You’ve likely caught wind of the recent controversy surrounding the now-defunct healthcare tech company Theranos and its founder, Elizabeth Holmes. For all of the pressing questions that arose in the aftermath of the new documentary and book about Theranos, one of the most concerning issues, from a business perspective, was the data silos the company promoted.
At Theranos, the company culture was one in which employees operated independently and kept data and information to themselves. They didn’t feel comfortable or safe talking with other people at work and sharing information. Divisions and departments had no idea what other areas were working on, and Theranos actually encouraged this opacity and isolation among workers.
I know you might be wondering: What does any of that have to do with me?
Well, the unfortunate truth is that data silos happen to the very best of companies. You could be working hard to do right by your employees and customers and still have data silos within your business that are negatively impacting your teams — especially between your sales and marketing teams.
How is Salesforce beating the data silo problems in MarTech space?
Unless you’re actively trying to avoid data silos, I’d be willing to bet there’s data out there that you could be taking advantage of — if only you knew how to access it.
Why Data Silos Happen
There are two common reasons for data silos. The first is human nature; it’s natural to want to protect your job, your team, and what you know. Employees work hard to collect and understand the information they need to do their jobs, and they’re not as trusting of outside teams and people as they are of their own department.
The second is that modern companies use a lot of software systems, which makes data integration and transparency around data difficult. The average small business uses 14.3 systems — and that number keeps getting higher as the businesses get bigger, with some businesses using almost 500 systems. Five hundred. Imagine the sheer amount of data that’s stored across 500 different systems. How likely is it that they’re all speaking to each other?
Data Silos Hinder Your Teams
Data silos aren’t all bad. There are times when departments benefit from focusing on their own goals and don’t necessarily need to collaborate with other areas in order to move forward. It also makes sense that different departments should be able to use and manage data in a way that works for their area and specific job functions.
This becomes a problem when the departments never communicate with other areas about priorities or data management. If your company consistently operates from a place where your sales and marketing teams can’t access or integrate necessary information, or your front and back office systems aren’t sharing information, then you’re selling and servicing your customer with only a partial picture of your customer’s experience and what’s important to them.
To put it another way, data silos force your teams to make decisions without potentially key insights or necessary information. An overwhelming majority of marketers point to data silos as the barrier obstructing their complete view of customers.
How can you effectively market to someone when you only have a narrow view of that person?
Having integrated, accessible data means your teams can gain new customers, spend less time tracking down information they need, make data-based decisions, and reduce redundancy in their work. Additionally, removing silos can empower leaders across all teams to understand the priorities of other departments. This gets management thinking about the way their area contributes to the overall strategy and the way in which different areas work together to achieve company goals.
So, how do you get to that point?
3 Strategies to Avoid Data Silos
Questions to Help Uncover Data Silos
First, try working backward by using a goal to identify existing data silos. For example: You’re rolling out a new sales initiative. Ask these questions:
- What data do I need to make this a successful campaign?
- Where might that data exist?
- Who might have collected or used that data already?
- Who might be the best person/team/people to interpret this data?
- Who are some of the key people who would be able to weigh in on this project?
Exploring these questions can lead you to find data silos among your teams. You may realize there’s a team using a product that has some information your sales team needs, but they haven’t been historically asked to share that data or integrate their systems. Invite both teams to a meeting, and get everyone’s input on your project.
As you go along, think about ways to prevent future data silos. Continuing with the example above, does there need to be an ongoing, regularly scheduled meeting between those two teams in order to facilitate continued knowledge sharing? What could prevent data from becoming stuck or hidden in the future?
Verify Your Systems Are Integrated
Your Customer Relationship Management system (CRM) should be the go-to location for all of your data — it should be your single source of truth. Marketing Automation (MA) software should use some of that same data to facilitate your marketing efforts. Typically, your CRM stores important information on your customers — like their order history, service history and key account information — and connecting your MA software lets you leverage that information (via segmenting and personalization) in order to connect with your customers, no matter where they are in your sales funnel.
The goal is for MA to help your sales and marketing teams partner in synergistic ways. But at the very least, it’s critical that your CRM and MA talk to each other. If your CRM isn’t feeding all the necessary data to your MA, your marketing team won’t be able to develop robust, hard-hitting campaigns to roll out via email, social media, and elsewhere. And your sales team won’t be able to see what marketing messaging has been sent to your prospects and what resonated the most with them.
Shift Your Company Culture
Data silos are driven in large part by human nature. As such, you’ll want to think of how you can shift your company culture so that people feel more naturally inspired to share information, collaborate, and work together. Finding ways to shift your culture to be more open, fair, and encouraging is essential.
Having a transparent work culture is one of the most effective ways to break down the silos and open up your data. Consider having departments spend more time together in the way of regular check-in meetings or group outings. Eliminate contests or incentives that pit teams against each other and try to instead come up with more collaborative programs that help everyone work toward a common goal.
As you embark on your journey to tackling the data silos in your company, be patient with yourself and your employees. Remember that data silos weren’t built overnight and they won’t come down that fast, either. With a lot of thought and a good amount of heart, you can be on your way to helping all teams — especially sales and marketing — use data to succeed.