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Misalignment across marketing, sales and customer success: Where does it come from?

The reason your marketing, sales and customer success teams may not be aligned relates to the process of scaling.

Even before you hire your first salesperson, there is just one role: growth. It combines both sales and marketing, and it’s run by a tiny team with the same objectives and priorities, and a pretty tight budget. (Think pre-seed round and three to seven people in total.)

As a company grows, a growth team can split into different teams with different goals

As a company gets bigger and reaches five to 20 employees in size, the growth team splits into sales and marketing, which each having a different set of goals and metrics that are usually independent of each other. And these teams are run by people who often don’t collaborate. They gradually lose sight of the bigger picture in the company. And why should they really care? A VP of marketing will be working to optimize everything to hit their own goals: leads, pipeline, revenue, marketing qualified leads, you name it. The same goes for a VP of sales, who will be focused on the number of deals they close, the revenue generated and the new customers brought onboard.

If marketing and sales have different goals and are run by people who don’t collaborate, it inevitably leads to finger pointing and statements like “sales can’t close anything” or “marketing generates crappy leads that we can’t close.”

In the meantime, your company is still growing (seed stage), even with these misaligned efforts. But when your new customers start leaving after their contracts run out and your sales team begins to struggle with renewals, you look for a way to stop this leakage. After analyzing how much it costs to attract new customers and the ultimate price of churn, you put in place a new team—customer success.

Customer success teams emerge

Customer success aims to patch the leaking funnel and keep the retention rate in check. This role, again, has a different set of priorities than sales and marketing, and soon enough, you’ll hear complaints like, “sales is closing too many crappy deals.” What the customer success team is really saying is the accounts that the sales team brings in are not perfectly aligned with your company product offering and that this creates challenges for cross-selling, upselling and renewals.

Keep in mind that this way of scaling marketing, sales and customer success is based on a common “assembly line” team model. With this model, you have a number of highly specialized individuals who do their part and hand off leads, customers and deals to the next team. These folks are only responsible for their own slice of work, which is defined by metrics. They don’t necessarily care about what happens before or after the hand-off.

Read also: Growth flywheel: Building growth engines at MaRS

Why you need to differentiate between happy and successful customers

Let me start by saying that in a startup, by and large, there are two main goals:

  1. Acquire more customers who benefit from your product.
  2. Make your existing customers successful with your existing product.

I think it’s important to point out the difference between a happy and a successful customer. Both look similar, but are actually not the same. A successful customer is someone who is getting measurable, easily validated results from using your product. They can be successful regardless of who their point of contact is at the company.

A happy customer has one or more internal champions who absolutely love what your company does, your brand, your content and what you stand for in business. If that employee quits or makes a jump into another department, their replacement will evaluate whether it’s worth spending any money on your product without any emotional attachment. And if this success metric does not exist, they will churn.

A culture of extreme ownership is at the core of your company’s success

Nothing is more important or more difficult than to get the culture and people right.” –Ray Dalio

I’m a big fan of Jocko Willink, a former navy SEAL and the co-author of two amazing books, Extreme Ownership and Dichotomy of Leadership.

The principles Willink preaches are fundamental and necessary for every single company. Not making excuses, accepting that as a leader you have the ultimate responsibility, relentlessly communicating to each member of your team “why” something must be done, taming your own ego and helping your team prioritize what’s important are just a few of them.

Executing these principles every day is hard. They must be set and highly controlled by founders. This is not an easy task, but it’s necessary to, as Willink says, “defeat the enemy.”

Extreme ownership is about giving each member autonomy and personal responsibility so they can accomplish a task. It’s about aligning your incentives and culture around ownership and accountability so each member—and your company—benefits.

If you want your employees to take ownership, you must give them ownership and autonomy to lead projects, run meetings and make decisions. They will make mistakes, and you have to accept that. Give them authentic praise and credit when they succeed, and encourage them to take more ownership in the company.

When new people start working in the company, they immediately assess how you lead and will model it. Set a high standard.

Willink always says “there are no bad teams, only bad leaders.” Remember this when you try to align the marketing, sales and customer success teams.

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