Breaking down the internal barriers is the start of growth.
Customer centric results are rarely delivered by company centric processes, yet, while all companies are scrapping for growth and reaching out to customers with new initiatives, a lot are struggling to deliver the experiences that they devise for their customers, because the corporate mindset is not aligned.
Marketing and brand people are frequently collating customer learning and insights that identify fertile growth areas. Something then goes wrong. Their internal machines work on a company centric or channel centric or silo centric premise and process. Us and them. Me not we. Competitive not collaborative. Yesterday not tomorrow.
Companies have been used to driving shareholder returns often by maximising efficiency and cost cutting to an extent that these are now deeply ingrained in the corporate psyche. Each part of the company has had a distinct role in delivering these bottom line successes. These different elements of the organisation have slowly become separated into big business units – often led as a separate mini organisation. They have layers of bureaucracy and tell their own versions of the company story. They’ll have their own separate advisors (often advising on the same thing as other units) and work to different KPIs. Communication is great up & down the separate Units but poor across the company. Top down is the only channel – and often with messages for the ears of the analysts waiting for the next quarterly profitability reports.
To drive customer driven growth, many companies must change on the inside before they succeed on the outside. They must move from the mentality of “the business we do” to that of “the business the customer needs”. The old marketing thinking, dominated by Mad Men, was to create desire by telling beautiful stories in advertising. Making the customer want your products. 21st C branding is all about making products or offering services that customers need.
The whole company needs to have the customer in their focus in everything they do. The company purpose and culture will be driven by the customer. The internal processes will need to change to be customer centric.
This kind of change is tough. Big and small companies are good at what they do and that’s easy to be the prime focus. Marketing is one area that perhaps can help this change. Communication and collaboration are the fundamental basics of a marketing approach. Insight and messages are the bread and butter of the customer dialogue for brand led growth. Bringing these skills into the company processes with the outside in view that marketers have can help. Bringing creativity and collaboration is the best way to break down the silo mentality.
Trialling new, small cross functional teams with a customer driven objective will begin to create something new that can show success to the rest of the organisation’s separatists. Learning to think differently as a team, in a collaborative environment, with the blessing of top management and without the restrictions of the day to day, quarter by quarter focus, is achievable quickly if you pilot it. Aim at a few, short term outputs. You shouldn’t outsource creativity or collaboration. Learning to do it yourself bring huge benefits and allow success to positively infect those around these teams.
Just as importantly, whatever the objective of these pilot groups, whatever the outputs they are tasked with, the voice of the customer must be there throughout. Use customers in these creative sessions. Ensure the outputs are shaped with the customer or end user throughout – not simply as a check or box to tick at the end. Today this is possible with advances in online research. This is possible with the rapid advancement of social media platforms that allow private communities – staff and/or customers to upload their own content, share information, blog and chat or have sessions like webinars and programs to encourage collaboration and sharing. Community thinking works with staff as well as with customers.
A culture of trialling changes on the inside via small, well supported pilots will feed back into the organisation and become a lighthouse across the silos, a sign of things to come. By leading with the customer’s outside in view, driven by those with the customer insight (sales, brand, telesales, marketing, stores – whatever) will bring the platform for growth that is eluding companies hampered by internal barriers. Alignment and cooperation will be the outcome of these pilots, plus the customer driven outputs of each pilot group. A focus on finding successful customer initiatives break down internal barriers and creates an culture where all staff are empowered to deliver value to customers, independent of which department they belong to.
Changing on the inside with the customer driving the change will turn the fertile areas for growth into a reality.