This article is based on a presentation given by Keren at our Customer Success Festival in Boston 2023.

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When it comes to cross-functional collaboration, the journey from recognizing adversarial tensions to fostering a culture of advocacy is both challenging and rewarding. It's about weaving a tapestry of mutual understanding, respect, and cooperation across every department within a company. 

I’m Keren Corley, Director of Customer Success Digital Programs at Collibra, and I've navigated through diverse roles and organizational cultures, each offering unique insights into the art of building bridges between teams. 

My experience has taught me the power of connection, the value of every team member's contribution, and the transformative impact of collective effort. 

In this article, I’ll share strategies that have proven effective in driving cross-functional alignment, ensuring that teams not only work alongside each other but truly work together toward shared success.

Embracing the power of uncovering blind spots

One of the most critical steps in improving cross-functional collaboration is to uncover blind spots within our teams and ourselves. This is particularly vital for someone new to an organization or in roles like customer success, where we often see challenges and opportunities that others might miss.

From the customer success vantage point, it's clear that product teams, while highly focused on enhancing the platform, might not always see the immediate struggles customers face – such as issues with implementation or utilizing specific features. Providing these insights to the product team can significantly impact their strategic focus, ensuring it aligns more closely with customer needs.

However, uncovering blind spots isn't solely an external exercise; it's also about introspection. Early in my tenure in customer success, I encountered my own blind spots. I initially believed that my sole presence and intent to help would be universally welcomed. 

Yet, I faced resistance and learned that departments like sales have their own priorities, such as achieving new customer acquisition targets, which might not immediately align with adoption strategies.

Moreover, in the digital space, there's a misconception that the aim of digital Customer Success Managers (CSMs) is to replace traditional roles, fostering fear rather than collaboration. Addressing these concerns directly and reassuring colleagues that your role is to enhance, not replace, their efforts is crucial.

It's essential to approach the discovery and discussion of these blind spots gently. The goal is not to accuse or confront but to engage in constructive dialogue. Asking if someone is open to feedback before sharing insights is a respectful and effective way to initiate these conversations.

Another common area where blind spots occur is within marketing and enablement teams. These departments might overlook the critical role of customer success, focusing instead on training sales or IT personnel. 

It's vital to remind them of the importance of integrating customer success into the broader organizational picture, ensuring all teams are trained to understand and value the contributions of customer success to the company's goals.

Identifying and addressing blind spots – both within our teams and ourselves – is a foundational step towards building a cohesive, cross-functional environment where collaboration and alignment thrive.

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Knowing what and who is behind the scenes is crucial, as it encompasses both the operational systems and the individuals that keep our organizations running smoothly. It's easy to become so engrossed in customer interactions and success plans that we overlook the operational backbone of our efforts.

In my current role at Collibra, we embarked on a project dubbed "Simplify" aimed at cleaning up our Salesforce instance. This initiative was born out of the realization that a cluttered CRM system, filled with bad data, becomes a significant hurdle for everyone, particularly CSMs and sales teams. The time and effort wasted in navigating through inefficient data entry processes can be substantial, detracting from our primary goal of serving the customer effectively.

Understanding the pain points associated with these systems is not just beneficial but essential. It enables us to identify areas for improvement that can make everyone's job easier, from sales and marketing to customer success. 

For instance, ensuring that the renewal process in Salesforce doesn't just mirror the sales process, but also integrates seamlessly with the adoption and expansion phases, can create a more unified and efficient operational flow.

Equally important is recognizing the human element behind these systems. Individuals who have long-tenured positions within the organization often possess invaluable tribal knowledge. Listening to their experiences, successes, and failures can provide critical insights that guide more informed decision-making. They help us understand the historical context of certain operational strategies, including what has been tried before and why it may have failed, allowing us to avoid repeating past mistakes.

Aligning our efforts with those of the go-to-market teams is another area where knowing the behind-the-scenes operations pays dividends. By understanding their current focuses, such as specific features or campaigns, we can tailor our customer success strategies to complement these initiatives, facilitating better customer adoption and satisfaction.

Furthermore, engaging with the data governance office can uncover ways to leverage data more effectively. In today's digital age, data is abundant, but without proper organization and governance, it's challenging to utilize it to its full potential. 

Building relationships with those who manage this data can significantly enhance our ability to make data-driven decisions and improve operational efficiencies.

Finally, fostering strong relationships with operations staff and administrators has been a cornerstone of my approach. Demonstrating to them that your requests are not just whims but are aimed at enhancing business operations can lead to more significant support and more effective implementation of your initiatives.

Knowing what and who is behind the scenes is about more than just understanding the operational mechanics of our organizations. It's about recognizing the importance of every individual's contribution to the operational ecosystem, respecting the historical knowledge within the company, and aligning our actions with the broader organizational goals. 

By doing so, we not only streamline our operations but also build a more cohesive, collaborative, and effective team dynamic.