers. If you are the only point of customer contact, then invite employees who have observed your interactions. Ask “what is the main thing our customers want to buy from us,” and rank the answers in order of priority. Brainstorm ways to either improve upon what you’re providing or benchmark what is going right. Define this with words. Marketing can then support your new message or help communicate the benefits you’re delivering.

A major pet food distributor identified that their truck drivers interact the most with customers. They are the “face” of the company, although there’s a large customer service department in-house who interacts by phone. The drivers noted it’s complete, error-free orders that customers want most. Product quality and price are not ranked as high as on-time, hassle-free deliveries. All the brochures or ads in the world – although important – won’t get this differentiator across to customers as effectively as a consistent, positive customer experience. Recognizing the drivers as being key to customer relationships, the company regularly asks for driver input because they have the most “field” intelligence of anyone else in the company. Moreover, they now serve as a means of personally communicating special sales offers to customers which have helped to increase sales and market share.

2. Engage employees in your marketing plans: Tell your employees what marketing strategies and activities are planned for the upcoming year. Show them what ads you’re preparing to run or discuss social media campaigns with them in advance of placement, to obtain their input. Be careful, though: make sure they are evaluating from the customer’s perspective only and not reacting personally or subjectively (unless, of course, they exemplify your customer’s exact demographics!).

Your employees can keep an eye out for ideas and suggestions for public relations topics that are newsworthy, and can keep an eye on what your competition is doing. They can scour their local newspaper for business leads, “shop” the competition, or help spread the good word about your products and services in the community and on social media. Think of every employee as an ambassador for your company – and a valued member of your marketing team.

Do your employees actually use your product or service? If this is possible, extract whatever marketing intelligence you can obtain. They – or members of their family – can serve as your most cost-effective test market and you can build engagement over the short- and long-term.

3. Be in touch with your operations. A company owner emerged from his CEO perch to spend time “walking the floor” at one of his locations. He questioned why the phones weren’t ringing as often as he expected – although employees seemed busy. As it turns out, the marketing department had implemented a new customer-focused strategy to process inquiries and conduct product support chats via the website, eliminating the need for more traditional phone calls and delighting the customer base.

The moral of the story is to stay in touch with your operations. If you can’t get updates from your marketing department, or if your marketing department isn’t speaking to the sales department, you’ve got a problem that needs to be fixed.

4. Empower your employees. Walk with your key employees through the entire customer experience – from early-stage prospect through to the first order and beyond. Does your marketing make a promise that your operations cannot keep? Conversely, is your company doing something so awesome but your marketing is not conveying it? Empower your employees to do something about it. Give them a voice to hear their suggestions. Invite your customers to the table to share their overall experience and perspectives with your team. The marketing insight can be invaluable.

5. Embrace change. Be ready for constructive criticism and opinions when it comes to marketing. Remain open to change – and act upon those suggestions that are noteworthy. Employees will not continue to provide ideas and innovation if they can see that their input is not being implemented – even in just a small way. Conversely, don’t change for the sake of change. Just because someone suggests that your product packaging is the wrong color, or the headline needs to be changed on your ad doesn’t mean it’s an absolute edict. Make sure it will have a positive impact on your target customers…driving them to buy your services or products.

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