Keeping the Chorus in Tune

If different departments are pushing different messages, customer confusion will result. Here's how to build harmonious teams

When I visited Disneyland in California recently, the "It's a Small World" ride featuring "audio-animatronic" figures representing various countries around the world gave me an idea for how to sell better. A tour guide told me that Walt Disney's original plan for the ride was for each figure to each sing its country's respective national anthem. Then Disney realized that the resulting clashes of the melodies and tempos of each song would create a cacophony for the passenger on the ride.

This made me wonder: Is it possible that your prospective customers hear conflicting messages when you're selling, creating a similar disharmony? For example, if your print advertising promises that your outfit's primary benefit is "low prices," then your sales team brags about your "terrific service," and your customer-service department extols your "fast response time," your customers may flee from the inconsistency and lack of credibility of your message. They will probably spend their money in places where they can understand the value of the product or service and hear consistent selling messages.

This fractured situation can happen when a company operates with a silo mentality—where communication across departments is the exception rather than the rule, and each department acts autonomously without conveying a consistent message to the customer.

Beware Silo Creep

After Walt Disney gave his ride's design some more thought, he decided to play the same unique melody throughout, but have the figures each sing in their country's native language. That way, the tune would be consistent, but at the same time it would keep the international flavor he intended to convey. A brilliant solution!

Likewise, if you find that your customers are experiencing various selling messages during the buying process, carefully choose one or two primary benefits that your customers desperately want and you are uniquely suited to provide. Then make sure that at every step along the selling process, those benefits are "sold" and implemented. Be wary of the silo effect creeping into your business' sales process.

Take this cautionary story from a telephone-services salesman I know. The salesman's company usually mailed a report and a bill to one of its major customers every month. Then, for whatever mysterious reason, the accounting department simply stopped billing this client. When the accountants realized their mistake, they sent one huge report and a single bill for the previous six months. Due to their silo mentality, they didn't bother to mention what they had done to the salesman. The first time the salesman heard of the mistake was when the irate customer called him to complain.

Big-Picture Problems

What's worse, the salesman had just delivered a bid for the upcoming year's business to this customer. The large, late bill coming right after a request for another year of service pushed the customer to put the order out to bid—and another vendor got the job. As a result, the salesman lost a long-standing, good customer because the accounting department didn't think it needed to tell the salesman about the mistake. Ouch.

Of course, there are plenty of stories where a salesperson didn't communicate well with his accounting or other departments and it caused lost business, too. The effect is the same. A silo culture drives away customers.

While it's easy to cast blame for silos, it's faster to take the onus on yourself to fix or improve the situation. Here are a few suggestions.

1. Stay in Touch. Make a map of everyone in your company who has any possible effect on or connection to your customers. Then introduce yourself personally to everyone on that map. Let them know a little bit about you personally and professionally. Consider giving them your cell phone number or maybe even your home phone number, so if they should ever get a call from one of your customers or have a question about any aspect of one of your accounts, they can contact you easily.

2. Know Your People. Learn a few key facts about each of the people on your map, too. You never know what connections or nuggets of information your co-workers have that no one has ever mined before. It's possible to leverage your co-workers to win some new customers as well as keep your current ones.

3. Build Connections. Divide all the departments in your company into six or 12 groups. Then you or your sales department can host a "Sales Appreciates Department X" event every month or two, and over the course of the year, cover all the departments in your company. This builds great connections between you and the other departments.

4. Share Your Plans. Before you commence going after a big new project or customer, confidentially share your plans with those departments who will be most affected. Ask for their suggestions and see if they have any concerns that you might not have considered.

The creation of the multilingual Disney ride required some careful planning, so take the time to ensure a pleasant trip for your customers as you take them through your sales process. You will sell more and have happier customers too. Happy selling!

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