We have asked sales professionals from within the building products/materials industry 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 decided to look in more detail at the relationship between ‘Operations and Sales’ and provide useful insight to help those from both functions in their jobs.
To start with, lets look at this problem from the view-point of Operations and try to discover why there is division between the functions and how to establish a positive team relationship.
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. So, what is the main function of Operations at a manufacturer of building products?
Operations is at the centre of a company and, although their 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 they 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.
The role of Operations should be to ensure 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?
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.
Unless both sides realise that the 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.
It is 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.
Part 2: How to change the relationship between Operations and Sales