Best Practices for Cross-Functional Collaboration
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Collaboration is critical to sales enablement success. As a function that often supports multiple revenue teams across an organization, sales enablement is uniquely positioned to create synergy between departments and drive strategic alignment.
In fact, collaborative sales enablement efforts are often an indicator of more formal sales enablement functions overall. As the 2019 State of Sales Enablement Report found, those with formal sales enablement charters were twice as likely to engage in formal collaboration than those with informal sales enablement approaches.
“Sales enablement can be that key liaison to break down silos, break down barriers, to be able to have those really impactful conversations that will make a difference for the entire organization,” said Pam Dake, senior director of global sales enablement at Accela. “It’s driving not just sales, but expanding then to customers and really being able to better enable those customer relationships because you’ve connected different departments that have very different KPIs.”
This means that building and maintaining avenues for cross-functional collaboration are essential skills for sales enablement practitioners to have. To make working with cross-functional teams easier and more productive, there are proven best practices you can follow in the areas of communication, alignment, getting buy-in, and conflict resolution.
The importance of clear communication—both in sharing and receiving information—can’t be overstated. Communication is often the biggest barrier to success, and it can be the most impactful lever to pull when it comes to working across teams and functions.
Outbound information sharing is often seen as the main role of communication, but listening is equally important. As the saying goes, “Are you listening or waiting to talk?” There’s a difference between the two, and it’s important to practice active listening strategies help build empathy and trust. Active listening habits include:
- Mirroring: Use the same verbiage the other party uses to create a sense of common ground. Repeat the last few words of what someone has just said. As humans, it’s natural to fear what’s different and be drawn to what’s similar, so creating this mirror will encourage the other party to empathize with you.
- Creating purposeful silences: Slow down. Take time to listen and resist the urge to speed the other person along with their message. If you’re in too much of a hurry, the other party will feel like they’re being dismissed and not being heard, and you’ll undermine the trust you’re trying to build.
When the time comes to speak and share information, consistent and proactive communication is key to garnering respect and attention. This is important to remember with every project, but especially those that involve cross-functional stakeholders that often have limited visibility into your day-to-day productivity. Because a lot of sales enablement initiatives are long term, make sure you’re regularly updating stakeholders on the initiatives—how they’re progressing, successes and obstacles, and timelines—to avoid a “set it and forget it” mentality across the organization.
“Don’t wait until you’ve achieved results to communicate back to the [stakeholders],” said Yarun Nahar, senior manager of sales enablement at Rackspace. “Always communicate progress, trending metrics, any indication that what you’re trying to drive is having a positive and the right impact.”
When projects are aligned to strategic business goals, it makes it easier for cross-functional collaboration to occur.
“At the end of the day, we’re all trying to achieve the same goals,” said Jennifer Lopopolo, director of global sales enablement at Poly. “Understanding what specifically your team’s going to do that’s going to influence those numbers and understanding what others are doing really helps you all align to where you’re playing that role and how you contribute to the overall goals of the organization.”
Sales enablement can be the change agents in an organization by aligning initiatives to business goals in a strategic manner. Consider these two strategies to improve the alignment of sales enablement projects to strategic initiatives and in turn, increase collaboration:
- Get out of the tactical space: Aligning to business goals is just good business. If your projects and programs don’t ladder up to a larger company initiative, take a step back and consider if they can, or if they should be discarded. While it’s easy to get consumed in tactical deliverables, they are not moving your business or your organization forward.
- Think holistically and strategic: By thinking outside the individual role of sales enablement and more holistically across the organization, you will need to influence other stakeholders to support your end goals, creating more vested interest in your programs from teams across the company.
Eventually—and perhaps often—you’ll need to gain approval from a stakeholder on some component of your program. Remember that communication is a nuanced skill, and sometimes, what others hear is not what we thought we said. This can impact your ability to get buy-in, and there are two techniques you can implement to help remove blockers to approval:
- Use positive affirmation when asking for buy-in: Aim to get the other party to say, “that’s right.” This phrase creates a breakthrough that makes the other party feel understood, positively affirmed, and more likely to listen to what you have to say.
- Summarize and paraphrase: By agreeing with what they’re saying with “that’s right,” you set the other party up to say “that’s right” to you. A good way to encourage this dialogue is by summarizing what they say in your own words—and asking for their confirmation.
Even with linguistic techniques, it can be difficult to get buy-in for an entire initiative if stakeholders don’t understand the potential impact. To combat this, try to break down key aspects of an initiative into bite-sized chunks when asking for buy-in. Instead of trying to get approval on every aspect of your program at once, start small and stack up quick wins to back up one aspect at a time. Smaller wins add up to big wins, and they will aid you in gaining buy-in for more challenging goals.
“Trying to smash a home run out the gate is not a successful strategy,” said Christopher Kingman, director of international enablement at TransUnion. “You could spend 18 months trying to fix something, but tidying up all these little things to get people behind you, to get them to understand what you’re there to do, will aid in getting you that buy-in for more and more challenging concepts and goals.”
Have you ever been in a meeting that changed trajectory instantly when someone lashed out, seemingly out of the blue? This polarizing behavior can happen in cross-team working environments, where groups feel the need to duke it out for power and control.
According to the book, “Never Split the Difference”, when people feel that they are not in control, they adopt what psychologists call a hostage mentality. In other words, in moments of conflict, they react to their lack of power by either becoming extremely defensive or lashing out. Neurologically, in situations like this, the fight-or-flight mechanism in the brain leads us to react (or over-react) in an emotional way.
When dealing with conflict, you can help diffuse the situation by calling upon tactical empathy. First, acknowledge the outburst and that the person is feeling flooded, and suggest you take time to meet offline to address their concerns. In the future one-on-one (or one-on-few) meeting, consider these approaches to help the person feel heard and understood:
- Labeling and acknowledgment: By labeling any fears that the other party might have in regard to change, you can show them that you understand their feelings and acknowledge that you can see things from their point of view. Often, lashing out stems from not feeling heard.
- Perform an accusation audit: When you need to have a potentially heated conversation with someone, it can help to anticipate the worst things the other party could say before the conversation. Then, start the conversation by saying the possible accusations that they might have aloud right away, which will make them sound like exaggerations so they can empathize with you and reconsider their stance.
Conflict often arises from a lack of understanding. When working cross-functionally, it can be difficult to get others to see things from your perspective. By practicing empathy and showing others that you value their perspective, it reduces feelings of defensiveness that exacerbate conflict and helps to build trust.
Since sales enablement spans so many areas of the business, you inevitably work with many different types of people with different goals and objectives. By filling your toolbox with tactics you can use to work more effectively across groups – through communication, alignment, feedback, and conflict resolution – you’ll have better and more productive meetings and more integrated and celebrated programs and initiatives.