Creating True Scalability Through Consolidation and Channel Alignment

By: Max Kenkel
team at work aligned

Do you remember the saying, “The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing?”

When you hear that phrase, do you think of the time both you and your spouse stopped to pick up milk at the store because neither of you thought the other was going to grab it? Always worth a chuckle. 

Now think about your business. How costly is it when two separate business units start going down the same path, building or buying similar technologies, systems or tools? Not only are they paying money twice for essentially the same thing, but you have double the employee effort sunk into duplicative efforts. If the solution is client-facing, now you have two disparate user experiences incompatible without expensive customizations.

This is the kind of nightmare fuel that keeps me up at night.

Luckily, there are some effective ways to maximize the investment, allowing your company to reap the benefits of consolidation while fostering a spirit of empowerment with your people.

1. When it comes to consolidation, you need a C-Suite champion.

I’ve been a part of six major marketing and program consolidation efforts, and less than half of them have truly flourished. Those that lacked success lacked a champion of the project at a C-Suite level.

  • Wholesaler Client: The VP of marketing was completely on board with consolidating efforts and streamlining their marketing and incentive efforts. Because it was his initiative, everyone in his reporting tree worked together to bring the solutions to life. And, because he was at such a high level, he was able to get buy-in from other critical executives, ensuring unification and success. This consolidated effort routinely produces between a 4:1 and 5:1 ROI.
  • Manufacturer Client: The CMO at this organization had a vision of paring down vendors and consolidating incentive efforts. As CMO, he had multiple business units and marketing departments reporting to him, and his message had been carried out to all of them. He was able to get all team members to buy into his vision, which became their vision. And, he empowered everyone to bring this vision to life.
  • Telecomm Client: This is a partial example. My client had two very distinct businesses, and each vertical had multiple business units. On one side of the house, they did an admirable job of getting executive buy-in and leveraging existing technology builds along the way to bolt on new programming, per leadership’s directive. Three years later, the other side of the house is seeing this success and now starting to emulate.
  • Nightmare Fuel: The worst of the horror stories sums it up for all of the failed consolidations. This client had the right person in place and executive buy-in during the early phases. We went through the complicated technology and platform build process of linking all of their promotion platforms and providing access to all of the different business units. We even launched, and were well on our way to providing the first solution of its kind in the high-tech space. Then, the C-Suite champion moved on, and in short order, the day-to-day contact moved on, and suddenly there was no one left to champion the idea of consolidation inside their walls. The whole solution broke apart. This leads to our second tip.

2. Minimize egos, or at the very least, harness them.

A certain level within leadership generally has a healthy amount of pride—oftentimes an ego—and what they bring to their role. This isn’t a bad thing. It can, however, quickly become a problem if they start to see consolidation as a threat. The price of efficiency can be high, especially if someone views it as a direct threat to their role. It’s a heroic effort to manage ego, and there’s no magic bullet to mitigate it when it gets out of control. As a program sponsor or champion, you have to know your people and how to get them on board. Perhaps the easiest way is to show them how they win as well.

If everyone has a win they can visualize, it’s more likely they’ll use their ego for good, and not for sabotaging your initiatives. Internal sabotage is real, and it’s costly.

3. Talk all the time.

This seems like 101. Of course we need to talk all the time. But surprisingly, it just doesn’t always happen. Whether it’s through quarterly cross-shares, monthly all-department meetings, or a weekly 30 minute call, gather your team and get on the same page. There will almost always be something positive springing forth from these touch-bases, and as you assemble high-powered teams across your business, getting those people together allows magic to happen. Just make sure you have a strong leader in these meetings to keep people on track. Otherwise, they can go off the rails quickly. Find the right balance of creative outlet and function that works for your players.

4. Find a strong agency partner who works across multiple business units.

Oftentimes, as an agency specializing in consolidation of incentives, we see more of what’s going on inside our clients’ walls than they do. We can’t just sit on that information. Whenever we talk to two business units about the same type of initiative, we bring them together. It almost always works in everyone’s favor, and in the rare instances where there is a business case to continue on separate paths, at least it is identified prior to the build of any technology or system. When you find an agency you trust, work with them to share everything they see, and use them as an outside resource to help identify areas where you can be more efficient. In fact, demand this from all of your agencies.

5. Remember, your customers don’t care about your business silos.

As you build out technology systems and solutions for your internal team and your customers, remember your customers know you as X Brand. That, and they don’t care about your silos and business units. They want a holistic experience from every part of your brand they interact with. This doesn’t mean you can’t have nuance in your programming, or separate views based on a variety of criteria. Nothing is more infuriating than when a client crosses their arms and says, “Well, we’re such-and-such division, and we just do things a little differently.” Unless their next words are, “We’ll just want to get together and talk through how these ideas can integrate”, you have a problem, and that problem takes us right back up to Number 2, letting ego get in the way. (Yes, that was intentional numbering.)

Of course there is nuance, and of course certain business units need certain pieces customized, but those are opportunities to be creative, not shut it down.

6. Talk all the time.

This seems like 102. We can talk all day about how communication is key, but surprisingly, it just doesn’t happen. Whether it’s through team breakfasts, monthly after work get-togethers, or repeating a bullet in a blog post, get your teams together and on the same page. Something positive will come from these touch-bases, and as you assemble high-powered teams across your business, these brains will work together to create a masterpiece. Just make sure you have a strong leader in these meetings to keep people on track. Someone has to herd the cats. Find the right balance of creative outlet and function that works for your players.

7. Identify internal brand ambassadors, and put them in charge of the initiative.

As your team reacts to market pressures, you want them to be empowered and feel like they can make autonomous decisions. This is actually the ideal candidate to be on a team to lead a consolidation project.

First, they are going to adhere to your brand and put the enterprise first. They may have a big ego and a lot of pride, but that pride and ego are all fed by putting the right solution and right program in place. Second, you want people who build on ideas. They don’t have to be the one who thought of an idea, but can they run with it, expand on it, improve it, and mass produce it? Finally, you want someone with ambition, but who is a team player. They still want to be first, but if they have a team-player mentality, there’s time to slow down through the discovery and scoping phases of a project to identify where other business units might leverage a technology, or a portal, or a process. These brand ambassadors help you shave time off a project and in the process, mold it into something way better than the initial idea.

In short, leverage the right people on these projects and you’ll be amazed at how fantastic the end result will be.

Related: Employee brand advocacy provides your organization with a competitive advantage. Learn how to inspire your people to believe in your brand and genuinely advocate that your brand is exceptional.

8. Talk all the time.

Obvious, right? Except everyone is busy and it’s hard to come up for air. I can’t stress it enough: get your teams together and on the same page. The positive outcomes from these brainstorming sessions is equivalent to pulling an ROI out of a hat. Even invite your agency partners on a regular cadence. You’ve seen this bullet now three times and maybe you are even amused or annoyed by it. But now you know it is important. And now your teams know what’s going on when you utilize this strategy.

Here’s the TL;DR (for those not versed in internet shorthand: Too long; didn’t read) version for you:

  1. Get one or more executives on board with consolidation as champion.
  2. Check your egos at the door.
  3. Talk a lot about what each business unit is doing.
  4. Leverage your agency partners to help bring your teams together on initiatives.
  5. Remember your customers don’t care, at all, about your silos—they want a positive, consistent brand experience every time they come back.
  6. Seriously, get your disparate internal teams meeting and talking more regularly.
  7. Get your most ambitious employees who put the enterprise first to lead the change.
  8. ‘For reals’, get your people talking about what they are doing in their different verticals if you truly want to foster a culture of efficiency and consolidation.

Tying It All Together

Consolidation is wonderful. There are efficiencies gained, user experiences improved, the potential for increased ROI, and it allows your people to shine. If you have an executive or two who agree with your strategies, and you have the teams in place who are talking and thinking about customers and enterprise ahead of their own ego, and all of your agencies and vendor partners buy in and even help with ideas and strategy, you create robust solutions, campaigns, and tools which easily scale to additional business units and customer groups. The scalability is born from the pieces being built in a way that allows you to quickly add more extensions.

You aren’t going to know what you need five years from now. But there are currently a lot of companies going through expensive rebuilds or bleeding labor and money because they hard-coded a solution which is now outdated or doesn’t allow them the flexibility to grow where they need to grow, especially concerning data and analytics. There’s no need for you to be one of these companies. Get the pieces in place now to help avoid pitfalls that may not come home to roost for years.

Max Kenkel
Max Kenkel

As Customer Solutions Manager, Max leads our Customer Solutions line, ensuring all six components of a successful loyalty program deliver for our clients. With more than ten years of experience in strategy across customer, channel and employee loyalty programs, he’s seen a lot. You’ll often hear him talk about how important data is to brands. In his words, “It’s easy to make decisions on intuition, but it’s a lot easier to justify to shareholders when you can back it up with data.” Beyond his professional passions, Max plays bass in a pop punk band, visits as many national parks as he can and is an aspiring poet, publishing his first book in 2023.