How to Align Support, Sales and Marketing for Organizational Growth
As a company grows and operational processes become more sophisticated and mature, aligning functions to create integrated workflows and experiences is essential.
While your company is small, it is easier to change processes, introduce new capabilities and instill cultural norms in your organization than it will be once you’ve grown and normalized on a certain way of working.
Whether you want to frame this as “heading off bad habits early before they become big problems” or “making course corrections when the ship is small and nimble” the message is the same – take advantage of the time when your company is young and growing to establish a foundation for future success.
One of the biggest mistakes that companies make early in their growth cycle is to put too much focus on bringing in new sales and not enough attention on nurturing relationships with customers you have already acquired.
While your company is small and still figuring things out is the best time to look at how you will align marketing, sales and customer support to make the most out of the full lifecycle of customer engagement. If you get this right from the start, you will have happy customers who are pleased to give you future business as well as refer you to their friends and family members.
A Common Goal — Delighting Your Customers
Bringing the activities of marketing, sales and customer support into alignment begins with focusing everyone on the same goal. That goal is delighting your customers by giving them the products and services they need to fulfil their needs and solve their problems. Most people in the customer support realm are already familiar with the “net promoter score” as the single most important measure of success. But the net promoter score doesn’t just apply to customer support – it is a measure of your company’s overall success and should be applied to your sales and marketing efforts as well. Net promoter score is based on a one-question survey—
“On a scale of 0-10, how likely are you to recommend this product to a friend or co-worker?”
This question may be followed up with other questions to collect feedback or ideas from the customer about what was good or bad about their experience with your employees, products and services (valuable insights are to help you improve) but it is the basic score that gives you a powerful tool for aligning functions. Your entire staff needs to be aligned to the same goal – making your customers happy. Everything else flows from there.
Creating Alignment in a Growing Organization
Culture and common goals are an important part of driving alignment, but for a company that is experiencing a period of rapid growth, good intent needs to be channeled and focused to achieve the greatest impact. This means translating cultural alignment into operational alignment. Your company needs to be able to articulate clearly “this is how we align to achieve customer success”. There are 3 areas of operational alignment that growing companies need to focus on to transition from operating as a small start-up organization into a company capable of sustainable long-term success.
#1 Aligned Customer Experiences
Your customers don’t care that you are a small company or a growing company. They don’t care about what your internal processes are. They don’t care about what IT systems you use or what your staffing and budgeting constraints are. These are your company’s problem. Customers care about their own problems – the needs, challenges and opportunities that they think you can help them solve through your products, services and through engagement with your employees. Fragmented customer experiences caused by process issues, products that don’t work together well, and staff that don’t seem to be aware of what others within the company are doing can diminish the overall perception of your company’s offerings.
Creating aligned customer experiences begins with an acknowledgement that the customer sees your company as a single entity, not a bunch of individual employees or departments. Individual customer touch points should each build towards an overarching experience of doing business with you. The information you share, the way you present your products and services and the image you portray all need to represent your company to the customer as a unified entity that is focused on identifying, understanding and fulfilling customer needs
#2 Integrated Business Processes & Workflows
Providing consistent and aligned customer experiences that fulfil customer needs involves coordinating the activities of team members across your organization into integrated business processes and workflows. While it might be tempting to simplify this into superficial interactions (Marketing efforts feed into sales, which in turn feed into fulfilment and customer support), this is likely to cause problems in the future.
The purpose of addressing integrated business processes isn’t to figure out how your employees work with each other – it is to figure out how everyone contributes to the customer experience. The best way to do this is to focus in on the net promoter score and how you are going about identifying, understanding and fulfilling the needs of the customer. If you optimize your processes around the customer, you will have a much easier time figuring out where gaps and friction exist that need to be addressed for you to grow.
#3 Data to Support Management Decisions
One of the biggest management challenges for a growing company is figuring out where to invest in staffing, processes and technology. Growing too quickly in one area (such as sales staff) without balancing that growth with other functions (like customer support) can lead to bottlenecks in business processes, frustrated staff and poor customer experiences. By aligning business processes as well as operational metrics and performance measures, management will be able to gain valuable insights into where excess capacity exists, where things are constrained and measure the effectiveness of changes on the goal of providing aligned customer experiences.
Developing management insights to support decision making starts with looking at your company’s processes holistically (end-to-end) instead of in functional silos. If there is one customer experience, it makes sense that there is one overarching process internally that enables you to provide that experience. Marketing, sales and customer support functions each play a unique role in supporting the end-to-end delivery of products and services to customers, so having some performance metrics and data you track specific to each function is a good thing. You just need to be sure that functional metrics are kept aligned in the context of meeting customer needs.
Benefits of Aligning and Integrating Functions Together in an Organization
According to a 2014 study published in Harvard Business Review, increasing customer retention rates by just 5% boosts profits by as much as 95%. Customer retention isn’t just a customer support problem, it starts in the marketing and sales processes by setting the right expectations with customers about what your products and services will do and what their experience will be like working with you. Over-promising and under-delivering is an easy way to frustrate customers. Shopify’s 2015 Ecommerce growth benchmark report found that successful new companies had 20% of their revenue coming from repeat business within the first month of being in business and by the end of 3 years, the majority of their revenue came from repeat buyers. Customer retention is the key to sustainable long-term success.
Increased Lifetime Value (LTV) of Each Customer
Old customers are the ones that bring in the most value for your company. If you were to look at the cost of meeting a customer needs over time, you would see that there is typically a high customer acquisition cost but once they are an established customer, subsequent business and referrals are much lest costly to obtain. For a company that is growing, it is important to develop strong customer relationships early and continue nurturing those relationships as your company grows. Happy customers will give you future business, be open to upselling (to address additional needs) and refer your company to others.
Lower Cost to Support “High Quality” Customer
Managing the costs of supporting customers has less to do with what happens in your support function and more to do with the quality of customers that your marketing and sales teams acquire. Just like every company isn’t the right fit for a customer, some customers aren’t a good fit for your company either. It is important for sales and marketing teams to find customers with needs and wants that your company can successfully fulfill. Your products and services can’t be the perfect fit for every customer, and that is okay. Putting steps into your sales processes for staff to evaluate and understand customer pain points and opportunities will help you better understand what the customer really needs (not just what they are asking for) and asses your company’s ability to address those needs.
Competitiveness & Company Growth
A Forbes Insights and Sailthru study found that companies that focused on client retention instead of solely on customer acquisition (sales) were 3 time as likely to increase market share over their competitors. That same study found that nearly half of the companies attributed lack of a consistent customer experience as an impediment to loyalty. McKinsey & Co reported in a 2016 study that “optimizing the customer experience typically achieves revenue growth of 5-10% in in just 2-3 years” Benefits of aligning and integrating functions together in an organization.
10 Tips for Aligning Functions
When people align, it means they have a common purpose they are all passionate about and a reason to work together and achieve goals in line with that purpose. In the case of a growing company, alignment can help you not only accelerate growth but improve profitability and long-term success. Here are 10 tips for aligning your sales, marketing and customer support functions
- Focus on the customer – provide a unified experience for identifying, understanding and fulfilling customer needs
- Take a One Team approach – the customer should see your company as a single coordinated entity
- Understand end-to-end processes – look for points of friction and processes getting backed-up
- Encourage collaboration – your team can better address customer needs if they work together and share ideas
- Align performance metrics and rewards to common objectives – don’t let your rewards program undermine success
- Encourage excellence in individual roles – give team members the training, tools and support they need to excel.
- Soften boundaries between functions – don’t let org structures create barriers
- Share data across functions (avoiding siloes) – cross-functional data leads to better quality insights
- Think long-term – focus on lifetime value and customer retention
- Keep growth balanced – ensure that growth in one area doesn’t cause problems in another.
Through building alignment amongst your business functions and providing the right set of tools to enable and sustain that alignment, your company will be better positioned to turn this exciting time of rapid growth into sustainable and profitable customer engagements that will delight your customers, your employees and your shareholders.
The Role of Helpdesk Software in Supporting Integrated Functions
Shared purpose, common goals, unified experiences, integrated business processes and shared data are all important tools in aligning your sales, marketing and customer support processes. In modern organizations, technology plays an essential role in making these alignments successful and sustainable. For small companies, experiencing (or anticipating) a period of rapid growth, help desk software can provide a technology platform to assist you in unifying your customer experience data and orchestrating activities and workflows across the teams of people that need to be a part of customer success.
Insights about customer needs, their business environment, the history of their engagement (touch points) with your company and their sentiment about working with you are all valuable insights that need to be used by sales, marketing and customer support to ensure that the company is fulfilling the needs that were identified at the time of sale as well as identifying new unmet needs that the company could potentially address. Every employee who engages with the customer needs to have access to this information and the ability to add (and share) new insights as they are discovered. Helpdesk software provides a place to capture this information, organize it, share it, and distill it into actionable insights that will help your company scale and grow.
One of the biggest challenges for small companies selecting a helpdesk platform is providing the simple capabilities the company needs initially at a reasonable cost as well as the additional features that the company will need to scale for growth. Cloud based helpdesk platforms like Freshdesk solve this problem by providing companies access to full featured capabilities without a huge up-front investment. You pay for what you need, and the software will scale with you as your company grows. This is important because it enables you to develop a foundation of alignment between sales, marketing and customer support early on, then add new levels of sophistication when the organization is ready to use them.