The 4 Stages of Creating a Collaborative Customer Journey

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Experts share essential tips for fostering a constructive collaboration between your sales and marketing teams.
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Who in business hasn't heard the phrase, "customers don't think in silos," or "we must break through silos?" Very few people, most likely. Business leaders know that delivering excellent customer experiences in a seamless manner is important, but making this a reality is difficult. Merging sales and marketing teams is one such example.

Marketing and sales teams typically work on an assembly line of leads: marketers generate leads for salespeople to transform into revenue. However, this process could be even more effective if the two departments combined their resources and insights, notes Brian Solis, principal analyst at Altimeter Group, a Prophet company. "Just because they [marketers and salespeople] haven't worked closely together doesn't mean it has to remain that way," Solis says. "Companies are beginning to realize that they can create a new type of team that works together."

1. Build a Foundation for Innovation
Only 44 percent of respondents think their organizations' sales and marketing teams work "somewhat well together," reported Seismic, a sales tools provider, which polled 200 business professionals. "This isn't surprising since there's a lot of natural tension between sales and marketing and it takes time for these departments to shift gears and start working more efficiently together," says Seismic CEO Doug Winter.

Indeed, making cultural changes at an organization are often more difficult to manage than implementing a new piece of software, says Tamir Sigal, CMO at GMC Software, which develops customer communications management software. Last year, Sigal helped his own company's sales and marketing teams work more efficiently together. "The key challenge was changing the culture of the organization," he says. "For example, I assumed all the salespeople knew what marketing did but we discovered more education was needed."

It's also critical to have the support of executive leaders. "It has to be a top-down strategy if people are going to take any changes seriously," adds Samantha Couzens, GMC's senior director of Americas field marketing." Given that the directive to drive more collaboration came from GMC's CEO, the next step-implementing processes to help the sales and marketing teams actually work more closely together-was easier, Sigal adds.

2. Create a Culture of Trust
While both sales and marketing teams knew they had to work together, they needed an action strategy. The company found that having business development leaders from the sales side collaborate with the marketing department on developing leads created a smoother leads pipeline for the sales team.

"The business development leaders work with marketing on things like account mapping and planning campaigns, which creates a tight-knit group," Couzens says. "It helps build trust because you've got the business development reps qualifying prospects before they reach the sales team and the marketing team gets a better understanding of the types of leads that they need."

Promoting constant and open communication is important, agrees Austin Paley, director of corporate marketing, at marketing firm Blue Fountain Media. "In digital marketing, the industry is ever-changing, including standards, guidelines, and trends," Paley notes. "And so we wanted to manage expectations that our sales team was setting with our clients when they were putting together plans."

The company's salespeople therefore began including its marketing team in sales conversations with potential clients. This added "legitimacy" to conversations since Blue Fountain's experts "could further reinforce what our salespeople were vocalizing," Paley maintains. It also reinforces the feeling that marketers and salespeople are working toward the same goals-meeting customer expectations and driving revenue. Additionally, the marketing team shares industry-related news with the sales team and educates them on special services and offerings as needed.

3. Stay on Track with Data Insights
Once the communication process is in place, keep it moving smoothly. The teams should be encouraged to discuss any frustrations or issues in a constructive manner. Unclear objectives and metrics are a common source of frustration. Therefore, it's important for the teams to agree that marketing will deliver a certain number of leads that meet a certain quality within set deadlines, and that sales will pursue a certain number of those leads.

"A sales team is responsible for closing what the marketing team is generating when it comes to leads," Paley notes. "Make sure you're having a conversation and understand who to go to and how you all can achieve a common goal collaboratively."

Performance tracking and other data analytics are an effective way to make sure everyone is meeting their goals. For instance, it's important that "everything marketing does is measurable," Sigal says. "Whether it's a new social media campaign, a piece of collateral, or an ad, it has to be clear how this will be measured and what constitutes success."

Data also plays a critical role in giving organizations insights into the customer lifecycle. With a closed-loop integration, salespeople can track the online behaviors of their leads to make more relevant calls. And marketing can get a better understanding of where their best leads come from to better allocate their time and resources.

The value of accurate, integrated data can't be understated, Paley notes. "The biggest challenge we were faced with while aligning our sales and marketing more closely was having the appropriate data to understand our leads on a deeper level," he says. Coincidentally, Blue Fountain Media and GMC Software both use Salesforce.com for marketing and sales purposes, but there are a slew of other CRM and data analytics platforms to choose from.

4. Don't Forget about Customer Service
Connecting sales and marketing teams internally represents only part of providing a seamless customer experience. Customer service is another critical component of the customer journey. Ironically, many companies forget to include customer service in their strategies for a better experience, Solis notes.

Business leaders have "good intentions in connecting their sales and marketing teams, but they have to remember that customer service must be included too," he says. "Customer service isn't just for when something goes wrong, it can also be a way to build relationships." Customer agents, for example, who have access to the latest offers and product information can provide callers with more knowledgeable answers and give personalized recommendations.

Furthermore, customer feedback surveys can alert marketers and salespeople about the areas they should focus on, Sigal adds. Insights from surveys "become an actionable list to improve what we deliver to the market, how we onboard our customers, and how we service our clients," he says.

Connecting customer service into the sales and marketing cycle is important, Paley agrees. In fact, not integrating customer service into a company's marketing and sales efforts points to a problem within the organizational structure.

"If customer service is an entirely different entity it suggeststhat marketing and sales teamsaren't selling the service honestly or clearly enough," Paley maintains. "If you need a dedicatedteam clarifying why or how a service does or doesn't work outside of the buying process that is something a company should work to address-any questions a customer has should be addressed before he even knows he has them."

There are multiple ways to build a collaborative customer journey within an organization but applying the fundamentals-fostering a culture of innovation, building trust among employees, using data-driven strategies, and including customer service into the overall strategy-sets companies up for success.

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION