Does your sales team work hard and long to achieve a sale, only for other business areas to let them down during the delivery phase?
Customers are more demanding and discerning than ever, which makes the sales role more challenging than ever. As the Sales Leader, you spend a lot more of your time and energy helping your team stay positive and resilient. And understandably, when they do manage to make a significant sale, they are excited and deservedly proud.
You feel pleased, perhaps even relieved, too.
But how quickly that high can turn into a low. Too often, when Sales subsequently speak with the Operations Team about the delivery of the product or service, they face nothing but negativity and roadblocks. ‘We can’t possibly get that done in the timeframe’ ‘How can we possibly deliver at that price?’ ‘You guys insist on saying ‘yes’ to whatever a customer asks for and then expect us to somehow magically deliver. It’s just not on.’ Their responses are frustrating, demotivating and demoralising.
Don’t Leave it To the End
But that is not the real problem. Certainly, the Sales Team and the Operations Team feel frustrated and undervalued as these scenarios play out. However, the real problem is that the communication between the two teams is happening after the sale is completed rather than before the sales process even begins.
It is critical that the parameters of price, volume and delivery time are agreed upon between the Sales and Operations Directors and their teams before the Sales Team goes out and uses all their skill, experience, time and energy to achieve a sale.
I was speaking about exactly this issue with John Smibert and Wayne Moroney, joint CEOs of Sales Leader Forums, just last week. They told me how often Sales Leaders raise their frustration with the silo mentality and the lack of overall cohesion in their business.
They speak about the negative impact this has on many levels. Not only does it cause angst and anger amongst the sales staff, but when products or services are not supplied on time, the customer questions their commitment and ability to deliver.
If products or services are late, the fact that they are of high quality can never compensate for this. Customers threaten to take their business elsewhere, and these days often carry out that threat. How exasperating to work so hard to make a sale and then, because Operations don’t deliver their part, you don’t get any repeat or referred business.
Funnily, or not so funnily, when I speak with Operations Directors, they say the same thing, but of course in reverse. They report how Sales are entirely unrealistic about what can be achieved and that they have to try to become superhuman and deliver high-quality products at lower cost and in a shorter time. The Operations Director equally has to manage the sense of frustration from their Operational staff.
It Starts at the Top
This situation emphasises the fundamental need for Senior Leaders to understand that they must first be a Team of Leaders, agreeing on the overall direction of the business and the specific priorities and boundaries/parameters. These must be at a measurable level, not at a motherhood level, with internal and external metrics.
Each member of the Leadership Team needs to be able to articulate
- These are our business priorities
- In this order
- With these boundaries/parameters
- And this is how we will measure success.
So how do you make this happen?
The most critical people in this process are the Sales Director and the Operations Director. Too often, these two people see themselves in competition, protecting and defending their ‘own patch’ rather than focusing on how they can, and in fact, must work together.
With the best intention, they prioritise looking after their silo. They focus on driving their KPI’s and supporting their functional team almost in isolation from the other areas of the business.
The Directors need to see that their language and behaviour directly impacts the silo mentality, either breaking it down or reinforcing it. When these two people start the sales process by speaking together about the constraints for sales and the constraints for operations, they can agree about when the sales staff can have discretion and how much control they can have.
Equally, when the sales staff achieve a sale, they can be confident that the operational staff will deliver on this. Even better, they should provide it without whinging and ‘pushing back’ because the requirements are within the agreed boundaries.
The only way your business can get ahead, and stay ahead, of your competitors is to ensure that you deliver on your promises in terms of quality and time. And you cannot be sure that you can keep your promises unless you break down the silos and have an agreed set of parameters between sales and operations. This enables cohesion within your business, collaboration and cooperation between teams rather than blame and point-scoring. It ensures that you compete only with your real competitors, the external competition and not with other teams in your own business.
So as the Sales Director (or the Operations Director), when will you stop what you currently do and start a different conversation, one that will ultimately remove your frustration of the constant and energy-sapping mismatch of Sales and Operations priorities?
Ask your counterpart, ‘How will we work well together on this upcoming project?’ ‘To meet the company targets, what constraints do you have, and where are the areas of discretion? What is the range of our discretion in Sales?’
That way, you can deliver for your customers, the business and your teams and enjoy your role so much more too.