The Sales Process: Just One Part of Client-Centered Coordination
The sales process is an integral part of a company's success. However, consumers are increasingly demanding a fully integrated customer experience. If you're not providing an effective, seamless journey from closing to delivery to after-sales service, your clients will likely switch to competitors. Your internal structures are irrelevant to customers; they expect you to unfailingly meet and exceed their expectations. This requires close internal coordination among your company's departments.
Why Your Customers Care About Every Department
A great sales process is important, but so is product development, marketing, customer service and the supply chain. Everything your company does can retain or alienate customers. Having logistics problems that result in late delivery? These impact your sales. Haven't developed the kind of product features your clients want? This also impacts your sales. It's the same if your customer service team is mishandling customer complaints. You need to focus on the total customer experience. Having a customer-oriented organization means, by definition, that you have an integrated, coordinated approach to everything you do.
When your sales team closes a big deal, it's time to start coordinating. If the deal requires a high volume of production and a fast delivery, then your production and logistics people need to be ready. It's a good idea to get them on board and share information before the deal closes. Having systems that facilitate open communication is key. For example, customer relationship management (CRM) software allows the entire company to share vital information like current sales rates, customer responses to new initiatives, competitive activity and any potential customer interactions with other departments.
Coordinating internal functions keeps customers happy. Conversely, when one area messes up, the whole company pays the price. As Harvard Business School Professor Benson P. Shapiro explains in HBS Working Knowledge, "When field sales, telesales and customer service people all interact with the same account, the objective is flawless, efficient, timely service but the real result can be chaos, infighting, expensive duplication and terrible service." If you're weak in one area, you're weak in all areas.
Preparing Your Organization to Meet Customer Demands
There are five essential steps in increasing customercentric coordination:
- Set up processes, systems and structures that facilitate interdepartment information flow. These can be IT-based, such as CRM, or they can be cross-departmental committees that draft communications. Informal, people-based information networks can work too, though these tend to be less reliable and sustainable.
- Ensure that your company sees itself as one united entity. Rivalries among departments hamper customercentric priorities and do little to boost productivity. Instead, build your strategy and your incentives around the totality of the customer experience, not just how clients interact with each department. Show your teams the big strategic picture and tell them how they support that strategy. Communicate that the company must effectively coordinate every aspect of the customer experience, even if one department seems to have only a minor impact. That team is still significant to the end goal.
- Coordinate decision-making across departments. Because all employees create the customer experience, they should also have a say in the decision-making process. Decisions should be about what best serves the customer and not about departmental priorities. While one team might take the lead, all areas should be engaged.
- Distribute responsibility. Create a committee that looks across your middle market company for priorities and goals. Members should be skilled leaders from diverse areas who are able to identify opportunities to drive organizational change. This committee should ensure coordination and find new ways to make it happen.
- Learn from past examples of customercentric coordination. Identify best practices that you've implemented and analyze where they led to higher customer satisfaction and greater long-term value. Did your sales team work with product development, sharing customer requirements in order to develop a better, more satisfactory product? Did customer service identify a cross-selling or up-selling opportunity that they shared with the sales team? Collect these success stories, share them across your organization and build momentum using these models.
Coordination is never easy. Companies are often structured in ways that restrict internal communication. The key solution is to change those structures to incentivize unity. The sales process doesn't just rely on one team, after all. If your structures, systems, processes and people aren't integrated and collaborating, then you're not truly a customer-centered organization. Lip service won't cut it, and you can be sure your customers will recognize the difference between talking and doing. By following the five steps above, you can start taking action.
Have you ever dealt with interdepartmental conflict when trying to coordinate organizational goals? How did you resolve the problem? Tell us by commenting below.
Boston-based Chuck Leddy is an NCMM contributor and a freelance reporter who contributes regularly to The Boston Globe and Harvard Gazette. He also trains Fortune 500 executives in business-communication skills as an instructor for EF Education. Circle him on Google+.