Collaboration Requires Community, Coaching and Culture

Over the last couple of weeks, I have shared a lot of our research on cross-functional collaboration from an enablement perspective. Now, what about collaboration across the sales force, across sales teams? The question readers are asking me is: What about the collaboration between salespeople and product and solution specialists? These product and solution focused roles come with different names and in different forms and shapes. Sometimes they are part of the sales force, and sometimes they belong to the product side of the house. Either way, effective collaboration is not easy to achieve.

Get the foundation right: goals, roles, processes and IT systems

Define the business goal of collaboration:
Collaboration does not exist for its own sake. Its purpose must be defined in each and every case. If you want product specialists and account teams to collaborate more effectively, then define the goal first. It could be, for instance, to create additional business within those accounts. This makes the discussions more about the specific purpose and less about generalities like socializing activities and sharing best practices. Both kinds of discussion are useful, but the focus must be on achieving a business goal.

Get roles, processes, and IT systems right:
Enabling collaboration begins with clear role definitions that include how you will measure success for all involved roles. Make sure that the KPIs don’t create more competition than collaboration. From marketing to sales and service, map roles to each activity in the process. Consequently, your IT systems should reflect exactly this collaborative process blueprint. As an example, if you have everything defined in your roles and processes, but then product specialists have no access to your CRM or account management system, it will be hard to work based on a shared view of reality.

Focus on the three collaboration Cs that make the difference: Community, Coaching, and Culture

Whatever you do to get this collaborative foundation right, including the removal of barriers, is absolutely essential and must not be forgotten. If not, you will always have an inbuilt collaboration disabler.

But the foundation alone won’t make collaboration work. More work has to be done on the human side. And that’s all about community, coaching, and culture.

Community of Practice:
The idea of a community is all about establishing a cadence to initiate an effective and focused collaboration between roles and teams in a structured and moderated way. Meetings to “share best practices” and “talk about what works and what doesn’t” with no resulting action items do not create communities.

Instead, plan meetings that have a specific purpose. For example: “brainstorm about new ideas to create additional business.” The account team could collaborate with an industry expert or various product or solution specialists. The structured way would be emphasize the framework for collaboration (goals, roles, processes, systems, KPIs) to establish and to start working on a concrete issue. Ideas emerging from these meetings should be formulated as account leads, connected to the activities the different roles will take to pursue these leads. You will be surprised how many valuable account leads can be created in this way. The second purpose of such a session is that it establishes a cadence for people and teams to work together in a purposeful, focused way.

Coaching to drive collaboration:
I have analyzed, researched, and written a lot about the value of coaching, why it has to be defined and formalized along the customer’s journey to be effective, and why the role of the sales managers or additional sales coaches is mission-critical to sales performance.

Coaching plays an important role in improving collaboration and strengthening the collaborative mindset even if there are obstacles to overcome on a daily basis. On the other hand, if your coaching approach and process does not consider collaborative efforts, and if your sales managers don’t ask questions about collaboration with other functions, you can be pretty sure that effective collaboration won’t happen. So, the challenge is to enrich the coaching approach and to ensure that effective collaboration is included in every coaching area.

Culture matters
Last but not least, culture matters. A lot. Culture is not only eating strategy for breakfast, as Peter Drucker said, but culture may also eat your just planted, tender collaboration seeds. This is why coaching is so important, because coaching can impact an organization’s culture over time.

And senior executives must do their part. Do they collaborate on their level? Do they live what they want the organization to do? Or is collaboration something they don’t really care about, because they focus only on the “important things,” which means “the numbers”?

A lot can be initiated from the edge, but an organization’s leadership team has to understand that conscious collaboration is a key enabler for driving growth and achieving the numbers they are looking for. And as our world becomes more dynamic every day, effective collaboration models are even more important to be able to adapt to changing requirements and expectations.


Questions for you:

  • How do you set up collaboration across the sales force?
  • How do you structure the collaboration between salespeople and product or solution specialists?
  • Is your organization’s culture an enabler or a disabler for effective collaboration?

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