Mon, January 08 2007

Are you a Crate & Barrel nonprofit?

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

My favorite economist recently told me a story about ordering furniture from Crate & Barrel.  He had spent thousands of dollars on a sofa, armchair and ottoman, and he wanted to phone in to the store some additional, non living-room chairs to his order to save on shipping costs (Crate & Barrel charges one, flat delivery fee).  It was a complete nightmare because the housewares department (home to the new chairs) had trouble interacting with the furniture department to consolidate the order.  At least half a dozen phone calls were required as Crate & Barrel, which is apparently more siloed than an agribusiness empire, tried to internally interact sufficiently to accept money from a customer for a cross-departmental order. 

Last night, the economist received a call from the housewares manager saying her chairs were ready to ship but was clueless about the other items.  Her answer to complaints about the continuing lack of coordination made me nearly fall out of my (non Crate & Barrel) chair. 

She said the departments were separate, and that she’d have to call back to find out the status of the other items.  The economist said this was an irrational way to run a store, to which she responded, “Crate & Barrel actually considers it a convenience that we offer our customers the ability to buy housewares and furniture under one roof.” 

  (imbok 2000, flickr)

Say what?  Did she seriously think we should be glad there are many siloes on the Crate & Barrel farm and willingly climb each to get what we want?  Or, to mix metaphors, I guess we just need to deal with the fact that furniture is in a crate and housewares are in a barrel.

Here is the reason I’m sharing this story, in case you’re still with me:  This is actually the way many organizations work.  So many times, I’ve been asked to write a brochure or create a web site that is based on the way the organization is structured rather than how the customer - or donor - sees it.  “First, explain our three program areas,” someone will say.  But why?  Do people need to know you’ve sorted something into three crates and barrels?

Make sure you don’t make a mastery of your various “parts” a prerequisite to interacting with your organization.  Organize your organization according to how your clients and donors view you, rather than how you operate internally.  And if you can’t do that, then at least organize your external operations that way. 

Your brochure, web navigation, phone trees—if they are perfectly aligned with your departments, you’re in trouble.

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