Departmental Detrimental

Businesses should not resemble circular firing squads.

While presenting to the Silicon Valley Forum’s Marketing SIG last night, one audience member noted her company’s marketing, product development and sales staffs were unaligned. Well, “unaligned” might be poor wording. They appear to be as completely disjointed as drawn and quartered traitors. This is not uncommon in tech companies where the three groups have come onboard at different phases of corporate growth, believe they own the customer and move ahead despite what other teams are doing.

Circular firing squads are more efficient and less violent.

In early phases, techies are product managers and interface with customers directly. They believe they listen to prospects though this is often self-delusion. Techies (and particularly techie founders) only listen to customer input that agrees with the original product vision. This form of founderitus is so prevalent in Silicon Valley that my audience was not surprised when I described it to them.

Cynicism thrives in the valley.

A little later in corporate aging, salespeople are hired and begin dictating product development agendas. Unhappily, professional product hawkers have a one sales quarter viewpoint and can launch development teams into spasmodic fits of coding to meet the Customer Objection of the Week. Product managers get sick of this after a while and stop listening to sales, leaving sales staffs to create their own stories about what the product does … even when it doesn’t.

Sadly the Internet has not yet obviated the need for salespeople.

Finally, marketing employees arrive. The first in the door are typically advanced copywriters and actors at trade shows who have only vague notions about measuring market needs. They proceed to irritate product managers with irrelevant and misguided suggestions. By the time experienced marketers with quantitative research skills arrive, their input is disregarded by product management and their go-to-market messages are revamped by sales.

Three groups with no agreement on mission, messaging or marketing.

Curing this malady is not for weaklings. It takes some bullheadedness on the part of marketing and enforcement by top management. Marketing has to quantify market needs and competitive realities. Since they are twisting techie arms in product development teams, marketing cannot use generalities. Demand and competitive threats have to be expressed down to one decimal place … at least. Any pushback from product development will then result in backlash from the CEO.

Marketing must also manage the message, and wherever possible bias buyers perception before salespeople are ever engaged, turning salesmen into order takers. Getting the message and brand right, then relentlessly pushing it to the market and all through internal teams forces salespeople to respond to customer inquiries based on the selected messages, value propositions and product positioning. Salespeople who don’t follow the script won’t sell much and will soon be finding new jobs.

However, these sales/marketing/proddev disconnects don’t need to exist. Start-up CEOs need to establish clear demarcations of responsibility and be ready to enforce them. They need to change these responsibilities as the organization grows. They have to be firm at the right times, mediate before and during organizational changes, and be ready to let non-compliant people walk. It is a tough job, but essential …

And a lot more pleasant than dodging interdepartmental fire.


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