The struggle is real. I have spent most of my professional life managing the tendencies of sales and operations teams to conflict with one another. I have a mantra and it goes like this:
“Sales’ job is to sell what Operations can support. Operations’ job is to support whatever sales sells.”
The battle field is much more sophisticated than it was when I started. We no longer rely on paper files and clip boards to do our work. I can’t just stroll over to a salesperson’s desk and find a phone number in his Rolodex or search his phone messages for the latest changes in projects. Likewise, it is nearly impossible for a salesperson to monitor all the operation and logistics processes that touch their projects.
You all have some communication and process issues to sort out.
Here’s the real issue though: Wild imaginations. Operations folks tell me five things about sales folks that are simply untrue. (I hear similar from sales about ops, but that is a topic for another day.)
Here are those myths, the underlying truths, and what you as an Operations person can do about it.
1. Salespeople withhold information
This implies intent. There’s a difference between withholding and not having shared yet. However, the underlying problem is how information is shared in your process. What Operations can do is establish baseline responses that declare what will be done if no further information is available. No address? Set status to Hold for Pickup. No timetable? Default to 12:09 p.m. You are in control. Get it?
2. Salespeople overuse discounts
OK, they probably do, but not in the way you think. Owners or managers may complain along with you that a job is over-discounted, but if that’s true, they are the ones that let it happen. The truth is, your pricing is probably as creative as your discount structure. The solution is to treat every order as if it was paid for in gold. Pricing is not an operations issue.
3. Salespeople promise things they don’t understand
Who doesn’t? Besides, whose job is it to inform salespeople about what works and what doesn’t? The corollary to this myth is that “Salespeople need to be experts in what we do,” which is patently unreasonable and even less likely. The solution is for operations to take responsibility for training. Pro Tip: You will need to train the same thing over and over again. Get used to it.
4. The Client told Sales and they didn’t tell us
The client tells salespeople a LOT of stuff. You don’t want to know everything, trust me. The reality is that sometimes the client fibs when they say, “Well I told so-and-so.” What you can do about it is stop acting like a victim. Learn these words, “I apologize, I misunderstood. Let me get that for you.”
5. Sales takes credit for everyone else’s work
I seriously doubt this. Even the most self-centered salesperson (and I have met a lot of them) will tell the client that the “team gets all the credit.” Your salesperson may not be good about thanking you or sharing the client’s thanks, but customers are not so foolish to think that a mere salesperson could have done this by themselves. Change your mindset. You actually want your salesperson to look like a hero – just as they need you to look like one too.
As an old operations guy, I wish that salespeople worked as hard at making my life easier as they do to make the customer happy. The fact is, that is not their job. Besides, we have our own job to focus on. Make your operation more professional and spend less time imagining that other people are trying to make your it harder. Your job is supposed to be hard. Do it anyway.