At ARV Group, we frequently organize Experience Workshops for our clients. Recently we asked the participants at a workshop what topics they’d like to see discussed in future sessions and one of the topics that came up the most was the tension between Sales and Operations. It’s a familiar issue and one about which much has been said and written. But evidently, many of our clients feel that when it comes to this subject, it is still worthwhile to share experiences and get inspiration from each other, so we recently organized an Experience Workshop on the subject.
There’s no getting around it – for most businesses, seamlessly aligning Sales and Operations is problematic. In theory, everyone agrees, this coordination ought to be relatively easy to achieve. After all, everyone is working for the same company. But in practice, more often than not it turns out to be trickier than you’d wish. That’s largely because the DNA and the roles of people in sales and those in operations are different. And because the dynamics of day-to-day activities and new developments is disruptive to what, in principle, should be the careful alignment of Sales and Operations. Consider, among other things, such developments as increased demand, new customers, and new product-market combinations.
Guided by a clear strategy
All of our workshop participants were experienced people, including directors, operations managers, and plant managers. Together, they first drew up a list of the diverging interests and conflicts that in practice arise between Sales and Operations. They all quickly agreed on one thing: the alignment of Sales and Operations should be carried out based on a clear strategy and clear objectives. Obvious? Yes and no. Because simply developing a strategy and formulating objectives is not enough. Carefully translating that to Sales and Operations and sharing it unambiguously with them is at least as important. And finally, Sales & Operations must come together in support of a shared interest – and that is the interest of the total organization.
Dialog: sparring and debate
Several participants then presented a real world case. The workshop participants were divided into groups that tried to come up with solutions to connect and coordinate activities between Sales and Operations. The sparring and lively discussions from various perspectives and experiences were inspirational. Moreover, the dialog that followed was described by the participants as the most essential element that must take place in practice to ensure that such an alignment will in fact occur. Meet regularly as Operations & Sales. Keep those meetings separate from day-to-day concerns. Focus on the strategic and implementation level. Again and again. Develop a well-structured format for these discussions. Keep in mind concrete examples. Evaluate the agreements reached on the basis of the chosen strategy and objectives. Have the courage to spar and bounce ideas off each other. Discover together where the interests have clashed, has gone well and where it hasn’t gone so well and what you can do to improve the situation the next time. This is a crucial step on the way to an optimal alignment between Operations and Sales. From misunderstanding and frustration to a good working relationship. From struggle to cooperation. And from conflicting interests to collective success.
A number of those present decided right then and there to take yet another step. They decided to look outside their own organizations and to visit each other in the near future. And that is exactly what we are trying to achieve with our Experience Workshops: mutual inspiration between companies and professionals in the food processing industry. Which has in turn inspired us to organize several additional Experience Workshops late this year.
Roelant van Herwaarden
Managing Partner ARV Group