It’s an old cliché that speaks volumes when a company finds it has a lack of initiative alignment:

“The Sales Department makes promises to customers that production cannot meet.”

The salesperson lives to make a sale by meeting and exceeding a customer’s needs but setting a false expectation can really burn the brand and future sales.

Aligning OpEx with Sales

As the sales department is normally the most customer-facing and a less controllable process than most of the other parts of a company’s processes, we will discuss alignment from the point of view of the Sales department as the “point of the spear” in most revenue based initiatives.

Getting In Line: Sales Alignment

Lack of initiative alignment usually happens for a variety of reasons. Even though most of those reasons are obvious, companies still violate the proper process needed for goal alignment and developing productive collaboration between various departments integral to the success of the initiative. The following are some common examples.

  • If your sales team is working with another department — marketing, for example — the marketing team may not have the
    • right resources,
    • support materials, or
    • mindset

    they need to work effectively with the sales team. It is not unusual for marketing to work in a vacuum, quite removed from the “real market,” and to have a distorted view of the sales process reality.

  • The marketing group interacting with the sales team may not be aligned with the sales process because they are either unfamiliar with it or stick to using their own process. We see this often in operations and finance, two groups that play an important role in the order management and fulfillment process but may not understand the impact they have on the overall customer experience and the relationships that sales are trying to protect and grow.
  • The department that is working with sales is failing and could be causing a loss of business at the sales level. We see this often in marketing, especially when a marketing team has not evolved with the changing behaviors of buyers. They hang on to their old ways and do not produce enough opportunities to feed sales, or they set the wrong expectations with customers that sales cannot fulfill.
  • The interacting teams want to change to help the organization grow profitable sales, but they have not established verifiable outcomes and are lacking a change management plan that would align their business goals.

Sales People in Discussion

Uncovering Alignment Issues Across Functional Areas

  • Starting from the customer and moving back down the process, ask:
      • what functional areas interact with the sales team?
      • What is the level of support they provide and is there mutual agreement on the level of support?
      • Are there service-level agreements and metrics to drive accountability?
      • Are these functional areas aware of the sales process, are they aligned, and do they have the skills to execute?
  • What is the impact of other departments working with the sales team?
    • Is it time- and cost-efficient?
    • Do operations have any knowledge or even interest in how the sales department functions, it’s goals, processes and overall methodologies?
    • Are goals and outcomes being achieved in all affected departments?
    • Are there internal department problems that are potentially a distraction from taking on more collaboration with the Sales Department?
  • Do other functional areas follow a different process than the current selling process and where are there potential conflicts and synergies between departmental processes?
  • What are the metrics for measuring success?
    • Is there a way to correlate the impact of one department on the other?
    • Indeed, the key is to discover how involved departments can achieve common goals that benefit all.

Once you answer the questions above, you can begin to create a more unified process to ensure efficiency and effectiveness with support across functional areas. Consider the following guidelines:

Steps for Improving Alignment

      • Review the current sales process and metrics of the sales organization to establish a baseline across interacting areas.
      • Map out the functional group’s process and how it aligns (or does not) with the sales process. Understand how they are doing things as well as their “informal process” to begin planning a process that can harmonize processes.
      • Identify gaps and opportunities to align the groups’ processes and approaches. To create a more collaborative effort, the groups must identify powerful, predictive, and verifiable outcomes and KPIs in the business and sales process.
      • Define a written change plan for the groups to follow to begin to align and tweak processes to help smooth out any gaps or potential conflicts.

While most of the suggestions are “common sense,” management often see the cost-benefit of the time involved to align as not compelling enough to plan and strategize. That is why it is important to try to identify as rapidly as possible how improved alignment can impact key performance indicators as well as the specified goals of an initiative.

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