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2020 Vision: Where Have All the Silos Gone?

September 07, 2016|Don Drury

  • The departmental structure of b-to- b organizations is, by its very nature, a siloed model
  • The proven value of alignment is leading leaning towards toward new potential new organizational paradigms
  • Evolving the organizational design of b-to-b companies can reduce redundancy, improve productivity, and increase value to customers, partners, associates and shareholders

My mother grew up on a dairy farm in southern Maine, and as kids we learned a little bit about silos. Their purpose was to store silage, which is defined in Microbiology of Fermented Foods Volume 1&2 as “fermented, high-moisture stored fodder that can be fed to cattle, sheep and other such ruminants (cud-chewing animals).”

Farm silos are similar to the silos that have evolved inside of many commercial enterprises today – hardly creating anything fit for human consumption. I suggest to you that the century-old departmental structure and organizing principles for a modern enterprise is at the end of its lifecycle, and that alignment has emerged as an empowering construct. Are we ready to embrace the changes ahead and help enable this evolution?

Stepping back and reflecting on several converging trends in the b-to-b marketplace, I can see that we have outgrown the value of the rigid, silo-driven organizational model that is the de facto standard in the vast majority of businesses today. This structure was spawned in the early 20th century by the recognition that specialized skills, knowledge and experience are needed to perform various functions at a peak performance level. Over time, these departmental constructs and specialized job descriptions have unfortunately morphed into a false set of constraints on our ability to drive value for our business partners and career satisfaction for our associates.

As people recognized these constraints, alignment between departments, interlock and collaboration became the mantras and drumbeats of the early 21st century. It’s critical that engineering, product and solution teams align with peers in marketing and sales. Sales and marketing functions must align with one another, and a smooth handoff to customer support and professional services teams to ensure high NPS scores is critical. But as these functions evolve, one might wonder, what is the value of remaining so autonomous? Why do we need to have internal “contracts” and service-level agreements between professionals working for the same team?

Rather than think outside the box, let’s abandon the box – and all of the internal compartments and dividers – and imagine a new model. Organizing around our internal and external relationships instead of internal functions might result in seeing several relevant areas: 

  • Messaging. What value do we bring, and what commitment do we have to our customers and partners – from initial contact through evolving patterns of adoption, operationalization and implementation, and optimization of outcomes? The message must be understood and embraced by everyone in the enterprise, from ideation and design teams to those driving awareness, sustaining revenue and providing services to fulfill the promise of the brand. Messaging is not just a marketing creation, but a holistic, value-rich representation of who we are as an organization, who we are designed to connect with and how we inspire the people with whom we partner.
  • Customer engagement. In most b-to-b orgs, the prospect-to-customer journey is supported by multiple teams and a carousel of faces. From self-guided exploration and education into the deeper evaluation and selection stages of the buying process, through the commercial transaction and the adoption and implementation cycle, why should there be multiple teams aligned to this entire journey? Why should marketing always hand off leads to sales, and sales pass contracts to service? Why should a “hunter” (new account rep) necessarily hand off to a “farmer” (account manager) and lose the continuity of trust and understanding established during the sales process? Having those who make the promise and understand a customer’s challenges remain part of the value-realization process ensures that the trust and integrity of the relationship is maintained. Recent customer experience research presented by Megan Heuer at the SiriusDecisions 2016 Summit revealed that client executives place high value on the ongoing interactions with sales representatives, account managers, provider executives and customer advocacy teams across all stages of the customer lifecycle.
  • Internal operations and enablement. Having multiple departmental teams driving process and technology efficiencies, knowledge transfer and skills training produces plenty of redundancy and waste. There is a common core of knowledge and competencies that all of our associates should have, and there are also specialized layers based upon roles and responsibilities that build upon that foundation. All associates need to understand the company mission, values, solutions and success stories. Integrated systems and tools bridge functional roles in multiple dimensions. Presentation skills are needed as much by marketers and project delivery teams as they are by sales. Project management skills apply to the development, marketing, complex sales, IT and finance functions as much they do professional services. A lack of sharing and leverage among many siloed training, operations and enablement teams, even when not intentional or deliberate, drives excess spending and inefficiency on a massive scale.

There are countless areas to be explored as we view the organization through a new lens – just a few of which are mentioned here. What if we identify the common streams of value for our customers and associates and organize around these foundations? What if the specialized skills and knowledge of communicating value, analyzing the root cause of performance issues, resolving conflicts, training and mentoring, and configuring systems and applications are shared not just within departments, but across the enterprise? What if we move beyond alignment and interlock to a construct made possible by the maturing of information access, big data fed not just by applications, but by smart, connected devices? Replacing the silos and the fences of the barnyard in this brave new world seems to me a matter of when, not if. The year 2020 is just around the corner – are you ready to lead this change?

Don Drury

Don Drury is a Consulting Director at SiriusDecisions. Don has spent his career as senior-level executive in the enterprise applications and technology industry, focused on defining and executing strategic sales and marketing programs to drive revenue growth and optimize profitability. He has been involved in many cross-functional initiatives to align sales, marketing, development and service teams, and has developed strong collaborative facilitation skills based on this experience.

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