Companies often get in their own way of success. They lack an intentional strategy around organizational design, goals, and incentives that can create misalignment across the core go-to-market teams: marketing, sales, and customer success. This misalignment causes internal team conflict, a poor customer experience, and a barrier to revenue growth.
The good news is there is a solution to this problem. If you have experienced the consequences of this misalignment, you can take specific action to course correct. Once you achieve alignment, you will see better collaboration between your internal teams, a better customer experience which will result in improved revenue growth, and overall company success.
Let’s further explore the typical challenges that arise and walk through how to solve for them.
Poor organizational design
The way you design your organization has a profound impact on your ability to succeed. In many cases, high growth companies are moving so quickly that they end up with an org structure that they fell into rather than designing one that supports their customers and growth goals. It is important to reassess org design frequently to determine if it is working or not.
Functional leaders are often hyperfocused on their team and can’t see the bigger picture of how their team impacts other departments and the customer. If you are noticing tensions between marketing, sales, and/or customer success leaders, it is a sign that something is not working.
Tensions can manifest in one team blaming the other team for their lack of success. For example, sales may blame marketing for not sending enough leads to them or sending too many poor quality leads. Customer success may blame sales for not selling to the right customer or setting bad customer expectations. Sales may blame customer success for not doing enough to retain the customer after they acquired them.
Unrealistic growth goals
Ambitious goals can create an environment where achieving individual or team goals becomes more important than achieving the broader company goals - or even doing what is right for the customer. Goals are often created for individual teams without consideration to how those goals may impact other teams or broader company goals.
It is so common to see a marketing goal for a certain number of MQLs, a sales revenue target that was backed into from a desired year end revenue number, and a high retention rate for customers regardless of historical data or what is realistic to achieve for the company at their particular stage. In many cases, these goals are created by the individual leaders and not in a collaborative process.
Poor incentive plans and alignment fosters infighting, blame, and a toxic culture. Incentive plans drive behavior and if you are seeing negative or inappropriate actions, you need to revisit the plans to see if they are causing the issue.
You will see the negative consequences here most often on sales teams. They will feel pressured to hit or exceed their quota and may close a customer who is not a good fit or over promise in order to secure a deal.
The worst combination is unrealistic goals coupled with high quotas and an incentive structure which creates desperation. This always results in bringing on poor fit customers and although a short term goal may be achieved, these customers will not last and in the long run, this will create more problems than it solves.
The good news is there are solutions to these challenges.
Here is my framework for how to ensure you set your go-to-market teams up for success:
Define your Ideal Customer Profile & Map your Customer Journey
Define your ideal customer profile and map out your customer journey with only your customer in mind. Then design your organization around what is needed to support that journey. Clarify each team’s role in the journey and focus on designing seamless handoffs between teams.
This may require a significant reorganization which can be difficult and uncomfortable to execute but it is important to do what is right for the business. If you are going to proceed with a reorg, I recommend taking the following steps to design the right structure without letting the current design impact your decisions:
- Start with a blank slate. Pretend you are building the team from scratch. If you don’t do this, you will end up starting with what you have today and making incremental changes that won’t have the impact you desire.
- Identify the key activities required for your customer journey - awareness, education, acquisition, onboarding, retention, growth and advocacy. What teams do you need to support this journey today?
- Throw “best practices” out the window. You may not need to oversegment your sales process by having SDRs and AEs. Does a full cycle AE make more sense? What marketing roles will drive the desired outcomes? Focus on content marketers who are subject matter experts in what you are selling. Overinvest in customer success and customer support first so you can have a strong foundation to support long term customer retention.
Set realistic goals
Be methodical and thoughtful about goal setting. Set goals as an executive leadership team with all key stakeholders involved in the process. Ensure the goals ladder up effectively into the broader company goals.
If you actually have no idea what you can produce, consider having a goal to work towards without making someone’s compensation or job reliant on achieving it.
Especially during the early days of a startup, there are valuable projects your team can work on to help spur the next wave of growth. For example, consider asking them to document playbooks, processes, or scripts to make a record of what is working and what is not working. You can ask them to help onboard and train new team members. You can empower them to experiment with different ways to position the product to customers and collaborate with the product and engineering teams to get customer feedback in their hands.
Ensure there is alignment between goals and incentives across all levels and teams. Question whether you need a variable compensation plan for any team. I am a big believer in finding the right people with intrinsic motivation and paying a generous base salary for their work--even sales teams.
Reduce internal friction
Regularly identify points of friction and address them quickly. This can be done through observation, employee engagement surveys, and skip level meetings so leaders have a strong pulse of how the teams are working together.
When conducting employee engagement surveys, it is important to ask these types of questions to uncover friction and how to address it:
- Do you feel supported by your manager / fellow team members / team members of other departments?
- What challenges impede your ability to be successful in your role or help our customers be successful?
- What would you like to see implemented to address your challenges?
- What can be done to improve collaboration between internal teams?
- What is working well right now in terms of internal collaboration?
Create a culture of innovation
Foster a culture of experimentation and celebrate learning from mistakes. What separates the good companies from the great companies is creating a psychologically safe environment to inspire innovation. If you invest in demonstrating that failure is embraced and part of the growth process, your team members may produce the next great idea to catapult your company to the next level.
By following the steps in the framework described, you will increase the likelihood of your company growing successfully and sustainably. In order to build an incredible business, you need to focus on creating the conditions for success. The foundation requires the right organization design, aggressively achievable goals, and aligned incentives so everyone is working together in service of your customer.