What Does the Sales Function Have To Do With Quality?

The dreadful truth about the Slimy Sales Guys

Remember the cartoons with the firetruck with a steering wheel on the back?  The front driver was taking the corner like a bat out of hell, while the guy steering the back was holding on to dear life... just trying to keep the truck on the road?

Throughout my 15 years as a quality professional, I have visited hundreds of facilities throughout the world and find that there is one particular discipline within a company, large or small, that you either love or you hate – Sales.  It is no secret that cash flow is king.  Without an effective sales process, you may have a great product or service with a poor ability to realize your talents and convert them into cash.  Subsequently, the improper execution of the sales process may set an organization up for failure right from the start.

I would guess that approximately half of the organizations I visit have Sales personnel that understand their role within the overall operations of the business they represent.  The most effective Sales groups have objectives that are in-line with organizational goals and policies, rather than “goals with blinders” that only focus on gross revenue or other sales indicators.

The other half – the half that might actually deserve the title “Slimy Sales Guys” - seem to be given the organizational freedom to fish for business using whatever methods that work, irrespective of the methodology or promises that have been made.  This portion of the sales professions is often gauged on gross sales revenue over an established timeline with rewards based on incentives that drive this short-term focus.  To make things more complicated, many of the owners (Presidents and/or CEOs) of organizations I visited have grown as an expert selling a specific skill-set in their niche-market, to the top executive of multi-million dollar organization.  The problems are introduced into the organization when the top manager refers to himself as merely a “Sales Guy”.  Not all Sales Guys know how to manage people, projects or long-term organizational success.

So what is the problem from the perspective of an ambassador for organizational improvement and business development?  From my observations, the problem boils down to two common mistakes.  First, Sales traditionally has the “Director of First Impressions” role that is often not connected with other processes that they strongly influence, such as value-added manufacturing, on-time delivery, profitability based on expedite (overhead, premium freight, etc.) vs. standard process time, and so on.  The sales process, and subsequently Sales personnel performance, must be based on the overall service provided to the customer and the organization, not simply the initial sale.

The second common mistake, observed primarily with small to mid-sized companies, is caused when the top manager switches between a sales role to the executive director role without proper education, skills, training or experience in managing his or her team.  When the top manager focuses on growing the business while ignoring elements necessary to strengthen the business, negative long-term effects are often felt in customer retention, management system quality, employee retention and the bottom line.

How does the sales process effective your organization?  Is the sales process a satellite function that is disconnected to your daily operations?  Does your sales process feel like a one-way, dead end street?  Is your sales force driving the front of the fire truck while the rest of the organization, white knuckles and all, have to try their best to keep the back of the truck on the road?  If your organizations approach is "Sell today, deal with it tomorrow", perhaps it is your duty to ask your top management group if they have considered the long-term systemic effects associated with this approach to managing these critical customer-related processes.