Part III of the Entrepreneur’s Quandary: Challenging the belief in "healthy tension."

Spending the last decade working both in HIT big corporate as well as the startup world, I am continuously amazed when executive leadership squirms under my scrutiny and says:  “Well, Sanaz, there is always going to be healthy tension between x and y departments.”  Ahem….  Dare I say the dreaded word that no weary executives want to hear?  “Why?!”  I mean, aren’t we innovators with fearless DNA? Isn’t our raison d’etre to challenge the status quo, break down barriers in impassioned fervor, and redefine the new path?

I don’t believe there needs to be tension, “healthy” or not, between any department of a company filled with true entrepreneurial spirit.  

So, yes, the first challenge is finding such a utopian team.  Can it be done?  Yes.  I absolutely believe it can.  The challenge is when there are several folks at the table with equal “voting” rights who don’t share that same belief.  But, if you are lucky enough to be surrounded by like-minded corporate-culture challengers OR you are able to head-off bad habits before they are formed, I believe that it can and should be done.

Traditionally, the story goes that sales and client services must maintain healthy tension to create some sort of checks and balances.  But why?  Wouldn’t it make more sense for both sales and customer success (let’s get rid of antiquated terminology) to both work towards the same goal:  happy customers who optimize the product to reach desired outcome metrics?  Sales and customer success both want that. Nothing is a stronger sales tool than a solid, proven ROI.  And customer success builds lifelong relationships with end-users to relentlessly drive product optimization to reach their outcome goals.  Account managers, also part of the customer success team, want to maintain close relationships with the executives in order to have support at the earliest sign of customer attrition – as well as to drive new product adoption.

So, I’m no sports genius, but when both sides are shooting for the same goal, then wouldn’t there be no “game” and no need for tension?  Everyone is working towards the same goal:  acquiring and maintaining happy customers.  And if leadership, product, and engineering do their jobs well, then sales and customer success have a clear understanding of what the current and future product features are – as well as what new products are coming down the pike.

What about healthy tension between marketing and sales?  This is the most preposterous one in my opinion.  Marketing must be passionate about one thing:  driving decision maker engagement.  Everything they do falls under that end goal.  Branding, content marketing, event organization, securing speaking engagement opportunities for their executives and evangelists campaign messaging…etc.  All those efforts are for one purpose:  engaging decision makers to buy products. 

Both the sales development team and the outside sales team live, eat, and breathe the same goal:  obtaining new customers to purchase products.  So, how would it even make sense that there would be tension between these two departments?  It is up to executive management to align initiatives such that these departments, as well as customer success and even product, are working synergistically to acquire and retain customers.  A nimble, team of innovators with meaningful CRM data, clear value proposition, and a camaraderie brought about by joint success can and will achieve this.   

Not an ounce of healthy tension can be detected anywhere…