How to understand people that want to protect you from yourself
Many years ago I found myself in search of the proper title for my position. Job titles were not a big thing at my employer, but we had a business reason to devise one for me. A preferred provider agreement needed a key organizational contact and “Tom” was not going to cut it.
I thought about the daily tasks I seemed to be responsible for. I sold things. I defined operational processes. I tried to herd salespeople. The warehouse supervisor reported to me. What am I? I could not find a parallel in other companies like ours. Everyone was either “Sales” or “Operations”.
I became Director of Sales and Operations and for the next ten years or so I regularly had to explain that title to outsiders, who had never heard of such a thing in our industry.
“How can you be both?” they asked.
I soon came to realize that the right question was, “Why haven’t we thought of this before?”
If I could make the rules about how Operations and Sales work together in the overall system, then wouldn’t the sales-ops rivalry be reduced or even eliminated?
So I redefined product codes that sales folks used to better match up with how operations executed. Then I redefined inventory codes to better reflect what salespeople were looking for. All processes, all resources, all meetings took on a common language.
Fast-forward three decades (that hurt to write!) and I still observe businesses in the same industry fighting the sales-ops battle that wouldn’t exist if managers were just a bit more holistic about their business processes.
Hence, here are five things that Sales teams tell me about Ops that tell me this company has a leadership problem.
They are disorganized
It may look that way. Event operations can look like organized chaos. The more reactive the operation, the more chaotic it will look. Operations’ goal is to have one process to follow that can be delivered efficiently and consistently. The perception of chaos is caused by fundamental difference in how the two teams process information. Sales is aspirational. Ops is practical.
To get the two mindsets more in sync, change your internal language. For instance, Sales should say, “Deliver by 8:00am” instead of “Deliver at 8:00am.” Ops will respond with “We will deliver no later than 8:00am.” If work flow allows, they have the option to deliver earlier.
Flexibility is helpful and specificity is expensive.
They forget what you tell them
My response to this is, Operations is not supposed to remember things. They are supposed to know. What they know is the information that was shared with them in the systems created for conveying project information. Verbal communication is not a substitute for documentation.
The most valuable verbal communication between sales and ops is when sales answers ops questions about the upcoming project, which is hopefully only clarification of the information already provided.
“Put it in the system.” Whatever your information sharing system is, it is sacred. Put the information there. Always. That doesn’t change the need for also communicating emergencies verbally – does it?
They play favorites
Stop trying to be a favorite. Business is a team sport. A good Operations manager will make every salesperson feel like a valued internal client. Sales folks might want to act like Ops is a precious internal supplier.
Mutual respect will go a long way.
This subject comes up most often when assigning personnel to projects. There will always be a limited number of people for an infinite number of jobs. Personnel decisions need to be made globally.
“This is our most important client,” cries the sales person.
“Then we better take care of all our clients, so we aren’t dependent on one,” says the weathered Operations Manager.
If you are trying to move to the head of the line, then you are admitting you shouldn’t be there. Let the system do its job. Let urgency be self-evident.
They start prep too soon/late
The timing and prioritization issues sales sees in operational execution is directly correlated to how well the sales pipeline is defined and predicted. It also matters that an individual salesperson may not see all the projects Operations is juggling to make sure your job goes well.
A reliable forecast allows better planning, which may mean that your project CAN be prepped at the last minute. Poor forecasting may force a pre-mature demand for information, but it can just as easily lead to an order prep happening too late.
The moving parts of operations are challenging enough to coordinate without having to guess at upcoming demand. Better forecasting is a topic for another day, but this foundational skill will reduce a lot of stress on your business.
My point is….
Just because Ops chooses to prep an order before the client has finished changing their mind doesn’t mean you can’t submit more changes. Heck, it has never stopped you before.
Ops knows the risk of early or late prep.
They create their own problems
The biggest problem Ops has is that every salesperson they work with has their own process for managing information and their own style of communicating. This is why we put processes in place: To reduce communication errors.
It should be no surprise to anyone in sales that having multiple “clients” with different styles can be challenging. The role of the salesperson is to interpret the disparate customer requests into Operations’ language.
The difference is Operations’ customer (sales) is in the same building and same project systems and can see everything being done or postponed. Imagine if your customers could see into how you the salesperson prioritizes your response to their needs.
Remember, Sales and Operations are on the same team, share the same goals, and (hopefully) use the same processes.
Let’s recall my leadership tenet: “Sales’ job is to sell what Operations can support. Operations’ job is to support whatever sales sells.” There is always room for improvement on both sides, but the idea that there are “sides” is what is at issue here.
Note: This article was originally published in April 2018 and has been updated for accuracy.