Have conversations, not monologues!

NANDINI VAIDYANATHAN highlights the importance of having proper conversations between various teams in an organization

For years, I have argued that a successful startup is one where co-founders have complementary skill-sets. Increasingly startups themselves have realised the merit in this. However, of late, I have noticed that not defining boundaries of accountability has led to complementarity becoming a detriment to customer experience.

In organisations, two to three decades ago, communication had irrevocably broken down between sales and finance teams. The sales team dissed the finance guys as fuddy-duddys who had never met a customer in their life. The finance team dismissed the sales guys as powder-puff boys who only knew to lie and exaggerate to make a sale.

In the last decade or so, may be thanks to the IT MNCs, processes and protocols have, to a significant extent, ensured that no one team operates in a silo and interdependencies have been acknowledged and written in blood. But the one grey area that I am referring to is the gap between sales and product development teams.

Let us take a hypothetical case where there are three co-founders, one in the technology space, the second in sales and marketing and the third in product development. Each of these roles is very distinct and correctly speaking, there should be neither any ambiguity in their respective roles nor any conflict-inducing overlap.

However, I have sat through Zoom call after Zoom call, in the last one year, where each of the co-founders hurl the choicest abuse at the other after either losing the customer or nearly losing the customer. In addition, from what I can suss out, it seems that sales over promised in terms of performance capability of the product. Product development team were caught on the wrong foot but did their best to customise on the fly and the tech guys threw their hands up saying their current technology does not support this level of customisation and switching technologies at this juncture would be expensive, and time-consuming. Outcome: a very irate customer and a brand that is taking a beating.

Why does this gap occur at all? Is it that the sales team is not aware of the product performance capability, of what is involved in customisation in terms of costs and time, and the extent of customisation possible? I remember interviewing a guy for sales a few years ago who was Mr Jaunty all the way. He wore a jaunty bamboo hat, he walked as if on air, and he breezed into my office announcing why he was god’s gift to my company. He said, madam I can sell double-door ‘fridge to Eskimo, I am that good. So I asked him, how will you do that? He said, I will tell them, if you close door, ‘fridge is cold, if you open door it will heat your igloo! My next logical question was, what happens when the Eskimo finds out that the ‘fridge does not heat the igloo? His answer was simple. By then sale is done no? ‘Fridge production guys can deal with the music!

That is why sales is associated with faff. With lies. But when these lies are perpetrated by co-founders, it is a journey down the wormhole. Whether it is defending the truth or a bunch of lies, it is important that the entire organisation be on the same page. It is even more important that right from the time of starting conversation of intent with customer, all the teams are in full participation mode so that nothing escapes anyone’s notice. Not performance capability. Not cost. Not time frame.

To be able to do this effectively, it is necessary that along with roles and responsibilities, boundary lines of accountability are clearly drawn and respected between co-founding teams. Each of them can discuss with the customer only their piece. Not a word about the others’.

There is absolutely no harm in saying, that is a matter for my colleague who handles product development, not my area of expertise at all, I will ask him to discuss this with you. And when it is time to send out the proposal to the customer, it is not just the pretty sales boys who will draw up pretty graphs and stories. They have to be substantiated and corroborated by all the stakeholders that nothing is lost in translation. And when it is time to seal the deal with the customer, it is not just the sales guy bringing home the trophy.

It has to be a symphony of various threads of conversation, possibilities, cost and timelines and most important the impact this product would have on the customer’s bottom-line. There is no question of any one of the stakeholders saying at any point, I was not aware of this commitment to customer!

I do think the reason why this gap is becoming a chasm is because typically tech companies care a tuppence for branding. Somehow branding seems to be an obsession only for FMCG companies. Or so the techies think.

Which is why despite being a huge employer generating significant foreign exchange, the IT sector in India still remains a commodity

The columnist has commenced her fourth professional avatar with her bakery and restaurant business in Jaipur (www.concoctions.fr) with her French Michelin-star chef life partner. Email: nandini@carmaconnect.in

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