Here’s how to break the stalemate with “slow” back office

“Back office is there to help, not hurt you-they are a customer just like the paying one”

It’s a scene straight from a cock fight. Back office sees sales as a necessary evil and Sales sees back office in the same light. Yet the two must work together: sales promises the heaven back office is expected to deliver. It is the perfect standoff. And like cocks fighting, the two are always circling, sizing up each other, menacingly marking their respective territory, eagerly waiting to pounce. In sales meeting it’s the hottest item on the agenda-“back office this, back office that”, with the salespeople taking the high road stating, “They should know we pay their salaries”; “They don’t even know what we go through to get a customer; they just mess him up with their delays”.

These sales people, arrgh!

Meantime in the back office meetings, “hawa watu wa sales” (“these salespeople”, usually said in a derogatory manner), wanifikiria kazi ni yao tu? (“they think we are here just to serve them?”)…”And they keep making impossible promises to customers”. It’s a toxic environment which does not bode well for the sales process. Some organizations will occasionally get back office to get a feel of the front line by manning the fuel pump or answering help desk calls, for instance. Still, it’s a painkiller for cancer. What to do then as a salesperson?

It happens

First, understand that this standoff is not unique to your organization. It is prevalent in every organization. That’s why when you report it as a problem the best you’ll get is the standard “we should work as a team reprimand” issued to back office. It won’t be the first nor last time and it won’t last. A week later the standoff is back. So unless the problem is severely impeding the sales process, which will be evident anyway, constantly reporting it merely serves to single you out as the problem.

Understand next, why it happens. Selling is a wild animal, just introduced into the corporate zoo. The corporate world was never designed to accommodate the salesperson-he was a latter intrusion; a wild card in a controlled environment. And so policies, rules and regulations which work perfectly in the “zoo” struggle to do so in the wild.

We are selfish by nature

Secondly, kila mwamba ngoma, ngozi huvutia kwake. (Every drum maker pulls the skin towards himself-never away from him) Pearls of wisdom every salesperson should hold to heart if they are to succeed. And the saying reminds us that human beings are inherently selfish. Even the generous give because of the feeling of goodness generosity yields. In practice then, processing orders may be what back office is there to do, but that does not mean they do it when you want them to. Just as your department has objectives, theirs does too. And they’ll abide by their objectives not yours. And the reason is because their objectives, just as your departmental ones, are tuned into the organization’s objectives.

Which is how Francis (RIP), a dear friend and salesman par excellence, got the Branch Manager of the multinational bank he used to work for, to open the doors at 3.10 pm for a customer he had been waiting for to buy Euros? (Banks then used to close strictly at 3). “Sir”, he assertively said, “it’s end month; if he walks away, your unmet forex targets for the Branch go with him.” The door was opened.

Back office are human too

Lastly, “back office” are as human as the next person. They want to associate with winners. Progressive sales people succeed because back office will bend rules for them (like ignoring the annoying-from salesperson’s perspective- Service Level Agreement); and they do this because they see and feel winning in the air. Another reason they do so is because these stellar sellers sell internally. Last week’s article suggested ways to do this, including sincerely sharing New Year freebies from customers with back office. As the year progresses though, your best bet at working with, not against back office, is to deliver, win. Let them be your cheering squad and thank them for it. Understand when they cannot bend that rule, thank them when they do and be sure to let them know what the favour yielded.


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