Push & Pull: The Sales vs Operations Saga
In rock climbing, there is a push and pull strategy that works to your advantage – your feet push you up, and your hands pull you up as well. This implies that your hand is ahead of your feet, and that both your feet and hand are headed towards the same direction – up.
The same strategy can be applied between the sales team and operations team, but one must be careful in doing so because the push and pull strategy can easily be misunderstood and misused. Thus, wrecking havoc to the organization. For example, it can easily happen that a sales team pushes more clients (both dream clients and difficult clients) than what operations can handle. Understandably, the operations pull away from such unreasonable load of deliverables, hereby neglecting and losing customers along the way. Or it could also happen that operations team pushes their SOPs to sales team and its clients hereby pulling away the sales team from focusing on solving the clients problem which could then lead to turning off the clients and consequently losing its potential business. On both instances, the customer is lost, and the entire organization is put in jeopardy.
This push and pull approach led to disaster because the sales team and the operations team were in the same position, but going to different direction – one is pushing and one is pulling therefore cancelling each others’ efforts in effect! And really how often have we witnessed such a clash between the sales team and the operations team in any organization?
From a sales perspective, it is imperative that they listen and act based on what the customer needs and what the market demands. Otherwise, they would easily lose their significance as a business and the market altogether. From an operations perspective, it is a must that they put controls on each processes to ensure that delivering will not be problem.
Sometimes sales will enter into seemingly strategic partnerships by giving cut throat added service at unbelievable discount. In turn this will either make the operations bleed by working more while getting less, or not delivering the promise at all. This leads operations people to think that sales creates the problem by selling a service that is not worth it, while sales will think that the operations team just cannot deliver. Sometimes operations will say ‘no’ to all clients that have requests that are not exactly the same with their standards – making it more difficult for sales to actually sell. Such opposing idea is best shown through the diagram below by John Halter (2010) in his blog post Sales vs. Operations – The Epic Battle?
Now as an organization that wishes to thrive, this kind of conflict should be completely eliminated. There shouldn’t be any Sales vs Operations battle. There should only be ‘Us vs. Mediocrity’ or ‘Us vs Stagnation’ or ‘Us vs Bad Customer Service.’
If you’re from the sales team, you should take the time to understand how your operations team work. You need to know when a deal would be counterproductive for them, but you have to explain to operations as well how the market demands are changing and sit with them in planning a solution on how to address the customers’ needs. If you’re from the operations team, help the sales team say “yes” to a client. Go to client meetings with them and check how else the process can be improved or streamlined for both the customers and your team. Don’t entertain the word no at the onset – check all angles, possibilities, and available resources first. If you’re from the leadership team, make sure that collaboration and being customer centric are part of the actual culture of the company, and not just empty words to showcase in your company website or profile.
To do such, Boyer (2010) suggested a regular Sales & Operations Planning (S&OP) wherein sales people describe what they believe will sell – based on data and previous experience, while operations people describe what the business will supply. The difference in the two will be the change in inventory investment. Being the forefront of any business, the sales team shall lead in terms of customer insights pulling the operations team forward. In turn the operations team, backed up by necessary resources, shall push itself towards the same direction. This way, both teams are able to support each other in delighting the customer and moving the company forward.
So you have to ask yourself collectively and as a team, where are you going and who are you with? Because at the end of the day you have to remember that “an organism at war with itself cannot survive.”