Tear Down Departmental Boundaries and Stop Shooting Yourself in the Foot


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Companies can’t seem to get out of their own way. Declaring themselves customer-centric, they turn right around and design business processes along departmental boundaries, creating stovepipe operations that frustrate customers. Upon review, management discovers the company is accomplishing its internally generated goals. Yet the customers aren’t happy. People are “doing things right,” but they aren’t doing the right things to create outstanding customer experiences.

Why? Because too many companies fail to obtain meaningful customer input before designing business processes. They fail to understand which behaviors their customers value and which behaviors create frustration in the customer experience. Ultimately, senior managers must ask themselves a single question before including any given activity in their business processes: “What is the value of this activity to my customer?”

I recently asked the president of a midsize subsidiary of a large, highly visible company, what his sales agents would say prevented them from selling more. He laughed and replied, “They would say ‘us.'” When I asked what he meant, he gave me several examples; this one is very typical.

This vendor is quickly earning a reputation for being difficult to work with.

This company sells a complex technical solution, tailored to client needs. Sales and pre-sales consulting teams spend months collaborating with the customer to define a very specific, customized solution. The sales team then prices the solution and presents the “final” proposal to the customer for approval. So far, so good.

At no point in the long, complex collaboration among sales, pre-sales consulting and customer is either party’s legal team involved. The legal teams of both companies are blindsided by complex solutions that sales and the customer consider “a done deal.”

The customer’s legal department often finds real problems in the solution definition that must be corrected before approval. The vendor’s legal department, not fully understanding its role in the sales process, often adds unreasonable legalese that sometimes protects the vendor right out of relationships with customers. Failing to involve legal early in the sales process creates unnecessary turmoil for the vendor and, more importantly, the customer. This vendor is quickly earning a reputation for being difficult to work with.


Here’s how you fix that. You include both legal teams early in the sales process, at key steps in the process. Allowing legal to act as advisors to the sales team and customer earlier in the process helps avoid contract difficulties and keeps expectations clear. Lawyers aren’t put in a position to have to delay contract signing, and the proposed solution is more accurate. To make such an approach truly effective, senior management must ensure this change is mandated through procedures that define responsibilities, triggers of engagement and information flows for sales and legal. By including legal early in the process, you ensure that members of your legal team understand the role they play in creating an outstanding buying experience for the customer. And you help them create better contracts that protect you and establish a good relationship with your client.

This is but one simple example; every interaction with a customer has the potential to either be problematic or to delight the customer. Take the time to examine how each department—legal, sales, technical, customer service, delivery, shipping and transportation and finance and accounting—interacts with your customers.

To deliver an outstanding customer experience, ask your customers what they value the most, then design your business operations in response. Focus on doing those things well that the customer values most, and stop wasting their time and your money!

Develop your information flows, business processes and activities with customer interaction in mind and tear down departmental boundaries, improving your value to your customers, while reducing wasted activities.

The best way to discover which activities provide value to your customers is to create a detailed questionnaire for senior account managers and executives to use to start meaningful conversations with customers. This approach, rather than statistical surveys, will provide you with actionable insight into your customers’ needs. Look at each activity from the customer’s point of view. What works well? What does not? Why? Select customers of the greatest importance to you and that fit your profile of a good customer.

Armed with these two views of customer interaction, you can align your customer-impacting activities with your customers’ ideal of how they want to work with you.

Senior managers can examine how their strategic goals and objectives fit with what they have learned from their customers. This might yield some strategic changes, such as new objectives or metrics, targeted at improving customer value.

Key frontline managers and staff should work as a single team, regardless of departmental boundaries, to determine if activities are adding value; considering information flows, users, owners and timing.

Finally, any changes in strategic objectives or metrics—and any changes to process and activities—should be implemented with a communications plan. This ensures everyone understands management’s intentions and support—and that all your people understand their individual role.

Jerry Sparger
Global Business Solutions, LLC
Jerry Sparger, founder of management consultancy Global Business Solutions, brings 4 years of senior management and consulting experience to helping clients focus their business on acquiring and retaining loyal customers. GBS provides customer-centric organizational assessment, strategy and process development workshops and skills development.


  1. As a sales strategist, I applaud any effort to tear down departmental barriers to facilitate sales. There is much potential value that can be released if companies can escape from the myopia of insisting that the account team conduct and manage all customer interactions.

    Whether Legal rightfully belongs in the collaborative value chain is debatable. There are many situations in which Legal has no “value add” (an over-used term, but I’ll use it anyway) to the transaction. At the same time, as you point out, vendors and prospects often have ignored the role of the legal department in completing a sales transaction, much to everyone’s detriment.

    An earlier blog that I wrote Is There ‘White Space’ in Your Customer Relationships? speaks to your overall point, and suggests that there are three vendor-customer interactions that have the greatest value:

    Best practice knowledge transfers
    Revenue generation

    In that context, any contribution Legal makes toward producing those outcomes would be considered worthwhile.


  2. Great recommendations for true customer-cenricity. So often we tend to think that customer focus is mostly about outbound messaging and customer engagement. But as you point out, the underlying cross-function business processes for delivering the brand promise are the real determinants of customer-centricity. Another way of incorporating the customer’s viewpoint in business process design is described in my recent Love Those Lemons comments. By championing the warning signals from customers, your can keep business processes up to customer expectations.

    Lynn Hunsaker, http://www.ClearAction.biz, mentors executives for superior customer profitability by preventing customer hassles and churn.


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