The Challenge Of Functional Silos

By Katherine Shao

Once upon a time, a company I worked with was struggling with an outdated, rigidly constructed CRM system. People in all of the functions who used the system complained constantly about how hard it was to find the right information, how many steps it took to complete certain tasks, how terrible the reporting was, how many workarounds existed to just get business done.

I am certain that your company, if it is of a certain size and age, has grappled with this exact problem. CRM systems, like many systems that handle business information and transactions, end up being used by different people in different functions:

  • Marketing uses it to send campaigns to contacts

  • Sales uses it to manage opportunities in their various stages

  • Sales management uses it to forecast pipelines to Finance

  • Finance uses it to produce quotes and pricing to Sales

  • HR must define the different types of profiles and roles of the people who use it

  • Professional Services uses it to record interactions, update contact information, manage relationships

  • IT must maintain it and troubleshoot

  • Training departments must train on it

At the company I was working with, it seemed that there was not a single function who did NOT use the CRM system, or interact with it in some way. It was the core system that cut across the entire company.

Consider the acronym of the CRM system. Customer Relationship Management. What is interesting to me: this system didn’t appear to manage customer relationships, as much as it reflected the operational environment of the company. Another interesting item: find anyone on the planet whose company has a CRM, and ask them:

  • Is the actual information about customers accurate or up to date?

  • Whose job is it to ensure the accuracy of customer information?

  • How is that information used by people in different functions?

Then you should stop asking questions, lest your subject end up in a fetal position on the floor.

But take note: not one of those questions has anything to do with the CRM software. More on this later.

This company decided that one of their core problems was, in fact, this overextended, inaccurate, productivity-squashing CRM system. After all, it was one of things employees tended to complain about the most.

Or rather, it was the common complaint that came from every function – because every function was using the system in some way.

Naturally, then, the company launched an initiative to modernize this system and unlock all that wasted productivity. They allocated adult sums of money to purchasing new software, hiring implementation consultants, taking people off of their regular jobs to help with the project, and hiring backfills. They followed the tried and true process of doing discovery, gathering requirements, trying to minimize the customization of the software, trying to conform to the “out of the box” features and functions. People in every function were interviewed, with questions about their workflow, and the consultants followed their template project plans dutifully.

Fast forward several fiscal quarters, past the go-live, past the humps and bumps of training and helping people get used to the new system. Do you think that the new CRM achieved its goal of making people more productive?

Remember those three questions about customer information that I posed earlier? If you were to ask anyone in this company, well after the implementation of this new system, those three questions, you would still have the same non-answers, the same fetal position.

In other words, nothing really changed. People still had trouble finding information, and people still had to do work arounds, slightly different ones that reflected some of the nuances of this new system.

What happened here? Didn’t this company do all the right things to ensure their investment yielded results?  Let’s look at some of the steps they took in this project.

  • Interviews – and ensuing requirements – were conducted by function: Finance, Sales, Product, Marketing, HR.

  • It was assumed that each function understood their own requirements and workflow very well.

  • Therefore the design of the system followed each function’s footprint and attempted to replicate it in the new system.

  • Moreover, the new system was mandated to go live across all functions, for all users, with close to 80% of all features available

 Within any given function at this company, they were in fact doing the right things – for their own function. If the only goal of the system was to just enable Finance to simplify the pricing rules and ensure the right revenue recognition, or just for Marketing to automate and track their campaigns, do you think these objectives would have been met?

This is a key issue in today’s org. Functions do just fine in their own silo. The challenge is that a company depends on the cooperation of its different functions, together. (There is no org I know of that is comprised of just a Finance department.) And yet, very little consideration is given to the sheer amount of work it takes to collaborate cross-functionally.

Notice that I did not say, “organizations don’t work cross-functionally”.  They do, every day, of course! But try implementing a new CRM system that impacts each function, and most org’s won’t factor in the amount of time and effort required for those people to get on the same page about common objectives and goals. Instead, they’ll opt for what feels familiar and logical: determine requirements, and execute, function by function. Or, they’ll believe they are setting common objectives and goals, but the language used will be so generic as to be constantly misinterpreted and subject to assumptions.

Here are some of the things that were missing in our CRM project:

  • No one had the responsibility of looking across the entire system and helping each function recognize how their work and requirements fit into the bigger picture

  • No one was in a position to challenge and ask WHY people did their work in a particular way

  • No one showed the cause-and-effect relationships of one function’s work to another

  • No one challenged the idea of going live with the “big bang” or provided an alternative

The bottom line: organizations are not only inherently biased to their own products and services, as we discussed in the last post – they are also prone to thinking and executing in functional silos, in ways that are not additive, and don’t have a common design point.

And we don’t even have to use the CRM example to know this. How many Sales people use the materials that Marketing creates? How many Finance people understand what is really spent on Sales support? How many Product or R&D groups are able to provide the information that allows a Sales person to have a conversation with an executive?

Finally, let’s recall that it’s these very functions who have very different answers to the question of Who Is Our Customer? With no common foundation to work from, it’s no wonder that B2B org’s are disconnected from their customers, and poorly executing as a result.

In future posts, we’ll explore how to overcome the three obstacles that B2B companies face in eliminating the massive disconnect with their customers. The answers will be surprisingly simple.

By | 2017-06-16T16:30:45+00:00 August 20th, 2015|LinkedIn|