Why Your Employee Engagement Is Poor (Hint: Your Marketing Sucks)

Joel Capperella

Employee engagement numbers haven’t improved in years, hovering at a pitiful 33%. We have improved applications to better gauge and measure how employees are feeling, annual surveys that try to pinpoint employee unrest, and new perks and rewards that aim to get our employees more connected to their employer, but the engagement number remains stagnant. The fact is that despite a more connected and youthful workforce, the average company in the United States must contend with the fact that nearly 70% of all of employees are basically checked out.

Does hyperconnectivity stifle engagement?

Ironically, it may be hyperconnectivity that has helped stifle employee engagement progress.

The shift in media that started after 2000 has reached critical global mass in just over a decade. In 2014, GSMA Intelligence reported that there were more mobile devices than people in the world. In a digitally and socially connected world, companies of all shapes and sizes have had no choice but to figure out how to leverage the new media and connected landscape for the purpose of growth. The result has been a relentless push to do more social selling and create more content for marketing—a reality that added to the rise of a completely new segment of solution software: marketing automation.

So if there is more connectivity, greater demand for transparency, and a higher expectation for social customer engagement, and an entire software category has evolved to help companies do all of that, why has employee engagement remained flat for years?

Because in our rush to conform to the new social, digital, connected media landscape, we have missed two important factors: purpose and sales enablement.

A purpose bigger than profit

Let’s first look at purpose. Much has been written about the so-called millennial generation—much of it poor, some of it good, but all of it certain about one fact: Millennials have a greater attraction to purpose in their career aspirations. Millennial workers want to feel that their employer has a purpose that is bigger than profit, and millennial workers want to feel that their employers are empathetic with the values that workers hold dear. If these two factors do not line up to the millennial worker’s expectations, then he or she will happily leave in search of an employer that does have a well-defined purpose.

Placing helpfulness and knowledge at the center of sales enablement

Where sales enablement is concerned, it is important to recall that a large majority of buyers (74%) conduct research far ahead of any interaction with a sales representative. This creates a sales environment in which the buyer believes that they have have as much knowledge, if not more, than the sales rep they are about to speak with. In this situation the sales rep must continuously work to stay ahead of their prospects. They need to know industry trends and how they may play out, and what part the products or services they are selling will play in their prospect’s ability to address industry challenges.

The tyranny of marketing performance metrics

Social selling, content marketing, mobile, and digital marketing have mostly been built on top of one important metric: the marketing qualified lead (MQL) to sales qualified lead (SQL) conversion rate. Unfortunately, what flips a lead from MQL to SQL status might not address a worker’s desire for purpose, nor will it empower sales to stay ahead of the well-prepared buyer. So while the metric is indeed very telling and important, it for many companies trumps the intangible and difficult-to-measure nuance of how their social media footprint represents them or how their content marketing approach empowers their sales teams.

No focus on purpose? No support to keep the sales team ahead of the market? No employee engagement.

Create a ‘bigger than us’ story

The good news is that the situation is addressable.

Part of the issue is that a large majority of sales approaches today contain the echo of the early-2000’s pain solution game: Identify the pain that exists in the marketplace and articulate how your product or service addresses that pain. Solutions to industry pains have typically carried with them very specific propositions of tangible value. A lower cost of sale here, a higher return on investment there, etc.

The problem is the approach has been so refined that over time all successful players in just about any market have mastered them, rendering solutions and values mere commodities—a reality that was well documented in the 2011 best-selling book The Challenger Sale.

Start by taking the typical pain solution game a couple of steps further, looking first to the market realities of your prospects. Map out all the best- and worst-case scenarios of what is going on in the markets of your customers. By examining the trends, the ecosystem of the industry, and the most likely impacts of macro and micro economic realities, you can then begin to formulate a story that is much much bigger than solving just one specific pain. This is your a “bigger than us” story that lays out the drama that your would-be customers are personally facing every single day—a drama that is about the personalities and the lives of those within it, and that has natural conflicts and heroic outcomes.

The approach solves both the purpose and the sales enablement dilemmas and ultimately increases employee engagement.

Purposeful marketing drives positive employee engagement

A “bigger than us” story is exactly that. It isn’t about your products or the value that your customers will gain. A bigger story is about the lives of the people who are affected by your products, and the lives of your customers’ customers. The purpose of what you do is easily extrapolated out across the entire workforce. You are no longer making widgets that save x% of general and administrative expenses; you are helping your customers free up the capital that they need to do amazing things. Employees will feel connected to that purpose.

Equally as important, the purpose drives you to create content that tell the story in a way that is as credible as possible. Your product demos take on new lives as chapters in the greater drama. Sales reps are now bearers of the secrets that unlock the successful conclusion of your “bigger than us” drama. They are engaged not just as quota-carrying salespeople, but as representatives of “what could be” in the lives of your customers and the lives of your customers’ customers.

Want to drive your employee engagement numbers up? Build purpose-driven marketing and sales enablement by creating a “bigger than us” story.

For more insight on employee engagement, see The Core Reason Leadership Approaches To Employee Engagement Fail


Joel Capperella

About Joel Capperella

Joel Capperella helps companies get crazy amounts of awareness, a bigger pipeline, and faster revenue while empowering sales enablement transformation. He has over 20 years of strategic marketing execution in enterprise software, SaaS, and technical professional services and has worked with companies of all sizes. From juggernauts like SAP and Oracle, to small startups with new injections of cash. You can follow Joel on Twitter @joelcapperella and Facebook.