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How do you get Sales and Operations to “play nice?”

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:
Bill Leinweber
Operations and Customer Experience Strategist, Business Transformation Leader.

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We use an almost identical approach: Document the kind of business that fits you well, identify where you've failed in the past and why, share those standards with all departments, hold interdepartmental sales pipeline meetings to get Ops thinking about creative solutions, have departments participate in RFP's / RFI's, and reward all stake holders on profit. You have to have all the players in the same boat, rowing in the same direction. Everyone needs to be sensitive to both customer needs and the need for the organization to be profitable.

Jim Beuoy
Compliance Officer & Quality Champion
I agree 100% with your thoughts! But....

Leadership is the key.
When management can’t agree, this reflects leadership issues that rarely can be resolved.
Find leadership that CAN “play nice”.
The negative impact to the organization, productivity, and quality does not warrant keeping bad leadership or rehabilitating them (Despite their "knowledge").
Rarely do poor leaders rehabilitate, they just learn to be covert with their negative behavior.
Lose them; your team will thank you with higher results.

Steven Cramer
SVP Client Sales/Services/Operations, Northwinds Contact Solutions
I have always held the belief that A) Sales 101: Know Your Product; and, 2) (intentional!) Sales 102: Believe in Your Product. In our organization, a large part of the "product" is the service. In order to appreciate the role of service in the success of the organization - and Sales - the Sales Team must understand Service and it's role. Our Sales Team understands they can successfully close the majority of their sales by facilitating site visits with prospective clients to our Service Center. It's truly a show place and once they've experienced the operation firsthand, its easier to move the sale along. That being said, the relationship is not always wine and roses, but Sales gets it and we understand we're in a Sales-driven organization.

It doesn't hurt that the Service Leader has a Sales background either!
How gutsy are you? One company that I worked decided the best way was to distribute random recorded calls to "C" level executives of operations and marketing. It was an interesting impact to the organization. The CEO once told me he was on his way home and while caught in traffic leaving NYC he about drove his car off the bridge as he yelled at the CSR to say the right thing. He also said he came to a great understanding that the training department needed some help and funding. The biggest thing he came to understand was that the call center didn't create calls (DUH!) and that the marketing and operations team drove a significant number of unnecessary calls as he listened to customers discuss the service or marketing mail piece they had received. It was obvious that everyone needed to work better together.

Now, did I see a great change in the culture of working closer - no. Did I see a new set of metrics to hold Operations and Marketing accountable to - yes. In all what it did was to bring a disappointing level of reality to the executive team that the company wasn't near as customer focused has they had previously thought. What was the real shame in all of this was that resources were not redistributed to address the problem. It just caused everyone to have an expectation to do more with what they had and a brought a whole new level of metrics that everyone was held to.

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