marketing organization silosSilos are a hot business topic today. As Marketing Operations (MO) pros, we owe it to our companies to understand silos intimately — both their appropriate use and potential impact on marketing accountability, alignment and agility. Much of our work involves bridging — or when necessary, busting! — silos to increase marketing efficiency and effectiveness in support of achieving enterprise strategic objectives.

Earlier this year, Lynn Hunsaker created quite a stir with her CustomerThink article, 10 Silos Impact Customer Experience. Using Lynn’s insightful article as a roadmap, over the next few weeks I will explore each of the silos Lynn introduced in her article, in the context of marketing. These include:

  1. Organizational silos
  2. Channel silos
  3. Systems silos
  4. Data silos
  5. Process silos
  6. Vision silos
  7. Assumption silos
  8. Goal silos
  9. Metrics silos
  10. Handoff silos

Silos in marketing tend to begin with the organization itself, so we’ll start there.

Organizational Silos
With all the hype around busting silos, we tend to forget that they serve an important purpose. “Everywhere you turn, people talk about tearing down silos, busting silos and smashing silos”, says Shel Holtz in his post Organizational silos don’t need busting. They need ventilating. “Ask a farmer about that, and he’ll doubtless tell you that if you smash his silos, all the grain will fall out.”

Organizations form silos — aka boxes on an org chart — for a reason. According to Liz Guthridge, in her article 3 Ways to blend, not bust, silos to get better results, “They make it easier and more efficient to bring together common interests and resources to perform specific tasks.” In other words, by concentrating expertise, a functional group can more efficiently allocate resources to get things done.

The Impact of Dysfunctional Silo Behavior on Marketing Leaders
Marketing leaders are often more critically impacted by dysfunctional organizational silo behavior than their peers in other functions. Following are two especially debilitating examples:

Inability to walk the talk: As marketers, we are the stewards of the corporate identity, which is one-part message and one-part experience. We are dependent on other functions to perform behind the promise we have created as we promote products, brands, value propositions, relationships and reputation. Taking an outside-in view, our customers, partners and stakeholders are equally dependent on us to make sure our enterprise walks the talk. Their loyalty is tied to our company’s ability to create value for them, make it easy to do business with us and deliver a great experience.

Blindsided: We are dependent on a reliable and consistent flow of data and insights to maximize marketing strategy in the face of customer, market or economic realities. We need to be totally on top of what’s going on inside our organizations as well. Critical information locked away inside an engineering, quality, planning or sales silo puts us in the embarrassing position of being out of the loop if one of our product claims is challenged, our enterprise goes under a compliance or media spotlight, or we flat out fail to respond to a market opportunity or competitive threat.

Silos Within the Marketing Organization
Marketing departments are as guilty of forming dysfunctional silos as any other function. We inadvertently create these silos by dividing up responsibilities into sub-functions — such as product marketing, field marketing, channel marketing, marcom and demand gen — and then don’t make the time to get on the same page, see every solution through the parochial lens of our craft and evaluate success according to our own subjective criteria.

The consequences of such lone wolf behavior are considerable:

  • The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing so we duplicate efforts or ignore anything on the interfaces (creating gaps that no one takes responsibility to address)
  • Decision-making seems arbitrary, or at least lacking in transparency, to our cross-functional counterparts (and, worse, to the executive team that can provide or take away our resources)
  • Metrics are often not aligned with performance in a meaningful way that cascades upwards to common enterprise goals (thus we fail to demonstrate our value and put continued investment in our activities at risk)

Bust Organizational Silos, or Mix Them Up?
To those of us in enterprise and marketing leadership, the idea of tearing down organizational silos is attractive, at least on the surface. Without silos, we expect less resistance to change, the end of the “us vs. them” mentality that blocks progress, better knowledge sharing, more transparent decision-making, and better mobilization toward common goals. Should be a no-brainer, right?

Um, wait a minute before you throw the baby out with the bath water.

Let’s not forget, we are human beings. We have been trained to break things down to their component parts to make sense out of complexity. Functional groups — which can easily be labeled as silos as they become dysfunctional — play an important role in taming complexity.

Perhaps more importantly, people naturally associate with their functional groups. Blowing them up because they have been marked as silos is tantamount to declaring war.

Remember, what looks like an organizational silo to you is a home or team for your colleagues in sales, IT, finance or customer experience. That group is part of their identity, their common ground with people like themselves. What you call an organizational silo is group with which they associate themselves — just like gender, age, family, nationality, ethnicity, religion, special interests and all the other groups in which we see ourselves.

So, as a Marketing Operations leader or CMO directing a Marketing Ops team, what’s a better way to address the silo challenge?

I’ve heard a few approaches I really like on how go about it.

Holtz suggests we “ventilate” silos with a “culture of open communication and information flow”. That’s great advice as a mindset for applying new practices. I think a C-level leader, such as a CMO, in certain organizations will have the clout to champion that approach.

For CMOs trying to get a more powerful seat at the executive table or Marketing Operations leaders who will need to effect this type of change more through influence than authority, you might want to follow Guthridge’s guidance in introducing the idea of an organizational “mixologist”, who masterfully blends, mixes or stirs the established ingredients” within silos “to create something new”  and better.

As a Marketing Operations leader, that way of framing my work with silos really resonates. Marketing Ops is all about aligning ecosystems, strategy, guidance, infrastructure, process, metrics and technology to achieve mutually-beneficial business results. When we do our job best, we are effectively mixologists.

One thing is missing though.

With Holtz advice, we’ve addressed the necessary mindset. With Guthridge’s insights, we’ve framed the work to be done. But what about the driving force that brings everything together.

That’s where we come back to Lynn’s article. The driving force should be the customer. Organize everything – investment, expectations, priorities, effort, collaboration, results and rewards — around the needs of the customer.

So put your destructive impulse aside, respect the organizational silo for what it is — beauty marks and warts — and approach the challenge from a holistic view. Turn on the ventilation system, mix the best ingredients to create the most effective potion for each new context, and focus on the customer as common ground to synchronize effort and win together.

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