Business owners are often warned about silos. Not the tall, cylindrical structures typically seen on farms or at grain processing facilities. Rather, the insular nature of many departments that results in the hoarding of information and a distinct lack of companywide communication.
Among the most damaging effects of having silos within a business is poor or underperforming sales numbers. When the sales team is the last to know about strategic initiatives, new products or services, and key information about customers, its members can’t do their jobs optimally. One solution to this problem: Form a cross-functional sales team.
What’s that now?
In the broadest sense, a cross-functional team is any group of employees from different departments brought together to solve a problem or fulfill a goal. Such teams can be a great way to develop new products or services, identify and implement technology upgrades, and complete short-term projects.
However, the cross-functional team concept can really shine when applied to sales and marketing. All too often, though the sales and marketing departments are inextricably linked in purpose, the two operate in separate spheres. They often have very different cultures as well, which can lead to negative interoffice politics and poor communication.
Indeed, even sales staffs themselves can form silos within the team. Many salespeople work largely on their own, “coming up for air” to share information and experiences only at occasional sales meetings or in conversations with managers.
Who should play a role?
A cross-functional sales team seeks to demolish any such silos by creating a broad, flat structure within which a diverse group of professionals can communicate and collaborate on improving sales results. To get started forming one, focus on the word “diverse” while also leaning toward individuals who excel at communicating and cooperating effectively.
A cross-functional sales team will obviously need to include members of both the sales and marketing departments. But don’t necessarily stop there. Someone from your IT department could play a role in identifying what type of software or functions within existing systems might best apply to a sales initiative. A customer service rep might be able to provide insights into how customers will likely react to a given strategy. A finance department staffer could give valuable input on pricing and production costs.
As mentioned, a cross-functional sales team should generally be flat in the sense that it doesn’t need a complex leadership structure. In fact, many experts believe it’s best to appoint a non-management employee as the leader to encourage buy-in of the team concept and avoid having the team appear to be just another arm of upper management.
Will it pay off?
When they work, cross-functional sales teams can create exciting innovations to sales and marketing strategies, accelerate the sales cycle, and enable a business to more efficiently achieve strategic objectives.
That said, these teams are also subject to all the potential pitfalls of any assemblage of employees — infighting, lack of direction, insufficient resources and long fruitless meetings. If the concept intrigues you, discuss it with your fellow executives. Should you decide to move forward, develop your cross-functional sales team slowly and carefully.