I still regret not saying anything when I heard the salesperson promise functionality that our software definitely did not offer.
As the technical consultant on the sales call (years before my role at Help Scout), I should have corrected my colleague, but I was too shy and inexperienced to say anything. The result: We landed a new customer, my colleague in sales was paid his commission, and the support team was stuck explaining to the customer that what they’d been sold didn’t exist.
Friends, not foes
Though deliberate deception is not the norm, in many companies, complex software systems, differing skill sets, knowledge gaps, and poor communication end up working together better than the teams themselves and create an ineffective and sometimes damaging working environment between support, sales, and marketing teams.
Customer service teams can feel like they are being called in to “help” customers brought in by sales who are not a good fit for the product. Marketing teams become frustrated by customer service teams who resist changes in approach or who don’t understand the realities of the market they are in. Sales teams can lose time chasing the wrong customers or be held back by a dwindling lead pool if the marketing team is off track.
Every company has limited resources to spend. When each team is pulling in a different direction, a whole lot of energy is wasted, and that means less growth, unhappy customers and lost revenue.
Growing teams, growing pains
Many businesses are created to meet the founder’s own needs. In the early days, with a small team, it’s easier for everyone at the company to have a very clear — and more importantly, consistent — picture of who the customers are and what they need.
Markets change, but for people who aren’t living in that marketplace day to day, that change can be harder to spot. Sales and marketing teams will often see it first, and they’ll start to adapt their approach to advertising, copywriting and sales pitches. Meanwhile, inside the company, the old model of “who our customers are” and “who we are as a company” is still strongly held.
The mismatch between the new approach and the old model can be a potent source of friction.
When Agata Celmerowski joined email service provider Campaign Monitor as their first marketing hire, she faced this tricky transitional period:
“When I arrived at Campaign Monitor, the team and the business were growing quickly. They were almost beyond the size where everyone could have that instinctive sense of who they were — and were not — trying to generate attention from, sell to, build for, and support.”When there’s no shared understanding, everything slows down. Customer service teams struggle to work with customers for whom the product may not have been built, while marketers lack internal support to make the changes that are needed to reach new customers. All that wasted effort leaves less energy focused on the customers, and that’s the start of a vicious cycle. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
How to align support, sales, and marketing
Great customer service can happen at any scale, but it won’t happen by accident. With the right framework in place, companies can create a consistent customer experience, all the way from first marketing touches to ongoing support, which will help your company stand out from the competition. Here are three practical ideas for getting your company aligned.
1. Band together around personas
Customer profiles, or personas, are a powerful tool to help your whole company understand who your ideal customers are; they’ll also help you talk about and to those customers in a more targeted and concrete way.
At Campaign Monitor, Celmerowski led a process of market research, customer interviews and data analysis that resulted in three clear personas. Having who we were serving printed and up on the wall made it that much easier for the support and marketing teams to talk about changing the approach to advertising and how that might impact customer service.
When you have a particular idea of who your customer is but the person you’re talking to has a completely different idea, it’s very hard to have a productive conversation. But if you’re both talking about “Mary the marketing manager,” you can advocate for Mary’s interests instead of arguing about your personal preferences, making Mary (your customer) the framework for decision making.
If your company doesn’t have up-to-date customer profiles, here are some helpful resources for creating personas:
- Customer Profiles: A Smarter Way to Reach Your Customers
- Personas Make Users Memorable for Product Team Members
- 29 Ways to Use Your Personas
2. Run a bootcamp for your new team members
When companies grow quickly, it’s easy for new employees to jump into their work, relying on their skills and knowledge from their prior workplaces to get things done. Sometimes, those approaches might not mesh well with your company or your particular customers.
At Farmlogs, a farm management software company, Heidi Craun, VP of Customer Success, found that new sales team members were not arriving at Farmlogs with a ton of farmer-specific knowledge. As a result, it was difficult for them to connect with prospective customers and understand who was a good fit for the product. To fix this onboarding problem, Heidi set up regular bootcamps to help new employees get to know their customers and company culture better.
“Now we provide them with detailed product and customer care training. I also run a separate presentation on our customer happiness program and our post-sales customer experience.”Those first few weeks are a critical time to share the company history and culture and to ensure all parts of the company are aiming at the same goals. At Campaign Monitor, Ashley Porter set up a weeklong boot camp that tightly focused on key personas and customer care:
“The Campaign Monitor boot camp is a time for us to align around who our customer is and how we communicate with them in all areas of our company. By understanding who our personas are, what their day-to-day looks like, and how our product solves their issues, our teams can give empathetic and confident communication.”
Looking for some employee onboarding inspiration? Here are a few of my favorites:
- How We Stepped Up Our Employee Onboarding at Help Scout.
- Atlassian’s induction program mixes technical and culture classes.
- Campaign Monitor’s onboarding, which starts even before the first day.
- Valve’s handbook for new employees, which gives a clear insight into their culture.
3. Encourage regular cross-team training
Even when you get those first few weeks just right, alignment can drift over time when teams begin focusing on their own areas and hitting their separate goals.
Regular cross-team training can help expose team members to the challenges and knowledge of other parts of the company, which results in clearer understanding and communication.
Brianne Villano, Customer Support Lead at Spreedly, explained to me how she connected support and sales in a previous role. Her team had been struggling to help some new customers who just were not the right fit for the product:
“I made it a policy to have the sales people involved in the onboarding of new customers. That way they could see the costs of missed expectations.”
When the sales team recognized the amount of time their support group was having to spend with customers who’d often end up leaving, they were able to adjust their approach.
Shared experiences are a great way to break down communication barriers.
Whole-company support is one way to share the customer’s daily experience with non-support team members. At Help Scout, every new team member gets support training and spends time helping our customers with their questions.
On the other side, why not invite your customer support staff to sit in on marketing meetings or join a sales call to get a better understanding of the process?
For tips on how to create shared experiences at your company, I recommend these articles:
- How Customer.io Built a Whole Company Support Culture
- Dual Roles: Cross-Training to Enhance Customer Service, Employee Engagement, and Career Advancement
When all parts of your organization understand each other and work smoothly together, you’ll have more organizational energy to spend where it really counts — helping your customers succeed.
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