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3 Ways CMOs Can Break Down Silos

Josh Steimle
Contributor: Josh Steimle
Posted: 07/24/2017

silo

Silos stifle communication and prevent teams from working together to achieve organizational objectives. Chief marketing officers, with their focus on the customer, are ideally positioned to bust silos and promote the kind of collaboration that leads to a better customer experience and real growth.

Silos form naturally as the result of systems and processes that reward information hoarding. These divisions are exacerbated by fear–a byproduct of a lack of healthy culture, vision, or communication. 

When silos develop and team members are unable to or refuse to share vital information the relationship with the customer suffers, business dries up, and without intervention the organization dies. Because the the buyer journey is no longer linear but omni-channel, and because information flows through those channels faster than ever, the consequences, whether positive or negative, are being reaped faster than ever. 

Companies that break down silos, foster communication, and deliver customer value are quickly rewarded, while those companies that lag behind are disappearing at a rapid pace.

While omni-channel is the trend, so is specialization. There is a need for ever more competent experts in niche areas (e.g. witness the rise of the “social media analytics specialist” or the “cloud architect”). Someone needs to understand who these people are, what they do, and how it all comes together to serve the customer. 

“As these channels evolved, their roles in the consumer journey expanded,” says Wendell Lansford, CEO of Offerpop, a marketing platform for visual, user generated content. “This makes it critical for brands' marketing organizations to break down the walls between teams and subject matter experts.” Here are three key ways CMOs can make this happen.

1. Shift the Physical Working Environment

Does the organization of your global office locations or the layout of individual office spaces support silos? One of the best ways to get out of the separate-channel mindset is to physically change your work space. 

Keith Weed, CMO of Unilever, swears by his company’s “dynamic working environment–with an open desk plan and flexible working where ideas can circulate.”  While interviewing Peter Horst, CMO of The Hershey Company, for my book Chief Marketing Officers at Work: How Top Marketers Build Customer Loyalty, he spoke about how Hershey is eliminating silos by creating “agile pods,” where “You have someone from PR, someone from social, a digital technologist, a copywriter, and a brand strategist all sitting together in real time co-creating, executing, testing, sharing, learning.” 

Companies with multiple offices can examine whether geographic separation is isolating departmental functions. It’s only natural for this to happen, but as a leader you can push for intelligent organization rather than succumb to the default. 

Does it make sense for the bulk of the marketing team to be headquartered in New York, or to have parts of the team in each office around the globe? Sometimes, mere physical proximity can be a large part of facilitating effective communication.

2. Communicate

“Silos, by virtue of what they are, are typically not of any communicative environment,” says Geraldine Calpin, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Marketing at Hilton Worldwide. The modern workspace is as much virtual as physical, so while changing your physical workspace may be a key factor, it can only go so far if your technology still separates people by function.

Because CMOs are often a bridge between various organizations including sales, customer service, and product design and engineering, they can push for the use of tools that actively encourage collaboration across functional barriers. 

“We use our matrix structure to ensure that great ideas flow from any part of the organisation to inspire other teams,” says Weed. “And we’ve operationalised this using sharing tools/software, such as our internal platform ‘Chatter’.” 

For Unilever, this technology serves 70,000 team members across all functions and geographical areas of the business. “Having something like this encourages people to collaborate far more than in the past, which is really driving a change in our agility,” Weed says.

3. Unify Your Team With a Common Goal

In the absence of common objectives from leaders, individuals and groups create their own.  This can lead to conflict between groups and promote silos. When all groups have the same goal, the reasons to create silos are greatly diminished. At GE, everyone unites around a single, simple idea.

“We talk about this concept of the GE store and what we do as a company that puts things into the store,” says Linda Boff, CMO at GE. She continues, “We don’t go to market as separate brands. We go to market as a brand in-house. That drives a lot of commonality.” 

For Jeff Jones, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Target, the unifying vision is all about customer satisfaction. “One of the things I try to do is to stay obsessed with who we’re serving,” he says. “The more I start with the guests, the less the way we’re organized is relevant.” That’s because when all team members are focused on the customer, they solve process, organization, and technology issues on their own.

No One Better Than the CMO

Shifting your work environment, communicating well, and unifying your team with a common goal aren’t activities designed to fight against specialization. As Weed notes, “One person’s silo is another person’s focus.” 

Busting silos isn’t about turning everyone into a generalist, but rather allowing specialists to gain a broad perspective by which they can see how their work fits into the whole and makes a difference for customers. One might argue this is the CEO’s role, but the CEO’s attention is divided across all operations of a business including manufacturing, HR, finance, and 20 other things. 

There is no C-suite executive more focused on the customer than the CMO, and that’s why David Doctorow, Senior Vice President of Global Marketing at Expedia, says “CMOs are perfectly positioned to break down silos. That’s because our job is to listen to the customer first.”

Do you agree that the CMO is ideally suited to break down silos? Why or why not? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below. 

This blog originally appeared on Forbes

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Josh Steimle
Contributor: Josh Steimle
Posted: 07/24/2017

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