Tuesday, 12 December 2017

How to change the relationship between Operations and Sales

Many companies acknowledge that they need to improve the relationship between Sales and Operations, but doing this is easier said than done. 

So how do companies go about creating this change of approach?

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
Implementing a new culture for sales and operations to thrive
The best way to bring about this kind of culture and structure change, is to strip back and question everything in your current processes to find out where the problems are, then establish a system that makes your customers happy, your Sales department happy, your Operations team happy, your Finance team happy and your competitors livid!

If we go back to that often-repeated accusation from Sales “Why can’t you supply what we are selling when we have promised it?” and dig a little deeper, you discover how few companies operate and communicate in unity.

Perhaps the Salesperson has a valid complaint to Operations and perhaps the Operations team has a valid reason to be frustrated at the demands from Sales. These problems are usually created due to lack of education, communication or effective planning.

In these instances, it is useful to look at on what basis the products have been promised. Are they realistic and in line with the agreed lead-times and guidelines that Sales have been advised they can promise customers without conferring with Operations? If they were, you should question the robustness and quality of your system and make changes accordingly. If they were not, as well as questioning why the customer has been told something that is not possible, you should also consider if what they are asking is feasible and necessary for the future and then ask: do we still need to question the robustness and quality of our system? That is a key point: always move forward and evaluate. However, it is equally important to address why the Salesperson has not acted as a team member by their actions.

It is clear that confused messages to customers and lack of consistency within companies can cause major problems, even resentment and division between people and departments and needs to be avoided.

What should Operations be doing?
An Operations Manager/Director needs to make sure they are in control of what is being made and what is going out, rather than letting his team take total control, as otherwise the easy order will be picked by the Warehouse, rather than the larger one, the one that needs more time to prepare, or the one that is awkward to pick. This way an Operations Manager/Director is in control of what is going on and is able to react more quickly to emergencies, as well as knowing exactly what is coming off the production lines and out of the warehouse. However, this will slowly change over time, as it becomes more of a team environment.

Although you always need to be in control and aware, once the process of communication and education starts to become enshrined throughout the company, all members of your team begin to take responsibility and become true team players. You are then able to rely on people to make decisions that are for the good of the company and the customer.

One of the keys to success in Operations is to have an effective Material Resources Planning System (MRP System) with its parameters established around a mixture of knowledge, facts and common sense.

A guide to success
Below is a simple guide for an effective planning system to improve the relationship. Although this is aimed at Operations, it is exactly the sort of areas and points that Sales Directors, Business Development Managers and National Accounts Managers should be aware of, and embrace and encourage in their new closer relationship with Operations

  • Know the role of Sales and the needs of the customer and be involved
    • Speak to your counterpart in Sales on a regular basis and ensure that relevant people from Operations are talking with Internal Sales
    • Make sure you are involved/aware of new product launch plans and promotional activity or new business that might affect demand of any product
    • Make sure that you communicate to the customer any changes to the original agreement. This should be done as early as possible and preferably via the Sales department (internal or external)
    • Ask yourself if you know what customers actually want in terms of service. If necessary meet your customers to enhance your understanding and process
    • Find out on what basis sales forecasts for production are being made and have an expert input at an early stage
    • Attend key sales meetings and gain a better understanding of the pressures and processes of the Sales team and vice versa
  • Look at your systems
    • Ask yourself if your company’s lead times are realistic and evaluate on what basis they have been made and by whom. This is especially important when you move to a new company or position
    • Look at your maximum/minimum stock and re-order levels and how often you check them for excessive demand and review the norm
    • Know what you can actually achieve per day and how you can achieve it
    • Know what you need to achieve on each individual trading day and how you are going to achieve it
    • Strive to always deliver on time and in full
    • Know (and evaluate) where and what the potential process hold-ups are in order to successfully achieve the company’s goals
    • Look at the robustness of the purchase order/supply trail and if delays and errors are created as a result
  • Know your team, plan ahead and adapt
    • Know and evaluate what everyone under your control does in their role and what their value is. This applies to your staff and suppliers
    • If your team are making errors that cause problems to the customer, have a plan to prevent them happening again, e.g. picking errors, goods arriving damaged, goods being sent to the wrong place, substandard product being manufactured
    • Evaluate if you have the right people, right machines and right processes in place and always consider if you need to recruit, make redundancies, change roles, or automate manufacturing/assembly, streamline operations, change packing materials and processes, evaluate transportation methods or improve IT
    • If possible have an alternative in place in the event of machine breakdown or a supplier letting you down
    • When required, consider if you need to employ more people or introduce overtime to meet demand
These points are geared towards meeting the customers’ requirements now and in the future and should to be addressed on an on-going basis; otherwise you will soon be back to square one.

Part 3: Become a better Sales person by working with Operations

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