In the B2B world, the eternal opposition between Sales/Marketing and Operations is fraught with old adages and stereotypes. Sales says, “Operations is narrow-minded, purely cost driven, inflexible and doesn’t understand our customers!” Operations says, “Sales people will say and do whatever it takes to get the sale, doesn’t properly set customer expectations and leaves us holding the bag on fulfilling their over-promises!” Somewhere there is a little bit of truth in both stereotypes. Oftentimes, it is the customer care team that gets caught in the middle, reacting rather than being prepared or trained in advance and with Ops and Sales retreating to their opposing corners. Unfortunately, the most important loser in this scenario is the valued customer.
So how do you get Sales and Operations to play better together, unified with customer care teams, so that every team is walking collaboratively in step and with the customer coming out the winner?
I encountered a savvy Sales Manager in my past that really got this concept. After going on sales calls with his reps, the Sales Manager would come back to me and ask, “Bill, here’s what the customer is asking for. What is the best way to meet the customer’s needs while considering also what is best for operations?” I still remember that day because Jim’s approach was so refreshing and proactive. Jim was a natural collaborator and understood the value of interdepartmental teamwork. Rather than simply peruse our menu of service options, we would dig down into what the customer was actually trying to achieve. After understanding the customer’s challenges and goals, we typically came up with solutions that far exceeded the customer’s expectations and formed stronger partnerships.
There was also a time when we were bringing together 3 organizations into one through a merger and an acquisition. The cultures were all very different and some of the sales teams were used to the maverick approach to customer problem-solving. This was particularly costly and very painful for the operations and customer care teams. We designed and delivered a training program for Sales around operational standards. I’ve never understood why organizations don’t do this more proactively and with broad executive support. The training gave sales an understanding of the standard operational service model – basically, what fit “INSIDE the box.” Of course, with a sales audience we kept the content broad and not too terribly detailed. The result was that the entire 100 member sales team understood what offerings they could sell – day in and day out – without having to worry about whether the business could deliver or meet customer expectations. The flip-side is that, if a customer did have a requirement that fell outside of the standard offering, the Sales reps had a channel to bring that request forward for review. Very often a standard process or combination of standard offerings would meet the customer’s request. Where exceptions were employed, they were truly exceptions with sales, customer care and operations having a voice into the solution. Operations delivered flawlessly because they appreciated that they had a voice into the solution. Processes were communicated ahead of time with all teams on board prior to implementation. The customers were winners and the business won by having loyal customers while keeping operational costs in check.
What methods have you used or seen used to achieve similar cooperation between Sales and Operations teams?
How important was Executive support in the program to the ultimate success?
From LinkedIn member:
Operations and Customer Experience Strategist, Business Transformation Leader.