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Column: Operations must be factored into sales

Question: Our people in operations work hard and take delivering on our promises seriously. They feel blindsided by salespeople when they find out at the last minute about an upcoming job. When we fail to deliver, operations gets the blame. How do we avoid this?

Thoughts of the day: Customers want to know that they will receive what was promised. It is teams of people that pull off the promise. Figuring out reporting systems that spot problems before they happen will increase customer and employee satisfaction. The goal is a job well done every time.

It’s important that everyone in the company is clear on the standard to be met:

• On time, every time.

• No finger pointing.

• All commitments made are within the scope of the company’s ability.

• All projects are within budget.

• Accepted work can be handled effortlessly by a team well prepared to deliver.

These are a few key objectives to consider when setting the standards for your company. Auditing to make sure that all parties meet the standards will help to pinpoint problem areas that need attention.

Cut down on misplaced commitments to customers by putting together a way to decide, pre-commitment, if the job should be taken on. This process needs to answer a series of questions.

• Do we have enough capacity available at the time needed?

• Is it a good project (profitable, something we consistently do well)?

• Are any other commitments likely to come in that could get in the way?

• If we need to use outside resources, are we sure they will be available?

Set up a handoff /negotiation process between sales and operations. Use that process to ensure that incoming work is accurately described and fully evaluated at the time of handoff. Making sure all parties communicate about issues and resolve concerns before getting into the guts of a project will lead to better outcomes for everyone concerned, including the customer.

Keep active projects visible for all team members. Have a board that displays work proposed, contracts coming in, deals in process and jobs completed. Put someone in charge of updating the board daily, hourly if necessary. Consider putting the board up in a conference room or on a wall that everyone passes by.

Have sales and operations staff meet daily to review what’s on the board, discuss possible changes and identify roadblocks to success. Have someone take notes during the meeting and quickly circulate to-do lists to all affected departments. Review the to-do lists at daily check-in meetings to make sure that roadblocks have been cleared.

Set a limit on capacity — somewhere under 100 percent of what operations can ideally deliver. Reserve that extra capacity for two functions. Half goes to last-minute requests that are high-quality, high-profit opportunities. The other half is flexible schedule work that can be sped up or delayed depending on how smoothly operations is performing. Let salespeople know when the cutoff is getting close, and hold sales within the limit.

Encourage operations staff to evaluate capacity regularly, and to under-forecast, rather than over-forecast, what they can handle. Allow for down time due to staff days off, machinery repairs and vendors who don’t deliver according to schedule. Expecting and planning that things might not go smoothly will help improve outcomes.

Make sure everyone belongs to the same team and is rewarded for overall success rather than individual success. Salespeople who get paid a commission for selling often forget to consider the constraints operations people will have to deal with. Operations may feel frustrated, thinking they do all the work as they watch sales get all the congratulations. Recognize all players for selling and delivering on time and in budget. Reward teamwork that identifies and heads off problems before they blow out of proportion. Encourage and promote team players who get the value of a job well done, from start to finish.

Looking for a good book? Try “How to Succeed with Continuous Improvement: A Primer for Becoming the Best in the World” by Joakim Ahlstrom.

Andi Gray is president of Strategy Leaders Inc., strategyleaders.com, a business-consulting firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurial firms grow. She can be reached by phone at 877-238-3535. Do you have a question for Andi? Send it via email to AskAndi@strategyleaders. Visit AskAndi.com for an entire library of Ask Andi articles.

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Andi Gray is president of Strategy Leaders Inc., strategyleaders.com, a business consulting firm that specializes in helping small to midsize, privately held businesses achieve doubled revenues and tripled profits in repetitive growth cycles. Interested in learning how Strategy Leaders can help your business? Call now for a free consultation and diagnostic process: (877) 238-3535. Do you have a question for Andi? Email her: AskAndi@StrategyLeaders.com. Visit AskAndi.com for an entire library of her articles.

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