How to Bust B2B Silos: Putting the “co” back in collaboration.

An interview with Maureen Waters, CMO, Ten-X, by Bob Domenz, CEO Avenue

As a recent Harvard Business Review article noted—emphatically repeating what virtually every current business leader should, frankly, already know—“We need to collaborate more now than ever.” The reasons are clear enough: everyone needs more innovation, more efficiency, more expertise, more competitive advantage, more profitable growth.

So if we all know we need to boost collaboration to achieve these “more, more, more” goals, why do we find it so hard to bust up the organizational silos that prevent it?

B2B companies frequently find themselves working through this dilemma. Just a few examples include:

  • Dealing with merger integrations—where silos can be culture-killers and deal-destroyers.
  • Trying to improve product launches—where the silos between R&D, innovation teams and marketing, limits development of meaningful new products and hampers their commercialization efforts.
  • Attempting to close the traditional chasm between sales and marketing.

I can personally testify to just how difficult silos can be, having helped dozens of business-to-business organizations with exactly these challenges.

So my ears perked up recently as I interviewed Maureen Waters, CMO of the innovative real estate transaction platform Ten-X, when she started talking about silos standing in the way of integrated marketing. I couldn’t help but think these insights were relevant for all B2B marketers.

Here are a few excerpts of our discussion:

Bob Domenz:
When you and I were discussing the need for integrated marketing, you mentioned the dreaded word “silos,” and started to share your experience as to how a CMO can help break them down. Exactly how have you been able to do that?

Maureen Waters:
When I got to Ten-X, I spent my first three months “outside,” working at really understanding our customers. That was the first step in preparing and restructuring the organization around those customers. Not surprisingly, as we began that reorganization, the traditional silos that you generally find in marketing organizations were certainly present—and I knew we’d have to work hard to break those divisions down if we wanted to create a well-integrated team that could truly be focused on delivering our customer’s needs.

It sounds like you’re talking about creating real cultural change, not just policy or process tweaks. In my work helping organizations make that change, I often recommend starting with an alignment workshop for cross-functional leaders, a guided exercise to help them jointly examine and more clearly see where they are aligned and communicating…and where they’re still stuck in unproductive silos. Where do you start when need to create a more flexible, non-siloed core culture?

I always start from the baseline of research and data.

From a branding perspective, it’s always easier to communicate a vision and tell a story if it’s based on research and data—as opposed to trying to simply create a story and ask everyone to culturally to follow along, without giving them data and research that would back it up.

Basically, leveraging insights helps you develop brand messaging that’s relevant within the marketplace and therefore inside the organization that’s selling to it. That approach has, throughout my career, has always helped me develop internal brand culture that’s driven by the customer, and, as a result, inspires the culture to be more creative, agile and engaged.

You can’t be afraid to step out of the norm—you know, hiring the major agency and having them come up with that one “big idea.” That doesn’t necessarily build the culture internally — you have to first help everyone get aligned around messaging because it’s meaningful to customers.

To do that, it’s necessary to start with research, develop the data, then share it to educate everyone internally first, and then externally. Building this kind of understanding and buy-in gets everyone involved and excited about helping communicate a brand message that actually makes a difference to your customers.

In other words, if you present enough good evidence, you don’t have to lead the witness that much. They convince themselves.

Yes. That’s a nice summary, particularly externally—but I have to emphasize again how important it is to break down those silos and get everybody involved internally. And when I say “everybody,” I must admit that sometimes I’ve wondered if I should really include the entire employee base, versus concentrating more on just senior leadership. But I have found that, even though it can take time, bringing all employees along and getting everyone excited about and committed to our brand really pays off—it pays off in spades.

How are you breaking down silos and building up brand culture?

Maureen brought up some great points in this aside to our interview conversation… and now the B2B Brand Council would like to get your thoughts as we consider a future article and a more in-depth look at the subject. If you’re a senior-level brand leader—even if you’re not a member of the B2B Brand Council yet—please email us your brief comments on any or all of the following questions:

  1. How significant a problem are functional silos within your organization?
  2. What are some of the worst business deficits, disadvantages or outright losses that
    you’ve seen incurred because of working in a siloed culture?
  3. How have you been able to break down barriers to create cross-functional cooperation and/or collaboration?

Please be as specific as possible in your answers, including real-world examples wherever possible.

Again, send your answers to us via email. And if you are a senior-level marketer or business leader, but have not yet joined the B2B Brand Council, please explore becoming a member.

 About Maureen Waters: Maureen is the Chief Marketing Officer of Ten-X, the real estate platform that’s revolutionizing the way commercial and residential real estate is found, bought and sold.

 About Bob Domenz: Bob is CEO of Avenue, the B2B marketing strategy and activation firm. He is also the Founder and Executive Director of the B2B Brand Council.