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3 Ways to Put People at the Center of your Agency in a Post-COVID-19 World

By building on connections at every level of your agency—from your internal team operations to your lead generation process—your agency can thrive even in an uncertain environment in 2021 and beyond.
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3 ways to put people at the center of your agency in a post-covid-19 world

Much has changed over the course of last year. But the one thing that hasn't: People must be at the core of your agency's strategy. By building on connections at every level of your agency—from your internal team operations to your lead generation process—your agency can thrive even in an uncertain environment in 2021 and beyond.

Here are three fundamentals to building the connections and relationships that will carry your agency forward, defined by presenters at the Big “I" Virtual LET's Do This Summit, which took place last fall. 

1) Create an agency culture of self-care. 

The term “self-care" connotes indulgence. But in reality, self-care is a crucial step toward overcoming the serious psychological stressors that prevent you and your team from operating at its full potential.

In the LET's Summit keynote panel, Your Agency's Success Starts with You, facilitated by Dr. Leroy Nunnery, Big “I" Diversity Council executive consultant and founder and CEO of Plus Ultre LLC, experts and agency leaders emphasized that taking the time to care for yourself and your team is essential to overcoming the challenges and changes of the new world.

“Audrey Lorde in the '80s describes the desire for radical self-care as a means of self-preservation versus indulgence," explains Jennifer Ingram, diversity practitioner and founder and CEO of Calibrated Lens LLC. “As we think about what it means to care for ourselves, we can prioritize not the notion of having to be at the beach or spa but rather micro-practices of self-care as a way of life."

While much of the discussion around COVID-19 focuses on physical safety, “there's another kind of safety that doesn't get talked about as much, and that's psychological safety," says Dr. Isaiah Pickens, a clinical psychologist and founder and CEO of iOpening Enterprises. “Psychological safety speaks to this idea of believing you have the ability to manage the stress that's happening around you or reach out to someone to help you manage that stress."

But with COVID-19 affecting basic interactions and forcing immediate, unexpected change, many people's psychological safety has been undermined. And if that basic human need isn't met, your team will have a hard time functioning, let alone implementing change-heavy strategies.

“We carry stress in our body, depleting our mental resources, so our ability to focus on our work, our ability to be present in our relationships can be depleted when we're not attending to these important parts that allow us to have a sense of psychological safety," Pickens explains.

What's the first thing that team leads can do to address these issues? “Acknowledge it," Pickens says. “It's hard for leaders because they believe they have to carry everything for themselves and their teams. But by not giving yourself any space to recharge or emotionally connect in meaningful ways, you're modeling an unhealthy way to deal with difficult situations."

Pickens suggests that leaders then create spaces where their team members can come together in a space that “allows them to both share their concerns but also share areas of gratitude," he says. “There's a concept called emotional contagion, that when you're able to share those things in the workplace, it can spread like wildfire."

Facilitating honest, authentic conversations is a crucial but often difficult component of caring for your team in an environment where America's racial justice reckoning in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police is at top of mind for many.

“It's important to realize this was not just a singular incident but rather centuries of oppression and unfair practices that are now coming to light," Ingram says. “How are you listening to the voices of people? How can we bring this into awareness at an organization level and put people over process?"

“Throughout the pandemic, we've gotten the opportunity to prioritize relationships over transactional exchanges, and that needs to continue," Ingram adds. “Diversity in isolation should not be the driver, diversity should be the byproduct of having an equitable and inclusive culture."

Ultimately, willingness to listen to team members with respect, humility and an understanding that their experience may be different than yours will help your team emerge stronger.

Alex Dopazo, former Big “I" Diversity Council chair and vice president of Dopazo & Associates in Miami, emphasizes the importance of creating a space for people to talk about their stressors, specifically racial injustice. “If we don't, it's going to come out in a place you don't want it to," he says. “It may end up being a confrontation with a customer, instead of an honest conversation with me."

As you promote a team culture that honors self-care, make sure to provide resources for your staff. “It's important to understand that self-care can look different across different cultures," Ingram says. “As you look at employee assistance programs, ensure you are incorporating culturally appropriate providers and practitioners to those services."

Ultimately, a team in which all members have the resources to maintain psychological safety is a team that can better engage with the community, clients and prospects.

2) Use social media to build authenticity in your community.

With social distancing measures and remote work taking the lead in 2020, social media cemented itself as an alternative agency storefront. But how can it be effectively used to build authentic relationships?

In his LET's Summit keynote session, Shrinking the Distance, Brian Fanzo, digital futurist and founder of iSocialFanz, outlined how agencies can reclaim the connective power of social media to build trust and connection. “How do we make people feel when we're leveraging technology?" Fanzo says. “People do business with people they trust. How are we conveying trust and building that trust connection online?"

One of the ways we build trust, even on social media, is through vulnerability. Fanzo talks about his diagnosis as an adult with ADHD. “If you had asked me if that was something I would share on stages around the world or on my Twitter profile, that wouldn't be a thing I would have ever thought about sharing," he says. “But our vulnerabilities often connect us deeper and at a more relatable level than our strengths or competencies."

Fanzo also points out that agencies often need to rein in the focus on social media. “Social media isn't about reaching the world," he says. “It's about allowing us to find our people no matter where they're located and build intimate connections."

A practical first step is mastering the power of video. While video—from Facebook Live to Zoom meetings with clients—can be uncomfortable, Fanzo suggests starting even smaller to practice. “Don't think you need to start with a YouTube channel or sending videos to all your clients," he says. “Instead, with every family phone call you make this month, use FaceTime and start getting comfortable looking at yourself on camera. The first time, you're going to realize you're holding the camera so the other person is looking up your nose. It's awkward at first, but you need to start putting yourself out there so you can see what connects."

When you're comfortable enough to create social media content, the best way to connect with an individual is to tell a story. 

“Humans are attracted to stories," says says Kindra Hall, bestselling author, keynote speaker and chief storytelling officer at SUCCESS magazine, in her LET's Summit session, The Irresistible Power of Strategic Storytelling. She describes a study by neurologist Paul Zak revealing that after listening to a story, human brain chemistry changes with an increase in cortisol, the hormone controlling focus and attention, and oxytocin, the hormone responsible for empathy and emotion.

“Whether it's on social media where you want people to stop their scroll, whether you're giving a presentation, whether you're talking face-to-face either in person or virtually," Hall says, “we listen differently when we're told a story because our brains make us."

3) Use technology to connect with leads.  

A healthy agency team has reached out to build connections in their community through social media and video—now what?

Technology can play a starring role in developing relationships with leads, as Brandon Smith, managing partner of GiiG in Missoula, Montana, explains in his LET's Summit keynote, Mind the Gap. Most importantly, a balance is necessary between technology and relationships to continue to emphasize connection.

“The truth is Netflix did not kill Blockbuster," Smith explains. “It was the ridiculous late fees that killed Blockbuster. Airbnb isn't killing the hotel industry. Limited availability and pricing options are killing the hotel industry. It's not about technology, it's about being customer-centric, focusing on those relationships. And when technology is used to enhance and support relationship-building, the results are phenomenal."

Relationships are at the heart of GiiG's system for online lead generation, a process that leverages technology based on data to reach individuals—right in the middle of the gap between tech and relationships.

The inspiration came from a Harvard Business Review study that found three facts:

  • The best time to make contact with an online lead is within the first five minutes.
  • The best time to call an online lead is on Thursday afternoons between 4-5 pm.
  • You have a 90% chance of making contact with an online lead after your sixth attempt.

Smith and his team built a 45-day schedule to follow up with leads they generated online. Nine out of 10 touches were through email and SMS text messaging, generated by software that automates the messages and sends any responses to a team member's inbox and desktop. The tenth contact attempt was a team member picking up the phone and calling—on Thursday afternoons between 4-5 pm.

“In the fourth quarter of 2019, we had 294 leads come in," Smith says. “Of the 294, we have made contact with 286—they responded to a text message, answered the phone, some sort of two-way communication. We sold to 144, 98 were still open and 44 were no sale."

“The difference between a contact and a contract is the letter R, and that R stands for relationships," he continues. “When we build relationships with people, their heart follows and then their wallet, then their loyalty and retention."

AnneMarie McPherson is IA news editor.

Friday, January 8, 2021
Sales & Marketing