A Letter to Executive Leaders About Unaddressed Operational Challenges
I would be the very first person to tell a sales force to continue to prospect and sell through operational challenges. It is too difficult to regain that discipline once it has been lost, and it is never, ever a good idea to allow your pipeline to wither away.
I would also be the first person to tell a sales force to take the difficult calls from their clients when there is a service failure, owning the outcome and giving the transaction, the task, to the person responsible doing whatever needs to be done. I would tell a salesperson to have a presence and to be accountable, even when it’s painful (scratch that, especially when it is painful).
If the operations team is having trouble executing, I would be the first person to tell the salesperson to meet with their client to help get changes made on their side, when that is what is necessary. I would also tell them to turn their sales skills towards their own company leadership to get the help they need to take care of their clients.
But as it pertains to the systemic challenges that cause salespeople to lose clients because they go unresolved, I must tell you as leadership and operations that you need to make the changes necessary to correct the issues in a way that is sustainable. When you don’t make improvements, you can cause the sales force to pull up the reins and slow their efforts.
Imagine that right now you have operational challenges of the first order. You are failing clients, and the sales force is doing their part to help hold things together. But these problems don’t get better. Instead, they persist and get worse over time. Even though your sales leadership team is tough, forcing their salespeople to move away from the reactive, customer service role they still need to play, the sales force does everything they can to avoid prospecting and win new business.
What you must know is that salespeople trade in a currency called trust. When they sell something they know is going to fail, they know that will be the very last time they sell anything to that customer. They will work very hard not to do anything that would destroy that trust. More still, you want them to have the trust that allows them to walk in, make a recommendation, have their client take their advice, and leave with a new project or new order or new initiative. They can’t do this if what they sell is guaranteed to fail.
There are always operational issues. The sales force needs to be able to deal with the things that happen day-to-day in the business. But the exceptional challenges need more attention, and they need to be resolved in a meaningful way.
If you are in leadership, you must have the will, the determination, and the resourcefulness to make the changes necessary to correct operational issues that have persisted for too long. If you don’t, you are putting the brakes on your sales efforts, and you will undoubtedly suffer lost clients and decreasing revenue. In this case, you need to go first.