Marketing and Selling Shared Services
Use of a shared services organization (SSO) is either mandated by management, or is the choice of a business unit based on the SSO's ability to convince the business units that there is a real value proposition and real benefits. This article focuses on the shared services' organizational structure and activities to market, sell and promote their services to the business units. Generally, companies that mandate the use of shared services do not include this function and may not see the value of marketing, selling and building relationships in their business model.
First, marketing, selling or having a solid relationship with the business units is a full-time job. Many shared services simply do not see the value of a dedicated small team of experts - or they simply see this effort as an expense. I can speak from personal experiences that having a solid team makes life and the relationships in shared services 100% better. It is one of those business functions that does not get any glory or rewards, and is generally invisible, but the SSO runs better and has good relationships with its customers. There are fewer complaints, fewer customer service issues and the migration of additional business from the company is an easier transition. When business units know they have a voice and a partner as well as someone to contact regarding any issues, it makes a significant difference.
What is the role of this team? How many employees does it require to staff these roles? What are the specific activities of these individuals for the operation? What are the characteristics of these individuals? These are great questions and for most shared services these activities fall on the line management which does not provide adequate service in this area to the organization. When it comes to priorities, line managers always take care of their primary responsibilities first. The line managers' thinking is quite clear in that they can get fired or in big trouble for not paying employees or suppliers, or missing a closing deadline - but not making a call to a shared services client or visiting a business unit customer is simply overlooked.
SSOs that have a dedicated team focused on this activity generally have better relationships with the business units, and this should be viewed as an investment in the business and not an expense. The benefits from this shared services focus are generating more business for the operation and improved relationships.
What are the responsibilities of this team?
The team is responsible for handling any significant field and external issues that arise for shared services. They can add value by being the individuals representing both sides with the goal of having a mutually beneficial solution to open issues. They can also insulate the shared services staff from challenging business unit leaders who may not be as tactful as necessary when dealing with a shared services operation. One main responsibility is to visit, understand and communicate with the business units. The team is responsible for:
- developing a plan that promotes the shared services activities and increase business
- identifying issues & concerns of the affiliate business units
- identifying any additional opportunities to service the business units
- presenting any discoveries, findings & alternatives to the business units
- improving the relationships with the customers in such a way that morale is enhanced while productivity is maximized
That said, in many organizations there are opponents that would say, "What kind of job is that?"; however for many of us who have experienced the difference between communication issues and problems versus a good relationship, the value that is added is quite clear.
What type of person fits this role?
The role requires a familiarity with a variety of the field’s concepts, practices and procedures. One main requirement is someone that actually has been involved in shared services for many years and someone that has actually felt the pain. Leadership individuals in shared services generally are a hybrid group and rare to find, but they are individuals with a blend of skills. It includes individuals interested in accounting and processing, people and technology all wrapped up in real managerial experiences. It also may require someone who needs slightly more psychological counseling as shared services is a challenging and progressive business model versus the traditional structure. The key focus is to ensure excellent relationships exist between shared services and the field organization and to ensure prompt, courteous, and professional resolution of all inquiries to enhance field satisfaction.
- must use strategic marketing & relationship skills to understand the needs of the affiliate offices & present consultative solutions to more effectively service those needs
- must have experience developing plans that outline branch issues, opportunities, and best practice marketing and training programs
- must provide options and ideas for addressing the most pressing issues common to the affiliates as a whole
- must have familiarity shared services business functions and with information systems technology & the ability to quickly master new systems is required
Some of the desired characteristics and skills of members of this team are:
- able to prioritize tasks
- constructive confrontational style
- customer-service oriented
- excellent communication
- good judgment
- highly developed interpersonal skills
- sense of urgency
- strong organizational skills
How many employees are required for this role?
Of course there isn’t one answer as to how many employees are required; however I would recommend a minimum of two and a maximum of five employees focused on this activity. Personally, I have worked in shared services organizations that range in size from 50 to over 200 employees, and the size of this team was not driven by the employee-count but rather the long-term needs of the company. The exact number depends on the size, scope and specific activities of the team. This is one activity that requires skilled personnel, but also one that can have too many if not managed correctly. You would not have ten employees in this group notwithstanding the size of the company - although if the role were larger and included responsibilities for the migration efforts, customer service etc then the team should be larger in numbers.
What are some possible examples of activities of this team?
The specific activities depend on the maturity and size of the shared services organization - as with most efforts. Newer shared services may start slow and build gradually over time, and larger organizations may move faster to build the team. However, some of the specific duties could include but not be limited to:
- Develop, maintain and publish a shared services business report on some regular schedule. The publication is for both internal and external use and is to promote the operation. It can highlight successes, historical trends and contains a wide variety of information about the business. If the SSO does not currently have metrics, statistics or other measures, then this team can assist in getting that effort started and maintained. If you are not measuring and monitoring your business activities then you have no idea where you are or where you are going. Keeping a business analytics and maintaining a solid publication can be a full-time job.
- Prove the cost benefit to the business units and make the processing seamless.
- Make site visits to the customers of the operation and listen to their issues and concerns about the service they receive. Communicate the findings to the managers of shared services so actions and changes can be implemented to improve the relationships. The number of customers and site visits can have an impact on how many support this effort.
- Optionally, this position can be responsible for the shared services customer service team. This is if the operation has a dedicated customer team handling all phone, email and fax inquiries. The reason that this function fits under the umbrella of this team is the fact it bridges the relationship team with actions and follow-up.
- Assuming the customer service team tracks incoming inquiries, the team should communicate the number and types of inquiries to the business units.
- This can also be used for training follow-up or improved documentation as generally inquiries point to issues.
- Learn about the business functions performed in the operation.
- Develop and support the migration of new business into the shared services operation.
- If the team has sufficient bandwidth (people), they can assume the migration of business to the shared services operation. This would necessitate developing a timeline and action plan to convey the steps of the migration to the business units.
In summary, there are certain organizational structures that can add value to a shared services operation. This includes a solid migration team and project team as well as individuals focused on relationships and services issues, and those charged with increasing the business activities for the operation. This article simply provides one perspective for consideration to improve your shared services operation. It is always challenging to convince management that these individuals add real value but from personal experiences they can make a significant difference.