Why does a chief revenue officer care about alignment? Because misaligned teams result in chaos. Chaos stifles growth by churning customers and team members.
It’s a butterfly effect that puts employees and customers in the middle of disorganization where both will inevitably churn. Just like quicksand. You don’t know you’re in quicksand until you start sinking. As you fight harder and harder, you sink deeper and deeper. Until you start missing your number in one quarter. One quarter becomes two quarters. Now you’re looking at needing more cash or turning to layoffs. Misalignment is often the culprit.
Almost three years ago I wrote my first blog article about alignment. The easy fix to this problem was, and still is, communication. But this article will go into a few other areas inside communication to help center the chief revenue officer on alignment.
TL;DR for both chief executive officers and chief revenue officers focused on alignment.
- Clear goal setting and accountability. Accountability is only effective through clarity of goals and inputs. People aren’t magicians. Work with them to achieve their goals, but hold them accountable along the way, not just at the end of the deadline. This is the first step of building team alignment and cohesion and the only way to get revenue teams in sync to start building revenue acceleration.
- Communication and collaboration are a must. Remember everyone is on the same team working together to succeed. Meetings aren’t a bad thing at all; they are often misused. Structuring meetings consistently and with proper agendas help to prevent silos and finger pointing. Get marketing teams into sales meetings, and customer success teams into marketing meetings. You’ll be surprised at how much more productive work gets done once you integrate cross functional teams into regular meeting agendas.
- Understanding your buyers and the buying process. Get your teams to have a shared understanding of all your buyers. Not just one key buyer, but all. We talk about the buyer journey, but all teams need to understand all phases of that journey as well as each role buyers play (user, champion, influencer, buying committee member, decision maker, etc). All revenue teams and leaders need to have a shared understanding of buyer pain points and problems, buyer needs, competitive landscape, and the buying decision making process (this one is often missed).
Now that you’ve had the summary, let’s dive into some of the deets.
As the chief revenue officer of a company, it is my responsibility to focus on alignment and ensure that all teams are working together to drive revenue growth. This includes aligning the efforts of the sales, marketing, and customer success teams, but also across all teams in the entire organization (see my previous blog on setting up your chief revenue officer to fail). The three revenue teams each serve a unique objective throughout the buyer’s journey and it’s important that each of them is in lockstep with each other to create a seamless buying experience through customer education (marketing), customer engagement (sales), product/service adoption and ongoing support (customer success) to create customers for life.
Let’s outline some ways to prevent you from sinking faster into quicksand.
1. Goal setting and accountability.
One of the most common reasons why misalignment happens…resulting in silos, finger pointing, blaming, and complaining…is due to lack of accountability and goals. You can’t hold someone accountable if they don’t have clear goals. Accountability isn’t just a stick used to get them to fall in line either. Accountability is commonly achieved through consistent and frequent conversations.
I’m a fan of SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals and these should be used regularly with each team member and leader. This provides clarity in outputs as well as inputs so each team can understand their role in the overall revenue growth strategy. For example, the sales team may have a goal to close a certain number of deals, the marketing team may have a goal to generate a certain number of leads, and the customer success team may have a goal to increase customer retention. These are high level outputs that allow each team to build the necessary inputs to achieve said output.
Now that the goals are set, leaders can work with their individual team members to define the actions needed on a daily/weekly/monthly basis so that activities align to the output goals. This is the next requirement to building accountability…follow through. Accountability is built, not just instituted. Once clarity in goals and activities are set, accountability can be managed through regular meetings and review periods. Gone are the days of annual reviews with scoring and only meeting once a year to review performance. These performance reviews need managed regularly (ideally monthly) so that there are no surprises, support can be lended, and mutual action plans can be instituted. Once goals are set, regular check points are established, action plans are committed to, we can now build accountability throughout each touch point and focus on the goals.
With performance reviews occurring regularly, and accompanying actions to take to achieve these goals, we can now enroll team members in ownership and execution. Accountability requires a helping attitude, and not a “gotcha” attitude. Help when team members are down, but enroll them in execution. Team members need agreement in ownership and authority to perform. Engage them during regular reviews and steer them properly toward the right activities yielding the right outcomes. Once you’ve done this, accountability is easier when you can refer to goals, mutually agreed to actions and activities, and have given the necessary guidance and support.
2. Communication and collaboration.
Another important aspect of alignment is communication and collaboration. Each team should have regular meetings, both individually and as a group, to discuss progress and any challenges they may be facing. These meetings provide an opportunity for teams to share information, collaborate on solutions, and address any roadblocks that may be preventing them from achieving their goals. Meetings have been getting a bad rep lately between Shopify cancelling group meetings, people realizing “this could have been an email”, or countless hours of wasting time in meetings that have derailed from the objective (I’ve been guilty of this over the years!). The problem isn’t meetings, the problem is the people running the meetings (looking in the mirror too!). Meetings are a necessary part of communication and collaboration. Internally with teams or externally with customers, they are necessary. Information exchange, training and development, relationship building, and understanding are all important aspects of live communication. Meetings should all have focal points, and the meeting facilitator needs to…well… facilitate! Much like anything else, the absence of a leader creates problems and that’s no different with meetings.
The collaboration piece is critical to get right, especially with growing companies. A chief revenue officer focusing on alignment needs to facilitate collaboration between all revenue teams so that everyone is in lockstep. It’s easy to operate in a silo and focus on a leader’s “four walls” of their team. That’s usually when things start to fall apart. Team integration is the critical path toward preventing silos. Once regular meetings have been established (both team and individually), now it’s time to focus on integrating and collaborating. Invite customer success teams to sales huddles. Or invite marketing to customer success huddles. Have the sales leader involved in customer success meetings. These are a few examples of integration, but give the guests time on the agenda as well and allow for Q&A. Then facilitate off-meeting conversations to keep things moving. This is where true work gets done! Team integration in meetings, then encourage people to keep conversations moving outside of the meeting. You’ll be shocked at how this starts to morph into increased productivity through idea sharing and task completion.
3. Shared understanding of your buyers.
To further align the teams, it is essential to have a shared understanding of all buyers. Each team should have a clear understanding of the buyer’s needs, pain points, and buying journey. This includes understanding the customer’s decision-making process, the key players involved in the decision, and the factors that influence their decision. The decision-making process is an underutilized focal point for sales and customer success teams. Often, we get comfortable with one person and building that relationship. While that’s a sound practice, we shouldn’t relegate to that being our only customer outlet. Expanding the relationship is necessary toward building better buying committee tactics. After all, what happens if your champion leaves the company? You either re-start from scratch and go into fire drill mode, or you lose the business. Knowing the buying committee is step one. Step two is knowing the buying process. How do things get evaluated? By whom? Does user feedback matter or is it just a cost play? How do contracts get handled? What do CFOs care about in contracts? Lots to consider when looking at the buying process.
It’s also important to discuss the multiple buyer personas and types. It’s easy to come up with a list of titles and industries to segment. It’s much harder to understand how to handle things like a discovery call with a single buyer persona vs a buying committee or having an effective business review with multiple people from the buying committee. These intricacies can easily cause teams to operate differently and create a disjointed handoff process from sales to customer success, or customer marketing and customer success. Having this shared understanding will ensure that each team is working toward the same goal and is able to provide a consistent and seamless customer experience.
Special note, the key to this is the alignment between marketing and customer success. If marketing is properly creating and distributing content focused on buyer pains and problems that you are actively solving, sales teams can better navigate the buying process as a result. Often marketing is creating content that is too high level or talking about pain points and problems that aren’t being solved by the company’s product or service. This generates false marketing qualified leads (MQLs) that won’t convert, and places more stress on sales teams to do both marketing and sales (often ineffectively).
Embracing these steps will help build a culture of transparency and accountability. Each team that a chief revenue officer manages will become focused on alignment by being transparent about their goals, progress, and challenges, and in turn be held accountable for achieving their goals. Aligning the revenue organization to the buyer journey keeps everyone focused on the same things…solving buyer problems.
Ed Porter | Fractional Chief Revenue Officer