4 steps to building a unified business approach in 2020

Business & tech

This article was originally published on Forbes.

The concept of a unified approach, including a unified platform for managing different parts of a business, is not new. In the 1970s, SAP developed an enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform for manufacturers to help them align and unify different parts of the business, including finance and accounting, inventory management, supply chain, distribution, procurement and production.

At that time, it was all about products. Today, with the internet and e-commerce, the customer is more important than the product, and the emphasis has shifted to customer interactions. Customers today want a personalized, frictionless buying experience, and they also want to know what you stand for and if your values align with theirs.

To achieve that, businesses are looking for technology that would enable them to consistently collect and centralize customer data, so they can create consistently great brand experiences throughout the entire customer journey—from the first touch throughout the sale and post-sale interactions. In a way, they are looking for unified systems that would accomplish what ERPs did in the 1970s. As the founder and CEO of a platform that combines customer relationship management, marketing and sales, I’ve seen this firsthand.

But technology by itself is not going to solve this. A unified approach starts with organizational culture and management. In most cases, this means tearing down artificial walls among sales, marketing and customer service teams and building a data-driven culture across the entire company.

Building a unified approach might seem like an overwhelming task, but there are a few steps you can take to make sure you’re on the right track.

1. Slash the silos

Inconsistent terminology and siloed data can lead to costly misconceptions about buyer behavior. Make sure everyone on your team uses consistent terminology across processes and systems with a shared definition of success. Without a shared goal, more time is spent cleaning and organizing data than addressing the real needs of the customer and designing new ways to improve the customer experience. Have a single source of truth on customer data so that every team has access to key insights on customers’ needs, preferences and history of interactions.

2. Be a leader

Like most business initiatives, buy-in for a unified approach starts at the top, which means sales, marketing, delivery and customer service stakeholders must align and agree on the strategy. Your team leaders should conduct regular planning and check-ins to ensure everyone remains on the same page and that teams are on track and transparent with one another.

Any big gaps, issues and growth opportunities should be reviewed and addressed with a unified approach. Consider how changes in one part of your business impact the entire business and, ultimately, customers. How do changes in marketing operations affect your sales performance? What can marketing learn about your customers from your service team data?

3. Take it to the team

Once executives are on board and aligned on goals, metrics and the plan, the next step is to rally the teams around the same mission. Evaluate the company culture and personalities to foster a healthy environment for collaboration so your teams are working together most effectively. This is an ongoing effort.

4. Choose your technology wisely

Data, knowledge and technology are your most powerful assets for integration. Think about what your teams need and how that information can work across departments, including marketing, sales, customer onboarding and support. Ensure the tech you choose will help your team be efficient, collaborative and transparent, as this can have a direct impact on your customer relationships and even retention.

With a unified approach and technology that supports and strengthens it, you can foster a data-driven culture and create a powerful collaboration that unifies your business around one main goal: customer success. It’s the foundation of your business success.

Preparing for challenges along the way

As you begin to implement a unified approach, you might find that your technology is lagging behind. Or maybe not everyone on your team is as enthusiastic about the changes as you are, and it’s harder to align teams than you had originally thought. I found the following couple of strategies helpful in overcoming these challenges.

Clear communication

Whether you’re explaining the need for a unified business approach and new technology to support it, the ways in which changes will impact each team member or addressing your employees’ reservations—being clear and transparent from the start helps to avoid confusion, get buy-in and save time.

Big-picture thinking

In a fast-moving startup world, it’s easy to get bogged down in daily operations and lose sight of long-term vision. Use weekly all-hands meetings, company-wide emails or another way to remind employees how a unified business approach would contribute to the company’s growth and their individual success.

When thinking about building a unified approach, remember that at the heart of any organizational change are people. Sitting at the epicenter of a high-growth technology company in the heart of Silicon Valley and everything that entails, I find that, by far, the most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur is the human side of the business—the hiring, culture building and motivating your team to strive for more. As you think of how you’re going to unify your business, including which systems and technology you are going to use, don’t lose sight of the human factor in your decision-making.