4 practical ways to resolve Sales vs Operations fights

“Field gets the glory, support gets the job done.” I laughed when I heard this line, by a fellow in IT, in a movie I recently watched. “Field gets the glory, support gets the job done.” Hilarious as I found it, it’s a source of irritation and conflict in many businesses, and the cause of potential sales getting aborted by a frustrated customer, or delivered still born owing to inflexibility by resentful support staff. It could also lead to support staff turning a blind eye to glaring sales opportunities, because, “Why bother? I won’t be rewarded anyway.” Business owners and executives should not only be aware of this inevitable and toxic dynamic but address it too. Today we look at four ways how some resolve sales and operations fights.

But first, the phrase, “Field gets the glory support gets the job done,” implies that those who are directly involved in the action or visible in the forefront often receive recognition and praise, while those who work behind the scenes or provide support may not receive the same level of acknowledgment. It’s important to recognize that both aspects are essential for overall success. The “field” represents the visible and active part, where skills and talents are showcased, while the “support” represents the foundation and infrastructure that allows the field to operate smoothly. Without adequate support, the field may not be able to perform at its best.

Meaning of field gets the glory, support gets the job done

Now then. In selling, this phrase reflects the idea that those in the field (salespeople) being visible, are often the ones celebrated for their achievements, skills, or talents. On the other hand, the individuals providing support may go unnoticed despite their crucial role in facilitating and enabling the success of the salespeople. Support is more commonly referred to as support staff, operations or back office.

They include administrative staff, technicians, those in a bank ordering cheque books and ATM cards, IT professionals, operations managers and those in the warehouse fulfilling orders. They may not directly interact with customers but are indispensable to your operations. Unfortunately, being in the background, their efforts are often overlooked or undervalued and so don’t receive the same level of recognition as the field team. This does not bode well for the business, sale and ultimately customer. So what have some business owners done in the quest to resolve this never-ending dilemma? Here are 4 practical ways how.

Tell off support staff to resolve sales and operations fights

Telling off or addressing complaints by support staff is one way to resolve the issue. On the surface it would appear to be counter intuitive but there are business owners that do just that; and it works for them. They do not debate about which comes first, the chicken or the egg. And while encouraging open communication they lead from the front with it. They make it clear that, “Without sales there is nothing for you to process.” Or, “Salespeople are the ones that bring home the bacon.” Or, “Sales pays your salaries.” In sum, support staff are made to know their place.

A corollary of this is to be found in the insurance industry. When agents join they tend to be seen as lowly by those with desk jobs. That’s until a few years later when the agents are earning more than them, and, based on their trajectory will continue increasing that gap into eternity. Jealousy and indignation kick in. “We’re managers and have been here more than 10 years. How can these salespeople that came the other day be earning more than us!? The CEOs response: “You are welcome to resign, and go sell.”

Compensate in pro rata fashion

To resolve sales and operations fights, one of our clients in the agriculture sector does so by compensating everyone in the value chain; that is, all parties involved in fulfilling a customer request and leading to customer satisfaction. “And that includes the askari at the gate,” the CEO told me. How does it work? “There are many moving parts to getting the sale here. So, every quarter when we give out bonuses, 50% goes to the sales team and the rest is shared out pro-rata (as a proportion of the salary) across board. From me to that askari there (pointing at the gate).” “Don’t your salespeople complain?” I asked. Him: “When they do, they know what I’ll say, which is, ‘You didn’t acquire this sale all by yourself. You can’t. You used company resources to get it and company resources were used to fulfil it.”

resolve sales and operations fights

Foster a culture of appreciation

As business owner, you may decide to encourage an organizational culture that recognizes and appreciates the contributions of both the field and support teams. Here’s how. Regularly acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of all employees, highlighting the critical role each team plays in the company’s success.

This is another way to resolve the “Field gets the glory, support gets the job done,” potentially debilitating mantra. Here you separately recognize and reward support and sales team efforts. How? Implement a system of recognition and rewards that acknowledges the efforts and achievements of the support team. This could include performance bonuses, providing professional development opportunities that invest in their growth, employee of the month awards, or public acknowledgment of exceptional work. By publicly acknowledging their contributions, you highlight the importance of their role within the organization. This reward and recognition scheme is separate from that of the salespeople.

Externalize the yardstick

Among the big media houses we have in Kenya there’s one that had a CEO that had a very unique approach to performance appraisals and therefore recognition and commensurate compensation. In his tenure, what determined success was the time the newspaper hit the streets. More accurately the number of times it hit the streets all across Kenya by 4am. Newspapers are read early in the morning; past a certain time they aren’t even bought. Meaning there’s an expiry time on the sale happening.

“But I submitted my news breaking story on time, it’s the editors that delayed.” (Was the paper in the streets at 4am?) “But we edited in time, it’s the guys (sic) at the Press that delayed. Why should we get a low score because of their fault? (Was the paper in the streets at 4am?) “My drivers were ready to leave but those guys in finance and admin were the problem. They delayed in giving us fuel.” (Was the paper in the streets at 4am?) “Us in admin, we were ready (sic). The problem was the guys in sales and marketing team. The guys in the printing say they were held ransom until some ad that had to be printed was received.  

“Was the paper in the streets at 4am at least 90% of the time this quarter (year)? If it wasn’t then everyone scores a 1; if it was everyone scores a 5.”

There’s no fool proof method to resolve sales and operations fights

As a business owner, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and glamour of the field—the frontline where deals are closed, products are sold, and clients are wowed. However, it is crucial to remember that behind every successful field operation, there is a dedicated and hardworking support team that often goes unnoticed. The saying, “Field gets the glory, support gets the job done,” perfectly encapsulates this dynamic.

Appreciating the contribution of both the field and the support is vital for a well-functioning team or organization. It recognizes the efforts and dedication of those working behind the scenes and encourages a collaborative environment where everyone’s contributions are valued. Now how you do it is dependent on you and your organization’s dynamic. There is no perfect method that guarantees peace all round. In fact, there are organizations that completely ignore the issue. At this point, the salespeople are the ones that tend to suffer. And for them here’s how to break the stalemate with ‘slow’ back office and why you should sell internally and externally.

Read: The Debt Collection Dilemma : Should Salespeople Take Charge?


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