hitting a wall with a sledgehammer
PHOTO: Ted Eytan

“Eliminate silos.” That has been a top priority and discussion point of organizations for years, yet we continue to struggle to really get rid of silos once and for all.

A quick Google search suggests the problem first came to light around 2005 and has steadily grown since. A 2018 article in the MIT Sloan Management Review reported on research that found that 51 percent of legacy businesses have silos and that just 28 percent have successfully digitized.

What can organizations do to eradicate silos?

The answer lies in your customers. Business has come a long way since the age of the consumer revolutionized sales and marketing to revolve around customer engagement, retention and the never-ending battle for loyalty. But as organizations rushed through transformations and new tools in order to put customer experience at the forefront of their strategies, they were forced to essentially patch silos together with duct tape. That metaphorical duct tape, which veteran IT analyst Jack Gold estimates is still present in 85 percent of companies, prevents true digital transformation and customer success.

CIOs understand that true experience needs to be consistently delivered across all channels, an approach that requires systems to be optimized and integrated not only for the customer experience but for all parts of the value chain, including employees and suppliers. Optimizing the whole system can be tough, but it can pay dividends in the long run.

Here are a few tips to make it happen.

Related Article: Marketing's Chicken or Egg Silo Problem

Think Like a Customer to Innovate Like a Leader

At a macro level, all businesses have to think like B2C companies now. We have to be able to morph ourselves as business people and technology innovators to speak the common language of every target audience and end user: mass consumerism. 

The good news is that we are all naturally consumers, and our comfort zone is to interact in this way. The challenge is bringing that mindset into the boardroom, onto sales calls, into social media posts and into our corporate content.

Starting with bringing this customer-first mentality to the innovation stage of products or technologies allows a company’s entire growth story to be shaped around what its biggest supporters and potential customers want and need. When that approach succeeds, the rest of the former silos disintegrate.

When customers are the direct catalyst for technology innovation, what quickly follows is a purpose-built foundation for sales materials, content and customer engagement that by nature captures the customer voice.

Related Article: Old MacDonald Met a Data Silo, E-I-E-I-O

Showcase Diverse Viewpoints to Shatter Illusions of Silos

To truly think and communicate like a customer, businesses have to stop speaking like business machines and start speaking human. Expand content beyond solely business-centric or sales- or marketing-oriented subject matter and make an effort to offer a holistic representation of the outcomes the organization is enabling internally and externally. This starts with sharing responsibility and encouraging collaboration of viewpoints, thought leadership and results from the C-suite down to day-to-day success teams.

When it comes to marketing, words on a website are great, but organizational silos come undone when you put a customer name next to them. Customers and prospects want to know that your entire organization is rallied behind the same vision, and you can convey that message by having a range of resources and subject matter experts readily available and expressing their opinions.

A simple step to take is to give customer case studies prominence in the marketing mix to demonstrate how the company works in concert to deliver consistent, quality work and services — from sales to customer success to product innovation. It’s the marketer’s job to ensure that those studies offer a diverse representation of varying vertical markets, business needs, metrics of success and outcomes. With this union of content and an array of voices, the organization presents itself as a whole entity, and not as a collection of disconnected business units.

Related Article: Why Marketers Need to Rethink Their Siloed Approach to Data

Humanize Your Brand With Customer Champion Stories

Customer marketing must be organically incorporated into your strategy for growing the business and breaking down silos from the beginning; it should not be added as an afterthought. This requires your employees to understand customers’ stories from their perspectives — from pain point to onboarding and rollout to business outcomes and ROI. Other customers and prospects want to know more than the hard result your technology or product delivers; they want “customer champion” stories to help understand the emotional connection and how your business works with others.

A strong customer champion strategy has no room for silos. In order to accurately tell these stories, the organization must take the time to close the loop on the work that’s been done from the first sales call to the most recent customer success meeting and everything in between. This is where you are able to underscore less obvious but critically important results, such as how your company worked with a customer company to manage an executive transition, combat a staunch competitor or navigate a tricky business climate.

Customer champion stories also represent an opportunity to humanize your product or technology. Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman says 95 percent of purchase decisions are made subconsciously, based on emotion rather than facts and figures. This means content has to go much further than sales- and marketingspeak — it has to incorporate how you are driving human progress.

Facts and figures and business outcomes may back up a buying decision, but emotional and personal connections get customers past the intent stage. Check in with various teams: How are sales teams highlighting their human progress stories on social media? What case studies can customer success teams be an advocate for? How are your executives recognizing successful customers and employees?

Related Article: Is Customer Centricity Actual or Aspirational?

Build a Customer-Centric Business, Free From Silos

The fastest way to rid your organization of silos is to place the customer at the center of each team and business unit. With customers as the single uniting factor and measure of success, the walls between silos naturally break down and give way to a collaborative organization that innovates, communicates and delivers in the language of the customer. The result is a level of advocacy, trust, retention and business outcomes that powerfully distinguishes you from your competitors.