Blog Post

5 Ways to Improve Cross-Functional Collaboration

Shannon Howard
February 21, 2024
5 Ways to Improve Cross-Functional Collaboration blog thumbnail

Cross-functional relationships are critical to the success of customer education programs.

But which teams do you partner with? How do you ensure collaboration is happening? How do you get involved in another team’s workflow?

Those are questions we wanted to find answers to.

On a recent Underscore webinar, we heard from Mandy Patterson, Manager, Customer Education at Sprout Social; Jaime Netzer, Product Marketer, Community & Learning at Atlassian; and Nick Hershey, Customer Education Manager at Energage. They all shared their perspective on collaboration. And while each has a different background and charter, much of what they shared was similar and relevant for all customer education professionals.

Here’s what they shared:

Which Teams Does Customer Education Collaborate With?

Customer education is, by nature, highly cross-functional. We receive goal, initiative, and project input from other teams. We work with internal and external subject-matter experts on content development. And we rely on other teams to help us marketing and promote our education offerings.

Who you collaborate with, and how frequently, depends on your program’s charter. Is your program free, paid, or mixed? Are your primary objectives around customer retention and product adoption, or do you also use education for account expansion and new logo acquisition?

Mandy sits within the customer marketing team and focuses on technical documentation and educating users on Sprout Social. She collaborates closely with product marketing, customer marketing, support, and customer success.

When customer education started at Energage, the primary objective was to reduce support ticket volume. As a result, Nick worked closely with the support team to understand what frequently asked questions or issues could be resolved with education. He also works closely with Energage’s product team to understand upcoming changes that will require education, and partners with his marketing team to create customer-facing collateral in support of product updates.

Jaime is in a unique role: She sits in the community team and is a dedicated marketer for customer education and community efforts. As a result, her primary stakeholders are the customer education team! 

5 Ways to Improve Cross-Functional Collaboration

Our panelists shared practices they’ve found helpful for building rapport and strong relationships.

1. Set up cross-functional monthly meetings.

Mandy, Jaime, and Nick all have regular meetings with cross-functional stakeholders. This helps them stay top of mind and in the loop on what’s happening. 

What if your company doesn’t have any cross-functional meetings in place? That was Nick’s dilemma when he first started in customer education. Fortunately, Nick and his boss, Jill, had a senior leader of the customer success team that served as an executive sponsor for their program. That leader was critical in getting other teams on board in the beginning. 

(Did you know that education teams with a dedicated executive sponsor see better results? Check out the State of Education Initiative Ownership Report for more insights on what successful education programs do differently.)

2. Share the impact.

Of course, we all want to prove the ROI of customer training and education in general. But showing the impact of our work can help with cross-functional teamwork as well.

Nick shared that, as their program grew and they were able to measure the impact, he shared the results they were seeing with other teams. This got those teams more interested in collaborating with them on projects. After all, everyone wants to be on a winning team, right?

3. Integrate education into the product release cycle. 

Ever been caught in a position where you’re scrambling to catch up after a product is updated or a new feature is released? You’re certainly not alone. Our panelists have made an effort to get involved earlier in the process. 

“If we’re coming up on an early access or beta program, we have a kickoff for that,” Mandy shared. “I get a seat at the table to ask: What are we looking for in that beta guide? What do we need to educate customers on at this point?” Working this far upstream has allowed Mandy to better prepare for the general release of new functionality. A key collaborator in making this possible? Her product marketing team. “I gotta praise my product marketing team. Right away, they saw the value customer education brought,” Mandy told us.

In addition to an executive sponsor, find other people and teams in your company that “get” customer education and who can serve as advocates for your work. 

4. Be a good collaborator.

This one might be a no-brainer, but being easy to work with goes a long way. One way Mandy does this is by leveraging the messaging and positioning her product marketing team creates for product releases. By sticking closely to the value and benefit statements they’ve provided, she’s earned a close relationship that has product marketing advocating for her team’s work.

5. Factor education into marketing.

At Atlassian, education isn’t an afterthought. “Instead of the customer education team making a piece of content, having it be completely wrapped and done, and then taking it to the marketing team to ask, ‘How can you use this?’, the team is looking at marketing cadences and seeing where education resources can be helpful,” Jaime shared on the webinar.

If your team doesn’t have a dedicated marketer—and many teams don’t!—this advice is still useful. Make sure your marketing team is aware of the work that’s in progress in customer education so they can support you in the promotion and delivery of the content.

What Cross-Functional Challenges Have You Overcome and How?

Whether your program is brand-new or mature, cross-functional collaboration isn’t without its challenges. We asked our panelists to share a hurdle they’ve come across, and how they got over it.

Mandy shared that one obstacle she’s encountered is competing goals. “Just because I have certain goals in customer education doesn’t mean other teams share those same goals.” As a result, there are times other teams may not want to provide resources for a project. To solve this challenge, Mandy takes a give-and-take approach, figuring out what she can do to help the other team in exchange for their support.

For Nick’s team, an early barrier they ran into was buy-in and support from other teams. Nick shared that, “When we first launched our help center, we had maybe 10-20 access points within our product.” But as the Energage education team was able to show how the help center was decreasing support tickets and leading to customer retention, the product team became more interested in supporting their work. Today, there are about 60-70 links to the help center from within the platform—a testament to the work Nick and Jill put into proving the value of their work.

Jaime brought up an interesting collaboration perspective on the webinar: Our teams’ partnership with learners. After all, a key stakeholder for our customer education programs are the learners who engage with them! If we can’t get learners to engage, our programs won’t be successful. Jaime suggests keeping the old marketing adage “WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?)” in mind. “You need to make sure you’ve clearly laid out what the learner is going to get from taking your training,” Jaime shared. Having those benefits defined and highlighted in marketing can make all the difference in getting learners to interact with your education content.

Relationship Building is an Ongoing Effort

We hope these insights have been valuable—and encourage you to both watch the webinar recording and connect with our amazing panelists online. 

Keep in mind: It takes time to build strong relationships—and maintaining them requires an ongoing investment. Implement these tips from our guests, and experiment with additional ways you can improve collaboration and partnership. When your program is successful, everyone benefits—the business, other teams, and, most of all, your customers. 

About the Author

Shannon Howard Speaker Headshot
Shannon Howard
Director of Content & Customer Marketing
Shannon Howard is an experienced Customer Marketer who’s had the unique experience of building an LMS, implementing and managing learning management platforms, creating curriculum and education strategy, and marketing customer education. She loves to share Customer Education best practices from this blended perspective.