The Code Red alarm words are “what they need to understand is…”.
That’s the sound of your in-house operations Nazis outraged by what your customers are doing to their nice, neat systems.
As your business grows, a large-ish part of management is refereeing skirmishes between your sales and operations people.
Operational people say:
“Sales people just want to say yes to everything and drop the price to meet their commission volume targets”.
Sales people say:
“Operations just want the client to bow down to their mania for rules and regulations, and if we did that we’d lose the sale and they don’t understand that revenue pays their wages.”
Both are true-ish.
To which I’d add: those are the signs of bad operations and sales people.
You can identify bad sales people pretty easily by their numbers, or if their numbers are good, by disgruntled customer churn.
Bad ops people are harder to spot, because they hide behind a responsible veneer of “I’m just doing my job to make sure the trains run on time”.
(They’re also putting up passive-aggressive laminated signs in the kitchen saying “Your’e mother does’nt work here so wash up your mugs”, a strategy that does nothing to change behavior but makes your business look old and crusty.)
Another line they like to use about customers is “they just need to be educated”. This translates to “we want everyone to be as obsessed by our products and systems as we are.”
How Process-Enforcement Leads To International Roast
Customers don’t care about your processes and policies. If your company is all about bending customers to the iron will of your rulebook and its pitiless frontline enforcers, regardless of customer trauma, then you are
Jetstar doomed forever to charge no more than the lowest rock-bottom price.
So you’ll be living on razor-thin margins forever, with all that implies: paying suppliers late, not having enough capital to grow the business, and making your staff drink International Roast, the most affordable way to maintain their hostile edge.
(For international readers, International Roast is the bottom-grade street crank of Australian instant coffees).
Good sales people care about selling something that can be delivered, because it leads to long-term clients and referrals. Good operations people understand that great delivery is part of your long-term sales appeal, and the whole business grows.
The more you can get them together to discuss how you can do better work for clients, the better your whole business will work.
A lot of business owners come from the product side, and so tend to side with the ops people, regarding sales people as dispensable foot soldiers who can be hired and fired on impulse. It’s easy to bag out sales people because they have this brand image left over from the 60s of lazy-ass, drunk-lunching yes-people.
I’ve written before about the near-psychic customer knowledge of good sales people (Marketers: Listen To Front-Line Staff), and how it is usually far more useful than the PowerPoint stereotype thinking that comes out of marketing departments.
Because reliable revenue is the biggest, hardest problem you ever have to sort out. Anyone who owns a business knows the 24-hour tension and panicky tinfoil taste in your mouth, as yet another month clocks up with no revenue pickup from that new paid search campaign or expensive directory ad.
Sales cures all problems. If you have operational and service delivery issues, you can fix them. If you have no revenue, you don’t have a business.
Less Hustle, More Helpful
Here’s one way to help the sales/operations conflict situation. It’s not the only way, and it may not work in every business, but it’s worked nicely for us.
(Our business involves technical delivery in high-profile situations, with only one chance to get it right and stressed-out CEOs right there in the room.)
We use sales people who once did the actual job we deliver. We pick people who are good with clients, and teach them how to do sales. It doesn’t take long.
That way, we know they know their topic, and one of the best ways to build your brand is to actually deliver what you promise.
Because most businesses don’t.
Dealing with most companies, it’s all good-natured promises that finally this is the job where stuff will be done on time, and in the way you specified during the long briefing conversation.
That never happens.
Our sales people are low on cold-calling hustle, but high on understanding what the customer wants and how to make that happen.
In 2019, why would you hire a bunch of boiler-room sales callers to just pester list randoms all day about a product they can search themselves? You screen your mother when she calls at work. As a customer, why would you pick up some unlisted number to hear scripted sales banter from backpackers and between-gigs actors?
Customer Experience Is The Best Brand Builder
Unless you have a ton of VC money to blow, the best way to build your business is a pleasant, competent customer experience.
It pains me to say this as an ex-creative director, but marketing has never looked as same-y as it does now.
Pretty much every business website is a WordPress template padded out with stock photos and they all look the same.
Each and every shitty pop-up ad looks the same.
Facebook and Instagram even more so. They’re purpose-built to make sure everyone looks identical. No competitive advantage means an endless pay-per-click auction and the only winner is The Zuck.
Or you could try paying someone hotter than you to hold your product up but that ain’t going to work for your lawn-care or bookkeeping brand.
It’s a little tragic that actually delivering on your sales promises is an amazing competitive advantage. But that’s how it is. Get those sales and ops people talking, and you might never have to pay an influencer. How good does that sound?
If you liked this piece, you would also enjoy The Secret Of Service Businesses: Likeable Beats Skilful.
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