Matt Barnett, founder and CEO at Bonjoro.com shares advice on how they made their business culture an engine of real business growth:
If you’re working to grow a business, the odds are good that you spend a big percentage of your time thinking about your brand and how it’s perceived. Whether it’s customers, investors, or just friends and family, we all need validation and we all want to feel like we’re working for something that looks ‘cool’, or a cause that’s worth spending 35% (or more) of your total waking hours on.
For business founders, the chances are that your business’ brand and culture dominated your headspace from the the moment you created it. Every founder has had sleepless nights hopping through endless lists of company names, looking for the perfect sequence of letters that accurately sums up your idea and your value proposition.
The same goes for your logo, your office location, even the office space itself – does it speak to who you really are, what you stand for now, and what you’ll stand for in years to come.
Why does all of this stuff matter so much – especially in these early days? My guess is that it’s primarily about identity. We paint the spaces around us every day with who we are, how we feel, and project how we’d like the world to be onto those spaces.
Whether it’s conscious, or sub-conscious, our inner-brand is mapping itself perpetually onto the outside world.
So it’s no surprise that when it comes to business it’s all the same. Identity matters. It affects everything. It seeps through into every facet of your business.
And at the heart of all of this – your brand and all the anxieties that come with it – is that all important word: culture.
Your company’s culture is singular and powerful beyond anything else you have. Even if your idea is repeatable, how you imbue that idea with the essence of yourself and your team is unique. And this is why it’s so important to get this bit right.
So here’s a simple rulebook to help you get your business culture right from the start and use it to win and retain more business in the long run.
Business culture is not perks
Too many businesses confuse culture with perks. Perks in themselves are not culture. A ping pong table is not culture. Culture is the cumulative effect of the characteristics that define and unite your business.
A stronger culture brings stronger net benefits, but it is not a simple thing to achieve. It must be a clear and honest reflection of your values, and it must be in some ways practical, in the sense that it must positively enhance the work of your business on each and every level.
And on almost every occasion where it works, corporate culture is about long-term goals, not short-term treats. When boiled down to its very essence a company culture aligns everyone in that business behind an unwavering vision of the future.
If you look at one company for inspiration here look at Zappos. Their tales of business culture affecting customer growth and retention are legendary, and show the sheer power of looking past perks and towards a much greater reading of corporate culture.
Business culture should extend outwards
A strong corporate culture shouldn’t just be about how you appear to the outside world. You have to account for how you include clients within that culture. They are not just an audience; when done right they can also be collaborative creators of that culture.
At Bonjoro, we try to actively include our customers in what it feels like to be part of Bonjoro. In practice this can mean any number of things, but the key is thinking about the right moments to invite them in.
Remember to make sure they’re light touch, so the burden is on you not the customer. They have their own lives, deadlines and responsibilities, and the last thing you want to do is add to the load. One way we do this at Bonjoro is to send each customer who hits 500 Bonjoros a bear onesie.
If they are already using and loving our product so much it’s likely that they share our values. So we make them part of the family. The sleuth gets bigger, our customers get happier, the product gets busier, and we all benefit.
One of our customers, Alex at Design Pickle with his son wearing the onesies we sent them last month
Business culture starts at hiring
I’ve heard it said that hiring for a consistent culture can jeopardise diversity and lead to groupthink. But I think this confuses two very different things.
Hiring for culture is about about bringing together a team of people with different backgrounds that can unite behind a shared vision of how to solve your customer’s problems.
Colleagues do not need to have homogenous backgrounds to fit into an existing culture and embody it in everything they do for your company.
Of course people can only do this when they have a clearly defined culture to embody. And you can only hire the right people when you have a deep understanding of how your core values project outwards towards your clients’ core objectives.
Hiring for culture is not about hiring a team of “bros” or a team who share the same taste in movies or music. It’s about recognising those people who can absorb and exude enthusiasm for the values you have spent years fostering.
This is all stuff that impacts the bottom line. Your sales team will sell better if they’re surrounded by others who understand and support the vision of the company. And they will sell better when they feel the company supports them and their vision for creating a better experience for their clients.
A recent study referenced in a Forbes article in May 2017 showed that “culture was found to consistently predict higher subsequent levels of customer satisfaction ratings and… sales”.
Business culture should not be top-down
Understanding and enacting business culture is not just about a set of principles. It’s about a set of behaviours.
When you put in place a set of principles and expect your employees to understand and embody them, you will surely come unstuck. Of course some may intuitively just “get” it, but others will be left brewing a mix of anxiety and resentment as they scramble to tow the company line.
It’s better to put a process in place that helps them work towards understanding your company culture than just getting it right off the bat.
If you want your next sales hire to intuitively convey the right company message, consider taking them to meet your ideal customer for a coffee or lunch. Sit them near someone that embodies the best things about your business, and let them learn first hand what it’s like to be enthused by that culture.
Expose them to the right situations and people and they’ll be on a much faster track than they would after a brief onboarding session with the CEO or VP Marketing.
Business culture is forever
Consistency is key to every facet of your business, especially when it comes to brand. If your various business functions are not in sync it can be jarring for a customer.
Top of funnel messaging must align with how your salespeople present the vision of your company. This must start from user interviews and extend right through to onboarding and product experience.
Don’t let each department work to their own “version” of your corporate culture. Make sure everyone understands it and keep a simple document that they can glance over if they’re questioning whether their latest ad copy, sales deck or onboarding email aligns with your overarching vision.
This doesn’t have to be monotonous and overbearing, it can just be a sentence that articulates your brand and business culture succinctly. No jargon, no bs, just something plain and simple will do.
That way it’s never ambiguous, and will be easy to remember, repeat and honour every day.
Business culture is about memories
Lastly and most importantly, we need to remember that business cultures are about something human. They need to serve our senses, and invoke powerful and lasting memories that will remain in your customers’ minds.
Think about your own powerful personal memories. Jot down 5 that you can vividly recall. Look for what unites them, look at the context, the shape of the moments that lend themselves so well to enduring for so many years.
It may sound wildly optimistic that a business could ever hope to operate in such an emotive realm, but it’s achievable if your entire business believes it.
Maybe even try this as a team – talk about your most powerful memories and look for those subtle emotive levers that make the most powerful and lasting memories. And don’t doubt that corporate cultures can be memorable too.
Ready to delight your own customers and include them in your culture? Take that first step and add personal video to your business – head over to Bonjoro to start your 14 day free trial today.
founder and CEO at Bonjoro.com