For somebody who’s worked from home for most of the past 25 years, I would make a surprising advocate of open plan office arrangements, but there’s no denying that you can learn a lot from listening to colleagues. At the first company I worked for, those of us creating the product were out of earshot from the sales department, which seemed fine at the time. At the next company, we were on top of them, and it was often distracting. However, by listening to the sales team all day, I was forced to understand what customers were after. We went on to create a product which took the market by storm.
If it’s not practical – or desirable – to physically mix up job functions like this, then you need to devise some other form of dialogue between the staff who talk to customers, and the technical people.
Most marketing people I speak to have a close relationship with sales. At small companies, the functions are often combined. So usually, marketing understands the customer pretty well. What surprises me is when marketing subcontracts out jobs which require a knowledge of customer needs, to people who don’t have a clue about the market. Website design is a classic example.
The typical website design company comes from an IT and graphic design background, as it should. What the designers should be doing is taking a carefully-considered plan for what a site needs to do, and implementing that plan, technically. What they’re often asked is to do the planning too. All that’s provided is a list of all the products which have to go on the site, some background information about the company, and a link to a competitor’s site which the MD likes the look of.
Instead, think of building a website like creating a product. The website designers can screw it together, and paint it nicely. But you’ve got to specify what it needs to do, and more importantly, the mechanism for doing it. That’s because only you understand what the customer wants from your website. It begins with sitting down with the sales team and sketching out how your sales cycle works.