Wednesday, 5 June 2013

How to establish a team relationship between Sales and Operations - Part 1: Understanding the issues

In our recent survey, sales professionals from within the building products/materials industry were asked to express their opinion on the biggest obstacles that prevent them from achieving success in their jobs. The results show one of their main frustrations is poor operational support. 

We thought we’d look at this problem from the view of Operations and try to discover why there is division between the functions and how to establish a positive team relationship. For an expert opinion, we spoke to Martyn Wilks, who has been running the supply chain for companies within the industry during the last twenty years. Over a four part series, Martyn will be giving us the benefit of his experience and knowledge of the Operations function and its relationship with Sales.

Understanding the function of Operations
The crux of the division is perfectly illustrated by these statements, firstly from Sales: “Why can’t you supply what we are selling?” and from Operations: “Why are you selling and promising what we can’t supply?” 

Who is and who isn’t doing their job correctly? Like most things, it’s not quite that simple. We started our discussion with Martyn by asking him what is the main function of Operations at a manufacturer of building products.

“Operations is at the centre of the company and, although our jobs don’t exist without an order, it’s no good having an order if the products can’t be made and to the correct standard and quantity. It is also equally pointless having an order if it cannot be dispatched to the customer when they need it. 

"Additionally, there are many wider company issues that need to be considered by the person in charge of Operations: manpower and recruitment, logistics and budgets; for example, a company may not be financially viable if stock value is too high or if processes are too costly or unreliable. These challenges normally sit firmly in the domain of Operations - Sales can be blissfully unaware that we have other things to do than assist them! However, this does work the other way round too, which demonstrates why ‘understanding’ is one of the first barriers that needs to be broken down if you want to create a true team relationship between Sales and Operations.

"I see the role of Operations as ensuring there is always the right stock of the right products at the right time, and within a system that provides flexibility for those inevitable emergencies. 

"There is, of course, the equally important requirement to ensure processes are efficient and accurate, to maximise margins and create a climate where growth is possible. This has to be achieved with the focus on the needs of the customer, which is often forgotten by Operations and, yes, Sales too!”

So far, this all sounds perfectly sensible: a Salesperson wants to sell a product and Operations want to make and dispatch the product. Both are seemingly doing their jobs and are working for the same company with the desire to make it a successful one by meeting customers’ requirements profitably. However, things go wrong. Why?

What causes the issues between the functions?
Martyn considers that the problem in many companies is that the real needs of the customer are not at the centre of decision-making.

“This is one of the main causes of the problem as self-interest, combined with a general lack of communication, understanding and process, results in everyone forgetting what is important: the customer. Generally, a Salesperson only focuses on their quota. Once they make a sale, they move on. It is not their concern how orders are fulfilled. As soon as they have their order, any problems that may arise are an Operations problem. The key to resolving this line of thought is to drive home that a sale is not a sale until the customer is happy.

"Operations tend to view Salespeople as an annoyance to their daily work. An Operations employee focuses on the many tasks involved in running a business. Although the obvious goal should be to drive sales, many don't look at it that way and will put a sale at the bottom of the pile...’I'll get to it when I get to it’."

So, rather than accuse, blame, defend and have an ensuing state of chaos, Operations and Sales need to focus on how the requirements of the customer can be met and how the company can operate efficiently and effectively, leaving the competition to fight over the unwanted scraps.

The need to view Sales and Operations as one function 
Many companies are beginning to realise there is no dividing line between the two departments. Operations should be a function of Sales and Sales should be a function of Operations. This is a view shared by Martyn:

“Believe it or not, we do like to say ‘Yes’ to Sales. That is always our goal. Perhaps fifteen years ago I may have thought differently and would have seen them as a hindrance and they viewed me as some kind of miracle worker! However, unless you realise that your common goal is the customer, nothing will ever change. If the blame culture continues to be rife in your company, the customer will be the loser, which ultimately means everyone loses.

"I strongly recommend that the only way to move forward and stop having the same problems and issues is to create an environment where everyone is on the same side, acting with one voice and in one direction. So, rather than moan, find out the solution to the problems and issues and don’t let them happen again, wherever the blame lies.”

How do companies go about creating this change of approach? 
Martyn believes the following guidelines should be at the centre of any approach a company adopts:
  • Understand the needs of the customer and focus your actions around them
  • Understand the current limitations of the Operations and Sales departments and find a way to solve them - permanently and perpetually
  • Create a climate of education and understanding of each other’s role within the company 
  • Work together and communicate as one team, creating a happy working environment where people want to work for each other and take responsibility
  • Be consistent but flexible in your approach
  • Create a climate for growth and market-leading excellence, to give your company a competitive advantage
In the second part of our interview with Martyn, we will be discussing how to implement this new culture and the role Operations plays to ensure it is a success.

Catch up on our series: 'How to establish a team relationship between Sales & Operations'
Part one: Understanding the issues between Sales and Operations
Part two: Creating a new culture and the role Operations play
Part three: How Sales can help and gain competitive advantage
Part four:  The Benefits of a close relationship

Pinnacle Consulting specialise in construction industry sales recruitment attracting the best building products sales job opportunities from some of the best manufacturers and distributors of building materials throughout the UK. Call us on 01480 405225 to discuss either your next career move or if you are looking at bringing high quality salespeople to your company who can understand the needs of the whole company.

Martyn has worked in managerial and directorship positions for market-leading companies including: manufacturers of sprinkler bulbs used in fire protection systems; catering fit-out equipment for hotels, restaurants and commercial kitchens; commercial ventilation extraction units; and domestic plastic piping systems and accessories. Martyn currently works for Day-Impex 

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