Moats and Drawbridges
What is the upside for organizations who are first to find a path forward to mine this untapped insight goldmine?
Moats and Drawbridges
The Current State of B2B
Cross-Functional Insight Sharing
<small><b>Maureen Blandford</b> </small>
I am forever grateful to Jill Konrath, Dave Stein, and Jeffrey Gitomer for endorsing my first book (Branding Doesn’t Work in B2B). As a lone, unknown voice, positing some counter-market views much to the irritation of the conventional wisdom posse, their affirmation has gone a long way to buoying me as I continue on the path less followed.
In 2017 when I started on my model - and this book - in earnest, I was lucky to have a stellar boss (now a dear friend), who believed in my crazy theories enough to support piloting the work while he was CEO at SIG in Amsterdam. Taking obstacles out of my way at every step, Erik Oltmans was a great partner and an ideal CEO for a CMO. During this timeframe, writer extraordinaire Tim Walker, was key to an early framing of this book. Even though I had to walk away from it for a couple of years, I was grateful to have Tim’s notes when I picked it up again this go-round.
I am indebted to my entire community, who help sharpen my saw every day, largely via twitter, but I am especially thankful to three thought partners who collaborate with and challenge me in all the best ways: Marshall Kirkpatrick, Dion Hinchcliff, and Jane Morrin. I can’t even begin to quantify the value of their willingness to knowledge-share. They are amazing.
Many thanks to my brilliant colleagues who participated in my Moats and Drawbridges study earlier this summer. The study was anonymized or I’d thank them by name. It’s a privilege to know them and they make me smarter every day.
Community continues to be such a powerful stream of value into my life. And of course I discovered my exceptional editor via my exceptional network. Lindsay Bell has been a delight to work with. I do not enjoy writing and I’m sure it would have taken me another year to complete this book if it wasn’t for her. Keen insights, great suggestions, gentle pressure, and hilarious - Lindsay makes me almost think I could write another book.
Finally, deep thanks to my daughters, who are supportive and inspirational beyond measure.
-- Maureen Blandford
Hidden costs, brought to life.
Research results of a study with leaders in Europe and the US.
Knowing how we got here, to choose a better path forward.
Let's imagine how great it could be.
*You* are who you're waiting for.
See the change, be the change, exalt the change.
Buh Bye, Moats, Rickety Drawbridges, Divisions, Fiefdoms
Leaders weigh in on the cost of missing insights and envision brighter days ahead.
Every functional area (Product, Marketing, Sales, Success) of every B2B business has insights the other functional areas need. Desperately.
Yet most companies don’t have any human or tech structure in place to ensure those insights are consistently shared. Sure, Sales shares pipeline information, and Product shares roadmap a couple times a year. Marketing, in most organizations, shares the most actionable data - but do the other functional areas act on it? Not usually. So, how valuable is it, if it’s not compared to other functional area insights? Are any of these insights tied to strategic objectives?
And what about all the great offline, unstructured data Sales receives from prospects and customers, during phone calls, meetings, business dinners, hallway conversations? The same is true for the Success side of your organization.
How often does the Product group conduct focus groups? User groups? How often is Product assessing customer activity in the platform or app? How, structurally, are those insights shared with Sales, Success, and Marketing?
What if we could CAPTURE those insights - from each department - and compare them to the data that Marketing gathers? In addition to that, how powerful would it be to regularly be looking at Product usage in conjunction with the other functional area insights?
Might we see connections between what we’re hearing from customers and what we’re seeing in product?
The question then becomes - what does it cost organizations who can’t find a way to capture these insights? What does it cost organizations when key functional areas aren’t regularly collaborating via a structured information feedback loop?
Most importantly, what is the upside for organizations who are first to find a path forward to mine this untapped insight goldmine?
In this book, I’ll explore what it means for organizations who currently aren’t using data holistically. You’ll hear (through my research) from companies who ‘sort of’ have a system for data and insights sharing, but can’t seem to get buy-in from all departments (and therein lies the problem!).
And you’ll hear from many who just simply don’t understand the power behind data and insights sharing. Or who get it, but don’t have the right systems in place, human or otherwise, to make it happen company-wide.
The happy news is, whatever the size of your organization and resources, there is absolutely work you can start doing TODAY to close these gaps, deepen your collaboration with your colleagues, and positively impact both the customer & employee experience, as well as the bottom line.
Whatever the size of your organization and resources, there is absolutely work you can start doing TODAY to close these gaps
Read, Watch, Follow
I’m not the only one looking at insights sharing. And at the conclusion of each chapter, I’ll point to the individuals and organizations whose work inspires me. I’d encourage you to Read, Watch, Follow these innovators for deeper research and inspiration.
I’ll also be sharing with you some cool folks who are looking at the power of collaboration to drive material change and optimization across a wide breadth of initiatives.
Missing in Action: Insights
Missing in Action: Insights
Your success team is interfacing with customers every single day. They are deeply familiar with what's working with your product - and what's not - and know which pain-points need immediate attention. Their customer retention targets and strategies are closely aligned across your teams: Product, Marketing, and Sales. This allows gaps to be quickly noticed and filled.
Product has one eye on the roadmap and the other on utilization and support cases, looking for those gaps and prioritizing for the next sprint. In regular syncs with peers in Marketing, Sales, and Success, they’re leading insight collaboration sessions, and fanning back out into the ecosystem to address pain points and build on strengths.
Marketing is laser focused on the top of the funnel, both for net new and retention goals, but also watching structured and unstructured data like a hawk. The other functional areas rely on Marketing to surface hot topics, competitive trends, and opportunity potential, for prospects and customers alike.
And Sales - is there any team with better 1:1 insights from prospects or customers of all shapes and sizes? Sales folks hear it all in structured and unstructured conversations while handling prospect and customer accounts all day long. Watching the trends of conversations, Sales regularly gathers all the rich insights they receive, and feeds it back to the other functional areas, so their peers can react accordingly.
The result when functional areas share and collaborate? Sticky, happy customers. Prospects who are intrigued and quick to buy. Uber-fast problem resolution. And leapfrogging the competition with solutions the market has whispered to you from upstream.
Happy days, right?
Well one day, perhaps.
The result when functional areas share and collaborate? Sticky, happy customers.
How many functional areas do you regularly collaborate with, sharing and analyzing insights?
This is more likely your scenario today.
Product: Your Product team just did a UX study on part of your platform. Do you know the size of the study or if it was a representative sample? Why did they do *this* particular study? Do you know what impact it will have on the roadmap? Did they share the positives, negatives, neutrals? Did they share the results with Marketing, Sales, or Success? Did they confer on how their results align with what the other functional areas are observing?
Sales: Your Sales team has just been through a fairly robust Account Planning exercise. They’ve identified key players, pain points, and any notable differences by seniority or business unit. Did they share those results with Product, Marketing, or Success? Did they validate their instincts with the other functional areas? Have they aligned with Marketing on addressing pain points and developing key messages?
Success: Your Success team is often the first point of contact for your customers, especially if problems have arisen. They deal directly with customers every day. They have targets for retention; do they also have strategies for retention? Do you know what those targets and strategies are? Do their targets and strategies align with Product, Marketing, and Sales’ targets and strategies? Are there gaps? When Success team members start to see trends in the market, do they track positive or negative trends? Do they discuss them as a group? Better still, do they discuss them with Product, Marketing, and Sales?
Marketing: Your Marketing team is likely monitoring google analytics, social media reach and related data, and other insights - are they sharing those results with Product, Sales, and Success teams? Is there any time spent discussing how the insights gleaned align (or don’t!) with Product, Sales, and Success’ insights? Is Marketing making decisions that are verified against the other functional area goals?
Let’s go further.
Your Marketing and Sales teams are attending a major industry event (remember major industry events?). Besides coordinating meetings with clients and prospects, who’s manning the booth, and/or scanning badges: What happens to the potential leads gathered, post-event? Did the teams debrief after the event to share captured insights? If so, did they share those insights with Product or Success? And, how does your organization capture these insights, beyond ad hoc, to determine if they’re statistically meaningful?
Your Exec and Product team just hosted a boutique Executive Roundtable. Fifteen C level customers and prospects attended. What feedback was gathered there? Were insights shared with the rest of the organization? Was there a meeting to share information or an action plan in place to scale for Product, Marketing, Sales, or Success?
If you’re like your peers around the world, these questions about the meaningful insights sprinkled all around us - if only we would harness them - might be worrisome and/or inspiring. Hopefully both!
In B2B, every functional area has insights the other functional areas need. Desperately. However, as I speak with Product, Marketing, Sales, and Success leaders around the world, they often express embarrassment about how poorly they and their teams collaborate across functional areas. “Ah, yeah. No, we don’t do that. We definitely should do that.”
“I Thought it Was Just Me”
I do quite a bit of writing and speaking about how B2B reality differs from the nonsense spewed by (charlatans) thought leaders. From AdWeek London to numerous B2B Marketing events to a recent panel hosted by Twitter and Sprinklr, my message is largely the same: The Content Cabal and the Tech Founder ecosystem are so busy turning the volume up to eleven on a message that *works for them* - about hustling, hacking, and killing it - that people everywhere think that’s the single version of the truth. If *you’re* not killing it, I mean, pick up your toys and go home, right? So everyone claims to be killing it.
Pssst. Everyone’s not killing it.
In particular, when I’m presenting to Marketing orgs in the U.S. and Europe about the dismal state of the MarTech stack and the resultant barrier created when it comes to mining for useful insights, person after person approaches me afterwards and *quietly* says “Omg. We thought we were the only ones with this issue!”
They’re not the only ones. You’re not the only one.
I am here to tell you, as much as the Silicon Valley hustle model encourages mouthy folks in the market to talk about how they’re “Totally slaying, man!” the real facts show...few are actually slaying. Most are struggling.
Our legacy systems and structures are the opposite of what we need, if we’re hoping to meaningfully and effectively harness important data and insights.
The reality is most companies don’t have any human or tech structure for consistently sharing those insights. Sure, Sales shares pipeline information. Product may share a roadmap a couple times a year. Marketing likely shares the funnel data. But are the other functional areas acting on it? Just how valuable IS data, if not compared to other functional area insights? And, are any of these tied to strategic objectives?
Wouldn’t it be great to know what prospects and customers are sharing, 1:1? All the great offline, unstructured data Sales & Success receive from prospects and customers? Every phone call, meeting, dinner, hallway conversation? What about all the great unstructured data and insights that live in the digital space, on social channels and other public forums?
Gosh, if we could capture and harness those insights - how different our trajectories would be.
Might we see connections between what we’re hearing from customers and the market, and what we’re seeing in product utilization or support calls?
What is the cost for organizations who don’t capture these insights? Organizations where key functional areas don’t regularly collaborate via a structured feedback loop?
Most importantly, what is the upside for organizations who are first to mine this untapped insight goldmine?
How much better would we all be if we were regularly gathering, structuring, sharing, and collaborating on insights? Worth considering, isn’t it?
Read, Watch, Follow
Nicole France, Evangelist at Contentful; formerly VP and Principal Analyst, Constellation Research (coverage areas)
Three of the many reasons I’m a Nicole France fan:
- Her career path alternating brilliant work as an analyst with brilliant work in the private sector. She knows, first hand, about the daily grind of trying to do great work in organizations shackled to Legacy Mountain. And that makes her analyst assessments remarkably resonant.
- She tirelessly promotes the importance of both the human and the tech.
- Nicole lives her mantra: "CX is an enterprise-wide team sport."
Her piece "What Joe Coulombe Is Still Teaching Us About Customer Experience" would be a great discussion topic for your next team meeting. The key takeaways for me:
- Trader Joe’s “ continues to be the leading U.S. grocery retailer in sales per square foot,” yet they collect no customer data.
- In a world obsessed with automation and data, but arguably little clue about how to master CX, Nicole does a great job of highlighting TJ’s unusual approach and the payoffs.
- “Use technology as a means, not an end.”
- Hear hear. This is just not a perspective the market considers enough.
Carrying on with those themes, I’m spotlighting this publication: "From Transactions to Customers: Finding people in the data.” While you’d have to be a Constellation client (do it!) to read the whole piece yourself, it’s worth highlighting these takeaways:
- “That requires far more than simply analyzing customer data; it means identifying individual customers and their behaviors in the data."
- In many organizations there is 1. Cobbling data together and 2. Presenting data. There is very little human conferring.
- “Be prepared for some eye-opening discussions.”
- ^Not enough discussion going on and everyone needs to get comfortable with uncomfortable conversations. That’s where the gold is.
- “Work in cross-functional teams and plan for expanding direct access to the data.”
Connect with Nicole on LinkedIn or twitter . You’ll be glad you did.
Cost: Productivity Debt & Lost Insights
Cost: Productivity Debt & Lost Insights
What do the tool-wrangling, data-grappling, information-hoarding, and all the resulting productivity gaps along the way eventually cost us? For me, the costs fall roughly into two Categories when it comes to Insights: Productivity Debt and Lost Insights.
Many of you will be familiar with the term Technical Debt. Ward Cunningham, who coined the term and the concept, says:
“Technical Debt includes those internal things that you choose not to do now, but which will impede future development if left undone. This includes deferred refactoring.” (more here and it’s brilliant)
I’m pretty sure I didn’t make up the term Productivity Debt, but there’s not much written on it to cite. Here’s how I think about it:
Data-wrangling is costly across every layer of our organizations. It’s particularly expensive when senior leaders are doing it, as their time costs the company more than a more junior team member. But often unseen to exec teams are the number of hours invested wrestling with data, to eventually get some version of the truth the wrangler actually believes in.
I’ve been trying for years to quantify this cost in a way that would make enough sense to move a C-suite or a Board to resource transformative work. Time and again we see too few examples of companies actively trying to modernize. Why is that? They don’t see the ROI that change could bring.
To be fair, it is challenging to quantify the cost of missed opportunities, technical debt, and productivity debt. There are many folks smarter than I am who have done the work, and we’ll let their work stand (which I’ll continue to share in the Read, Watch, Follow section at the bottom of each chapter!).
Yet, even with the good work - the proof these prestigious intellectuals bring to the table - it is still challenging for teams everywhere to convince the C-suite to invest in a healthier approach to all manner of processes.
So let’s add another layer to the “convincing” mentioned above. In addition to looking to the experts to learn what these costs are in theory, try this instead. Mental math. Let’s figure out what this is actually costing your organization.
In the past month, how many of you:
- Heard a sales leader ask “Hey, I need all of you to update Salesforce by!”
- Have been in a spreadsheet, only to see one or more colleagues in there as well, fiddling with formulas?
- Pulled data out of your CRM, manipulated it in some way in another app, put it back in your CRM and/or put it in a static tool (email, slides, word), and then shared it?
- Worked in one app in a Product Suite, copied some part of your work into another app in the exact same Product suite, and BOOM, lost all of your formatting?
- Jumped through hoops to cobble together meaning from CRM data, but were foiled at every turn because you can’t easily report on, say, Contacts and Leads in the same report?
- (We could go on here for days, couldn’t we?)
Read the above bullet points again. What are the chances for error along the way? And what does that cost? What is the cost in lost time? To do things repeatedly, only to have to go back and repeatedly fix?
Good heavens, what is the cost in compensation alone when you have a couple of big earners wasting time fiddling with a monster spreadsheet?
Then evaluate the flipside - if those pricey folks weren’t spending their time knee deep in spreadsheets, how much value could they be driving for the business, by leading, selling, marketing, developing, executing?
How crazy is it that Sales leaders have to cajole, beg, and plead for folks to update the CRM? Is that not bananas, that that’s the system we live in?
I’m not even sure how to calculate the potential for built-in errors due to this hopping in and out of apps, the opportunity for errors escalating every step of the way, and what that costs us downstream. It’s horrifying.
^This actually keeps me up at night. Both the lost data and the cost.
As organizations, why are we so bad at understanding the tradeoffs? Is it that the current math around these costs isn’t compelling enough to have C-suites invest in what it would take to do it differently and better? Is it that the ROI of doing this work properly isn’t compelling enough? What would it take for that to change?
How can we be agile, move more quickly, test and improve, and fail fast (what cliches am I missing?), when our processes and data are so flawed? What are we actually delivering to our businesses with this mucked up system?
This is a complex math problem but still worth considering explicitly:
The individual’s time (fully loaded) + the potential downstream errors (how to quantify that ?) + the time they’re not spending doing their actual job (how to quantify that ?) = Productivity cost of sub-optimal data-wrangling.
As organizations, why are we so bad at understanding the tradeoffs?
When we’re data-wrangling rather than mining for insights, when a multitude of unstructured human touchpoint insights go uncaptured, when teams aren’t strategically mining, or consistently sharing with other teams any insights we *do* have, what does it cost when we miss:
- The most current, salient clues to determine current and future customer needs?
- Pursuit of the optimum direction, because the data points us in the wrong or suboptimal direction?
- Market share and share of wallet - you likely have the intellectual property you need in your humans and systems, but when no one can access it, how are you losing in the market?
If you’re like me, and so many of our peers around the globe, you could probably fill a book with all the missed opportunities!
When’s the last time any of your four functional areas conferred on what they’re each seeing in their respective data?
Look. I know this is tough to quantify. I’ve tried! But it’s vital that your organization starts to quantify loss, so you have a business case for change.
And if your organization is like so many around the world, you’ll need to continuously put this case in front of your team. Change is not easy. Before you reap the fruits of your labor - you have to plant a lot of seeds!!
Read, Watch, Follow
I have, at times, berated myself for not being able to quantify this better. And I’ve spent countless hours researching the work of others in search of a clear, easy to understand model for C Suites and Boards. To both my dismay and affirmation, there aren’t a lot of clear models in the market today.
For several years, I’ve valued the construct of what’s going on with the CIO’s digital infrastructure. How it’s a Rube Goldberg puzzle that’s so challenging to modernize. How organizations keep applying Band-Aids rather than addressing the wound itself. It’s also monumentally costly and hard to articulate the cost. For a great example of quantifying that challenge , read (via IEEE) Robert Charette’s work on legacy systems.
How and why we spend trillions to keep old software going
Robert does an excellent job of laying out the complexity of changing, and the monumental costs of not. Legacy structures, processes, mindsets are costing us. And it maps beautifully to the legacy structures of other functional areas as well.
We need more of this work.
Moats & Drawbridges,
The Current State of Sharing
<small>(don’t get your hopes up)
Moats & Drawbridges, The Current State of Sharing
(don’t get your hopes up)
I’ve been working on this book, this concept, since 2017 when I was CMO for a brilliant SMB tech consultancy, SIG, in Amsterdam. I’ve known “The Current State of Sharing” was a challenge for some time, and the quarantined summer of 2020 seemed like the perfect time to conduct a little research to see what others are experiencing as well.
I asked Product and Marketing leaders in Europe and the U.S. to share their perspective on how well Product, Marketing, Sales, and Success teams shared insights with each other.
We covered as much as possible in 20–30 minutes. Here’s a summation of the study.
Study Question: What kind of insight sharing is happening between functional areas (Product, Marketing, Sales, and Success)?
Interviewees - B2B Marketing and Product Leaders
Interviews: 18 companies encompassing Fortune 100 - 4F500 - 5F1000 - 3Medium/Private 3Small 3
GEO Remit (interviewees sat in or responsible for)16 - Europe and/or Global2 - exclusively North America
tl;dr | With very few exceptions, there isn't regular insight mining, sharing, or collaboration between functional areas. The human skill/behavior is under-developed, nor are there programs or tools to support.
"Where are we supposed to share, Maureen? Teams, Slack, Confluence, Chatter, attach to WebEx, Pendo...?"
First, The Outliers (Huge props here for the outliers!):
One F100 I spoke to has a culture of data sharing and collaborating as a part of every meeting, all shared beforehand. The data is discussed, collaborated on, and compared to other data brought from outside the team/functional area.
They do not have a system for structuring, or tools for sharing. It sounds like each team has a repository, and the repository is transparent and open to anyone who wants to access it.
For a different F100, I interviewed leaders of three different divisions. One of the divisions does an exceptional job sharing and collaborating on insights across all four functional areas. The interviewee told me that this was the result of four years of hard work to get to where they are today. It’s clear that this initiative has delivered material ROI back to the business in terms of Product Development, CX, and agile refinement of both marketing and sales plays.
I spoke to leaders in two other divisions of this company where little to no insight sharing is happening between functional areas. How can this be? Well, these are huge multi-nationals; as most of us have experienced with multi-nationals, there might as well be black holes or force fields between functional areas, divisions, and countries. Not to mention, as Box CEO Aaron Levie says, “ There are way too many manual processes in business .” Manual processes will be the death of us.
One of the F500 companies has excellent data and insight sharing on their GTM team (Marketing & Sales), but none at all with (or from) their Product and Engineering teams.
Otherwise, the Recurring Themes:
- No tools to help structure the unstructured. No tools with which to share and collaborate effectively.
Remarkable lack of clarity when it comes to what other teams are doing, their goals, even how/if/when functional area goals align.
- "We have a customer experience team but who knows what they do - there are several pockets of them across the company and we don’t know why it’s not one team."
- "A lot of journey maps - don’t know where the stuff gets prioritized. Strategy? But the strategy guy never talks to the functional areas."
- "Marketing plans seem isolated and not knitted together with the other functional areas."
- “Sales only shares when they win.”
- "No, we don't do this. At all."
No regular, structured sharing or collaborating to make decisions for the business.
Most importantly from these interviews and my regular conversations with the market, I really don’t perceive any mal intent. There is no sense of “Yeah, we could share our insights but we don’t want to.” Rather, it just doesn't occur to anyone to share, let alone make a habit of it.
- A lot of ‘They don't ask for...' or ‘No one’s ever asked the question.’
- Widespread: ‘It's there if we want to go find it.’ Or, ‘Gosh, salespeople are happy to sit down and talk, share what's going on, if we ask them to.’
- Ad hoc, one-off.
Some good news: It doesn’t appear that people know they could or should share, but deliberately choose not to. Rather, it just doesn’t occur to anyone to share, or make a habit of it. And we certainly don’t have tools at the ready that make it easy to collaborate with data, even if the human behaviors did exist.
Our Own Little Fiefdoms
So, friends, we are, each of us (Product, Marketing, Sales, Success), our own little fiefdoms. With good will and little animus to the other little fiefdoms. Alas, most of the fiefdoms are across a giant moat, and our only way to reach each other is, in the best of cases, a (metaphoric) rickety drawbridge. In other cases, that dilapidated drawbridge has completely collapsed into the moat. Sometimes, no one ever thought to build a drawbridge in the first place!
Which might have worked in the old-timey days when products and markets changed ever so slowly. When customers stayed and stayed and had few options for research, except for what they learned from a salesperson. When companies handed out presents (The ubiquitous Gold Watch!) to employees who stayed for 20, 25, 30, 50 years.
I am not the first to point out that our internal structure is not set up for today’s fast moving modern times. And that’s bad for All The Reasons, but it particularly harms our companies’ ability to compete.
Product could share the parts of the system getting the most use or the least interest, which would help Success address challenges they encounter with customers.
What if Success sees customer satisfaction in an area that Product is actively considering sunsetting? Then shared that information? That sort of sharing would save a revenue stream in danger of being snuffed out.
What if Sales and Success were both structuring the insights they’re seeing, to determine if there are any trends in upselling? Wouldn’t that also be info that both Product and Marketing would be interested in? Wouldn’t it be cool to feed that into the product roadmap? And I bet Marketing would be delighted to include those topics in the content calendar to drive even more retention and net new interest.
Finally, what if Marketing had regular sessions with Product on the nascent trends they see via Google Analytics, or other systems. Trending topics and competitive market shifts would have an impact on what Product needs to dial up or dial down on.
Yeah, Yeah, There May Be Some Bad Apples
Many of us have worked in a toxic environment or two (or ten!) over the course of our careers. Where siloed departments kept their insights and data close to their chests. But that’s been changing as companies have evolved. Some potential good news, based on this study and my recent experience, is that the moats and drawbridges aren’t due to decades of cross-functional family feuds. So it’s not like we need to unlearn terrible behavior. We just need to sow those seeds I talked about in the previous chapter!
So how did we get to this dysfunctional point?
Read, Watch, Follow
John Hagel , Management Consultant, Author, Change Agent
While I’ve been lightly aware of John for years, he blew me away in this interview with Marshall Kirkpatrick . Serendipity for me, especially as I was deep in the process of writing this book. John’s well-researched position on the value of cross-functional teams, working together, driving change - I’m still a little speechless. It’s such brilliant insight, and just what a world of organizations struggling to transform need to hear.
A couple of compelling notes from his interview with Marshall (but give yourself a treat and listen yourself). I’ve paraphrased, with John’s permission:
- Never ever underestimate the power of the immune system in a larger organization and its resistance to change.
- People are well-intentioned - they’re not ill-intentioned. They want to do what is best for the company and if what is best for the company is the stuff that got us here, that’s what they’re gonna drive for until they understand the bigger picture.
- The most - the most - powerful part of learning is not sharing existing knowledge because that's depreciating at an accelerating rate. The key is creating new knowledge through acting together and then sharing that new knowledge with others.
- Inter-departmental working groups on the front-line of organizations are key to driving performance improvement, yet the performance of these working groups is rarely measured.
I was so taken (I mean I was bowled over by these insights) by John, I immediately ordered his book The Power of Pull (co-authored with John Seely Brown and Lang Davison). Friends, I ordered the audio book because I am a walker and love audiobooks for long walks. Mistake. This book is so good that I wanted to take too many notes for a walk, so I then ordered the paperback. Worth it.
These authors detail a life-changing, work-changing new system that goes a long way toward addressing the root cause behind why companies are mired in the legacy muck that stalls their transformation. If you care about driving change, or even just unshackling yourselves from Legacy Mountain, go get this book. Just a few of the gazillion notes I took (my notes in parens):
- “Push programs, or standard operating procedure, tend to be restricted in terms of the number and diversity of participants.”
- “...tends to make companies rigid and inflexible.” (kinda hard to change when you are rigid and inflexible)
- “In The Power of Pull ...the sources of economic value move from “stocks” of knowledge to “flows” of new knowledge.” (← huge huge huge. “Flows” of new knowledge can’t happen between functional areas divided by moats and drawbridges.)
- “This means precipitating and participating in a broader range of knowledge flows, which in turn requires finding people … interacting with them, and building reciprocal relationships over time.”
Go get this book.
Why Are We in This Sub-optimal State?
Why Are We in This Sub-optimal State?
If you’re exhausted by meeting, email, and collaboration channel overload, you may be thinking “Ugh, Maureen. There’s too much sharing going on NOW! What are you talking about?” And, yeah, I get that. But what we’re all doing at work on the regular isn’t sharing, is it? It’s pontificating, or firehosing, railing and wailing, CYAing, speechifying even. But not sharing. And certainly not collaborative sharing.
How did we get to this place of Not Sharing? We certainly share, often with great finesse, in our personal lives. Some of us may even be guilty of oversharing on social media (not naming any names). We analyze together, compare experiences, revisit problem issues in trusted relationships.
Why is this not a thing in the workplace?
I see two fundamental reasons: First, it’s simply not an existing skill set. Second, (sigh) our legacy digital infrastructure is a material and exhausting obstacle to sharing.
Structured Sharing: Not an Existing Skill Set
What do I mean by “Structured Sharing?” To start, it’s the opposite of ad hoc sharing.
*Not* structured sharing:
- “Hey Customer X is really happy/unhappy with Y.”
- “We’re gonna lose this prospect because
we don’t have.”
- “Our webinars are doing great!”
Structured sharing moves us away from “Yeah? Is that an opinion or a trend?” Rather, it’s a concerted effort to track, collaborate, and share on the same, agreed data points. Is Product seeing an under-utilized part of the product? Is that because the market isn’t interested, or is there something wrong with the functionality? Well guess what? We can get answers to those questions via Product, Marketing, Sales, and Success (I’ll explain how in Chapter 7).
Structurally and regularly sharing insights is not an existing skill set. Sure, when we’re in meetings, or when we bump into each other in the hallway or on a zoom call, we share thoughts, we discuss, we collaborate. But that’s conversational. Fleeting thoughts possibly written down in someone’s notes, maybe shared in an email, hopefully making it to a PowerPoint. But it’s ad hoc and it’s qualitative.
Throughout our organizations we’ve all rolled our eyes when a colleague shares an opinion or one data point, and then tries to make the case that that is fully the way it is. How often in the course of a fiscal year are Product or Marketing teams asked to put aside solid plans because some prospect or customer’s business is at risk “...if we don’t immediately modify the initiatives...” to accommodate X, Y, Z need?
Or we anecdotally hear via one of our customer-facing folks that X and Y are absolutely critical to address right away because all the customers are demanding it ( Are they ? Are all the customers demanding it?).
Spoiler: We’re not sharing insights. It’s not a thing we learned in school, and as we learned in my research, it’s not a thing most organizations practice.
How often were material changes made to a sprint that six months later were clearly a mistake or simply not necessary or the wrong direction or we simply didn’t know? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say quite often!
I’m sure we’re all guilty of doing the same thing ocassionally - sharing an opinion, or homing in on ONE bit of information (that usually supports our own goals!), as though it’s the universal truth.
But how often are we sharing robust,
And how can we structurally share when we’re not structurally listening or structurally mining? So really, all we have at our fingertips are ad hoc insights in the context of how our own brains process them.
Further, no one’s asking for these insights. CEOs aren’t asking for them, boards aren’t asking for them, executive leadership teams aren’t asking for them. Functional area leaders aren’t asking for cross-functional insights. They’re not asking us to mine, structure, and then share. This is simply not a thing that exists in most of our organizations today.
And while we certainly have some structured data in marketing automation and some structured data in sales and some sharing of intel across the sales and marketing departments, it usually stops there. How does this ad-hoc sharing align with product insights and success insights? Is anyone looking at that?
Mining: The First Step in
To effectively and consistently be a sharing collaborator, and in order to have meaningful insights to share, we have to be mining practitioners. You can think of “Mining” as strategic questioning, a skill shared by great salespeople, investigative reporters, lawyers - really anyone whose job it is to convince people of something.
A quick story about Mining. People who aren’t in sales can be super uncomfortable with the concept of selling. And what they can’t see, because of our preconceived notions of selling , is that the best salespeople are first and foremost great miners.
In addition to a long career in sales myself, I’ve had the privilege to ride along, sit next to, and learn from some great salespeople in my career.
Their ability to drive a conversation by asking great questions, and then listening = goosebumps for me.
Over the years I’ve worked to coach non-sales people to become better miners in their existing relationships, and I’ve learned some interesting things.
One barrier to mining for non-salespeople (looking at you, my Success friends) is consultants are used to being the ones who know things . They’re experts. By the very nature of their job, they are guiding customers to Success. So it’s a bit uncomfortable for them to ask questions, when they believe they already know the answers.
But that’s the secret great salespeople know: the conversation is more fruitful when we ask the questions and the customer or prospect shares their story.
When the customer or prospect reveals the pain point, rather than the consultant telling the customer what the pain point is , the experience becomes more powerful for the customer.
When we look at how we got to this place of Not Sharing, it’s pretty clear that these missing human skills need to be nurtured. But even if we achieve that milestone , we’re then faced with tech that is not prepared to support it.
The Tech is Not OK, Y’all
May I be honest here for a moment? Most of us can’t really share details publicly of how truly abysmal our legacy digital infrastructures are. We know that CIOs have a material part of their budget invested in just keeping the lights on, with very little investment in modernization - although we are making progress for sure.
As goes the digital infrastructure of the company, so goes the digital infrastructure of any functional area. And, thus, the quality of the data and insights with which most of us pretend to be data-driven.
From a business perspective, many of you have experienced being in and out of the foundational tools right? How many of you have taken data out of your CRM, manipulated it in a spreadsheet, and then shoved it back in the CRM, or added it to a PowerPoint, or sent it on to others via a shared spreadsheet or email?
How many of us get reports from one department, then compare it to our own data and wonder how we all work in the same company?
Broadly speaking, the Martech landscape grows exponentially every year and causes a lot of excitement for VCs looking for the next new thing. But if you look more closely what we really have is an ecosystem of Band-Aid tech.
The foundational tech is really not great, so we use bandaids to make up for the flaws in the foundation.
Enter the ripple effect. Each bandaid point solution causes integration issues that then require more bandaid tech to fix. Rinse. Repeat. It’s a nightmare. I talked about this problem at a keynote in London last year: The Integration Leaks in Your Tech Stack.
SalesTech is in a similar situation, and I’d argue the same is true in HR, Accounting, and any other functional area.
If you’ve had to wrangle reporting from a CRM, you understand inherently how challenging this is, especially as time goes on and systems degrade. How challenging it is to get the upstream structure correct, in order to have downstream reports that you can believe in. We also understand all of the decisions made along the way while juggling resources, and then making compromises in the data you need, or how you structure a report that will serve different masters.
The system is fraught with error and riddled with flaws. And then the human investment required to reconcile, modify, and/or cobble together some semblance of cohesive data is insane. If only the C-suite could get thwapped every time a cadre of highly paid folks wasted time mucking about in spreadsheets, perhaps the problem would become real to them?
Under these circumstances, what kind of truly trustworthy insights can we pull from today’s systems? Our first hope is to prioritize the data within our own functional area or fiefdom. But the work needed (Productivity Debt) to get to even basic data analysis is challenging enough. Harder still to share/compare insights with other functional areas, in the tools, not just through ad hoc conversations or via ppt, email, or docs.
So even in a perfect world, we could inspire humans across organizations to start structured mining for insights. And further, let’s imagine that they are also inspired to share these structured insights with the other teams that need them?
How would we support these efforts with the tech infrastructure we have in place today? It’s barely possible with today’s systems, but we all have the power to change that - and I’ll share the path in the second half of the book.
Read Watch Follow
Hank Barnes, Distinguished VP Analyst, Gartner
Some of the fondest times I spent during my tenure leading Marketing at Altify (sales tech including Account Planning and Opportunity Management solutions), was participating in Deal Reviews. For a complex sales team, a robust deal review is key to finding gaps in the opportunity before the prospect does.
Stressful but deeply valuable to the lead salesperson, a deal review is essentially a role play with the salesperson’s colleagues in different functional areas, taking the roles of the prospect team. The CTO may represent the prospect white knight, the CMO may take the role of the person on the prospect team who is against the deal, and so on.
It should be common practice everywhere, but it’s not, and so it’s receded into memory for me.
Until I stumbled upon this post from Gartner’s Vice President, Distinguished Analyst, Hank Barnes: Functionally Diverse Buying Teams Are Less Dysfunctional.
Quick read but here’s the highlight for me:
“In our much cited (by me and others) research into high quality technology deals, we looked at the composition of buying teams from a standpoint of functional groups that participated. The pattern was obvious – as the number of functional groups involved grew, the likelihood of a high quality deal increased.”
If this doesn’t impress you, I’m not sure what will. So much business value to be gained.
Hank is one of my most valued colleagues on social; you can catch him on LinkedIn and twitter.
Value to Change
Value to Change
In Chapter Two, I covered how difficult it is to quantify the gaps in insights and collaboration across functional areas. I wish I could wave a magic wand. Or had a magic model into which you could plug several variables and watch it spit out a sparkling number that would inspire your exec team to see the light, and sign on to an actual transformation project that included robust insight-sharing between functional areas.
Yes, I’m a nerd but you’ve already
guessed that by now.
Let’s Get Personal
While I can’t hope to quantitatively inspire your exec team today, I can hope to inspire you. So let’s have a think about your team, your environment, your costs, and your opportunities.
- What if Product had near real time access to Sales, Success, and Marketing insights?
- Might they be able to course-correct roadmaps, both short and long-term, to more quickly delight customers or reduce support costs?
- What if Marketing had near real time access to Product, Sales, and Success insights?
- I bet Marketing would love to be able to pivot on key messages or topics, and improve conversions by being more relevant to the market.
- What if Sales had near real time access to Product, Marketing, and Success insights?
- Salespeople could improve the quality of their questioning strategy by gently pressing on the most current pain points.
- What if Success had near real time access to Product, Marketing, and Sales insights?
- Could Success pre-empt Support issues by getting ahead of hurdles?
How could each of those teams make better decisions daily on what to stop, start, or continue? Turn up or turn down? Prioritize, and most importantly, deprioritize?
As long as we’re going crazy here, let’s take this a step further. What if, in addition to sharing current insights, your teams ** wait for it** actually coordinated some structured mining for collaborative goals?
Let’s say Product has a Utilization challenge, yet it’s not clear if it’s an issue with functionality, interest, or something else altogether. Wouldn’t it be cool if Product could go to the other teams and ask them to proactively mine for a small set of data points relative to each functional area? And if that was actually a thing teams were set up to do, naturally, in the course of doing business?
Marketing may set up relevant google alerts, or test specific content with customers and the market overall. Sales and Success could buddy up and ask the same small set of questions to prospects and customers during a set period of time, then compare and contrast the data.
Our general model focuses on answers because it’s the highest value engagement behavior that can be easily measured and valued.
Imagine how much more robust a picture Product would then have with which to problem solve the Utilization challenge. Compared with only the tools and data they have at their disposal today!
What if Sales has a hunch and wants to try a new angle with a segment of their market. Wouldn’t it be great if they could ask their colleagues in the other functional areas to do a small, joint project where each team mined for the same data points?
Let’s take this up a notch. What if a Leadership Team had ongoing, cross-functional, structured mining projects, and used the same to actually steer the business? What would be the value to the company? Think about the competitive advantage. Is this going on today? If it is, at your company, bravo. You’re in the minority.
Unfortunately for most organizations, no one is anywhere near that level of insights collaboration.
Here’s how Community Management Evangelist, Rachel Happe (more on Rachel at the end of this chapter in Read, Watch, Follow) sees the value:
“The ’Networked Value of Community’ is relevant here, which is essentially the value of trusted and relevant transparency. The idea is that a community will help save time and duplication by aggregating a conversation in one place vs. emailing/connecting with multiple people individually in a fragmented way. But the real value (to an organization and the human) is for the next person who doesn’t have to ask the question at all because they can access, see, and discover the answer if it already exists.
Our general model focuses on answers because it’s the highest value engagement behavior that can be easily measured and valued. We then look at workflows and where that behavior shows up and how. And then show how a community would optimize the initial interaction - and then make that value available to others. In our research the average ratio of answers provided and accessed answers is about 1:41. That is the value lift/multiple.”
What insights data *do* we have today? And how reliable is the underlying data?
- We’ve got some data from our CRM. Yet,
- When sales leaders around the world are pleading daily or weekly, “Hi teams, can you please be sure Salesforce is updated?” are we really dealing with great data for analysis?
- How often is your team pulling reports out of your CRM, manipulating the data in a massive spreadsheet with input from a horde of folks across the company - something breaks, someone fixes it, someone else then tries to combine it with the archaic finance reports - and *that’s* what you’re using to make the big decisions?
- We likely have some decent Power BI projects going on, but those are like the point solutions of data analysis in a company.
- We have a silo of Marketing data. We likely know the content and keywords that are/aren’t performing.
- We likely have some product data.
- We probably don’t have much Success data beyond NPS and churn.
- And we have data from Sales on how opps are/aren’t moving through the funnel. But hardly any insights are being gathered that are helpful to the business beyond projecting against sales targets.
As far as insights go, we have rather a mishmash of insights at hand today. A hodgepodge. A jumble.
And how do we determine the value of implementing these changes? I sometimes despair at this as I have many brilliant colleagues whose main gig is inspiring organizations to wholesale embrace digital transformation, when all I want is this one small improvement. Sometimes, organizational transformation