What’s Next Blog interviewed Suzanne Lowe, the president of Expertise Marketing, LLC, about her important new book, “The Integration Imperative.”
The book addresses the silos that create structural and cultural barriers to effective marketing and selling in professional and business service firms. But the principles and case studies apply equally well to the corporate silos that keep corporations in B2C and B2B from grasping and responding to the changes they must make to remain competitive in the Internet Age.
Lowe is a professional services marketing analyst, advisor, writer and speaker on the best practices and emerging strategies in professional services marketing. Her firm provides marketing and management analysis and guidance to the leaders of major professional service firms including Nielsen, Deloitte, Perkins+Will, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Turner Construction, among many others.
The gist of her extraordinary new book is to identify the silos, fix them, and move on. Easier said than done? Lowe’s advice in a nutshell:
- Recognize that you’ll have to change
- Identify and talk about the issues.
- Don’t place blame.
- Find the problem and fix it. Get past it. Get over yourself – be open to new capabilities.
- Learn from others and be open to new capabilities – this makes for a great company
- Incorporate entrepreneurialism – there will always be people who are capable of seeing change and the need for it.
“If I were a CEO,” Lowe says, “I’d want a sentry who’ll notice things we could do better. Inevitably, breaking down internal barriers will require internal change. That’s how marketplace change happens.”
Here are the highlights of our conversation about corporate silos, based on Lowe’s must-read book, “The Integration Imperative.”
What’s Next Blog: What purpose do silos serve in companies?
Lowe: In order to be effective in the marketplace, companies rely on specialists who are excellent in finance, human resources, marketing. . Just like on an organizational chart on a piece of paper, people end up in little boxes — with identified boundaries of capability. At some tipping point, they tip into becoming too specialized.
What’s Next Blog: In the book, you said silos prevent competitive effectiveness, impede financial success and hinder optimal client service. Why are they still so prevalent?
Lowe: Too many managers, especially in the services sector, manage by waiting for a big crisis to occur. They then realize, for example, that they can’t get their tech people to work with marketing people.
Silos are incrementally built. If the CEO of a company is watching for big marketplace trends and not noticing micro trends, silos remain in place.
Take the Quiz: Which silos does your company have?
The first step is to understand which silos affect your company. To find out, companies can go online and take our assessment tests for instant confidential results about whether they have structural and/or cultural silos (usually it’s both). Then you can say “ok, what will I do about this?”
For companies that want to erase their silos, The Integration Imperative offers some stories and models about how to do it.
What’s Next Blog: How has the notion of incorporating new technologies changed the way business is done? Has it changed the silos? Or has it just created new ones?
Lowe: When it comes to marketplace changes posed by the Internet, most companies are not ready to adapt quickly. But they do like to encourage internal entrepreneurism, so they allow their “lead users” (people who naturally embrace new things) to undertake Internet or Web 2.0 initiatives, often as pilot programs.
New initiatives create new silos
But when these pilot programs take on a life of their own, silos crop up where they didn’t exist before. A disconnected microsite is a great example of this kind of silo. Another example is when marketers create a Second Life virtual world, thinking it will appeal to young clients. It doesn’t. Too bad these marketers didn’t work with their HR colleagues first – those darn silos again — because Second Life turns out to be a great recruiting tool.
Managers might think the new pilots themselves are the problem (they’re usually not). Instead, they should ask the lead users to develop these pilot programs with integration as the ultimate goal.
Silos lead to marketplace ineffectiveness
That’s why I wrote the book. Many companies don’t yet see that silos lead to marketplace ineffectiveness – just think of the wasted time and money when a microsite isn’t effectively linked to high-traffic pages – and silos certainly lead to missed marketplace opportunities – like the virtual world built for the wrong audience.
What’s Next Blog You mention: distrust, short-term thinking, marginalizing of marketing, unrealistic expectations, demand for talent and high turnover. I have definitely encountered all of these! Yet, I wonder, how much of that is the fault of marketing? Are marketers lousy communicators?
Lowe: Just like anyone else, they have unrealistic expectations; they distrust people.
Marketing shares in creating impediments also. When it comes to the evolution of the marketer’s function, marketers need to get smarter about techniques used to make astute decisions: competitive financial analysis, behavioral psychology, etc.
Marketers have unrealistic expectations
But most of the time professional service marketers are not in the driver’s seat. They are kept out of decisions, not allowed into the C-suite. They are marginalized.
This marginalization is partly is the reason marketers have unrealistic expectations of management. If they are not involved in making management decisions or shaping strategy they have no concept of what management sees from a broad perspective.
Management has a lot of other financial constraints and many marketers don’t have a good sense of the way to run a business. They specialized historically in marketing communications and didn’t embrace the business management techniques that other areas have to embrace.
That has certainly changed, but some marketers are still behind the curve.
Tear down the walls!
Marketers need to break down barriers between marketing, finance, and HR. Marketers will need to take the first steps to say “We can become more integrated and synergistic internally. Let me show you how.”
As an example, in the book there is a case study of a temporary staffing firm, Randstad. Its CMO embraced the imperative of more financial productivity; he and his team started acting like financial managers. Now, he partners with the company’s CFO. Together, they make better decisions. They’ve increased their credibility within the firm.
What’s Next Blog: Can you give us three to five key suggestions, from your data, on the most effective ways firms in your case studies have overcome the challenges created by silos?
- Identify and talk about the challenges.
- Don’t fall prey to subjectivity. Don’t make it a blame game. Just fix it.
- Embrace the pursuit of change.
- Accept the fact that your clients — and especially, your younger colleagues — are going to be affected by changes in the marketplace
In one case study, a law firm’s marketers identified potential opportunities to help the firm market more strategically. In the example, lawyers didn’t realize that marketers could help them with selling. They thought marketers only did brochures, press releases, receptions, mailings. Marketers helped their attorneys see that the marketing function could indeed help lawyers with their selling efforts, and they demonstrated how to make this change by doing their own internal marketing and selling.
It’s tempting to lay blame somewhere when you encounter company barriers and silos. It’s not worth your time to bemoan the fact that silos exist or that they so easily crop up. But recognizing the issues that made them form will help you fix the problem and get past it.
What you are doing effectively today is not necessarily what will make you successful tomorrow. Whatever you’re doing today is probably just fine, but it’s not going to be fine forever. Just accept that you have to pursue changes. You can’t just wait and see.
So pursue changes now with those lead users who’ll likely be in lockstep with the changes underway at your client companies.
What’s Next Blog: Why is there so much confusion about how to measure marketing? Why is this so hard?
Lowe: Many companies are too tactically focused. They think the only way to measure marketing is quantitatively. People need to embrace qualitative measurements.
Also too many companies end up measuring as if they are looking at a grain of sand. But a robust marketing program is more like a beach that is always changing with the tides. Managers should step back and look at the beach and the tides. They shouldn’t look at whether one grain of sand moves between today and tomorrow.
Don’t waste your time looking at incremental changes in sub-percentages.
But you can measure behavior change in professionals. I found a great example of this approach with R.W. Beck, and I wrote about the way this company changed its performance management system regarding marketing and selling.
The R.W. Beck case study showed how its leaders changed measurement systems, and streamlined them across the company. By changing their measurement of people’s behavior regarding marketing and selling, they made it possible for people to work better together with the same set of expectations. (Did I collaborate with my colleague in Orlando to cross-sell services? Can I work better with people in the Boston office? Did I introduce them to my Orlando based client?)
All of those behaviors can now be measured, and those measurements help the functions of marketing and selling work more effectively together. Measuring how well you collaborate with colleagues is strategy.