Why do the operations department and sales department hate each other so much? I am amazed that these two critical areas of our industry seem locked in an eternal conflict of interest and importance. Salespeople hate the yard foreman, the yard foreman hates the sales department, and the customer suffers because of it.
Each department is totally dependent on the other at every level, yet seldom do they get along.
The issue came up again during a discussion with a long-term client. Last year, while completing my assessment of the capabilities of the operation, several salespeople voiced their concerns about the yard foreman/operations manager. I interviewed him, toured the yard, and assessed its capabilities–and was quite impressed. The fleet was in top shape, material was in excellent condition and well protected, and all warehouse spaces were clean and neat. This yard foreman ran a very tight ship.
His complaint was similar to that of the sales team: he resented their "intrusion" into his daily activities and didn't understand how they can mess up orders as much as they did. The salespeople resented his attitude and didn't want to approach him with a special request for fear of causing a tirade.
I agree that sometimes salespeople drop the ball. They get an order, process it, and run it through operations to facilitate building the load and scheduling delivery. Then, seemingly within minutes, a call comes in that adds a few bits to the order. This necessitates writing a new order, processing it, pulling the material, and making another delivery to the same address that we just dropped at that morning.
This process frustrates everyone. The yard foreman has a difficult time scheduling drivers, deliveries, and orders when he is constantly besieged by fill-in orders or "hot" deliveries.
On the other hand, very few salespeople will tell a customer no when that call comes requesting small quantities of material for a fill-in load. The fear is that if there is no immediate response to the request, the customer will press #2 on their phone's speed-dial and call the next dealer down the line. Somebody will deliver what the customer wants.
So how do we solve this? How about better coordination at the beginning? If you have sales assistants or if your outside sales reps begin the day in the office, create a calling tree where you call every jobsite foreman and builder you have, and ask what they may need that day. That's right: don't wait for them to call. Be pro-active and make the call yourself. If you develop this habit, assembling orders early in the day, you will also train your customers to think about their needs and be ready for the call. We can eliminate many of those "oh, I forgot" calls that cause strife.
This isn't a perfect solution, and it may not always work. But it's a start. Nobody is served when the internal team is fighting. Our only goal is to provide service to our customers, not bicker and battle internally.
–Mike Butts is president of LBM Solutions, a DeWitt, Mich-based LBM supply consulting and training firm.